As regular readers know, we believe that internet marketing enables small and mid-sized businesses to compete on a level playing field against much larger competitors. How? The internet makes it possible for small businesses to practice inexpensive inbound marketing techniques to attract qualified visitors to their website and convert them into leads.
But, it's still not easy.
The problem is that so many small businesses are doing it wrong. They build their website and then they try to figure out how to generate leads online.
I ran a small business for 3 years. We provided online event registration and event marketing services in Central MA. We used the internet and email and a network of event sponsors to help public event producers market their local events.
Believe it or not, even though we were an internet based business, we didn't use the internet like we could have. Knowing what I know now after just a few months working at HubSpot, I'm confident I could have taken my startup much further if I had hired the right internet marketers to help us, and had the right tools in place.
So if I, an above average internet marketer, didn't know how to effectively do it, how is the average small business owner or marketing manager going to be able to do it?
They need to find help. The problem is answering the question, "Where do I turn?".
Most small businesses turn to other local small businesses for solutions. Most marketing managers at mid sized companies get 3 quotes and pick the best alternative. Most of these businesses choose a small web design and web development firm (< 20 employees) to help them launch their website, set up some adwords campaigns, do some email marketing, maybe launch a blog.
Here's the problem. Web design firms are generally not experts at online marketing.
They might charge $5,000. They might charge $50k.
If you're a 10 person small business or a solopreneur, $5k might sound like the right number. If you're a 200 employee business with some complex content management or custom application development required, $50k might sound like the right number. Usually, the firms that do the $5k sites don't do the $50k sites because they can't afford to have their team cost effectively build those sites. Usually, the firms that build the $5k sites never get to quote on the $50k sites because they don't have the requisite skills, portfolio or business development experience required to get an opportunity at a 200 employee company.
No matter what a business paid to "build" their website, chances are that they still need to figure out "how to increase website traffic " and "how to convert more visitors into leads " once they launch it.
That's the problem. Most web design firms are like car manufacturers. All they're really providing is a warranty that it'll function as specified. They're pretty much done once the website rolls off the factory floor.
Believe it or not, even $500k websites designed by top ad agencies aren't that much better.
The main problem endemic in the web design business is the structure of the business model: once they finish one website, they need to go and get their next $5k or $50k job. They need $50k checks to make payroll. Most firms are not set up to make $1,000/month from 50 clients by providing ongoing online marketing services.
As a result, these firms can't afford to train and dedicate resources to doing the ongoing things necessary to help their clients increase traffic and leads generated each month. They are set up to build websites and move on to the next one. They aren't set up to do ongoing keyword research and SEO, increase conversion rates for PPC campaigns, guide client's blogging and content creation efforts, help build links, test new landing pages, and measure what online marketing activities are working and what's not working for continuous improvement.
Internet marketing services require a true collaborative partnership between an internet marketing firm and their client, a different set of tools, and a broader set of marketing skills. Most web design firms don't have experience with these tools, don't have these skills and aren't equipped to truly collaborate regularly with their clients.
To compound this problem further, web design and site architecture affects a site's ability to attract traffic and capture leads in so many ways. Yet, the average web design firm doesn't understand the connection between site design/site architecture and internet marketing techniques such as SEO, PPC landing pages, blogging and social media. And if a web design firm isn't rewarded [with continued business] for helping their clients generate leads online, what's their incentive to build the website so that it is capable of managing and tracking the success of all of these online marketing techniques?
If a firm isn't an expert at both website development and internet marketing, they shouldn't really call themselves an expert at either.
With this background, is it obvious why you need to plan your internet marketing strategy before you build your website?
I hope so. Fortunately, there are many web design firms that are starting to get smarter about building their own business by delivering value to their clients on an ongoing basis. And there are certainly firms that are experts at both web design, development and online marketing. They build websites as well as provide monthly online marketing service offerings. These firms are recognizing that they can even out cash flow and make their business a lot less sales intensive if they provide services that help their clients generate leads via their website month after month. And they have clients that are much happier and refer them more business too.
The problem is that these firms are few and far between. And they may be experimenting on their clients' dimes.
So, the lesson is: before you build your website, create your online marketing plan first. Don't hire the wrong company to build your website just because their portfolio looks nice. Learn how your internet marketing strategy affects the web design, site architecture and site capability requirements. And don't make the mistake of thinking you'll figure out how your website is going to generate new business after you launch it.