WARNING: This is a long one!

It’s hardly a secret (we hope) that the internet is the most effective medium for spreading the word about your business, getting found by your consumers, and seeing an almost guaranteed return on investment (ROI) for your marketing dollars. We hope that you’ve made a progressive move of your marketing dollars from expensive yellow page ads and traditional TV, radio, and print media to a great website and digital marketing campaign. If you haven’t, please contact us so that we can show you why you should.

So let’s assume, for the sake of this article, that you’re one of the smarter ones and your company either has an investment online or you’re planning on making one.  There are several ways to make a lot of money online, but there are even more ways to waste your money online and not see an effective ROI.  Here’s a Pro Tip that most advertising agencies or traditional marketing firms don’t know or won’t tell you: Building a website and putting it online, in itself, will not make you any money and will, in fact, be a huge waste of your investment dollars.

While I’m sure that I could write all day about ways to waste your money online, I’d like to cover some of the biggest and most common mistakes that I see nearly everyday.  While we hope that you aren’t one of the people making these types of mistakes, if you find that you are or you’re not sure, you should ask us about it.  Even if you’re a past or current client of ours, don’t assume that this article doesn’t apply to you.  Out of our 200+ clients over the years, I can only name 20 of them that this article doesn’t apply to.  So, chances are….

Let’s get to it.  Here are five of the top ways that you can, and probably are, wasting your money online.

1. Just Building a Website

We’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  Anybody can build a website, very few can do it correctly.  If you have a website built by a website design company, your traditional marketing agency, your IT guy, a company in India or somebody you found on Craigslist, you’re probably wasting your money.  Even anybody on our team, by themselves, could not build you a phenomenal website.  A team of specialists is needed to build a good website.

Chances are that you don’t know what questions you should be asking or the magnitude of work that goes into a great online presence.  Chances are that they don’t know either.  Even if they talk a good game and use a lot of terminology that you don’t understand, they probably don’t know how to actually do what they’re saying correctly.  I know that’s a little rough, but it’s the truth.

It has been our experience, when dealing with hundreds of those types listed above, that you will get one or two of the list for your investment:

  1. A Pretty Site – You will get a website with a great design that looks very pretty on the screen. BUT:  How is it built?  How will it be found after you launch it?  Can it be used in any other browsers besides yours?  Etc.
  2. A Well Coded Site – The code of your website is half decent because the person you used took an HTML class or built a few website before.  BUT: Is the code valid and semantically correct so that it displays correctly everywhere and is loved by Search Engines?  Is the CSS and javascript of your website separated into external files and not inline with your markup?  Will the code still work next year? Etc.
  3. Some Basic “SEO” – The person building your website will add titles and meta data to all or most of the pages.  BUT: Was keyword research conducted in formulating those titles and meta data or did they guess?  Where did they get that information?  Does each page of your site have a unique and keyword optimized title, description and keyword tag? Etc.
  4. Good Usability – The flow of the website works well and is easy to use by the masses.  BUT: Are people finding your website in the first place?  What about Accessibility for the handicapped?  Target just paid $2 Million after losing a lawsuit over a non-accessible website.
  5. A Lower Cost – This person already works for you or can build you a website for a lower price than a full service digital agency.  BUT: Like everything else, you get what you pay for.  Why use an attorney when you get sued when you could just handle it yourself?  Why hire an electrician, it can’t be that hard, right?

The truth is that you need all of these things, and more, have to be addressed to have a successful online presence and see even a meager ROI.  In order to accomplish all of these things, you must use a professional digital agency with extensive experience in modern web development practices and search engine optimization.  Anyone else is doing it as a side gig or an ancillary service.  Please don’t fall into this trap!

2. Making Too Small of an Investment

An online presence should be thought of as a new business venture.  New businesses of course need significant startup capital.  The most common mistake that I see people make is having too small of a budget to have a successful online presence.  Buying a website for $2000 or in some cases, even $5000, and hosting for $20/mo. and then walking away isn’t going to get you the results you think it will.  You need to thoroughly understand your investment, what’s required to be successful and make sure that you are properly utilizing your budget to get the best out of it that you can.  If you can’t afford to do what you need to do, then don’t waste your money by doing it half baked.  Determine what needs to happen and what a reasonable cost is for those tasks to be properly completed.

Would you buy a house in a bad neighborhood or with less bedrooms than you needed, just because it was what you could afford?  Would you open a store with no inventory, phone lines or staff?  No!  You’d reevaluate your finances, find more money somewhere and come back to the table when you could afford what you needed.  A website should be thought of the same way.

Not only are there startup costs involved with a website, there are ongoing maintenance costs, just like a brick and mortar business.  You must continually update your website with new content, you need to keep track of your site rankings and performance, you’ll need hosting and email support if something ever goes wrong, you’ll come up with new ideas or things that you want to add to your site, etc.  Make sure that plan ahead for an ongoing monthly commitment to your website.  One of the biggest mistakes you can make is launching a website and forgetting about it.  A website is a living, breathing thing.  It needs food, attention and love.  The bigger the site, the more it needs.

You need to invest money into building your website properly, doing keyword and competitive analysis research, doing SEO to your site’s pages and content, buying or cleaning up good imagery for your site, getting good, dependable hosting for your site, and on and on and on….Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.

There is a process that should be followed to make sure you’re not wasting your money and whether we complete your project for you or not, we can offer you consultation on what needs to happen and help your team through the entire process.

3. Making the Wrong Investments

There are a lot of ways to make a wrong investment online.  Here are a couple of them:

  1. Trying to do what your “competition” does. You have to do what’s right for you, your business, and your website.  Changing your website all of the time based on the changes that your competition makes will keep you chasing your tail.  If your site is relatively new or your competition has 10-100 times the budget and resources that you do, don’t try to keep up with your bigger brethern.  Again, a website is just like any other business.  You have to build up your reputation and customer base over time.  If you have a small “Ma and pop” corner grocery store, don’t try to put in a clothing, pet, cosmetic and electronics section just because Meijer or Target did.  Instead, evaluate what your customers are doing and how your website is being used.  Make improvements based on the facts and the numbers that are available to you.  What is the biggest impact you can make with your allowable budget?
  2. Buying Lists and Services Online – If you want a list of the keywords you should be targeting or a list of emails to send email blasts to, don’t buy it blindly from an online service.  There are dependable resources available to accumulate these types of lists that aren’t “farmed” or put together by a computer program.  Don’t buy any SEO service that’s guarantees search engine placement, there are no guarantees.  Choose affiliate and “value added” services carefully.  You might make a couple cents by putting something on your website, but if it annoys your site’s visitors and they don’t complete their purchase or don’t come back, it’s a pretty dumb move.  Again, if you’re not sure what to do, ask.
  3. Jumping on the latest badwagon – So the bandwagon, “cool” thing this month is social media.  The newest, greatest thing changes regularly.  We’ve seen umpteen evolutions in “cool” stuff that never panned out.  Most agencies will try to sell you whatever the coolest thing is, but unless there are numbers from multiple sources that show a return on investment and generated sales, don’t waste your time or your money.  We only do what is tested and proven aren’t likely to ever jump on a bandwagon to make a buck.
  4. Choosing the Wrong Technologies – Know what languages and technologies your site is going to use, maintenance costs and potential downfalls.  Explore the advantages of using open source software for your website…their base code is free, they’re updated regularly and the modules and plugins are usually top notch.  Be careful about building your website in Flash (for multiple reasons), using Microsoft servers, software or languages.
  5. Going the Cheaper Route – Invest in good quality hosting for your website.  Depending on your website, you can expect to pay anywhere from $30-$150/mo. for good quality hosting on a dedicated/controlled server.  Buying hosting for $5-$25/mo. is probably going to land you in a shared hosting environment.  That means that your website is on the same computer as 300 other websites and anything those sites does, effects your website and that your website shares the computers resources with all the other websites.  Have you ever tried to open 30 programs on your computer at once?

4. Not Maintaining your Online Presence

You might not know this, but just launching a website won’t guarantee that it gets found.  Imagine opening a business at a considerable cost and then not getting a yellow pages ad (ick), doing any marketing, not hanging a sign out front, …you get the picture.

Once you put up your new “building”, you have to do some ongoing promotion.  You have to tell people you’re there and keep reminding them why they like you, or should like you.

It takes awhile for search engines to consider your website legitimate, assuming that your site was built and optimized correctly in the first place.  You need to continually add new content, interact with the online community, check the rankings of your website and continually make improvements and progressive moves to help improve your online visibility.

For most of our clients, we recommend an ongoing monthly maintenance and SEO package so that we can monitor and make these improvements for you.  Unfortunately, many less people accept the package than should or don’t allocate a good budget for this maintenance.  This is a fatal mistake for your website.  You just bought a great house, in a great neighborhood and then didn’t cut your grass, let your roof leak, your pipes freeze, and left the gas running on your stove.  You might as well just light a match and collect the insurance money.

Oh, wait….websites don’t have insurance policies.  Soooo, you should probably protect and take care of your investment. ;)

5. Design and Build by Committee

This one is fairly easy to prevent.  Who is the real decision maker in your company?  They are the one that should be making the decisions for the website and the only one interacting with the development and SEO company.  If you have a management team and everyone is putting in their input and making decisions, it is guaranteed that your web project is going to take ten times as long to complete, the vision of the project is going to be changed a hundred times and the cost of the project is going to go over budget.  You can not satisfy everyone on your team.  All that should matter to you, is what your customers are going to think and how those thoughts are going to convert to revenue.

Back to the house analogy…designing and building a website by committee is the same as inviting your inlaws, your cousins, your friends, and all of your extended family to help you pick out a house for you and your husband or wife.  And then letting them decide what color to paint the walls, what flowers to plant, what furniture to pick and what sheets to put on your bed.  Everyone’s opinion and likes/dislikes will be different!  Your rooms will end up being painted different colors 87 times, your furniture won’t match and it will take forever to get done!

In Conclusion

Be smart.  Whether you want someone to build your website or you want to do it yourself, hire a professional digital agency that specializes and has years of experience on the web, either to do the work or to consult you on the project.  Don’t waste your money on an ill-planned or ill-conceived online presence….you might as well go to the casino and throw your money down on the hard bet….your chances of ROI are about the same.

I know this post was long, thanks for hanging in there.  I hope you have the ammunition that you need to make an informed online investment.  Give us a shout if we can clear anything up for you!

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