What Bad Cars Can Teach Us About Good Websites
By Chris Miller
Founder, Launch Brigade
January 26, 2017 — Santa Cruz, CA
A long, long time ago, in another galaxy and before I started a tech business, I was an automobilemechanic. It turned out to be an invaluable experience from which many elements also applied to the high tech world. For instance, what could we learn about websites by applying the same scrutiny we apply to purchasing and maintaining our automobiles?
Where do you want it to take you?
The first thing you have to ask yourself is, “What are my goals in having a website?” Some of the most common goals include:
- “We need a presence online to lend credibility to the business.”
- “We need a place for potential customers to learn about our products and services.”
- “We need to increase sales.”
These are all excellent goals. However, Launch Brigade is often approached by customers who believe they will achieve all of these goals simply by having a website. Furthermore websites are frequently considered to be a one-time expense.
The reality is that, while we are happy to build our customers unique and beautiful websites that represent their business, the website provides no return on investment if nobody ever sees it. Similarly your exotic Lamborghini isn’t appreciated by anyone if it’s locked in the garage.
According to Netcraft, by January 2014 there were already 180 million active websites on the internet.
According to the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, by 2009 there were already 254 million registered passenger vehicles.
So, roughly speaking, it’s about as likely for a stranger to find your website as it would be to find a single random car anywhere in the United States at any given moment.
In order for potential customers to find your website on the internet, you have to put effort into marketing.
(Eat your heart out James Bond. Unless it’s sitting still in a garage somewhere. Then nobody cares.)
The point I’m really trying to “drive home” (see what I did there?) is that a website is not a marketing strategy. It’s part of a marketing strategy.
Fuel takes you places. The type of marketing tactics and amount of energy you employ depend on the type of business you operate, where your customers exist, and how much competition you have. But by now, we know that internet marketing is one of the most cost effective methods of attracting new customers.
Your website is an investment
When you set out to build a new website, you may have arrived at a budget based on some arbitrary metric without a great feel for what features are required to meet you objectives. This is pretty common because unlike buying a car, most folks don’t know what they need in a website.
Ironically, by measures of features and performance, websites and cars are priced similarly. A few thousand dollars will buy you a car that’s 20 years old with lots of miles, require frequent unexpected repairs, and travel a limited number of miles before it comes to rest in a junkyard. Similarly a Website built on a limited budget may look shiny on the outside, but under the hood it may not be constructed to get you the mileage you expected. When your used car breaks down, you’ll be stuck on the side of the road instead spending your time where it counts running your business. The same is true with a non-performing website, and the costs aren’t immediately apparent, but they are there.
Like your used car, over time you will pour a lot of time and money trying to achieve the original purpose only to realize later you never really got an effective return on your investment.
I’m not saying you should run out and buy the most expensive website possible (and we wouldn’t be willing to sell you that anyway). Instead, you should take a deep look at the problems you are trying to solve, work with someone if necessary to develop a winning strategy, and only then can you determine a reasonable budget for a website. This may also include the time it will take to achieve a Return on Investment (ROI), as well as allocating a monthly budget for marketing.
Like a vehicle purchase, if you don’t have enough funds to make the best purchase for your needs, you should consider getting a loan. This will drive the initial and monthly costs way down, allowing you to fund a marketing campaign which drives traffic to your website.
Feel and features matter
You probably wouldn’t buy a passenger car if you regularly haul construction materials. You’d buy a truck. And the size of truck would be influenced by the amount of weight you would carry. You might even purchase add-ons, such as a lumber rack or a lift gate to maximize efficiency.
For a business, the primary function of a website is usually to be a performing member of your company. A revenue generating tool. You’ll want to select features that functionally support that goal.
If it is animated, if you can click it, if it sends an email, or sells you a product, that is “functionality”. Like a vehicle, you won’t really use or want every option available. Pick the features you need now, but have the flexibility to add the things you may need later.
A vehicle makes a statement about you, just as your website is a representation of your company.
The adage may say “Never judge a book by its cover” — but we all do it all the time, it’s only human nature.
Should every car have 12 racing stripes and giant flames coming out of the tailpipe? Probably not, and it’s important that your website guides the user helpfully, creating a meaningful, streamlined experience.
When you manage to get visitors to your website, it’s important the aesthetic is visually pleasing, provides visitors what they’re looking for with ease, and is compelling enough to convert that visitor into a customer.
If you have too much going on with your web pages, it will probably have the negative effect of overloading the visitor’s attention and causing them to move on to a competitor’s website.
It’s About the Content
Web content is the text, images, video, and related components encountered as part of the user experience. Strong information architecture is one of the most important elements within your website.
The most key type content of most any site (if only for navigation and orientation) will be the words. This content needs to be professionally written in a way that demonstrates your company is knowledgeable, capable, and trustworthy. Do it well enough, and people might even say you build confidence in the visitor by displaying thought leadership or market expertise.
Your content will be read by more than just human eyeballs, it’ll also be read by the search engine robots bleep-blooping across the interwebs.
As much as I kid, these are no joke. It’s important for search engines to drive visitors to your website. You’ve probably heard of Search Engine Optomization or SEO, and quality of content has become increasingly important in competing with other companies for that coveted first page of Google search results.
If you’re wondering where the vehicle analogy is here, I guess I’d liken it to choosing higher quality interior materials and carefully curating what kinds of objects live inside your vehicle. Cracked dashboard, raggedy carpet, and two piles of diapers in the back? Your customers will take a hard pass.
Built for awesome
When your site is being developed, the team creating it should assemble all of these elements — feel, function, content, marketing — testing everything with attention to detail and polishing it all up for delivery.
Like vehicles, the technology around websites has evolved and become more complex, delivering modern designs with rich functionality.
Websites have become so complex in fact, that it’s difficult for a single individual to have mastery of all of the skills necessary to build a modern effective website. For this reason you want to pick an agency with the right team which includes individual expertise in all of the important areas we’ve discussed, as well as marketing.
In the end, it’ll be worth it. While your website may not have “new car smell,” it’ll certainly provide the same type of excitement when launched.
- Learn more about Launch Brigade