There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the online world and businesses, namely: Can a business thrive in an online, connected world without maintaining a state of the art website?
The simple answer is NO – The more detailed answer is: No, not without a professionally administered website. And this poses quite the dilemma for many small businesses today. For many of my clients (mostly small, with 6-25 employees) the challenge becomes how to run their business effectively and still get their message “out there” and get noticed in an ever-crowded online world.
Let’s back up a bit and explore the online world. When the Internet really started blooming many businesses realized that they had to have some sort of Internet presence, so most businesses I know rushed out and purchased URL’s with their business name. Some set-up simple ‘template-style’ websites, while others paid hundreds or probably thousands of dollars to get ‘professionally programmed’ websites set-up for them.
The next ‘Big’ thing came along with Content Managed Sites (CMS). These websites originally cost thousands of dollars but empowered early adopters to ‘manage’ their content and add new items, pages, and pictures as their businesses grew. CMS truly changed the online world and returned control of a companies marketing program back to the marketing departments of many companies. Of course, small businesses were left out in the cold as the software for these websites was mostly proprietary and costly and even if they could afford the investment, many small businesses could not spare the personnel to maintain their new website. Their solution, an occasional update was delegated to whichever administrative assistant had the lightest load.
Fast-forward to the late-90’s when Word Press emerged onto the scene. Word Press is an elegant online blogging platform that provides free space and a simple, semi-customizable template that anyone with just about anything to say can deploy and share with the world. And blog they did on just about any topic: politics, single parenting, travel adventures, etc. Some very astute and clever programmers realized that Word Press was also an excellent CMS website platform and started to design templates that could be user-modified to produce a semi-custom website look. Natural progression produced professional templates for advanced users and today we have one of the most powerful content managed website platforms available to the general public.
Along the way, Google took notice of the popularity of Word Press, and Google being Google, tweaked their Search Engine Optimization Algorithm (SEO) to include much of the blog-o-sphere world. Google loves content and Word Press provided Google search results with lots and lots of content.
Currently, the next ‘Big’ thing is Mobile. Mobile no longer means phones – although Smart Phones do account for a large number of visits to websites. Mobile also includes Tablets and last year, more tablets were sold in America than laptops! For many of my clients, well over 20% of visitors to their websites originate from a ‘Mobile’ device. I don’t know of any business that can ignore over 20% of their visitors.
To solve this problem, HTML5 was established. Finally, there is a universal language that allows all visitors to see the content on a website as it was designed to be seen, without ay ‘plug-ins’ or more importantly, without any restriction to screen size, resolution or operating system. HTML5 is what is better known as a cross-platform code – it just works, regardless of what device you are using to visit a website.
Here’s a good example, you visit a website on your home computer, looks great but suppose you want to show something to your colleague while you’re at a meeting – no worries, you pull out your Smartphone and dial in the URL – only problem is that unless the business setup a ‘Mobile’ site, you are zooming in and scrolling side to side and zooming out – far too much effort to share information effectively.
On the other hand, had you visited a website from your mobile device that was coded in HTML5, everything would just work; yes pictures would be scaled, but they would be scaled to fit your device perfectly. Navigation on a Smartphone becomes a lot easier with widely adopted drop-down menu system that fills your screen when navigating and intuitively, renders itself back to a small strip, out of the way awaiting your next command prompt. Some newer HTML5 coded websites also take full advantage of the touch experience – very useful when navigating with a Tablet or Smartphone.
We’ve arrived at the beginning – Can a business thrive in an online, connected world without maintaining a state of the art website? These days, state of the art also means HTML5 code running your site. For many small businesses, that means they need to find a way to take care of their business and find someone competent to take care of their website. Outsourcing your website is the next ‘Big Thing’ for many small businesses. It’s just too hard, and makes no financial sense, for most small businesses to try and set-up, let alone manage their online presence. It takes up too much time, and try as they will, they’ll never be as good as someone that has been trained to optimize the content and fine-tune a website. What usually happens is they start out with the best of intentions and then forget about an update, or upload pictures not optimized for web performance or, in some extreme cases, crash the site and forget about the whole project and abandon their online marketing altogether.
Small businesses should consider outsourcing their website to a competent website manager. There are lots of options available these days from SEO experts to content ghostwriters that will write a weekly or monthly blog for your business. The costs vary with the service: The more they are involved, the more it will cost. The cost-benefit to a business is straightforward: Do more online visitors equal increased sales? If the answer is yes, then you need and enhanced web presence and a more ‘hands-on’ approach. If you simply need a basic web-presence, then a online maintenance service is called for. Every business is unique and there is no one solution.
Take your time and talk directly with whomever you are considering to work on your website. Remember, treat this person as you would treat a marketing executive; once you get going, you’ll notice that marketing online is marketing – plain and simple – your web professional needs to be a marketer first, and a web guru second.
Next week we’ll start tackling SEO and expand on the online marketing theme.