What's the most important part of a website? And how do you know if you really need one or when it is time to redesign the one you have? Join Speak Creative's VPs for an off topic conversation about building a website that wins business.
Websites That Win Business | Episode 6
David: Hello everyone and welcome back. You are listening to A Little Off Topic, one agency's water cooler chat on digital marketing, business, and all the things that get in the way, presented by Speak Creative. This week, we are getting down to the bread and butter or the meat and potatoes, if you will, of what we do at Speak. That's right. We'll be talking about good old fashioned website design and development.
So we start off today with the question of why do you need a website? And as basic as that sounds, it's the question that prompted us to do this episode in the first place. Of course, my first thought when hearing that question was, well, you need a website because you need a website. But obviously there's much more to it than that. In a lot of cases, especially for us in our world where we live and breathe websites 24/7. On the surface, that answer is probably going to seem simple. But when many organizations are dedicating more time to Facebook or any other social media and even Google My Business, that question is more relevant than ever.
My name is David Caffey. I'm Speak's Digital Marketing Manager and the host of this podcast. I'm joined this week and every week by our VP leadership team. Kindra Svendsen is VP of Client Partnerships. The first of our two Matts is Matt Roberts, VP of Marketing and Sales. And finally with us again, as always is Matt Ervin, VP Creative Services. We kick off today talking about the process that goes into building a website, including the pros and cons between DIY website platforms and fully custom websites. After that, we'll talk about our own experiences with websites in each of our own specialty areas. And finally, for those embarking on a website project, we'll end with some tips and best practices to help that go smoothly. Lots to talk about today. So let's get started. As always, we thank you for taking the time to listen to our show today, and I hope you enjoy today's episode of A Little Off Topic.
David: And we're back with the VP trio once again, talking this week about websites. I know it's the thing that we're mainly all here for at Speak. So I think each of you guys represents a different stage of the website process. First of all, we've got Matt Roberts here. Matt, you're the first person people talk to a lot of the time about websites.
Roberts: How's it going, David?
David: It's going good. We've got Matt Ervin who is the 'behind the scenes' guy on a lot of these websites, Matt, how are you?
Ervin: Good, and I like the behind the scenes part, definitely better than the 'out front' part.
David: I would agree with that. Kindra is one of the people that makes people come to the website once it's launched. Kindra, how are you?
Kindra: I'm good. Hello.
David: So the first question I have for you guys is a broad question, but it's something to think about. Why are websites still important? I think it's something that a lot of people might take for granted. If they have a functional website that works, why do they need a new one? Why do they need to put too much thought in it? Why are websites still important in 2020?
Kindra: I'll jump in just because I probably don't get to talk to prospects about this very often, but I started my career in very traditional advertising and once it's out there, it's out there and then it's done. Websites are that living, breathing tool. So it's not like a postcard where it's only as good as it's going to get. It can evolve and change. It can push out new updates or new design features. It's the most important to me because it shows who you are at the current moment, and it's not relegated to a specific campaign or one specific look that you've defined for that moment in time. That's why I think they're the most important as far as marketing goes, but definitely digital marketing, certainly.
Roberts: Yeah. The idea of somebody having in their mind that a website is a thing that exists and we have one, why would we need a new one? A lot of times you'll hear that feedback from organizations who maybe have only engaged with more traditional marketing or advertising agency. It was part of a campaign that got built and then it's been up for, for who knows how long. A website is just so much more effective than your traditional piece of collateral that just sits. You have the opportunity like Kindra was saying, to obviously keep it continuously updated, but to really find new and interesting ways to tell stories to your key audiences and to move them into a tighter relationship with you as an organization and ultimately move them into some type of behavior that benefits you as a company.
Roberts: So if you're trying to sell something those are transactions. If you're trying to develop more business as a B2B style organization, that's building leads. If you're a nonprofit, it's donations. There are lots of key audiences obviously for every organization, but websites can actually influence how somebody thinks and behaves. So to the extent that those things aren't happening on your current website, it has a deficiency. That's where we would try to pick apart where we could be maximizing value to your audiences so that your website can actually produce a return for you as an organization and boost your brand.
Ervin: So I would throw in another sub-bullet to the question and say, why do I need a website when I've got Facebook? What does your site give you that Facebook doesn't give you? Do you want me to answer? I was hoping that somebody else would answer it because you guys are smarter than me.
Roberts: I couldn't tell if it was a rhetorical question or not.
Kindra: Longevity. I think there's just so much noise on social media that like you can push out a message and now we're seeing that only 5% of your audience is going to see it. So if we look at a website, you can keep your most up to date information upfront. It's on-demand, so people can see it whenever they want, versus having to go and search and scroll to find something relevant. It's just there when they need it. I'm all for a good digital marketing presence, don't get me wrong, but if you don't have the website, I think you get lost pretty quickly.
David: I think that can extend outside of Facebook too. So the last couple of years, the Google My Business or Google maps, like in a lot of categories of businesses, the type of information you might've gone to a website for a couple of years ago — like just name, address, phone number, what time they're open, what their address is, and how to get to it, that sort of stuff — is no longer something that needs to be on your website. It can be accessible through your Facebook or your Google My Business. However, on the other side of that is when you're beholden to Google or Facebook, you're also on their terms of when updates are made or what the design looks like in a lot of cases. When you bring somebody into a website, not only are you able to shape the entire experience for them in terms of getting them to convert or getting them to contact you or get in touch with you, but you're also able to gather more information analytics specific to them, other than the basic stuff you get from Facebook and Google. So I think that's a good question and something that's been talked about a lot I think. But yeah, it's still pretty critical as even though more and more tools are out outside of the website are available to us.
Ervin: Yeah. I certainly agree with that. I was thinking it's like why Chick-fil-A isn't only in the mall anymore, right? They used to only be in the mall many years ago. But then they needed their own presence where they could control everything, and when they did that, they exploded and just took off like crazy.
Roberts: I had something really good to say, but then your Chick-fil-A metaphor is so good. There's just no topping it, so I think I'll just let it slide.
David: I'd also like to point out that Sbarro used to only be in the mall and now they're gone.
Ervin: Are they really gone? It's the best little pizza place in New York City.
David: I think they closed the one in times square. We'll have to do a follow-up podcast on Sbarro, but I think they follow the opposite strategy and didn't do too well.
Roberts: So we talk a lot about the marketing and sales funnel and getting people in at the top of the funnel, trying to create awareness of your organization and your brand, and at the very bottom of the funnel is some type of transactional behavior and re-engagement. So you're always trying to cycle people through that process. The way that I like to think about it is that a website is capable of taking every part of your funnel and doing something with it and moving them through the next piece or phase of your funnel. Facebook, Google, and lots of other things can be leveraged in specific ways to move folks from one part of the funnel to the next, but not necessarily to replicate the entirety of what you're trying to do with your marketing and sales strategy. So that's where it's your first best option for having a holistic and complete marketing and sales experience. Of course, you supplement that with all the other tools that are available to you because you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not using them.
David: So in my world, Google is always updating stuff and putting out new requirements. So when somebody asks me the question of when it's time to get a new website, I would say all the time, because it's always something new and exciting. But realistically that's not going to happen for most any organization to update that frequently. So to you guys, what are the signs where you've got to get a new website together versus like maybe just a few updates here and there and a facelift will be just enough. When is it time to pull everything down and start from the beginning?
Roberts: I'll start just because I think this is a question I get asked a fair bit and certainly it's a case by case, but there are some easy benchmarks to be able to look at to ask if this website is so far behind that it's an easy yes. One of those benchmarks would be whether or not you're providing an experience on a mobile device that's moving people to the type of engagement that you're looking to create. That's an easy one to look at and assess with a pass/fail type of situation. Same thing with ADA, are you doing the best job that you can to make your websites accessible to all the different kinds of audiences that might want to engage with you?
Roberts: There are some pretty easy well-known tools that you can use like Wave to do an assessment on your website. We can look at that and see if it's something that's so far behind that we could correct all these issues, or it could just knock it down and build from the ground up to actually be faster. So those are two tent-pole issues that are easy to come around and look at more specifically with an organization. It's one of those things where the deficiencies that I mentioned a minute ago, as far as your ability to tell stories online and your ability to move people to action and create engagement are longer conversations. Because obviously we have to get to know each organization, but those are things that are really after a handful of minutes, pretty easy to assess where somebody is in relation to where they could be online. Then it becomes just a practice of putting together what the recommendations are to get you up to speed. That's where the conversation typically goes from there.
Kindra: One of the things that I coach clients and our strategists to ask their clients is to just use the website. I think we get so comfortable being in it and adding content to it, that we forget to just start from the beginning as if we'd never been on it before, or to have some of their current clients or current target audience use it because so often we evolve as a company and we're adding that content in the blog, or we're adding news updates, but we're not getting to the point where your main navigation should change or your homepage doesn't reflect your main new service. So I think just using your website on a regular basis as if you were the targeted user helps pinpoint when the changes are needed, which would be anytime you evolve as a business.
David: One thing to emphasize in what Kindra said that I always say, especially from an SEO and user experience in general, is to actually look at your website on your phone regularly. There's a lot of ways you can simulate it. You can shrink the screen size down on your browser or use a tool, but I always find the real issues when I'm looking at it on my actual phone. Yesterday, I was on some streaming service for Broadway musicals. I was trying to sign up for a free trial for it, and on my phone in the form, you couldn't scroll to the submit button. Like you could fill in every field and I'm sure like somebody missed that. You're looking at it on your computer all day at your desk, right? But if you take a break and look at it on your actual phone, you'll find probably something every time. So even if it's a small little detail, you can find something that can be improved.
Kindra: And you get so involved in what information is needed on the form or what the button should actually say or what color the button should be. But, sometimes you forget to use it and see if it actually makes sense. We do a lot of browser checks on all of our projects, but the biggest thing is that any time there's another change, we have to go back through browser checks because if you miss something or something breaks, a bad user experience makes the website not useful at all, because people will just navigate away from a bad experience.
Roberts: Yeah. Can you imagine being somebody who works at whatever service this is that David's looking at and wondering why you're getting so few form submissions and being super frustrated until you pull your phone out and take a look and realize the problem.
Ervin: The worst is when you have a customer that calls you and says, "Hey, we're not getting any form submissions" and then you realize somebody didn't follow the browser check process.
Roberts: I would be a bad salesperson if I didn't pitch this, but one thing that I would challenge folks to think about is to get out of the cycle of thinking that every 3 to 4 years, you're going to knock down our website and build it from the ground up again. There are lots of different ways that you can invest in your website a little bit on a consistent basis that allows for incremental improvement and to manage your website in an agile way to make it effective so that you don't have to get to this point of big deficiency. Always float along on this trajectory of continuous improvement and continuous engagement and it will be super effective. Shoutout to the Nashville Zoo. They've engaged with the process like this with us over the past few years and incrementally, we took their website, which was at the time we first got engaged, a few years old, and brought it back up to effectiveness and then made steady improvements over time. It's just been a really great case study for how letting somebody who can measure the effectiveness of your website and make suggestions can create long term impact with a web design.
Kindra: Just to provide a little bit more, we've done that with our own website. We replaced the video background and then we replaced a menu and a new case study template. It's all these small incremental changes that someone who hasn't been on our site in six months might look back and notice. So they really do add up, especially when they're useful parts into whatever strategy you're promoting at the moment.
Roberts: Probably the biggest point of clarification there is that we can't take something necessarily that's five or six years old and get you up to speed quickly without just starting from scratch. But if your website has been designed in the past handful of years, that's a perfectly legitimate way of looking at getting your website up to effectiveness and then keeping it effective longer term. So you don't have to go through these big-time intensive and just stressful website redesign projects. They wear everybody out and you get to the launch of the website and feel like you don't want to do it again for the next several years.
Kindra: Or “we started this a year ago. It's time to start over.”
Roberts: That's exactly right. It's just something to think about if that's an appropriate tactic for you.
David: So let's talk about our website building process and I'll frame it around the reality that if I want a website, there's a couple of routes I could go down in 2020. I can do a DIY subscription-based service, like a Squarespace. I could do something like going by a WordPress template and just figure it out, or I could go to a design development partner, an agency like us, and go through a full custom process of building. So my question to you guys is first, What are the reasons and benefits of pursuing a full custom web design project, compared to something like a do it yourself type of platform?
Ervin: In my opinion, you have to do a cost-benefit analysis. You can do that with everything else, why not do it with this. What do I get from having a group of pros that have multiple professional disciplines in their group? What do I get from that? I get people who are good at code, digital marketing, SEO, and design. If my website is that important to my business as an active, big part of my strategy, then invest in it. Get something that's designed and tailored fit to your strategy and to what you need to do to your business. That's going to work better than going and buying your off the shelf template or something that is close to that, that is built by you who knows your business, but you don't necessarily know the ins and outs of web. That would be what I would say. Matt, if we were doing sales training, what grade would I get?
Roberts: That's a solid A-.
Ervin: I was hoping for a C+.
Roberts: Speaking into the idea of a cost-benefit analysis a little bit more, I think something like Squarespace and WordPress are perfectly legitimate solutions for different types of organizations. I'm involved with a nonprofit here in town and I helped us create a little Squarespace website. The intent was essentially we needed a place for prospective tenants of this nonprofit to be able to fill out a form online to just be able to get in touch. There's not a huge marketing reach. There's a handful of very small organizations around town who refer potential tenants to the nonprofit. So it really just needed to be a place where folks could give an address for people to go and fill out some information. It didn't have to transact anything. We weren't super interested in like doing a bunch of brand building or trying to expand our nonprofit into something more than what it is currently. So for us, choosing to spend 30 bucks a month to stand up a little website that does exactly what we need it to was the correct cost-benefit. If you're a small business and you're looking to do several hundred thousand dollars worth of business that's one of those things where the expectation of your revenue probably should elevate your expectation of your website because it can have a direct impact.
Roberts: For almost every organization that we work with, we ended up talking about what's their ROI? For an architecture firm, spending several thousand dollars on a website can feel daunting, but then when we talk about how many extra projects they need to get off of this website for it to be worth it. Their answer is usually like 0.2% or something like that. That can be just a really easy way to think about how much more business would I need to get for this website to be worth it. Alternatively, you could look at it and ask how much business you are losing by not having a website that's already doing the things that it should be doing. So cost-benefit return on investment is a brass tax way of looking at it. But it's a really good place to start for sure.
Kindra: I would just say, what do you want your website to say? Sure, there's Squarespace templates and I agree, I think they're great options out there. But if you can remove all of your photos, and that website could be a coffee shop or a boutique or a tax service, you're not saying much about your business. But looking at a custom website we've done, the one that comes to mind is our Loveland living planet aquarium. There are octopus tentacles and bubbles. It is so uniquely them, that you could remove all of the headlines and content, and you're still going to know that this is something worth looking at. This is visually appealing. So I think it's really just about how immersive you want your experience to be for your customer. Certainly, that is echoed in the actual onsite experience for them as well. But if they were to have used a template, it wouldn't have done very much for them because it doesn't do their product justice. So I think that just like building it based on who you are and who you are without the fancy photography, that's important to know before you go into that process.
Roberts: One of the other things that we started the conversation with was just how effective is your website? And that's, that's really where when we look at the team that we pulled together for every website project and creating the engagement and the results that each of our clients are looking for, those aren't necessarily things that you as a DIY Squarespace or WordPress instance, you might have some instincts toward what you want to do there, but as far as like actual experience and pros who can create the right message and move somebody through the website in a way that's meaningful and create conversions is not a simple thing to do. So beyond just the look and feel, I'd love to hear from an approach and strategy standpoint. What are the things that you're really looking for when we bring in a new client?
Kindra: Yeah, good question. I do think that that's it. They're not expected to be experts. They are experts at running their business, we hope, but that means that their energy should go there and not on designing the site or looking at conversions of the site. Not that that's not important to their business frame of mind, but we really do look at how we can move the bottom line. So any digital marketing strategy that's applied to a website starts with what our goal is. What is that bottom line? Is it more leads, dollars, tickets, koozies? We have to figure out how to do more of that. So understanding where their business lies and what works for them offline, is really important, but then we bring that online in a way that can change and really pivot based on where the market is. But the whole goal is to help increase that number because we do want them to get the ROI on their website and make that sales conversation easier to have next time around. So how we do that varies pretty widely. First, competitive landscape, understanding the market, and what else is out there and what's working. We test. David, you could probably jump in too. We do AB testing and button testing. Certainly, our ad copy is tested. All of our campaigns get tested over the course of a few months, but it all goes back to what is that indication that we're being successful?
David: So this is the embrace debate, time to fight segment of the podcast. What do you guys think is the most important part of the website build? To me, that's appeasing Google is the most important part of the website build. SEO wise, I tell a lot of people on the SEO importance of a website, to just make sure the user has a solid experience. Anytime somebody goes to a search engine, they're asking a question. Just have the best answer. But there's still a lot of things you have to address on the front end. One: Google needs to be able to access the website. You need some text on the page. If all your text is in an image, it's not going to work. There's a big checklist of things like that, I would say. But I guess to summarize to me, the front end planning of collecting data, hitting those SEO checkboxes, considering taking data from your old website, and seeing what can be improved upon to me is the most important part of the website process. Would you guys agree or disagree?
Roberts: The question of what is the most important part of anything is always an invitation, like we said, to fight. Absolutely. Let's pay attention to Google. Let's make sure that all the things that David says are valuable. The part that I really feel like connects the most with organizations that I've talked to is the idea of who are your audiences? And what's the story that we want to tell them as they go through the website? So that you can, forgive the blunt terminology, but extract value from those people. I love what we do with our mood boards where we've got audiences and we're mapping the user journey. So again, David's not wrong. But that's the part that I think I get really energized by. I really enjoy talking to organizations about who each of their 17 different audiences are and what they need to get out of them. Trying to make sense of how an organization is supposed to talk to, probably not 17 different audiences, but a handful all at once and get them each to do something different is daunting to some people. But for us, it's something we deal with every day and do a really good job with. So that's, that's the part that I really key in on.
Ervin: Maybe create value for people, instead of extracting it from them? A minor shift in terminology. My answer is similar to both of yours, which is weird, but it's also not something that my group does. So I think the most important part of a website is the planning. What are we going to build? Because with a great content plan that covers the client and users needs well, you can tell my group what is it that we need to build, then we can build it. And we can do a darn fine job. And when we're done it will do what the customer needs it to do and we'll have a happy customer.
Kindra: Well, you guys are all wrong, but the right answer is content. Absolutely content. Not just the words on the page, but the story you tell. The way things look that makes you want to click and take action. How people feel when they're navigating your website, are they inspired to go deeper than one page? Content is going to tackle the SEO problem. Content is going to tackle what should be on the page and how it needs to look. So that gets Matt Ervin's architecture and then Roberts, it clearly hits on your user experience. But I think it all boils down to content. Are your headlines flippant and whimsy, or are they straight to the point? Are they comforting? Every little piece of content, whether it's pictures, writing, or video, it has to hit that emotional appeal. It has to hit that informational appeal and without it, people are going to bounce.
Roberts: So you're saying I'm right.
Kindra: You're not wrong.
David: So my assessment is that in all of our answers, there's a middle ground between planning and being incredibly data-driven, but also taking those creative bold steps to separate yourself and have that story told. There's the saying of something about missing shots you don't take? I can't remember it exactly, but it's something along the lines of that.
Roberts: You miss a hundred percent of the shots you don't take is what I think you're looking for. Well, I will say explicitly, we all kind of nibbled around the issue, but it's not a zero-sum game where you have to choose one or the other of these things. Great planning, content, data architecture, and brand presence aren't things that are mutually exclusive. They're all key elements that go into really great web design and it's our job to pick each of those pieces apart and make them all work as part of really great web design.
Kindra: I put them in two categories. This is not a term that I came up with, but it's in my lexicon, probably from some marketing material I read, but it's form and function. You have to have both and if you have the form and everything is beautiful, but it doesn't function, then it's not serving us right. If it has all the functions, but it's not interesting to look at, then it's also not serving us. So whether that's SEO content or the actual design of the site, I think it's got to have form and function to really hit the mark.
Roberts: Not to pick on traditional agencies too much, but we get partnered into a traditional agency website build every once in a while because somebody designed something for a campaign and then realizes they can't actually build it for the client. We'll take one of those on every once in a while. But it's almost always all form. They have no idea how the web functions in the year 2020. So, I cringe a little bit when I see one of those projects because you just realize that this client could have something that is much more dynamic and much more useful for their business goals, but they just landed on having something that looks really good or looks pretty. It doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. You can have something that looks really beautiful and is super engaging and boosts your brand, but that also does all the things that you need it to do for you to grow as an organization.
David: Very nice. So we'll close on some hot key takeaways here for everybody. So if I'm in the website process now, or considering it, what is one tip you guys would share to somebody that's about to embark on this journey? And I already shared my tip to look at the site on your phone all the time. But I'd also make sure that you don't have any features that would be blocking Google from indexing the site. That's catastrophic if that happens. Always check for that and always like always be testing on your phone. Those are technically two tips, but those are the ones I have to share.
Roberts: Yeah my tip would be email Matt.firstname.lastname@example.org because I'd like to talk to you about us designing and building your website, but what else do you expect me to say?
Kindra: That was great. Mine would be to look at content, But look at it, look at what you already have. Sometimes you don't have to recreate the wheel. You can just optimize what you have. I think too often we go into brand new websites and feel like we have to scrap everything we've ever written or said, and have to be this whole new persona or this whole new presence, and that's not true. You've been successful with what you've had so far. So let's carry that forward.
Ervin: I would say that you need to plan on your content taking at least twice as long as you think it will take. Content is the most difficult part of any website. Not just the planning of it, but the generation, testing, and loading and all that stuff. It's also probably the least fun, but it is extremely important.
Kindra: And Matt, I guess to say that your content is your calendar of events, a portfolio, or headshots. It's not just words on a page, that's the easy part, right? Yeah.
Roberts: It's a great video, it's all those things. So I gave my shout out. Email me if you have a project, let's talk. But in all seriousness, my tip for people thinking about a new website is to view the launch of your new website as a starting line. I think for a lot of folks, it feels like a finish line because depending on the project, it can be three months or six months or longer, that you're building this thing in the background and you get to launch and it feels like you finally got that task off your task list. But that's really just as a starting line, of course, because you're launching your new website. So to be mindful of, either keeping up with all the data on your website or having somebody like us come in and help you understand that data and make changes based on how people are behaving, but to really be thinking just because I have a new website, what's going to change? Well, the people that were coming to your previous website will come to your new website and hopefully, it will be more effective at moving them through into engagement with you as an organization. But then, how do you get more people there? A new website is not going to naturally just do that. So again, thinking of it as a starting line realizing that now that you have this great foundation in place, how can you get more people to it, so that it's more engaging?
David: Well, thank you, guys. I think we've all submitted several tips, but I think it was a good conversation today. As Matt said, contact him or go to madebyspeak.com. I'll hit that again in our little outro here that's about to play right after this, but good talk today.
David: Well, that is it for today. I hope you guys enjoyed it. Definitely a ton of good info shared today. I think a very enlightening conversation for the four of us. I know I got a lot out of it. I hope you guys did too. As promised, I'll give one more shout out to Matt Roberts and the whole business development team. If you want to know more about starting a website with Speak head on over to madebyspeak.com and all of their contact info is there available for you. During your visit to madebyspeak.com, I'd encourage you to read the latest and greatest content being posted on our blog. I can't stress it enough. I think I say it every time at the end of these episodes. There's always great stuff going on there on a regular basis. So keep an eye out for even more updates coming up down the road. As always, if you have feedback we'd love to hear from you. Speak is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, whichever you prefer, we are there for you. If you enjoyed the show, I ask you to subscribe and leave a review on your podcast platform of choice, but from myself and our panel of VPs and all of us at Speak Creative. Thank you once again for getting a little off topic.
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