Cheap Web Sites – How do I get me one?
It seems everybody wants a cheap web site these days but you need to understand why you can get one but you may not actually want one. A cheap web site is likely to be a few pages of information with a basic colour scheme or basic design that may match some other branding elements you have. You need to ask yourself why you want a ‘cheap’ web site though so that you understand your real motive. You may then decide you don’t want a cheap web site and that you actually want something more.
Ultimately, you get what you pay for so don’t expect that $100 to make you thousands of dollars every year, it’s just not going to happen.
So why do you really want a cheap web site? Is it because:
- You don’t understand what a web site is?
- You don’t know how much income it will generate and want to limit your losses?
- Everybody else is doing it so you feel that you’re missing out?
If you don’t know what a web site is or what it can do for your online venture, speak to a professional. The Internet is full of get-rich-quick scams that can get you online in a day for very little money but you get what you pay for and you’re likely to end up with nothing more than an advertisement that may, or may not, generate any leads for you. The Internet isn’t magical, mythical or fantastical, it’s just a complex set of ever-changing technologies that are just waiting to eat your money and burn your fingers. If you don’t understand it, find a professional. Most professionals will sit down for coffee for an hour but make sure they listen to you and find out what you do, not what they can do. A professional will tell what’s possible and give you anything from a one page ($100) through to a basic site ($1,000) or something dynamic ($5,000) or even a full eCommerce site ($20,000) but with on-going maintenance.
Web sites require very little maintenance, they just keep working if you pay the monthly fees for hosting the site. The only thing you may be paying for is new content or new features but any new feature usually means going back to the beginning of the process. However, a new feature may mean more income so evaluate every new feature on its merits.
If you don’t know how much income it will generate, we don’t either. We can help to evaluate it and may be able to limit your losses while we probe the market but nobody knows for sure. It depends what you’re selling, what your competition is doing online and how committed you are. Web sites have the potential to increase your sales by 10,000% and make you a millionaire but you’ll have to invest in a lot of professional developer time to achieve that. Some businesses just don’t work on the Internet, but some businesses can be adapted and a new business can be made out of nothing, just like Amazon. There aren’t any Amazon stores in the world, it was all built out of nothing and built on the Internet to serve a small business sector (the long-tail) but it has made millions of dollars. A professional web developer with some business analysis skills should be able to give you some options for this. Make sure they understand what you do and how your business operates. They can then look at how that aligns to the Internet. They will also need to check out your competitors online. Getting your independent bookstore online is possible, getting it to compete against Amazon is going to be extremely expensive and probably not feasible. Promoting your store as a community bookstore though, dealing in rare books or providing meetings for literary groups may help to increase revenue. Every business has Internet options but you need to work with a professional to discover and leverage them.
Building a web site because everybody else has one is a bad idea. A web site is like any marketing or advertising investment, you have to make sure it’s going to generate business for you. Spending $100 on a site may generate some business and may cover the $100 cost but getting your site noticed takes many hours of work and $100 doesn’t buy you that time.
There are three basic steps that every web site has to achieve.
1. Get users.
2. Engage them.
3. Make money from them.
Getting users is hard work and can normally be split into two distinct methods; acquisition and referral.
Engaging them is somewhat easier as it’s typically achieved through valuable content on your web site that is constantly updated. Additional technologies such as social and interactive tools can help to build this. You can consider engagement as two different activities; activation and retention.
Lastly, you need to make money from your users. Your site may be a non-profit or just purely informational but there is still a revenue-generation phase. It may be that they signed up, donated something or read something. We call this stage conversion. They are no longer a visitor, they’re a customer.
Together I’m going to refer to these as the Five Methods of Building a Successful Online Presence. Not everybody wants to make money on the Internet, some are non-profits, some are just there to get their information read so I’ll use the term business loosely. We also have to realize that a web site today is typically an online brand or an online identity. It isn’t just a web site, it’s more than that it’s how we’re blogged about, how people tweet about us and how everybody uses this online presence in their day-to-day lives. Social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter connect people in different ways today but they allow us to tap into these networks of friends, across international boundaries and across both personal and professional worlds. A successful online presence is about gaining insight into this world and leveraging it. Technology helps us to achieve that but only if we understand it.
To help us understand this new world we will break it down into methods and channels. The method is our objective and what we’re trying to achieve, the channel is our means of achieving that objective.
The five methods of building a successful online business are:
- Acquisition is achieved through any number of channels but is about new users coming to you independently such as through a search engine or an online advertisement.
- Referral is achieved by recommendation so it could be a visitor referring your site to a friend or it could be from a customer recommending it to their friends.
- Activation is a uniquely Internet stage. Many visitors come to a site, realize that’s not what they wanted and go away. Sometimes it’s legitimate and sometimes it’s because their initial experience didn’t answer their query. Visitors have very little time online so if it’s not obvious, they leave. Activation is capturing that visitor’s attention and making them feel that they’re in the right place.
- Retention is about keeping the visitor on the site for a long time, giving them what they want or making them want to come back.
- Conversion is the final stage and is how to turn a visitor into a customer.
Each of these methods is critical to the success of your online venture but being satisfactory at any one of them can make you money. You don’t need all of them and you don’t need to be excellent at all of them, it mostly depends what your competitors are doing. If your competitors are hitting the top notes on some of these aspects, you need to match them. If you can’t afford to do that, don’t. If you’re out-gunned find a different way of presenting your business online. It’s all about the return on your investment and nothing else.
Your web professional should be able to discuss each of these methods and how they’re going to strategize them with you. If they can’t, find another one.
There are many people that claim to be web designers, web developers or webmasters. Very few of them know what they’re doing. Ask them what their biggest sites are, how many unique visitors do they control or ask them for a list of domains they can review. How many page views do these sites attract? What business sectors do these sites sit within? How competitive are their markets compared to yours? Ask them how much do they charge? Or ask them how much your site will cost?
A web professional should be able to talk about all of the above comfortably but unless they have a good understanding of what you want they shouldn’t be able to answer the last question. You should also be looking a building a relationship with this professional, somebody that will keep marketing your site online, suggest new features for you and provide monthly reports on site activity. The Internet is getting more popular every day and your site should have month-to-month growth. If it doesn’t you’re going backwards, not forwards. Unique visitors and page views are two key indicators of a site’s success.
Pablo is based in the tri-cities area of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He’s not actually a web designer or web developer, he’s actually a freelance ICT consultant that provides strategic ICT advice and guidance for a collection of large enterprises in the Province, mostly on infrastructure and operational matters based on his 20+ years in the business. He just happens to be a part-time web developer working with Web 2.0 technologies for fun but has somehow managed to find himself blending his strategic experience and business analysis skills with his hobby. He also used to operate a large web site with over 4,000 uniques per day and up to 120,000 page views and occupied the coveted #1 spot on Google for a few years.
PS This is Part I of a series that I’ve been meaning to write for many years. In my day job I often talk about maturity and use that as a means of assessing where a company is and how to move to the next stage. Every company is at a different position on this scale and each strategic plan I produce is different but I think it’s time we started to look at maturity in the context of web sites. It’s only by doing this that we can educate the site owners where they are, where they could be and expose where their current professionals are. Not all web professionals are equal, an immature sector often has wild extremes and this is what I see today. A web professional, or team of them, needs to be judged on their technical skills, experience and their business acumen because all of these factors need to be considered when building a successful online presence. You need to have a passion for web development to succeed and keep up, many professionals don’t have it.