Torrents of traffic is no excuse for poor presentation. CRAIG REARDON
By Craig Reardon
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After many years of being considered an IT discipline, its now common knowledge that websites and their subsequent search engine marketing, email marketing, banner advertising, web 2.0 marketing et al is in fact the newest stream of plain old marketing.
In the same way that radio, television and the telephone all became workaday promotional vehicles, so too has the internet become simply the latest medium with which marketers can promote their product – albeit in some very new and interesting ways.
Unfortunately that logic doesn’t stop many so called e-marketers giving the finger to the fundamentals of marketing and promoting practices that would have marketing pioneers turning in their graves.
This growing gaggle of Google-obsessed geeks preach the virtues of web “eyeballs” at all costs and turn a blind eye to professional presentation and marketing standards that serious organisations have fought for decades to build and preserve.
Their measures of success ignore these mainstays of branding, focusing purely on page views and who, in their rush to show you the dramatic growth in “hits”, conveniently ignore the fact that the bulk of these visitors exit the same website faster than you can close an office-inappropriate email.
By way of illustration, I was recently invited to the premises of a client to look at their website and related e-marketing activities.
This business-to-business consulting firm wanted to be hired by professional organisations to advise on and improve aspects of their business at three figure hourly rates.
Typically what you would expect of such a requirement would be a professional website with all the professional appearance, writing, photography, layout, evidence of quality and calls to action that are the mainstay of professional service websites.
Instead I was dismayed by what the website designers and/or consultants had recently produced for the client.
Instead of a professional design, the site looked like it had come out of the labs of the earliest template design experiments. Instead of professional photography it looked like the shots of testimonial providers had been taken on a mobile phone. Indeed, the same testimonial providers appeared not to be business professionals at all but acquaintances of the business owner in question who had just got out of bed – apparently on the wrong side!
It didn’t end there.
Instead of professionally shot video of more testimonials, the poorly lit wobblecam was horribly amateurish (though my former tertiary film and television studies may have coloured this view). The pages were poorly laid out and even contained ugly oversized and multi-coloured headings and MS Word style highlighting of the text.
For someone who had worked in professional presentation for longer than I’m prepared to admit, I actually found the website to be quite sickening as I was confronted by page after page of presentation sacrilege.
To this end I found it difficult to know where to start addressing let alone resolving the issues the site presented, apart from wanting to advise the client to throw it all out and start again.
But one has to tread carefully in these situations in the face of a client who may well have spent up to five figures on their online baby.
There’s no doubt that the e-marketer responsible for the website had read all the books, blogs and forums they could find on attracting web traffic. This was proven by lots of enhanced, enormous, multicoloured keyword-laden headings, tags and text. Lots of video (though interestingly it wasn’t served by the leading referrer of online video, YouTube) and lots of testimonials to provide increased (and again keyword-laden) content.
But the quality that was sacrificed in providing what in essence could have been reasonable content made the client look shoddy and amateurish.
Of course that wasn’t helped by said client doing a “boomerang pitch” – getting me in on the pretext of wanting to find out more about my services only to stop me half way through to start selling theirs.
The irony of the meeting was that prior to seeing their website and being conned by their motives, I was actually considering hiring their services.
But their total disregard for professional presentation and the message that conveyed about their own professionalism had me racing for the door.
This is not an isolated incident. There are literally dozens of so called expert e-marketers preaching the virtues of these misinformed practices via all today’s social and web 2.0 media.
No matter what you might hear, the fundamentals of professional presentation – high quality graphics, layout, writing, photography, video etc, are as important online as they are in traditional media, and given your business is literally at the world’s fingertips, arguably even more so. You should spend as much on them as you can afford.
While increased website traffic is a great measure of any website, it shouldn’t come at the expense of these all-important indicators of quality, which are even more critical given remote visitors can’t readily check out the traditional proof of credibility – your business premises.
The reputation of your business depends on it – and as the client described above will no doubt find, that is extremely difficult to recover.
Craig Reardon is a leading eBusiness educator and founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which provide the gamut of ‘pre-built’ website solutions, technologies and services to SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. www.theeteam.com.au