When websites ain’t websites

Website truths and mistruths. Knowing the difference can save you money and trouble. CRAIG REARDON

Craig Reardon

By Craig Reardon

It is said that the first casualty of war is the truth. Seems the same can be said for the battle for your online dollar.

Equally, as part of an attempt to be understood in a jargon-infested world and taking advantage of consumer ignorance, the boundaries for the technology we know as “websites” have become somewhat blurred in recent years.

On the one hand some less scrupulous firms are making wild claims about the cost of so called “websites” while on the other it appears a circle of so called “e-marketers” are attempting to create a dot-com style bubble out of what are tiny businesses whose only channel to market is their website.

But neither is accurate and both can mislead the unsuspecting consumer or business operator.

Mistruth #1: Website vs website system

You’ve heard the ads – websites for $40 a year or less, spruiking in the style of those “where do you get it” ads that made John Singleton a fortune.

It’s not ‘til parting with your hard earned, and at face value not a great sum, that you realise that the brilliant website is nothing but an empty shell and some hosting.

In other words, the real tricky part of establishing a professional website – well written, navigated, illustrated and search engine-friendly content – is nowhere to be seen.

While the real deal they are selling – content management systems with hosting – undoubtedly are a great step forward for anyone who has been stung by the cost, some designers charge for simple changes to your website. But without content they’re about as useful as a novel without any text.

In other words, about half a website. Or less.

Of course the other convenient omission is the lack of design. Some may allow you to add your own logo, but otherwise it is just a template looking pretty much like anyone else’s.

But the real cost of buying one of these website shells is the lost opportunity.

While you are spending precious time learning how to prepare and insert what is likely to be “enthusiast” level content, your competitors are already out there capturing your business with their fully professional websites.

By the time you’ve trialled and errored ‘til realising that you should have gone with the more cost effective professional proposal in the first place, you’ve lost who knows how much business.

Then you might have to pay for a new website system anyway, adding further insult to injury.

The bottom line? Get professional independent advice as early as possible. The initial cost will be worth it in the long run.

Mistruth #2: Website vs online business

A few weeks back I reported on the latest online “get rich quick” scheme, so called “flipping” websites – the practice of buying “websites” for next to nothing, “renovating” them and then flogging them off for many times the initial investment.

If anyone wants to promote the virtues of growing your business wealth using websites, it’s me. But this development is fundamentally misleading.

The websites referred to are nothing more than the “online shopfronts” for the respective underlying businesses. The real value of the so called website is actually not the website at all, but the business underlying it – its products, marketing, operations and of course customers.

All these so called websites have done is tap into the rich vein of the online niche. Finding an easy to freight niche product, they effectively achieve online market leadership by registering an appropriate domain name, build a website and promote it using search engine, web 2.0 and email marketing techniques.

But the website is only the purchasing channel. The business still must have the management, marketing, distribution, customer service, finance and every other standard practice of any good business in order for it to work.

While there could be some benefits in purchasing an existing online business from its owner, given the legacy bad business practices and burnt customers it may already have, chances are it would be far less painful and more cost effective to simply start your own.

As I’ve always said, the ones with the real opportunities here are existing retailers. They already have 90% of the equation in having all of the above attributes, and for a small investment by today’s standards it’s not too much of a stretch to multiply their current markets over and over again – without setting foot outside their store.

Both of these developments only further underscore the need for professional, independent advice as soon as you can get it.


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

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