There’s now a plethora of suppliers offering different capabilities – and different pitches. CRAIG REARDON
By Craig Reardon
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As the web industry continues to grow at lightning speed, the time-poor smaller business operator can often become bewildered at the range of buzzwords, technologies and suppliers – all of whom promise a virtual pot of gold at the end of their respective rainbows.
Make no mistake, these are exciting times in all of business, technology and marketing, but more than ever what is one business’s panacea is another’s waste of time and money.
So sorting the wheat from the chaff remains something of a mystery to these smaller players. For example, do I need a web designer or a webmaster? A web 2.0 guru or a gun code cutter?
This guide may help you determine exactly who’s who in the web zoo.
But before we begin, it’s important to understand where exactly your web initiative fits into your organisation. Is it a marketing initiative designed to bring you more qualified leads or expand your markets, or is it an operational initiative designed to streamline procedures and improve productivity? Or a combination of both?
We need to know this so as to have the correct individual overseeing the development. There’s no point having your marketing lead overseeing a productivity scope and vice versa. But it’s surprising just how often the wrong leader is appointed to such a task.
Generalists vs specialists
Equally it’s important to understand that like many fields of expertise, the e-marketing industry comprises a range of generalists, professionals who are good at lots of things; to specialists, those that provide extra specialised assistance in a specific area of expertise.
Let’s start with the generalists.
These funky and often “out there” organisations are a direct offshoot of traditional advertising agencies. Their role is to understand your marketing objectives and in turn recommend the best mix of new media to meet them. Ideally they will be technology-agnostic by ensuring they are not aligned to any one medium.
However in reality this can be clouded by what is fashionable and what is going to be the biggest earner for the agency. To this end, one needs to select a provider that is results oriented and can prove it. You will also need pretty deep pockets to afford them in the first place.
A new kid on the block. I know a bit about them because my own firm is helping to pioneer this space. Independent webmasters turn the traditional web design model on its head by being completely independent of any creative or technology solution.
In much the same way as you have a lawyer or accountant essentially represent your business for the best outcome, an independent webmaster will impartially recommend and implement the best strategies and solutions for your specific requirement and budget.
They’re a kind of “general practitioner” of the web space, so provide a first port of call for all your web requirements. (I’m biased, but I think it is the ideal solution for the budget-conscious smaller organisation.)
Web enthusiasts are essentially well meaning amateurs who have a strong passion and interest for web design and technology. While conveying a sense of enthusiasm and authority, they can actually have a counter effect on one’s business by focusing on the design or technology wow factor instead of the business result.
The best way to test their capabilities is to measure results such as increase on their clients’ sales or leads instead of their “showreel”. Chances are they won’t be able to tell you.
And now let’s look at the specialists.
Specialists are the converse of generalists in that they possess deep knowledge of a given subject matter and can provide invaluable assistance in improving those areas of your business.
Art directors, graphic designers
A professional look is critical to your website, as visitors look for clues to your professionalism in the absense of those traditionally provided by personal and other contact mechanisms. So these professionals are worth their weight in gold as they help impress prospects and stakeholders with attractive and enticing design.
However, their role has been diminished in recent times as e-marketing strategy and tactics have replaced aesthetics as key drivers of online success. The point being there’s no use having a beautiful website if it can’t attract visitors and keep them there as long is required to achieve the objective of that visit. After all, would you rather win a design award or double your online sales?
Did you know that website visitors “read” only 20% of the text content, preferring instead to scan it? So while the copy of your brochure may well be useful, it needs to be edited and laid out in a way that promotes said scanning instead of indepth reading. A good web writer can help give your copy this edge while keeping a close eye on all important search engine optimisation.
Good web developers can provide clever online tools that help differentiate your website from that of a competitor. But for smaller organisations most web technology already exists and can be obtained for a fraction of the price that a developer will charge. So by all means seek the services of a developer, but at the same time check that the development doesn’t already exist “off the shelf”.
Software as a service (SaaS), application service providers (ASP)
In only a few years, these amazing technologies have completely levelled the online playing field to the point where a home-based business can favourably compete with a Top 500 company.
Tools such as secure shopping carts, content management systems, email marketing systems and more have now reached pricepoints that make them as affordable as office stationery. Which leads to a new problem – which is best for the specific requirements of your business?
Search engine marketers
Having a prominent presence on search engines has become so critical to a business that it has spawned a raft of search engine marketing specialists, with some specialising further into either “organic” results or paid advertising. Like any new area of expertise, beware the snake oil salespeople, and check their track record.
Web 2.0 marketers
Like search engine marketers, the boom in web 2.0 activities has meant that specialists are required to help organisations prepare strategies and tactics in this still little understood field.
When assessing specialists, be aware that it is only natural that they are going to promote the virtues of their own speciality instead of taking an essential “holistic” view of your requirement. For example, while search engine marketing is very important, it may not provide you with as high a return on investment as email marketing and so on.
Which is best for your business?
There is no panacea to your e-marketing requirements because every business is different, as is their stage of e-business evolution, strategy and so on. However it’s logical that a smaller organisation starts with seeking the services of a generalist who can plan and oversee the evolution of your online strategy before calling in specialists as required.
However the diversity of skills and solutions available also necessitates an independent assessment so as to ensure that the path you take is not a bumpy one.
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