Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
April 9, 2009 6:41 AM

Hold Off On Twitter - Fix Your Website First

It's fundamental - focus on your website.

You thought this Blog post was going to tell you that you're missing the boat because your company is not on Twitter or blogging. Wrong. Maybe the problem is that you have not created an iPhone app yet, or that you don't even know if there is a Facebook page set-up for the brands, products and services that you sell. Wrong again.

All of the attention you think you should be spending on online marketing in the many digital channels and platforms will bring your company zero return if you don't have a website that is not only nice and easy-to-use, but findable through all of the search engines (yes, that includes Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!).

It's time to get back to basics. It's almost laughable to think that some companies don't have a serious, robust and up-to-date website in 2009. No matter what you do - and this include business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) - everyone, at every level of any organization, always goes online to see just who they are doing business with. This could be potential customers, clients, vendors, consultants and more. As each day passes, we're seeing just how significant a website is to the overall business strategy of all companies.

Here's a scenario: you're having lunch with a business colleague who recommends a new laptop for you to check out. Do you run down to Best Buy? Do you call your IT department and have them fax you over a spec sheet? No and no.

You do what everyone does: you check it out online.

You do a quick search, look for some reviews and empower yourself with more knowledge than any retail clerk at any major electronics retailer could ever have. In fact, when you finally do hit the stores, you are so informed about the product and features that your more advanced questions send the clerk to the exact same spot that you used: the Internet and the manufacturer's website.

Your website is becoming the primary and first connection that most people have with your company and brand.

Remember the old saying "You never get a second chance to make a first impression?" Every day, hundreds (maybe thousands) of people are thinking about your company, researching it online and checking out your website. What does your website really say to that person if it is the first impression?

Here's the good news: fixing up your website is probably one of the most cost-effective marketing solutions to multiple business challenges.

Your online presence is no longer just an interactive brochure (that's so 1998). Now, more than ever, your corporate website is the gateway to your business. It's far too easy to get caught up in the latest shiny object to come along, but never let that distract you from taking a good, serious and hard look at what everyone sees when they come to your online home. "It's not that important for us. It really isn't that big of a deal. Real people with real business opportunities are going to do more due diligence, and they're going to connect with us in person." That's the most common rebuttal to the "get your website fixed ASAP" argument. It's simple arrogance. It also demonstrates a true lack of understanding the realities of the new business landscape.

I've connected with many venture-capital types, and heard their constant refrain about how they had got interested in a particular business - be it from an investment or potential partnership - only to have the bets go off once they went to their website (or discovered there wasn't one). The simple conclusion: How could these companies make a wise investment if they can't even get a simple website together?

The big idea here is to take a step back. Analyze what your current website looks like. Use one of the many free Web analytics tools (Google Analytics or Yahoo Web Analytics) to monitor how many people are coming to your website every day, how they found you - what keywords did they use in the search engines or what links.

Once you know that, you can start building your site around what matters most to your users. You can write copy in their language (not with your business jargon) and make the site flow better. Make sure that your site is built and programmed with "clean" language that is friendly for the search engines. Review your website, frequently. Buy some friends some pizza and ask them for their candid feedback on what you're doing online.

Remember, even if your website is not perfect, great design and content will make up for shortcomings. Having a clean and well structured website will drive traffic from the search engines as well. Believe it or not, potential customers are looking for you right now. What are they finding? You or your competition?

How do you feel about the overall state of corporate websites?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

- Montreal Gazette - It's fundamental: focus on website.
- Vancouver Sun - Hold off on Twitter - fix your website first.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Amod Munga
    Mitch Joel

    Love this quote: "How could these companies make a wise investment if they can't even get a simple website together?" I often wonder that myself when I visit financial services sites. And while the argument can be made that financial service sites (and business sites as a whole) are not directly responsible for the website itself, they are responsible for the content..and they have the final say on how their brand is represented in the digital space.

    Speaking directly to your headline, it's a fair and often neglected point. Marketing services like Twitter are gateways to your main digital branding. These services set up the expectation and if you don't deliver on your website, you're gonna lose prospects.

    Altogether, yet another well-written article.

    Reply
  • Posted by Christian Egli
    Christian Egli

    Great post. Within all the social media marketing hype, so many marketers tend to forget the basics. True, the social media sphere potentially offers great possibilities in relationship marketing for some companies, if they use it well. But let's face it: most of them probably won't. And a bad, outdated company website is a good sign for that.

    It all boils down to strategy. If you can implement social media efforts into an extensive marketing and CRM strategy, including online as well as offline initiatives, you might just get it right. And if you bother to go all that way, your website will probably be state of the art.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    money. this is a big "duh" thing.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jonathan Levitt
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,
    As always, a great post.
    I think you're right on in suggesting people take a step back - I am just not sure that you have stepped back far enough.
    What amazes me most, is that still today, I meet with executives at the Fortune 1000 level who can’t put their finger on who their online audience is (not their target demographic, but their actual site visitors) and what they are at the given website to do.
    While web analytics solutions like you mentioned (Google Analytics, Yahoo) are powerful and provide behavioral data that can provide a significant amount of insight into ‘what’ is happening on your property, they fall short when it comes to understand visitor intent and task completion.
    If I were going to step back far enough to get a ‘true’ understanding of what to do with my website, I’d start there.
    You’d be amazed at how many companies have ‘eureka’ moments when they tap into the voice of the customer.

    So here is where I think you may have missed an important piece...

    ““Use one of the many free Web analytics tools (Google Analytics or Yahoo Web Analytics) to monitor how many people are coming to your website every day, how they found you - what keywords did they use in the search engines or what links.� Once you know that, you can start building your site around what matters most to your users.��

    I am not certain that those tools will give you insight into what matters most to your users. They will show ‘what’ people are doing on your site (and they are extremely good at that) – but will provide less insight into ‘why’.
    If you truly want to understand what matters most to site visitors, you have to be willing to ask them.

    Thanks for a great post.

    Reply
  • Posted by Chris Butler
    Mitch Joel

    I totally agree. I think the same idea applies to any social media initiative, or even getting obsessed with measuring SEO. I am often consulting our clients to (1) focus on content, (2) focus on the information architecture of their site, (3) focus on calls to action, and THEN, (4) focus on promoting their content via social media. Measuring and analytics have a place before and after each step, but even then, being overly focused on that can put the cart before the horse.

    Reply
  • Posted by David Hobbs
    Mitch Joel

    Thanks for the useful post. In addition to an issue of strategy, it's also a problem of how corporations *run* their sites. Without an effective Web Governance and operational structure for the Web, even a redesign won't last (for instance by different units within organizations putting up conflicting information.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jay Zheng
    Jay Zheng

    Here is what I think.

    Nearly 100% of the business websites today are poorly designed. Well-coded? yes, but poorly designed. Why? a) The websites are made for the CEO; b) They still insist on applying their old methods onto this new medium; c) They are afraid to make any changes.

    Well, coding is getting cheaper; designing, the good ones, although easy to achieve, are almost impossible to find.

    It's unfortunate to me that the Internet today is filled with people who try to take the shortcut and/or are just obsessed with SEO or SEM. But almost all of them are forgetting about the basics.

    Thanks for the great post!

    Reply
  • Posted by Thorne
    Mitch Joel

    My focus is on Web sites for professional services firms (e.g., law firms). Over the past few years, many of these firms have gone from having unsightly and poorly functioning sites, to having sites that look and act nice.

    Still, too many of them threw up a site years ago, it didn't do them much good, and they haven't done anything to fix things up.

    Some talk about how they're on the leading edge of technology, but their Web sites say quite the opposite. And some tout their commitment to excellence, but their Web sites say they don't even bother to review their own work (which ain't a great thing for a law firm to demonstrate).

    Here's a great example. It's a law firm that's listed -- for years now -- an e-mail address that doesn't work. Go to the firm's contact page (http://schlaw.com/contact.html), click the e-mail link (SCHFirm@SCHlaw.com), send a test message, and see what happens.

    Incredible, is it not?

    Reply
  • Posted by Jason Redwood
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, It is refreshing to listen to your podcast and to read your posts. Your approach is always from the "big picture" side of things. I couldn't agree with you more. Stepping back and taking a hard look your web site, with KPI (Key Performance Indicators) in mind, while using a properly implemented web analytics tool is essential to driving business objectives. Without proper measurement, analysis and retooling, we are all just spinning our wheels.

    I am currently in the process of revamping my web site completely. The model that exists currently, is only but a shell to build from. Unfortunately, my ISP was hacked back in October 2008, my site was affected greatly, so I took it down for several months while purging the Google index of all URLs affected. Long story short, I am turning this into an opportunity to go back to the basics, redefine everything and rebuild from scratch. Persistence is the key to success and I will never give up on pushing forward with my goals.

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with the SPOS community.

    Reply
  • Posted by Paul Chaney
    Mitch Joel

    Amen! I do a presentation on social media that includes a section on why a company needs to get the basics down first - engaging Web site, possible use of email as marketing tool, and search, search, search! Then, consider branching out using social media tools.

    I will suggest, however, that Web sites can be very "social" themselves. More and more CMS providers (that's what we are) integrate social elements, RSS, interactivity, etc.

    Still, having an engaging, findable, sharable site as the basis of your online marketing initiative is fundamental.

    Reply
  • Posted by Kevin Behringer
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch:

    Great as always. This one really hit me square between the eyes because we're working on a new site at my office.

    My initial reaction went down a similar road as Jonathan Levitt above in making sure you step back even further than just making sure you have a good site.

    Sure, this is a larger scale undertaking and not really the point of your post, but I think the idea is valid.

    You first need to be clear about what your company does different and WHY someone should come to your site.

    Then determine who your customers are and why they're coming to your site.

    Then, it's important to evaluate if they get what they are looking for when they get there.

    Only then do I think you should jump in the social media pond (fishbowl?).

    It's like so many companies wanting to go "viral." If you don't have the content or message worth going viral, it'll never happen.

    Make sure you do all the foundation work before building the social media house.

    Kevin

    Reply
  • Posted by Keita Del Valle
    Mitch Joel

    Wow. Great post and it is spot on! Some business owners still think only a “designer� pays attention to the design of a site. But they shouldn’t discredit your average web surfer who may not be able to articulate WHY a site sucks but who still knows when they’re frustrated , turned off or unmotivated to do business on a particular site.

    I agree that the problem starts earlier than design. I meet business owners who actually don’t (or think they don’t) have anything much to say about their own products, services or company. They draw a blank (perhaps they don’t know their audience as Jonathan Levitt suggests) or are hesitant to put anything in writing for one reason or another. Some hand me a stack of cds with photos and PDFs and say “just put something up�. Their business email address markets Hotmail instead of their own domain. They don’t have time to meet and get educated. They are not invested in the process at all. But oh yes, they want to be on page 1 of the search engines and set up PPC programs and get a Facebook, etc.

    I don’t think that lack of money is at the root of this because throwing money at a site doesn’t always fix it. Some expensive corporate sites are poorly designed, not maintained, or just plain under-utilized. Businesses spend many thousands on one-time print ads, one-day trade shows, PPC campaigns, etc. but are reluctant to spend much on their website. (Is it because they know a high schooler can “build� a website and that somehow tarnishes the value??) And then you have low-cost sites with invested owners that are awesome – simplicity and content rule and their sites are a success with users and search engines.

    So yes – let’s get back to basics. The design, coding, content, and marketing of a website are different things and require different levels and types of investment to be a success. Let’s not confuse them. Prioritize and spend money and time in the right place at the right time.

    Reply
  • Posted by Donna Papacosta
    Mitch Joel

    Right on track as usual, Mitch. I don't want to repeat the points others have made, but want to mention two things:
    1. Recently I've had organizations approach me asking about using social media. My first recommendation was to fix their Web sites first.
    2. Working as a content creator, I know how difficult it can be to create and maintain excellent Web copy.

    Reply
  • Posted by buzzbishop
    Mitch Joel

    Here's another analogy taken from head and shoulders:

    "he's cute, and only a few flakes."

    twitter is the cute, your broken website is the dandruff.

    nicely done as always, mitch.

    Reply
  • Posted by Ben Young
    Mitch Joel

    Your website is your conversion mechanism if you are building relationships via twitter, even I forget that sometimes.... thanks for the prod.

    Reply
  • Once again...you hit it out of the park on this one.
    I'll need everyone on our staff to read this. We're so caught up in discussing Social Media with our clients right now and forget that some of them still don't get Web 1.0. This is a wake up call for me.
    Thanks!

    Reply
  • Posted by Alicia Whalen
    Mitch Joel

    Thanks for the post! Been feeling kind of alone out here still talking about SEO...I re-tweated the post but will make sure to add a reference to this post to my Blog and website too, after all it is not just the medium - its the message and the Website is still the cash register!

    Reply
  • Posted by Louise McGregor
    Mitch Joel

    Thanks for the post. It's a timely reminder to focus on the basics, and not get distracted by all the fun social media can offer.

    Reply
  • Posted by Deborah H. French
    Mitch Joel

    Just what I needed! I'm putting together a presentation on this topic, and your expert opinion drives home the point beautifully. I'll make sure to refer my audience to your site for future insights. Thank you.

    Reply
  • Posted by TheSoMeEx
    Mitch Joel

    On the other side of the argument, getting on twitter without a major website (which is what I am doing) makes sense if youa re getting on to actually make connections and network as you are in the initial process of creating a brand.

    The benefits include:
    - Connecting with potential customers
    - Connecting with potential partners
    - Building your "personal" brand
    - Building trust
    - Discovering informationa nd suggestions that make your project better than it was BT (before twitter)

    That said, I am amazed by how many people focus so much time and effort on prompting their website when a single visit turns me off for a lifetime.

    As Jay Zheng said, "Nearly 100% of the business websites today are poorly designed. Well-coded? yes, but poorly designed." And good GUI design makes a HUG difference to your bottom line.

    Reply
  • Posted by Michael Harper
    Mitch Joel

    This is my first time here - and what an inspiring article. It's Sunday morning as I write this and it really is a bit of a Eureka moment for me, this one. I see exactly what you're getting at and I can see a very definite business opportunity for me here, locally at least.

    I cringe when I see just how wrong companies are getting it when it comes to their websites, even today, including mine to some extent! Your article reminded me that there is a tremendous opportunity for the relatively few people who really understand this. Such people can utilize the skills of people from several disciplines and together produce fine websites.

    So often I think it is the old-style "website designer" who ends up doing the whole lot, which is one reason why we see so many "flashy"(!) websites, full of the latest applications and plugins, perfectly executed, that actually do nothing for their intended audience - at best.

    The techies are simply showcasing their knowledge and skills through these websites, in the genuine belief that they are producing the best. The problem is that this technological best is rarely the best thing for the website visitor, as we know only too well - but sometimes forget in the excitement of the white heat of the technological revolution, as Harold Wilson said. (but I doubt he was thinking of Twitter!)

    Thanks for this kick up the proverbial.

    Michael

    Reply
  • Posted by Cruisegle
    Mitch Joel

    I wish I had a pound for every time a web designer has told me that I am wrong with my theories about SEO; after all they were taught it at university. My current (and soon to be sold) search engine optimization website is still in the top 10 for UK searches for search engine optimization. It is a simple website that works because the basics are done right.

    All to often people create websites using every function they can think of, this makes the site great but that does not always make it work for Google. There is no point having a great site if it does not get ranked.

    That said, great article and I must admit I love the styling of this site.

    Reply
  • Posted by Tonisha
    Mitch Joel

    I completely agree that if your website is not ready for people to visit it, then it has no business being mentioned yet on Twitter. Good article and right on point.

    Reply
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  • Well said, Mitch Joel: “All of the attention you think you should be spending on online marketing [...] will bring your company zero return if you don’t have a website that is not only nice and easy-to-use, but findable through all of the s...