What does your website really cost you?

Originally posted: September 15, 2017  
 

As owner of a web development company, prospective new clients often ask me how much our websites cost. While I share what we charge to build a website, I secretly wish prospects would also ask me the 'real' cost of their current website.

 

What’s the difference?
Reputation. Branding. Conversions. Sales.

Since few of us own or work for an organization which is so highly skilled, respected and admired that it  doesn’t need to advertise (ha!), chances are good most will agree that some form of online marketing and traditional advertising is important. Heck, even I wear shirts with our logo above the pocket! And while I think I know the cost of my shirts, do I really know the cost of my current website? Line-item costs such as website development, hosting, domain registration are easy to spot.  Successful companies also budget for site updates, including social media services and PPC (pay per click) campaigns. But does the largest cost of your website end there, or even show up as an expense? Unfortunately not.

Out of sight, out of mind.
Unlike traditional advertising, it’s easy to overlook your website. We’re a website developer, and even we fail to take the time to review it thoroughly. Broadcast media and print publications run with fixed publication periods, which are followed by a reminder that you have to start over with a new campaign. That process forces you to evaluate past results, determine whether to continue the campaign, and ultimately adjust it so you can run it again for better results. But all too often we find companies with websites that were created using the ‘Set It and Forget It’ approach.  Since website campaigns don’t come to a natural end, it’s easy for companies to forget about their online advertising – and if the advertising is harmful to the company, the cost of lost sales and damaged reputation can be high. Simply failing to review your website regularly could lead to it quietly destroying your profits and your reputation.  


Okay, we’ll be the sacrificial lamb here... we’ve overlook our own website.
Let’s face it, we all get busy with clients and work projects. In our office, clients come first - period. Taking time to review, revise, and re-launch an internal project such as our website – knowing full well that it’s already been completed and launched recently - merely stresses our already overworked staff. Even mentioning it again will rekindle the discussion of tossing a noose over a tree limb for whoever suggests it. Asking our team to revisit our website moves the focus away from our important, and revenue-generating, client projects. I have to admit – they make a good point. Since there isn’t a ‘next website deadline’ as occurs in traditional marketing, and since there are no account reps calling me to light a fire under my feet, our website is left unmonitored for far too long. This means no periodic review of its content or its performance. Most damaging of all – there is no opportunity or encouragement for us to compare it to our competitors sites, revise it to include more recent work and projects, or simply upgrade it to reflect modern standards.  Basically, until we recognize that it’s and an obvious liability, we consider it done - yeah!

 

So, what’s the real cost of a website?
I visited a website recently, and noticed that the YouTube video displayed on their homepage was offline – and it left behind a trail of error messages and screen scrambles as if being beamed from outer space. A quick look to interior pages showed me yet another missing element, an image now no longer worthy of my eyes. While visiting another site, I clicked a link to a page since removed. Who was monitoring these websites anyway, and why don’t the owners care more about my visit?  Am I the only one noticing such problems? No. While interviewing a prospective employee, it was pointed out that we have a typo on a main page of our own site - ouch!

As a reminder - your website is your brand, and it’s probably the most visible reflection of your company. Even if it’s a low-traffic site, it’s still probably the most seen (and scrutinized) marketing asset you have. Businesses all know the numeric value of an incremental customer. And yet many still accept  the reasons we fail to monitor our website quality, performance, and visitor experience. We overlook our web analytics rather than taking the time to understand them, and we few know where their website ranks on search engines, or what phrases their prospects use to find them. So given all this, how many of us really consider the financial impact of such oversights? The real cost of a poorly performing website should be measured in the dollars of lost customers, and not the nominal cost of development and support.  Whereas a good website is an investment, it should yield a return that is many times greater than its development and support.
 

Take the time to measure your best marketing tool.
Most marketing campaigns include some effort to direct your audience to your website. Given that, you are probably still accepting of the notion that easily half of your website visitors leave within just a few seconds. This is called a ‘bounce’, and its rate is an industry statistic. In fact, a 50% bounce rate is acceptable to most companies. While that seems like a large potential of lost business, it can be explained by many factors. What’s more telling is a review of the other 50% that stick around a bit – as they have actually seen your campaign and yet still choose to leave without so much as a hello. It’s commonplace to see companies tolerant of virtually all online visitors leaving without asking for information, requesting a quote, or calling. If your website isn’t generating leads, or supporting your business with measurable results – it could be a very good indication that it’s doing the unthinkable - quietly killing your company.  How can you tell? You need to start paying more attention to your visitor experience online.

 

Here’s what you can do immediately…

  • First, have someone you trust carefully look at your website, page by page. Ideally, have them document every issue they see with it. Printing doesn’t work because it changes the format, so have the take screen shots and paste those into a Word document with their notes of recommendations or problems.  Be prepared to implement the changes recommended.
     
  • Think about several phrases your prospective customers likely use to find your services or products. Then open a browser and search those phrases. Don’t type in your company name here – assume that your prospects don’t know it, and only search for what you provide. Can you find your company at or near the top of your search? If not, add this to your task list.
     
  • Now look at your competitors. Go ahead, click their ad link once if you must, as well as their organic link to see what your prospective customer see when they visit your competition. If you were a customer, would you reach out to another company before finding you? In our industry, this is a depressing routine for me – as there are many very creative web designers who put their best foot forward. While I won’t click their ads, I find it inspiring to search organically as it helps us improve our branding and determine how best to distinguish ourselves for the clients we want to attract. Most companies have niches, and we’re no exception.
     
  • Next, check your website stats. Google Analytics is a good tool to start capturing this information, but your web provider also has historic stats. Don’t get hung up on monthly numbers only – take the step and look at the micro details, even daily. See what happened yesterday, and follow the paths of those the aren’t a bounce statistic. See if you can determine where they stayed, and where they left. Look at those pages and see if you could do something the encourage them to convert before leaving. Ask yourself if you generated any leads from that traffic, and if not, why?
     
  • Start thinking about the total visitor experience and whether you feel you’re really earning your visitor’s business. Yes, first impressions are enormous – and bad first impressions do contribute to high bounce rates. Don’t be too selfforgiving. The 50% that don’t bounce have made a decision to seriously consider your company – and choose not to leave. Some could have been influenced to contact you. Ask yourself how you can improve your pages so you can engage visitors by phone, email, info/quote requests, newsletter registrations, etc.  When it comes to online marketing, conversions are king.
     
  • Lastly, consider whether you can get more visitors by ranking higher on search engines by using the search phrases that are relevant to your business. The top of most search engines display paid (PPC) advertising. That costs dollars per click. This is followed by free listings, either in My Business section (ranked based on your geographical location), or the organic listings. Websites that have earned the first position are rewarded with the vast majority of traffic, second position gets about half of that, and third about half of second. Below 3rd position is much lighter and after page one, well… that’s blind optimism.

 

The sound of a poorly performing website is silence. It’s a quiet that comes when you are focused on the daily routines and not your online branding and campaign. It’s the sound of prospects not calling you. While your website may be perfect with no typos or outdated content, if site visitors aren’t reaching out to you – chances are good that your website needs to be revisited, even if it’s new. But don’t wait for that to happen. Don’t blame poor results on the factors outside your control – after all the Internet isn’t broken, and few can honesty argue it just doesn’t work for their industry. The truth is that it’s just easier to accept the silence, at least until you understand just how expensive that silence really is.