Hello everyone, my name is Mike Tanner and today I'm going to be giving you a rundown about website building and re-design. This is part of Digitize NS, a series of programs designed to help businesses get going. So I've come in in order to help with this and to talk with you a bit about the why and how to build a website and re-design a website. It's surprising how many people get started without having a good bit of background on how and what they should know about it, so that's why I'm here today. If you have any questions along the way, feel free to pop any questions in the chat and I'll try to answer them; and as well, at the end, if you have any longer questions we'll be able to answer those as well.
We wanted to basically talk a little bit about whether or not you need a site in the first place and some of the reasons there are for getting a new site.A lot of people just think, "We have an old site, we need a new site," and go ahead and build it, and in a lot of cases that works really well, but it's not always necessary. A really great example is Berkshire Hathaway, which is one of the largest companies in the world. You go to their website and it looks like it was built in 1986 just on text, and they're one of the largest companies in the world; they have decided they don't need it.
These are things we're going to talk about today:
Who's driving the boat? And please, tell me someone is driving the boat. In a lot of cases, when we start working on projects, we get this idea that people don't necessarily know who's in charge of what's going on and why they're doing it.
The first question you want to ask is: what is the purpose of your website? You HAVE to know the answer to that question, and the purpose of a website is not just to be online. There are lots of different purposes for different sites, and we want to make sure that people are in it for the right reasons. There are lots of reasons to have a website and there are lots of reasons why you might not need a new website, or you might not need a website at all.
According to whom? You HAVE to know the answer as to who has decided that you need a website. We sometimes deal with people at the very top of companies who are saying, "I'm the CEO and we want to go ahead and have a new website." We're sometimes dealing with people in analytics marketing and sales, and they're saying that the company needs a website. But you really want to make sure you have a clear idea across the board of what you're going to do with the website and who says what you're going to do with the website.
And the last part is: is everyone on the boat? Who's not on the boat? You have to know that everyone at every stage is clear about what you're going to do when you are building a website. You have to be very clear that you're not going to have a meeting where you're suddenly saying, "We're not having an online store?" or "We're not having this or that?" You want to make sure that from the get-go, everyone is together in this so that no one is left behind when it's eventually time to go with the build.
Is the website front-facing? Are you expecting customers and clients to look at your site, or is it more for internal purposes? Are you expecting to have someone look at this and decide that they want to buy something? Are you having this so you can start to gain information and start to build a community or a connection with someone? Are you really just using this site as a collector to get people's email addresses, phone numbers, and names so you can eventually start to build a bigger relationship with them in some way? And who is the user of the site?
The "who is the user?" part is incredibly important and is often overlooked. When it comes time to write content for a site, you want to make sure that the content you're writing actually matches who is going to be reading it. If I am a PVC piping manufacturer and I'm selling to an end user who needs PVC pipe, my content is going to look and sound one way; but if I were selling to a company who then resells that, what I want to say and how I want to say it is very different, because you're going to talk about how they're going to use it versus how they're going to sell it.
When you're thinking about building a new site, you don't just want to say, "Here's what we do, and go." You want to be very clear that you're trying to market yourself to a particular group of people. And if you're not very clear about that, the website can get very muddled very quickly. You often see sites where you think, "this sounds like a sales pitch, but this sounds more like a community-building, and this sounds more like information." When you see those, there's a good chance that they didn't clearly ask the question "who is the user of this actual site?"
A win looks different for different people and different situations, and how you measure success can have a huge impact on how this build is going to go about.
In the most basic ways you can imagine, you have to measure before and measure after, and did the number get bigger? That sounds really simple, but you'd be amazed at the number of companies that go ahead with a build without actually figuring out any of these numbers. They're not measuring where they're at right now, they're not measuring any analytics. They're not saying a month out from this build, three months out, six months out, one year out, where we're going to be and how we know the website impacted those things. In its most simple format, a win looks like more traffic and more sales, but it's important to be able to get into as much detail as possible so that you can understand what it actually looks like to win.
We have a lot of people who just say, "we need a new website, our website's old." And some old websites need to have new websites built for them for various reasons, but some don't. I've seen clients with websites that are three, four, five years old, maybe even a bit older, that are perfectly acceptable for their purpose. They suit what they're doing and don't necessarily need to be changed. But the one thing you have to do if you really want to know whether you need a new website, or what you need in a website, is to be able to look at data and know what's happening.Last year we were looking at building a logo for a not-for-profit that I work with, and it was my project, not for a client. We were all looking at a new logo and chatting about it, and we were sending emails back and forth. "What if we had it like this? What if we had it like that?" And at one point I reached out to a local marketing company that I'm friends with to ask "what do you think of these designs?", and this is what he said: "Build a new site when the accountant says you need to, not when the designer says you need to."For those of you who just think 'we just need a fresh look', you might not need a fresh look if everything's working okay.
I stated earlier the example of Berkshire Hathaway, one of the largest companies in the world. If you go to Berkshire Hathaway's website right now, if you were unmuted, all I would hear is laughter. It's one of the worst sites you'll ever see, but it does exactly what they want it to because they don't need it to do anything different.
So when you're looking at building a new site, the first thing you want to think about is whether or not you're at a point where you need a new website. It can be an expense, it can be a process, it can come with a lot of other baggage along with it that you'll have to work on, and you want to make sure that you're not doing this just because you want something prettier right now. Pretty is great, but if you're already doing well with it there's not really a need for it.
Is your current page, if you have one, using analytics? If you're not sure exactly what I mean by analytics, it's Google Analytics. What Google Analytics does, or any other analytics package in general, is tell you how many people are going to your site and what they're doing when they're there. And what they're doing when they're there is actually a hugely important factor that's not taken into account by many people who are building or re-building their site. What a lot of people look at is just, 'great, I had 1000 people visit the site today, that's awesome.' And a lot of packages that come with drag-and-drop builders, or even WordPress, those packages really just deal with how many people came to your site. They don't take into account how many of those were people, how many of those were bots, how many of those were yourself 800 times looking at the website again because you weren't sure if that should have been in a different place. It's important that your page has analytics, but it's also important that you know what those analytics mean.
Do your analytics actually drive your decision making? I know a lot of people who have analytics set up on their site, so they know everything about their site, and it has no impact on what they do. If you're going to do that, why pay attention to analytics in the first place?
I think it's super important that you pay attention to these aspects of it. When I say 'does your current page have analytics?' I always recommend putting that in place before you're going to look at a rebuild. It allows you to give more information either to yourself or a designer who's able to say, 'this would be a good piece of content here because we're getting a lot of people into this section.' I recommend in general that you get about three months of traffic in place before you really start looking at it in any major way. If you just put new analytics in place, there's a good chance you're also going to say 'hey everybody, check out my website' which is going to cause a big spike, it's going to cause people to look at different things for a little while. We want to know long-term whether or not people are on your site and what they're doing when they're there.I say through all this: notice a pattern. These are the questions you want to be able to answer if you're looking at your analytics:
Are people showing up? That's a basic measure of traffic.
Are people coming to your website?
Are people moving around?
Are they going from page to page?
When they leave a page, are they going to another page on the website or are they leaving entirely?
Are people staying?
Are they staying on the site for any amount of time? If you post a blog and you know it takes five to ten minutes to read that blog post, and the average time spent on that page is thirteen seconds, you have a pretty good idea that no one is actually reading that content.
Are people clicking? If you've got call to actions, if you've got links, if you've got all these different things, is anyone actually getting there through these pages?
What's the path that they're taking from there?
Are there any big drop-offs? Is there a page or a section of a page where people go and then they just die? That can be that they come to a dead end where you haven't provided them a way to navigate into something new. Or it can be that they've come to a page with content that's just not very good and it's caused them to decide that they're going to leave.
I was working with a client recently and we were developing a sales campaign. She had a product and the sales pitch was at the bottom of a relatively lengthy page. So our analytics were saying that we were getting to that page very well, we were getting people to come to that page from Facebook, from various sources, from organic traffic, from other places on the site; but what it was showing us was that halfway down, people were walking away. When you see things like that, you can start to say that people are obviously interested in this, but if they're walking away before they've seen the price or before they've gotten the chance to sign up or whatever, maybe I need to move that call to action to a different spot.
Is anything crushing it? Is anything absolutely dominating from a content perspective? Is there a blog you've written that's done really, really well? Is there an image you've got on a page that you think is really drawing people's attention? Is there content that is really driving people a certain path?
If you can answer these questions, then you're able to make much better decisions when it comes to building or re-building a site. If you can answer these questions you can say, 'I've got this great pageà¸¢ when people get to it, they love it, they stay on it for a long time, and they do what I want them to do from my page.' Why do you have that page buried somewhere where it's difficult to find? Instead, why not make that a front page or a page that you're really driving traffic to right off the get-go? If you have huge drop-offs, maybe that's content that can just go away.
The biggest thing is that if you can't answer these analytics, there's a problem. My biggest advice from the beginning is: go learn Google Analytics. I'd much rather someone come at a site with a lot of information because there's a much better chance that the page we build or the site we build or rebuild is going to be much more effective, and they're going to be much happier with that product if they already know where they're starting from. There are tons of places where you can learn analytics, and I strongly recommend that you do that. It can look very daunting at first, but when you look at the simple things you need to pay attention to it's not that much to know, and they make it pretty easy with some visual content.
We sometimes start building a site and we basically tell people that none of this is okay. None of the content we’re seeing is something we’d recommend carrying through. The written content just doesn’t have any bite, the visual content is outdated and doesn’t have any sort of raison d’etre. We often tell people they need a fresh start, but this isn’t always the case.
If you’ve gone ahead and looked at the analytics and you know there’s content on your site that’s really, really great, that actually gives you a lot of power to be able to say, “all my content had the same feel.” You don’t want to just repeat content across the board, but if you know that a blog post that you wrote did really, really well and it was written in a really personal, sort of conversational context, then maybe that’s how your content should be written. Whereas if you have a piece of content that’s very factual and provides a ton of information really quickly and really effectively, maybe that’s the way you want to make your content.
The biggest thing to remember in this whole process is that your website, when it comes down to it, has nothing to do with you. If you want to build a website for yourself, great, but I’m assuming that this is being built for someone. You’re building this for someone you’re trying to sell to or someone you’re trying to buy from. You’re doing this in some way because you want to build a relationship with someone. Understanding what those people want is a key to being able to do this next part functionally.
First of all, we’re going to talk a bit about what to set on fire. I actually think this is a very freeing exercise, to be able to actually say “this content sucks, this is terrible, this is a bad thing.” I wrote a blog post the other day, and at the very end of the blog post I wrote, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever written.” And then I didn’t publish it because it was the worst thing I had ever written. I wasn’t in the mood to write, the content was bad, and so it was really nice to be able to say “nope, that’s terrible content.” We don’t tend to think of things that way, we tend to just say that once it’s up there, it’s up there, and we’ll leave it there and let it sit there.
But there’s an opposite part to that which is “what content do you love?” So when you look at your existing site or your social media feeds to pull content from, a lot of people pull content from their posts they’ve put on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, all those kind of things. You’ve got all these different places to source from. When you look at your content, what content do you really love? It has to still be effective content, it can’t just be stuff that you like that everyone else thought was a hot mess. It has to be content that is really interesting in some way.
With this content, who is speaking? When you’re looking at your content across the board, you need to keep a tone and a perspective. If you’re writing from the perspective of “I”, then your website is written from the perspective of “I”. If you’re talking about “we” or “you” or “them” or “us,” whatever it is, who’s speaking, and most importantly, who are you speaking to? If you’re going to be talking to customers, you need to speak in a certain way. If you’re going to be talking to wholesalers or suppliers or prospects, it needs to be in a different way and you need to be able to recognize that.
Do you have any evergreen content? Evergreen content is content that just kills it constantly, all the time, and you’re able to always pull it back and say “this is a piece of content that really does well.” I gave a talk a couple years ago about Dungeons and Dragons at a local podcamp, which is a local conference. The talk went really well, I wrote a subsequent blog about it, and I’ve always gotten a lot of traffic and a lot of conversation from that particular piece. That to me is a piece of evergreen content. Whereas if you have content that’s very time-sensitive, if all of your posts are about Dove’s terrible new advertising campaign or Nike’s great advertising campaign from the #Breaking2 the other day, or if it’s Dove’s new bottles that fit your shape—I’ve yet to see a Dove bottle that fits my shape—whatever it is, if those contents are really time-sensitive, they’re probably not evergreen content. They’re not something you can pull out three years from now and say “Remember that time Dove made a bottle that everyone hated?” because no one’s really going to care about it at that point unless they’ve made another bottle that everyone’s hated. In general, you want to find content that you’re able to pull back to all the time and is able to generate some buzz down the road.
Is your content aligned with your goals? We talked about goals in the beginning in terms of what you want people to do. A call to action on as much content as you can have it on without being obnoxious is a very good idea, but it has to align with your goals. If you want people to sign up for a webinar, that content has to lead them to that place. I just wrote a piece of content about a book called Deep Workwhich is a book about pulling away from social and online to try to do some of your better deep thinking in a lot of cases. It wouldn’t probably be a great idea for me at the end of that post about Deep Work to post a link to a social media guide that I’ve written. That’s a bad place for content to be because it’s not aligned with the goal of that. Whereas if I wanted to offer our social media monitoring and management services at that point, it might make more sense because I’m saying, “Now that you know there’s a good reason to walk away and do some work that’s more important to you, maybe now’s a good time to let someone else do this.” You want to make sure that whatever you want the customer to do is lined up really well with what your actual content does.
How much is too much? You don’t want a website to be a book unless your website is a book, unless people are wanting to go to that to do that thing. There are websites that are a lot of written content because they’re from writers who do some great thinking and they know that people want to come back and look at their stuff all the time. But if I sell shoes, I don’t want a whole lot of written content about those shoes. I want to show you how amazing those shoes look, I might want a couple pictures of someone wearing those shoes, I might want some descriptions and testimonials of people saying, “These are the best shoes I’ve ever owned in my entire life.”
A prime example is The Rock, who I am madly in love with in every conceivable way, has just launched a new shoe through Under Armour. He launched a whole series of products, but he just launched this new shoe called Project Delta. It is the most beautiful shoe I’ve ever seen. The way they launched it was not by telling you the hundreds of hours that went into figuring out how the shoe was a good shoe for workouts and training; they way they launched it was to show The Rock, and then showing holding a shoe, and to show more visuals of him and more visuals of the shoe because they knew that’s what people wanted. When you’re thinking about how much is too much, especially from a written standpoint, I would always recommend erring on the side of less. The less written content you have in that spot when you want people’s attention is better.
And when we pull it all back to the metrics, the analytics, if you know that when people get through certain gates to new areas of your site and that’s when they’re okay with reading more, that’s where you put that written content. You don’t put that written content on your front page where you’re telling them to read a novel before they do anything. You put that content once they’re engaged and they trust you and they want more information.
When we’re looking at some details of how to manage that, I recommend looking at certain things on your website.
Look at repetitive, purposeless content. If you said it more than twice and it isn’t doing anything important, please get rid of it. Don’t tell me over and over again that I can do something; just tell me once and if I decide that I don’t want to do it, tell me something else that’s going to be some new piece of information.
The second is out of date information. Don’t have services on your website that you no longer offer, don’t have people on your website that doesn’t work there anymore, don’t have anything on your website that is not a current representation of you, your brand, your company, etc. When people see that information they go, “They’re not paying that much attention to this, so I wonder if they’re paying attention to anything else.” And that’s not really fair because one of the common things I find is that in social media and in web development, a lot of companies are too busy to update everything that they want to update. I do this all the time, my partner can attest to it where he’s like, “You forgot to do these things,” and I’m like, “I’m too busy working,” and he’s like, “Right, but you know there’s a right thing to do so you need to take that time to do them.” Make sure that out of date information is not something that is there. Just update it.
Old pictures will kill because from a visual standpoint, that is where the web is going. The web is going to a picture-based system. When you’re on Instagram, you’re looking at the picture; you MIGHT read the text, you MIGHT read the thirty hashtags, but what you’re probably doing is looking at that image and getting what you can from that. So if you have old, out of date pictures that show you wearing high tops and a pair of tapered jeans, unless that’s what you’re currently wearing (which is totally fine, I’m definitely not one to judge fashion sense) then get rid of that.
When you stripped all that away, look at what’s left. What’s left is the bones of the content that you have, and if that is a full skeleton in place then great, you just have to add a little more in certain places to bulk it up. If you’re left with what looks like the world’s saddest soup, you might have to do a little more digging in terms of full-on content.
Once you’ve got an idea of the content you have, you really get into writing content. Writing content can be an incredibly taxing and difficult process in a lot of ways, but it can also be a really good way to define who you are and what you want to do.
I obviously build websites, so obviously the more websites I build the happier I generally am (to a point, there is a breaking point where that becomes not true.) But I’m not here to try to pitch you on the idea that someone else has to build your website, because there are pros and cons to you building your website and, and there are pros and cons to someone else building your website.
There are basically three models when looking at who’s going to build your site.
The first one is having someone inhouse build it. There are some really great advantages to having someone inhouse build it. For each of those, there’s also a little bit of a negative pullback from them.
The first is that they know your business. If you’ve got someone in-house and you work in a particular industry, they should know what your business is all about. They’ve been to meetings where CEOs have described what their vision is, they’ve been to meetings where people have talked about the day-to-day activities, they know what your customers look like, they know what your product looks like, all those things. They know your business and they’re able to actually pull that over and reflect that into what they’re building, from both a visual, written, and feel standpoint. And there’s not really that many negatives about that. It’s really nice to have someone who is skilled and able to do this, and also knows your business inside and out and is able to do that themselves.
The second part is that you, as the product manager or as the person who has been gifted with the idea that your job is to get the site up and going, you have instant access to that individual. You don’t have to worry about other clients that they have, you don’t have to worry about anything they have. You can literally walk up to their desk and say “Where are we at on this?” or “Can you do this?” That’s really powerful and also incredibly dangerous because if their job is to do something else and you’re leaning on them to do this, every time you do that you’re pulling away from what they’re able to do. One of the big things I recommend if you’re getting someone to do this is actually setting very specific time and parameters around how that is done. So if they’re working on that on Thursdays, leave Helen alone on Thursdays because she is working on your site (unless you have a question), and if it’s a Monday, leave Helen alone because she’s doing her normal duties.
The last part is that you have an infinite (sort of) budget. The nice thing about this is that assuming you’re okay with taking your time, you can actually take the time to get it right and you don’t have to worry about scope creep on the project or anything like that. Scope creep is basically if you came to me and said, “I want this website,” and I said, “It’s $10,000,” and then at the end of it you said, “By the way, I’d also like it to have an e-commerce platform built in.” Well, that’s more, and that can be very expensive and very time-consuming. If you’re doing this in-house, the nice thing about that is that you don’t really have to worry that much about how much this is going to cost.
The agency model is interesting because in the first point, the exact opposite is the pro. An agency doesn’t know your business, but the good thing is that that forces you to explain your business clearly. And if you’re not forced to do that, sometimes you’re not forced to do that on your site So people don’t actually fully understand what you’re doing because you don’t say it in layman’s terms, you don’t say it in a simple way that anyone can understand; you say it in a way that the developers in Section B can actually speak to it.
The second is that you’re not wasting resources. If Helen has a job to do, there’s a good chance that getting her to do the site is pulling away from that. So unless you’ve got some availability or she’s not at full capacity, it’s not always great to do that. This allows you to have some flexibility and not worry about wasting your team’s resources.
The last thing is actually a pro related to the other pro, which is that there’s an end in sight. A lot of times when you do internal builds, because of the resources, because you don’t have a budget or a timeline necessarily, that can just go on and on and on. Myself as an agency, my job is to try to get that project done as quickly as possible, assuming I’ve met all the goals that we’ve set. It’s very important to me that I don’t drag on a project, and that’s not necessarily the goal or the important part when you’re doing this with an internal employee.
When it comes to “We’re Going To Give It A Try,” please don’t. I would just rather that you get a nice site put in place. I don’t say this from a place of “I want you to go ahead and hire me for my services,” I say this from a place of, “I’ve seen people put in place really terrible sites that have done nothing to benefit their business.” Not necessarily have hurt their business, but certainly, have done nothing to benefit them and have just taken time. In the end, you’re not left with a product that you actually wanted it to look like, and you’re usually missing a lot of the functionality that you would really get from having someone do it for you. If you’ve built a bunch of sites on Squarespace or Weebly or Wix, those kinds of things, feel free to have at it. There’s nothing wrong with those platforms, per se. But if you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience doing it, there’s not a good chance that you’re going to go ahead and build this. I recently built a site for a local musician, and in the beginning, I had just picked up a hosting package for him and said, “If you want to go ahead and try to build it, try to build it.” I knew he had an upcoming show, so I checked out his website about a month ago and immediately texted him and said: “that’s not okay.” So we went ahead and did an actual proper build of it and got it in place, and it looks great. I’m not saying that’s what you have to do, but I’m saying that if you don’t think you’re going to have the product that you want to have finished when you’re finished with it, find another way to do it, whatever that way is.
Do you know what your website SHOULD do? Do you know what the goal of your website is? Are you using this to directly sell a product to customers? Are you using this to collect user data that you can then use to put into some kind of marketing funnel or sales funnel? Are you using this just for educational purposes? What exactly are you trying to do?
Do you know what your website IS doing? Do you know whether or not it’s actually meeting any of those goals? Do you know if people are finding you directly through your site and coming to your store because they found your site, or contacted you via email because they got to your site? If you don’t know those answers, you have to find those answers.
Do you have the resources you need? Do you have someone that you feel comfortable with writing your content, and taking your vision of your business and putting it into words and images? Do you have someone who is then capable of taking those words and images and putting them online in a way that works? If you have those resources, great; if not, you need to find those resources, whatever that source is.
And the last part is “Go!” I actually encourage a lot of people in a lot of cases to be a little bit playful. Rather than saying “I’m not sure what my content should look like or sound like,” start writing something. Write a couple of blog posts even if you don’t post them somewhere. Write what you think your front page should say. Those are important even if you don’t use them. They’re as important a signpost of what you shouldn’t do as they are a signpost of what you should do.
If you find that you have any questions down the road, you can always feel free to email me or reach out to SimplyCast. I’d like to thank SimplyCast for actually having me here today and letting me speak. It’s a real pleasure and I’m really excited for what they’re doing for people. So thank you again, and I hope you’re all having a fantastic day.