If you don’t work in web (and sometimes if you do), it’s easy to think of a website as a gimme—you just build one, easy! Logo in the top left, menu in the top right, big, high-resolution image at the top and then some numbers that animate. Done.
There are a couple of problems with this approach. First, it would make the internet a very boring place. All websites would look the same, function the same, and provide boilerplate information like the year a company was founded even though it may have no bearing on the quality of the company’s work.
The harsher, more pressing problem, is that this one-size-fits-all approach to web design is a waste of my clients’ time and money. Some people will put together those websites for a little money and some people will put them together for a lot of money. In both situations, that was money poorly spent, and here’s why:
That website is dumb.
And when I say dumb, I mean unintelligent. Without knowledge. Uninformed. Putting together that website was like spinning a roulette wheel to decide where to invest your nest egg. It might land on something steady and dependable, or it might land on [insert recent hugely publicized company collapse here]. Think for-profit colleges. Think Enron.
Because the fact of the matter is that your website is an investment. You spend company money on it, so you expect the company to see a return on it. When you invest money, you hire experts to do it for you. You hire someone from Vanguard or Charles Schwab with the explicit goal of having more money at the end than you did at the beginning. That’s called strategy, and your digital presence needs it.
There’s a reason that, at Sterner Stuff, we call our strategy, discovery, and exploration phase Blueprint. Having a plan for your project is much like having a blueprint for a house. A blueprint considers the requirements of the property and lays out a very distinct plan for development.
You might approach an architect and simply say “I want a house.” A good architect will ask you follow-up questions and a bad one will draw you a house. Here’s why that person is a bad architect:
Let’s say you get the blueprint and the contractor builds your house. You move in, but you’re in a wheelchair. The doors are awfully narrow for a person in a wheelchair. If the architect had known the house was specifically for a person in a wheelchair, he or she might have planned for wider doors. This will surely prove to be an expensive oversight.
Let’s say you get the blueprint and the contractor builds your house. You move in, and three months later a large earthquake strikes and the second floor collapses. How was the architect to know you were building on the San Andreas Fault?
Let’s say you get the blueprint and the contractor builds your house. You move in in November and you move out in March, only to come back the next November because this is your winter home. Seems awfully strange that your winter home has a non-heated pool and no hot tub…that architect should have known better.
Much like an architect must ask questions to ensure the success of building a home, web designers and developers must ask questions to ensure the success of any project. We must even decide how to define success! Asking these questions, developing goals and defining success is digital strategy. And just as you would pay the architect for the time that goes into their process, you should probably expect to pay for digital strategy service.
Doesn’t everyone do “digital strategy”?
Yes—make no mistake, every company does digital strategy in one way or another—but not always intentionally. Sometimes they don’t do a very good job, sometimes it happens without anyone knowing it, but they are doing it. However, if a company isn’t explicitly setting aside time for digital strategy, one of two things is likely happening:
They’re doing it without telling you, and probably without budgeting for it
If your web designer isn’t telling you about the digital strategy work they’re doing, it means they’re guessing at what you want your business to be or do. They’re guessing at your clientele, business goals, or site’s purpose. Maybe they ask you about it, but you have no idea why, so you probably aren’t prepared to give an honest, well-thought-out answer. That means you give the wrong information. Your time and money goes into the wrong website.
If the designer didn’t plan for it, they probably didn’t budget for it either. If they can’t communicate to you what they’re doing with your money, they probably won’t bill you for it. They’re going to eat the cost and resent you for underpaying them even though you couldn’t possibly know that that’s the case. This makes for a poor relationship with your web designer and will probably result in worse work and corners cut.
They’re doing it by accident
When your designer asks you to review and revise their design, you’re doing digital strategy by pointing at things and saying you don’t like them (hopefully based on what you want your website to accomplish rather than a whim or what seems trendy). This whole setup is disorganized and unplanned, which means it’ll probably be less effective than it would be with the up front digital strategy work.
And that digital strategy work isn’t your job. You know your business, and your designer knows the web. They should be able to take your goals and make a design that responds to them. Discovery of your goals shouldn’t be you prescribing solutions in the context of your website design. It should be an active, intentional process in which the designer asks important questions in the context of your business.
Enough with the negative—let’s talk about positive. What gains are there to be had from successful digital strategy?
I keep talking about the importance of measuring success. In fact, it’s a huge selling point for Sterner Stuff Design. What does that look like? First, it means revisiting your project on a specified time table to see if it’s meeting your goals or falling short.
So perhaps at the end of the first month after launch, we come to you and we say “Hey, since beginning your social media campaign, we’ve seen an increase of 30% in post engagement and an increase of 10% in click-throughs to the website.” If we’re really doing our job (and we always are), we’ll say “We see that the unique Google Voice number we placed on the site is getting 20% more calls than it was previously!” All of this is data that can be tracked against your goals.
And next we say “However, our goal was to see a 40% increase in post engagement.”
Sounds bad, but this is actually excellent. At your other web company, would you have set goals? Would you have any clue that you weren’t meeting your goals? Would you have any idea that you were 75% of the way to your goal? Probably not—not empirically, anyway. You could say “Eh, I guess I’ve gotten some more calls,” but that’s anecdotal and won’t fly around here.
Now we know how to adjust—we don’t necessarily need to post more frequently, we need to post more engaging content or target a different audience. Maybe more photos and videos, as studies show us that those garner more clicks. Perhaps we need articles from more recognized authors. Depending on your business, we’ll figure that out, but at least we know the problem we need to solve and you know Sterner Stuff Design is working with you to achieve it.
Digital strategy scales
Rewind. Let’s say we came to you and said “Hey, since we began your social media campaign, we’ve seen an increase of 50% in post engagement, which exceeds the goal we set by 10%!” That’s even better than the previous scenario, but we aren’t done yet. With a strategy in place, we can take that to the next step–how do we convert these engagements into paying customers? How can we convert these engagements to job applications? How can we further increase engagement? The possibilities are endless, but only if you have goals in mind and a plan to achieve them.
Our goals are also often multi-faceted. Increasing our social media engagement may be a stepping stone on the way to increasing revenue by $200K this year, or moving 1000 more units of product. How does our digital presence get us there?
Perhaps your company’s goal is to increase revenue by $10K this year, and we think we can do it via your web presence. That doesn’t sound like a big number, but perhaps you aren’t a very big company. At other firms, you might be sold an uninformed, cookie-cutter solution for $8K that everyone is hoping increases revenue by $18K to put you at that $10K mark. The site goes up, but one year later, no one can say with any kind of certainty if that’s what happened. Even if revenue is up $18K, is that because of your website? A viral video? Word of mouth? Hard telling if your website was money well-spent or if someone else in your company deserves a raise for that gain in revenue.
At Sterner Stuff, we’ll ask you for that goal from the start, and we start considering what kind of investment it’ll take to get you there. We may propose focusing on social media rather than a website. We may propose focusing on digitizing internal systems to cut down on costs rather than a digital strategy to increase revenue. We may tell you that digital isn’t going to be the solution for you at all, and we’ll tell you all that before you’re knee-deep in an expensive project that you didn’t need or didn’t solve your problems.
Digital strategy is planning out a project that specifically addresses your business’s concerns and is measurably successful. You need it because you run a business in a digital age. Sterner Stuff Design and our digital strategy service, Blueprint, can develop your business’s personal, successful digital strategy. Reach out today to learn more about how we can begin working together.