Friday, December 22, 2006

worst web site mistake

[My article below first appeared in the intranet blog of a we b des ign company. Reprinted here as an example of how to write a simple company blog post that can attract business while enlightening your audience with a speck of humor.]

The worst mistake you can make with a web site is to let a student or an amateur build one for you.

An ugly, poorly written, or dysfunctional web site will turn customers away from you. You’ll do more harm than good going this route.

We hear it all the time.

You start a business, and quickly realize you need a web site.

Instead of seeking professional help, you decide to turn the project over to a cousin, nephew, former co-worker, or next door neighbor.

Someone who’s “good with computers”. Maybe they’ve even taken a few classes on HTML at the local university. Or someone calling themselves a “marketing expert” claims they can set you up with an online catalog.

You go ahead and let them make you a web site, because the whole internet thing is confusing.

You don’t have time to figure out how to judge one web developer versus another. There are so many web design companies out there. They all seem to be saying the same things. No one’s ever explained to you the difference between an effective web site and one that just looks “nice”.

You wrongly assume that any web site is better than none at all. You hope that simply “being online” will attract web surfers to your site. You assume that just having a web site will get you some new customers.

Sooner or later, the inevitable occurs.

Something goes wrong. The shopping cart quits working. The information becomes outdated. The site doesn’t look as good as a competitor’s site.

You’re paying charges for mysterious services you don’t understand or see. You aren’t getting any orders from the site. The person who made your web site stops answering your emails and won’t respond to your phone messages.

But you can’t get angry. You can’t demand better service. You can’t sue.

Why? Because you goofed up and gave the job to a friend of your sister, or a nephew’s roommate, or a really nice guy who is going through a rough divorce right now.

Since the web builder is a close friend, associate, neighbor, or family member, you feel uncomfortable, almost mean-spirited, when you imagine yourself questioning or complaining about the web work.

You feel like the web site was done as a favor, at what seemed like a greatly reduced price. But in reality, it was a disservice and since it doesn’t work right or look good, you basically just flushed your money down the toilet.

The nephew graduates from college, gets a job, finds a spouse, starts a family, and it’s impossible for them to do any more work on the web site. The neighbor moves to another state. The co-worker you lose track of. Your sister gets a divorce, so your brother-in-law is no longer your brother-in-law.

It’s a messy situation, this handing your web site project over to a well-meaning friend or relative.

And you can drive customers away with a poorly designed site. If a web surfer has a bad experience on your site, they’ll never return, and they’ll spread negative publicity about you. Surely you don’t want to lose customers, or look unprofessional, do you?

Be smart. Invest your budget in a wise manner. Avoid the stress and disappointment of dealing with amateurs.

Get a real professional web developer to do your web site, digital catalog, online reservation system, ecommerce applications, corporate intra-net, or business blog.

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