I’ve had many calls over the years from frustrated businesses that invested tons of money into their websites and other marketing and didn’t see squat in return. These businesses thought they did everything right but the results were far from a win.

I’ve been designing websites professionally for 16 years. In that time I have seen an incredible evolution in websites in every category. I want to spend some time outlining what I have found to be the highest markers for a successful website. But first let me define what I mean by successful.

Common Misconceptions (or just skip to The Good Stuff)

ROI is a great way to define success. But there is no clear minimum investment that guarantees any ROI. I have seen $5k websites succeed in transforming businesses from a solo entrepreneur to a thriving mid-size company. I’ve also seen $100k sites completely fail to deliver any of the successes in which they invested.

Strong branding is another often referenced indicator of potential success for a website. The problem that I run into after 16 years of doing this is that I have redesigned hundreds of sites that were very pretty but were entirely ineffective. This is not to say that true branding is the same as prettiness. Trust me when I say that many of the most successful websites were anything but pretty and well branded. And as a designer I would be lying if I failed to get this point across. Brand serves a purpose, but in business brand isn’t everything.

Something is better than nothing, right? In this world of social media and countless online tools, is a website even necessary? Sometimes investing more into your website isn’t the highest priority. But how do small businesses, or even medium and large businesses, know when the time is right is to prioritize a website investment?

Technical Savviness is one of the most common excuses I hear as to why a business owner believes that they can’t succeed, or why someone else did succeed at the web. If you believe that your lack of digital skills is preventing you from success I have two thoughts for you. First, you’re not the one who has to have the technical knowledge. Your role is to communicate your expertise about your product or service to your marketer or technologist. Second, there are many business owners out there that have had great success online without having much technical knowledge at all. 

Okay, okay I’ve rambled enough, now it is time to get to the real success factors that I have discovered during my tenure.

The Good Stuff

Get these things down on paper. Get the right people involved. Develop strategies for building all of your marketing around them. That’s right, I didn’t just say “your website,” I said all of it.

  1. Strong understanding of marketing, or a very strong willingness to learn
    The best agency in the world can’t be in charge of your marketing. It is entirely on you and only you. An agency is only there to help you carry out your marketing deliverables. Very often I meet business owners who see marketing as a murky form of magic that cannot be explained or understood by them. In these cases I also notice that they are very uninterested, afraid even, to learn about marketing, even just some basic concepts. Those are the people that won’t read this article. But you will read it, am I right?! You will stay here and read the rest of this because you want your business to succeed and that means you want to learn! Business owners who are willing to learn are the business owners who adapt and succeed. This is the strongest indicator, by far.
  2. Outline your customer journey
    You know who your customers are even before they know they are your customers. You know what drives them into the market and you know their pain. You have a sales strategy for talking with those in-market and your marketing can support the sales process all the way through the transaction. You should be able to map out one or all of your customer journey pathways into a flowchart. Each stop (or box) along the path represents a decision that has to be made and those decision points are precisely where your marketing effort must be focused.
  3. Strong calls-to-action
    This statement is a bit overused if only because most people don’t know what a call to action really is. A true call-to-action could be described as customer empowerment. If you imagine your in-market customers you can probably identify their pain which drove them into the market in the first place. Business owners that are capable of identifying these underlying problems and pains are in a great position to figure out language (and visuals) to address it. If you don’t know, ask a talented salesperson to help you develop this language. Good sales people are always working on that kind of language in the back of their mind whether they know it or not. Your call-to-action needs to offer your tools as a means to help them solve their problem. In essence, you must sell them on their ability to conquer their own problem, either by hiring you or buying your product.
  4. Continuous content creation
    Whether on your website, your social media, or just being out in the community in a visible way (outside of just selling your product) and capturing video/photos and language about it, those businesses that are creating content are the ones for whom doors are opened. Sometimes the quality makes a big difference in speeding up the success. But in regards to content—something really is better than nothing. Content can’t find a better home than on your website. However, there are so many channels for posting your own content that utilizing a whole lot of them, to bring in customers from all over the web, is one of the most reliable strategies you can employ. If you are not a natural content creator you will need to employ someone who is. Freelancers, part-timers or even full-time staff that are natural content creators, can all fit this role well.
  5. A complete, comprehensive short-term and long-term plan
    This is not a task to take lightly. If you are not experienced at developing both short and long-term plans you will need to bring someone onboard to help. This could be someone you hire or it could be a contractor. In terms of health, if you are not an expert in diet and exercise you will immediately benefit from hiring a personal trainer to get you through the basics and set you up for success. Most people do not know that they need a personal trainer for marketing, but I can tell you the success of the sites I’ve created where my role is more like a personal trainer than like a hired web designer, the quality and the results are beyond comparison.

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