Why is it at the first sign (or more likely hundredth sign) of weak marketing performance, the first thing we do is… build another website?
It’s not a top 10 reaction. It’s number one, friend.
Let’s check in with the symptoms:
- Leads are scarce
- Sales have plateaued
- You’re not building a list
- People don’t hang around your site long
- You’re overly reliant on referrals
Your website is the most obvious thing you can fix. It’s the thing you can wrap your head around. So before you know it, you’ve hired a web development firm, and you’re talking about button colours and fonts and a host of other details that won’t add a shiny nickel to your bottom line.
And for serious firms, it’s going to cost you in money, time and effort.
I’m here to save you from yourself: Do NOT build that site.
Not yet anyway.
So how do so many otherwise successful firms fall into this trap? I’ve seen it play out time and again. We’ve had clients whose sites are still in their infancy hire us with full knowledge that we’ll be tearing it down and starting from scratch.
Most recently, we were approached by a great firm. Successful by any account: revenue, write-ups in all the right publications, expertise and a solid perspective. But their success was despite their marketing, not because of it. And its CEO knew to get to the next level in the game, he’d have to crack this nut once and for all.
He and his team are smart and lovely people to boot, making this an ideal client. IDEAL. And yet, I sent back a Loom video after two great conversations telling him why, unfortunately, we would not be a great fit…
He’d already hired a web development firm. A new website was underway.
Gaaah. And he was coming into this engagement already burned by past failed efforts. History was about to repeat itself.
I told him the truth: “you should be telling yourself: ‘I have no right jumping into a new website. I have not laid the groundwork. We haven’t done our homework. And we don’t have a vision for the entire marketing ecosystem we’re building.’”
It was advice I believed in deeply enough to remove myself from an engagement that was ours to lose.
We were out.
And then we weren’t.
You see, my advice to my now new client was based on our model of how a successful digital marketing foundation is built.
Websites are one part of a whole. It’s one part of the digital marketing ecosystem you’re building or should be building. You need to work backwards from the result — the sale, the super-specific, contextual experience that results in a late-stage, bona fide lead and follow the bouncing ball. In this case, all the way back to the structure and content of your website that turns an anonymous person into a known lead.
When your marketing is underperforming, you’re in what we call the Problem Zone. You’re either going to build a new website or hire a social media firm or some other specialist. But getting to the Success Zone requires three things:
- A deep breath. (l’ll wait.)
- A bit of discipline and patience.
After all, you’ve likely been kicking this can down the road for quite a while now. So why oh why do you expect to solve it in the next six weeks?
The old axiom ‘anything worth doing is worth doing right’ holds.
Laying a proper foundation – do this, and you’ll never start from scratch again.
Phase 1: Research
It’s reality time. To get this right, you absolutely must give yourself the time to do things like:
- Know for SURE what your best clients value about you.
- Think deeply about your positioning — what you do and for whom (so that you’re seen as meaningfully different in the eyes of your ideal client).
- Spell out in clear terms what your unique perspective is for your business and your industry. Be bold!
- Get clear on how to articulate your value to your ideal prospects.
Before you tear the house down, you better get a handle on metrics — what’s working? What isn’t?
Digging into your Analytics by channel (social, paid, organic and direct sources of traffic) and by audience segment (any number of factors such as industry vertical, role, gender, interest, etc.), can help you spot areas of achievement you want to bake into the cake and weaknesses that can be eliminated or turned into opportunities.
Less obvious is your product mix. Is it complete, including what we like to call your Zero-Dollar Products — a sample of your valuable expertise that is of service to your prospect? Are you providing an accessible onramp for new leads who are still chilly and unsure about what you have to offer?
Our thoughts are often so tied up in our existing core products and services that we fail to see that our offerings represent a zero-sum game. It’s all or nothing. The more expensive your product or service, the odds of submitting a form to talk to someone as a first step reduces to somewhere approaching zero.
Generally, a book or course aimed at business buyers and priced at a couple of hundred dollars is a tough sell from an Instagram ad if you’ve unaware of its author or the business. You’re likely to need to offer something helpful first and then follow up with some equally valuable emails that demonstrate you:
a) understand their problem and
b) are uniquely positioned to solve their problem
Email does a lot of the heavy lifting in the early days of a new prospect. So why is it that business owners continue to overlook or neglect this critical area of marketing?
Bringing this back to the website… you can’t send an email if your website can’t convert an unknown visitor into a known lead.
And finally, you need to identify your core segments. It’s easy for clients to find themselves in the weeds when it comes to defining their segments. Let me relieve some pressure on this front: segments are dynamic, especially when it comes to a more sophisticated approach to email. Segments can be created to suit your needs on the fly.
Here’s an example: owners of service-based businesses interested in coaching. Knowing my lead’s role and business category, along with their interest, allows me to begin a conversation that’s meaningful to them. There’s one caveat, however. To have a very contextual conversation, you have to be collecting the information that allows you to connect and construct a group of similar people so that you can speak to them in a way that demonstrates that you:
- Know them (who they are specifically — that they’re owners, not employees, or mortgage brokers not realtors, for example)
- Intimately understand their specific problems and
- Have a solution (free or paid depending on where they’re at in their journey with you) that solves their problem.
Working backwards, what can we offer to your specific lead that you can exchange for an email to begin a beneficial conversation?
Ask yourself: To be of service to those we consider ideal clients, how can we be of assistance in a meaningful way to accelerate their journey toward a valuable solution, thereby generating more right fit leads for us?
Proper research is a non-negotiable part of our work for our clients. Following a framework, it provides the clarity and game plan not just for a new website but also across your marketing ecosystem.
We call this phase the Building Blocks.
It’s the foundation for everything that will follow. And while many prospective clients want to skip this step and race ahead to the doing… it is the outcome of the research that makes everything else you do easier and therefore quicker and dramatically increases the odds that you’re going to get it this time right.
Phase 2: Writing copy that that converts
Once your research is complete, your positioning solidified and the way you’ll articulate your value to an ideal client and the strategy across the ecosystem established… it’s time to get started on that website.
Specifically… it’s time to start writing.
We are, what we like to call, a “copy-first agency”. That means:
- Copy, your message, is supreme. Nothing will move the needle more than effective copy.
- Copywriting for your website should be conversion copy. Having your message land with an ideal prospect is payback for all the effort you put into proper research and planning. Conversion copy does just what it says — it converts visitors into leads and sales.
Phase 3: Design for conversions
Design follows communications. It does not lead it.
A conversion-oriented designer will understand that design aids in the absorption of the message and the page’s conversion goal.
The process is linear at this stage.
Design should also communicate the kind of business you are. It will also rely on the great job you did with your research helping you to determine who you are to your ideal prospects. Fonts and colours should be a reflection of what you offer. If you’re a disruptor with a bold perspective, a bold font serves you well.
Here’s an example of a client of ours doing great work in the service of their agency clients. They help firms harness the power of their expertise to better lead in the sales process with prospective clients. Win Without Pitching turns the old pitch and pray model of selling all agencies succumb to in the absence of alternative methods and provides a framework for selling, imbuing owners with power based on their expertise.
Blair Enns, the owner, author and trainer, is a disruptor in the agency world. He’s bold and full of perspective. His old site (which was relatively new when they hired us to transform their marketing) featuring sticky, thin fonts was clearly out of sync with how his best clients viewed him. The copy built on his convincing delivery, echoes his certainty and the design drives it home with strong fonts and strategic use of colour.
Design should enhance calls to action to make it obvious what your audience’s next step is. And without first deciding what that action is and creating something of value to offer, how is it that design could precede or be developed in tandem with the copy?
Takeaway: Design follows copy.
Phase 4: Development
Once the design is judged to be in service of the copy, then and only then does it go into production.
The development team’s job is to render a pixel-perfect interpretation of the design and a methodology that respects the need for quick loading pages across all devices. It must incorporate tools that check all the integration boxes so that leads and sales generated are accurately reflected in the individual’s contact record in your tool stack to activate the next step on their journey.
Development is the most straightforward stage in the whole process. (Okay, our developers may disagree with that assessment, but from a strategic perspective, it’s nothing but green lights from here on in.)
At this point, testing goes beyond merely finding any lagging typos or spacing issues. It’s all about that ecosystem we’re building. Are the integrations to other parts of the system all firing correctly? We’re looking for things like:
- Tags applied in your email software
- Notifications fired off to the appropriate people in your organization
- Deals created
- Zaps fired to register new leads, onboard students in LMSs, transactional emails with purchase confirmations, customer records updated, and on and on.
- Leads entering email automations based on their interests
- Google Tag Manager recording events and goals
- Dashboards updating
And when all systems are go… it’s time to go live.
You may be visualizing yourself on the brink of your own marketing breakthrough. You might even anticipate some stress at the culmination of all this work and the money you’ve spent. That’s pretty normal.
Now let me hit the release valve.
At this point, you’ve just graduated into a new class of website — a new class of marketing. You are now able to optimize.
What does “optimize” mean? Well, it means that your old website was a teardown, not a remodel. The gulf between what we would require to make substantial gains in your lead generation and sales was too great to make subtle changes. It required a whole new approach.
But now? Now you’re at a level where all the marketing efforts to come and that will produce outcomes in the form of data will allow you to tweak your website and grow — to continually improve its performance. Not tear it all down.
Your launch is a giant leap forward. And the pressure relief is knowing you’ve done your homework and you’re going out the door with your best foot forward. It doesn’t have to be perfect. And you’ll be miles ahead of where you were. So relax. Now it’s time to observe and improve.
So let’s wrap this up with a recap:
Before you even think about designing a new website, here are the steps:
- Research — what can you learn from your best clients?
- Positioning – whom do you serve, and what will you offer?
- Perspective – what are the things you know to be true, that you refuse to sacrifice and that separates you from the pack?
- What are the outcomes new subscribers, new leads can expect when they come into your world?
- What do you need to build to enable that?
These are your building blocks.
Time to create your website. Here are the steps:
- Dig in and do a proper diagnostic — research and some soul searching
- Now take all that research and put the strategy in the hands of a great copywriter.
- Then design for the copy.
- You’re not ready build and test.
- Launch (remember, this is the start line, not the finish… see below)
Skip any step at your peril. You’ve gone this long; why rush a process that will forevermore deliver you from underperformance?
What is the value you can expect from this process? I may have just saved you $50k, $150K or maybe a million dollars not to mention the opportunity cost of a website built in a silo. That’s the value of a tested method.
One final essential note:
Your new website is where digital marketing begins. The launch of a new website is not the end. It’s not a to-do to check off and move on. It’s the starting point. It’s time to build out the rest of your ecosystem.
Follow our process, and I believe you’ll never start from scratch ever again. You’ll be in that continuous improvement club. The optimizer. Welcome to the club.