The little word “free” accounts for a fair number of bad websites floating around on the web. How so?
First let's consider all the “free stuff” available on the net. From info to games to ebooks to video clips to software, a lot of things are available for you to acquire without spending any money. Among all these free goodies are free website builder programs.
“Whoo-Hoo!” yells George, a delighted business owner. “Now I can build my own website and not have to pay a web developer!”
And so he downloads the program, installs it on his computer and spends hours learning how to make the program create a page, put his text where he thinks it must go, building a menu and adding some pictures.
Eventually he manages to upload his website to a hosting provider and then he sits back and waits for the sales to start rolling in while he's sleeping. (And it better happen soon because all the hours and hours he spent on making his own website meant that he couldn't really pay attention to his business and cashflow is now a bit tight!)
The average business owner who goes this route however, doesn't know much about what makes a website work.
- He doesn't know that some colours are going to make visitors click away faster than an ANC member with a reporter in his face.
- He doesn't know that his pictures are so large that they're making his website take too long to load and that any visitors he gets are clicking away in boredom before they've seen anything.
- He doesn't know a thing about design that enhances the image of the business while contributing towards the overall goal of the website - and his current artistic attempts make his business look amateurish.
- He doesn't know a website must have a goal.
- He's never heard of meta tags and is blissfully but dangerously unaware that the search engines are going to battle to find him and will probably ignore him if they do.
- He doesn't know that very, very few people buy anything on their first visit to a website – no matter how brilliant the website is – and he has not built in any way to keep in contact with them once they've left his site.
- He doesn't realise that Internet Explorer is only one of a number of browsers and that just because his site looks ok in IE, doesn't mean it looks ok in something like FireFox. So any visitors he gets there click away from this terribly unprofessional looking business.
- He doesn't know that a website must fit into an internet marketing plan for it to really make money and so he doesn't have one.
- And most important of all, he doesn't really know the number one reason people come onto the internet: to look for information! So the little bit of info he has on his site is all about his company and how great it is and how long he's been in business. But clients looking for his products really don't care about him and his story – they're looking for info on how what he has can solve their problem. Finding nothing like that on his site, they click on...
After a while, George realises his website isn't making him any money. Grudgingly he decides to go to a professional website developer. They discuss what George wants from his site.
Gently the web developer tries to show George that his vehicle is not going to run well because it's missing a bunch of bits and pieces and the spray job is frightening little children and old ladies. George asks for a quote on a new website. “And while you're busy, what else do you recommend needs doing on the site to make it work? Let's do this right from the start,” says George.
So the web developer explains how important the actual info on the site is in making any kind of sale and suggests that George have his text done by a professional copywriter who specialises in website text. “Add that to my quote,” instructs George.
George's quote duly arrives. He opens it, flicks through to the price at the end and promptly explodes. “I'm not paying that!” George splutters, outraged. “I know you can get the programs to build a website for free. The bit you have to do can't cost more than a couple of hundred – you're trying to rip me off! And look at this price for just writing content! Don't be ridiculous! English isn't my first language but I can write well enough. I'm not paying someone else just for writing!”
The fact that the web developer actually works with a team of experienced, skilled professionals to build websites that are suited for business use on the net – and that with all their combined talents a website takes anywhere from 12 to 60 plus hours to build because of all the pieces that need to be put in place and tweaked, is irrelevant to George.
He can't see that trying to learn everything the web developer already knows is going to take hours and hours of time – time that can't be used for his actual business. He can't see that doing that is far, far more expensive that paying the web developer to do what he does best.
And he definitely can't see how someone who has studied how best to use written language in a given situation and for a specific purpose, can possibly want to charge him more than a few bucks for their work. It's just a couple of pages and a few words!
So George rejects that quote and battles on with his “free” site.
Eventually he hears that his secretary's son has just gone to college and he's quite a computer boffin. The youngster is also trying to start his own little business to support him while he's studying and he offers really cheap websites. This being as close to free as George can get, he hands over an important part of his business marketing and online image to someone who is still learning the technicalities of the web - nevermind the marketing aspects that need to lie behind each decision - himself.
How effective can George really expect this website to be?
“Free” has effectively cost George
- untold hours of time that could have been used to actually make money,
- actual money to pay for a website developer to learn at his expense
- clients that have in the meantime found what they were looking for on his competitor's site. He's not only the lost initial sale here, but the lifetime value of the client as well.
So reason number two bad websites exist on the net is: because “free” is not always profitable!
Solution: You can have time or you can have money. Very seldom can you have both. Choose to spend the one that will enable you to make the most profits in the long run. Choosing one that looks to be the cheapest at first may well cost you a whole lot more down the line.
* Please note: I've used broad generalisations to illustrate the points of my stories. Not all clients are called George. Not all vehicle salesman are called Tom. Not everybody wants to drive from Pretoria to Cape Town. Not all free things are bad for you – some are just illegal, immoral or fattening. Not all web designers can drive.
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