Over the years I’ve been a freelance web designer, the Internet Development Manager for a regional news portal, a founding partner in a successful interactive agency in Atlanta, and finally started another company, Bright Tribe.
During that time I’ve learned a thing or two. I’ve worked with hundreds of clients – from multi-hundred million dollar companies to little mom-n-pops – and everything in between. And there are several things that I’ve learned over the years that have been constant – and which have allowed me (and my clients!) to succeed:
1. Results Matter
It doesn’t make any difference how fancy a website site is. It doesn’t make any difference if the color palette is perfect or how well the site design matches the client’s sales collateral. At the end of the day the question is always does it work. Does it meet the business goals for which it was designed? In all my years I’ve never had a client say that they don’t care if the site actually accomplishes anything as long as it looks pretty. So understanding your target audience, clearly defining the metrics that you need to measure, and knowing where you need to move the needle is vital for a successful project. And these results need to be clearly defined before you even begin.
2. Content Rules
This has always been true. And no matter how many new social media sites spring up, no matter how many different devices one can view your company’s content on – at the end of the day you have to have solid, user-focused, clearly written content that communicates your organization’s value proposition and meets the decision drivers of your customers or users. Now, I will admit that how you deliver that content will be different. You may have longer whitepapers users must register for on your website, shorter blog posts, company updates on Facebook and Twitter posts that communicate knowledge leadership and customer engagement. But it’s all content. Some content may be in the form of videos, others in online slideshows or podcasts; it may even been photographic content, presenting your products and services through pictures. But unless you’re investing in content development – sometimes across all of these methods – you’re missing the boat. A static website with anemic content is not going to connect with your users. Copying a few paragraphs from your corporate brochure to drop into your website or getting your secretary to “write up something” isn’t going to connect with your users.
3. Things Change
And sometimes this one costs you – big time! When I first started Bright Tribe I invested tens of thousands of dollars in the development of our proprietary CMS. Oh, it was sweet! We took 6 months in research and developing the specifications, and I had a team of Georgia Tech computer science gurus working around the clock for 7 months building it. And when it was launched – and we were using it on client sites – it had a shelf life of approximately 18-24 months. And then it was outdated. By that time WordPress had evolved into one of the most user-friendly and robust CMS tools available for a whole range of clients. Now thankfully in my case I was able to recoup my investment before I put my now antiquated, clunky application in the proverbial dustbin, but I had to change. And then within the last 2 years, things have changed again. Mobile / Responsive design – building sites for tablets and smartphones – has become a standard, even though the vast majority of existing sites on the web are not. The lesson here is to realize (and accept it or die!) that things change fast and furious on the web. The hot new social media site today may be gone next year and been replaced with some new. And if you’re still designing sites and approaching online marketing the way you did 3 years ago, you’re already way behind.
4. Clients Aren’t Always Right
In fact, they’re often wrong. And it’s our job to guide our clients in the process of making smart decisions about their online marketing. Very often they don’t understand how to effectively communicate online. They don’t understanding issues of usability, conversion, how the sales process works or how to effectively write for the web, etc. Many are scared to death of social media or have wrong assumptions about how their customers or visitors want to interact with them online. These things are vital for a web marketer to address. It’s our responsibility to lead our clients through the process of understanding these things – to the extent they need to know and are engaged – with knowledgeable, credible direction. And there’s a caveat here, too. I remember years ago working with a Creative Director at another agency who was always right. I mean always. Nobody could tell him anything. And every client suggestion was treated with an air of contempt. After all, he was the award-winning creative director – the expert. Sometimes we need to pick our battles and weigh our client’s ideas and wishes against the big picture of the project and realize that saying to a client, “yeah, that just might work,” will go a long way in establishing a great working relationship.