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Web Design Return on Investment - What Is Your Web Site Doing for You? 
by William Szczepanek

Article 21: April 8, 2009

We all know that you need to do a lot to keep your Web site fresh and inviting.  And, by design, I don’t just mean the graphic representation. We all know that to have an effective Web site you need to have textual content that pleases not only the reader, but also the robots that seek out your site for new information.  We also know that we need to get links from other sources to show that our site is reputable and respected. We all now know that we need to join social networking sites to generate interest in ourselves and feed our web sites with viral content from You Tube that will spread the word about our Internet presence.  All of these and more are influenced by design issues.

We need to do this and we need to do that, and after the day is done we need to do more to compete against those who are doing more.  Isn’t this all backwards?  I thought that a Web site was supposed to do things for me.  Get me customers. Get me sales. Get me recognized.  When am I going to get my return on investment in both time and money? Where’s the payoff?  Is it only those with the big bucks who will succeed?  What does it take for a Web site to work for me instead of the other way around?

You can measure return on investment in your 401(k) portfolio.  You put money in. You watch it grow.  You watch it vanish in a sea of deceit disguised as those who promised to make you rich.  You do the same for your Web site.  You design it.  You develop it.  You nurture it.  You rev up the SEO engines until your keywords knock around the combustion chamber only to be sucked up by your competition and spit out of their exhaust, polluting your view of the road ahead.  Does the little guy, or gal, stand a chance?  What can we do against the big guns?

Well, sometimes small is better.  Being small enables you to be flexible and change quickly. One thing you can do is not fall for the trap of trying to do everything the pundits tell us all at one time. We are not all Barack Obama who can change the world by pointing our finger and declaring it so. Though, it appears that it will even take him awhile to get world out of the mess it’s in.

Levels of ROI

Your decision on what is an acceptable return on investment will drive your design choices. But, how do you know what to do and when?

Negative ROI

If you have put little money into your site design and you have not measured what sales you have achieved through the site, then you have no way of knowing whether it is working for you or not.  Your site is adequate and looks a little worn and old. This may sound like ancient history to many now, but there are many people with Web sites who don’t do any analysis and still have a viable business.  Maybe it is the only business of its kind in the area.  It could be the physical location is excellent and there is a lot of drive by traffic. It could be that listings in the phone book have served them well in the past. The problem a lot of business owners like this will have is that new competition could have a leg up on them if they arrive with an attractive, efficient and informative Web site that is easy to find on Google.

The return on this level of Web site could be considered negative when people who do visit the site make a conscious decision not to buy based on the design or lack of design of the site.  If you’re in this category you need to spend more money on design issues. But don’t overspend, because there may be other issues that are affecting business.  Spend enough to see some change and then measure the change.

Neutral ROI

The next level of design is one that is a breakeven situation, and, in fact, this is the category that most Web sites fall into.  The site doesn’t do anything to increase sales.  No more sales would be achieved even of the site did not exist.  Sites in this category can be pleasing to the eye, but do little to make people act.  They may help someone find your business, but do nothing to convince them that they need to buy before they call or arrive at your door.

These Web sites will soon be overtaken by the dynamic Web sites of companies with better technology and more insight into what design issues are really important.

Positive ROI

The competition has now gotten to the point where truly successful businesses are doing things right in a number of areas.  The design informs, the design helps to sell, the design makes someone feel they need the product or service and the design makes the customer feel good. These things don’t happen by accident.  It takes thoughtful, expert implementation, SEO that works well and measurement to show that the Web site is generating revenue. More and more businesses are getting to this point now.  In the short term it will be harder to compete on the Internet unless you are versatile in a number of areas.  Writing, marketing, analysis and optimization are becoming more and more important to succeed.  Most successful Web sites have input from many sources. Getting up to speed to get on the Internet in a meaningful way can take just as much work as creating a product or implementing a service.  Most business people do not have the time to take on all of the work of Web design themselves, but they need to know that their input in vital to the success of their site.

Who Should Your Site Appeal To?

What does good design mean? In reality, it’s different for everyone.  Optimally, it should appeal to those who are looking to  buy your product or service.  How do you know who they are?  You don’t. But, just because something works once doesn’t mean it will work again or continue to work.  A little success can take you down the road to nothingness if the sale you just made was to the only someone who liked your design.

Who Decides What Appeals to Your Customers?

That’s the real point.  You don’t get to decide what design appeals to your customers. They do.  How do you find out who your customers are?   You need to track them down. You need to know how they found you. You need to know why they liked you. You need to know what effect your web site had on their decision.  Above all you need to know what good customers didn’t like about your site, so you can improve it.

How do you find out?  Surveys.  Ask them.  Give them something for nothing to get them to tell you. Above all treat them with respect and try to help them.  This sounds like something that is so straight forward that it shouldn’t need to be mentioned.  Not true.  Poor customer service is prevalent and is so bad that when you try to provide it today, people will become suspicious and think that you are trying to scam them. It takes time and effort to generate the trust to get your customers to like you and trust you.

The Future Has Arrived Again

Times are changing and what goes around comes around.  In the future the only companies that will succeed are those that do a great job at making the customer happy.  Think about those things when you design your site and then revise, revise and revise it until you get it right.  Design is not a one time thing.  It is evolutionary.  Ranking algorithms change, products change, competition changes and customers change.  A web site needs to be able to change to meet the challenges of a new and dynamic Web audience.  Therefore, design it in a way that is easy to change, in little steps, as you find out what works and what doesn’t.