Rx: When a Website Needs Surgery

by Joe Thomas

… So the guy stands there with his mouth agape and says, “But Doc, why do you have to operate on my foot? The splinter is in my finger!”

What does this punch line have to do with fashioning a successful website? Its underlying lesson applies to about 80 percent of people who can’t figure out why their website doesn’t “work.”

Pretend your website is the patient in my half-a-joke. Now, toss in a “Web guru” as the doctor. There are two main reasons why you’ve gotten surgery on a foot when a finger was the problem.

You didn’t correctly explain the symptoms. If your product or book is not selling from your website, don’t tell the doctor you don’t like the colors. Or that you need more Flying Thingies on the page. Tell the doctor that your product is not selling from your website.

Some people consult with their sister-in-law, best friend and lawn boy before seeking the help of a professional. Or they guess at the cause of the problem themselves. When they finally consult with a professional, they tell him or her what they want: Use blue not red; make that picture bigger; add a joke of the day. But for the right diagnosis, just tell the doctor, “The site’s not selling” and let him or her figure out why.

When you bring in a pro to evaluate your site and identify problem areas, don’t be offended at what they tell you (odds are, you’re not going to like a lot of what you hear). And don’t be so attached to your current site that you’re not willing to make changes. A solid developer will ask to see your server stats (and you do have server stats, even if your current guru tells you differently). By analyzing your traffic patterns, you’ll be able to see your problem areas and, possibly, immediate solutions. It’s not always that simple, but it’s the best place to start.

This presupposes, of course, that you have a qualified website professional — which is the point of reason number two why your website isn’t working.

There are a lot of quack doctors out there! Let’s be honest, a surgeon makes his living performing surgeries, and a Web guru makes his living performing guru work on websites. The moral? Without patients and Web projects, the surgeon and the Web guru go on unemployment.

In all aspects of business, and especially Internet marketing, some people may say whatever it takes to sell you on “surgery.” Proceed with caution! Before you hire someone to develop, design or “fix” your site, get referrals. Ask people you trust for recommendations. Ask the “doctor” questions. If he or she can’t take the time to explain every procedure, find someone who will. You need to understand the suggestions — and the reasons for them. Also, be warned: There is no Standard Pricing Guide. My best advice is to avoid being sucked into the cheapest deal you can find or being fooled by the “we are the best so we charge the most” designers.

If you’re not getting the results you need from your site, consider these questions: 

How does your site stack up against your competition? Whether you’re a manufacturer, business or blogger, you have competition. Surf around and take a look at the other guy’s site. How does his look compare to yours? We’re not talking about what the site says, just the overall aesthetics. Does yours look as good, or better?

When visitors open your site, do they know what you’re selling? Obviously, you know your product or service, but is it plainly visible to visitors? Is the information your visitors are looking for easy to find and understand? Are the “calls to action” — such as “sign the petition,” “read the blog” or “buy my cool product” — easy to find?

Did you check your ego at the door? Who is your site trying to please? Are you trying to impress yourself or your customers? Too often, websites get hung up on self-importance. While it is important to show your visitors that you’re an expert, the product or service needs to be the focal point. If you’re selling beans or bikinis, nobody really cares that you climbed Mount Everest in your pajamas last October.

Are you actively marketing your site? Just having a site isn’t enough. The competition is fierce and qualified traffic is hard to come by. If your site isn’t getting qualified traffic, it’s going to be very difficult to sell anything! Today’s Internet thrives on friends’ lists. You must be active in social media; without it, you are destined for failure. Engaging in social media adds value. Friends, Likes, Tweets, Taps and Pings is where it’s at. I call it “exponential marketing.”

Common sense is the most valuable tool at your disposal, but be smart enough to know what you don’t know! Successful websites don’t just appear. They’re properly developed, cultivated and then regularly watered.

Developing a successful website is hard work; finding the right surgeon can be even harder.

Joe Thomas, founder and owner of Web development company Left Brain Digital, is a an award-winning Web designer/developer with more than 18 years of experience in print and Web design and development. Thomas’ work became a major influence in graphic and Web design in the “Y2K” era of the Internet’s dot-com explosion.

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