Open Letter to a New Website Owner

I came across your marketing materials a few days ago and was impressed enough to visit your website to get more information.

Wow. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way.

Don’t get me wrong. You’ve obviously put a lot into your startup – a lot of time, energy, thought, maybe even money. You’ve taken a big step into the often scary world of marketing your business on the Internet, and you are to be congratulated for your pluck and forward thinking. The absolute last thing I want to do is discourage you.

But while your website is very attractive aesthetically (the logo is particularly cool), I’m afraid it’s not doing you many favors from a marketing standpoint.

How can I say that? Well, consider these points:

Too much Flash + not enough text = little online visibility. Flash animation – the software powering most of your site – is a very in-your-face, very sexy tool. And when used intelligently, it does what it does very well.

But it’s got one really huge drawback: Google (and other search engines) can’t read it. Its robots take one look at your 100% Flash content and, not seeing anything they can index, move on to another site.  (For the skeptics out there: http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/googleisgod.html explains this further and provides some tools for you to see your own site through a search engine spider’s eyes.)

So all those nice words and phrases your potential clients are typing into the search engines are leading them … to your competitors’ sites. If you don’t believe me, try Googling yourself (not with your name, but with your keywords like “[profession] Mobile Alabama”) and count how many pages you have to scroll down before you see your own site.

Forced Flash. Once someone from your target market visits your site, you want them to come back, don’t you? Then why must your returning site visitors sit through your entire 42-second Flash intro every single time?

Forty-two seconds may not seem a long time when you’re just reading about it. But think about it the way your ideal prospect will. Imagine he (or she) is on the phone with a valued client who’s assigning the firm a new file. He/she tells the client, “We need an expert to evaluate these records.” So he/she pulls out your card, types in your website address … and then sits there for 42 whole seconds waiting for the intro he/she has already seen to finish so he/she can get to your Services or Contact page.

How many prospects do you think will do that more than once?

Too much sound. Here’s another potential turn-off. Since you’re selling B2B (business-to-business) services, most of your visitors will be accessing your site from their office computers. When their co-workers (or bosses) suddenly hear music wafting from a nearby office or cubicle, they’ll be thinking: “Uh-oh, Chris is out there surfing some entertainment site on company time again.”

Do your visitors a favor. Get your web programmers to put a “Skip Intro” link or button on the entry page. And that “Audio Off” button on the other pages should turn all audio off, not just the music. Your prospects’ co-workers will appreciate it.

Inaccessible to the visually impaired. Have you ever considered that some of your visitors may be visually impaired? Such site visitors often rely on tools like screen magnifier and screen reader software to use the web. The magnifiers make the text and images larger so those who have minimal vision can read it; the screen readers read the site out loud for the blind. Even people who are a little far-sighted (like me) use the web browser’s built-in font resizing tools to make the text more readable.

Many (but, certainly, not all) of these tools will be of no use on your site, for a lot of the same reasons that Google will not be able to read your site (the “all Flash, all the time” programming). True, visually impaired users probably make up a small percentage of your visitors. But what if one of them otherwise would have become your best client?

Why all the anonymous (and unsolicited) advice? I’ll admit it – I’m basically gutless. I don’t like getting irate phone calls from people any more than anyone else does. (And after writing this, I probably deserve a good chewing out for being so presumptuous.)

But you’d be better served by taking all that emotional energy you’d otherwise spend calling me and spending it improving your online presence instead. Your bottom line will eventually show it’s time and energy well spent.

And to prove I’m not just some mean-spirited know-it-all who lives for criticizing other people, I’d like to pass along some resources I’ve found really helpful:

Books (Amazon Affiliate Links)

Get Clients Now!: A 28-day Marketing Program for Professionals, Consultants, And Coaches by C.J. Hayden (ISBN 0-8144-7374-1) – A terrific cookbook approach to building a well-rounded marketing plan based on proven strategies and activities. Identifies where in the sales process you’re “stuck,” then helps you come up with 9-10 daily actions that, done consistently over 28 days, will increase the number of clients you win.

The Ultimate Sales Letter: Attract New Customers. Boost Your Sales (Ultimate Sales Letter)by Dan Kennedy (ISBN 1-58062-257-7) – If you’re using introduction letters as a direct contact marketing tool, this is a good resource on the art of writing for sales. Some of Kennedy’s advice may be hard to swallow at first (he works mostly in B2C, which has a higher “cheese factor”) but can be adapted to the more professional approach a B2B market demands.

Search Engine Optimization: An Hour a Day by Jennifer Grappone and Gradiva Couzin (ISBN 0-471-78753-1) – If you want to learn about getting more visitors to your website, this is an ideal non-techie tutorial. You may be limited in how much organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) you can do with the site being built almost entirely in Flash, but there are other elements of SEO you can benefit from like directory listings, pay-per-click advertising, link exchange, etc. And when you update your site in a year or two, you’ll be well prepared to guide your web designers in programming a more search engine friendly site.


Web Pages That Suck (http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com) – It’s got a rude title and an off-the-wall feel, but the approach – “the best way to learn about good design is to study bad design” – is sound. Behind all that humor are some great lessons in what makes a website work..

Action Plan Marketing (http://www.actionplan.com – affiliate link) – Robert Middleton is hands-down the best marketing guru for the solo professional I’ve ever seen. He’s got lots of free and low-cost advice available in the form of teleseminars and ebooks, and his coaching program is top-notch. Definitely consider enrolling in his coaching once you’ve graduated from Get Clients Now. In the meantime, his Website Toolkit alone is worth ten times what he charges.

Google Adwords (http://adwords.google.com) – Do yourself a favor and sign up for an Adwords Starter account. Set the budget low enough to be comfortable, then start testing ads for your site. Later, upgrade to the Standard Account and get free web analytics (shows you where your traffic is coming from). Most people are afraid of pay-per-click advertising, but you can set your own budget and limit search results to a specific geographical area so only Mobile area prospects see your ad (which further limits your costs).

Please understand – I sincerely wish you and your new business the best. I apologize if my approach offends. But if someone had taken me aside when I put up my first (very ugly and marketing-impaired) website and shown me some of these things, I would be light years (and mucho bucks) ahead of where I am now.

Good luck. I hope your new venture succeeds beyond your wildest dreams.

Signed, a fellow small business owner

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  1. You did such a nice job on this open letter. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of web design people complaining about the lack of understanding about an online presence by small business people. I’ve been doing a series on the topic which is turning into an ebook.

    I also appreciate the resources you’ve listed because any little bit helps!

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