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Why a Website is Not an Investment

By Snap Agency June 12, 2015

You may have heard someone phrase design or web design as “an investment.” The sentiment is a positive one, what you put into design you get out in a monetary return. You make money when it’s done well. It’s an investment. But… the term investment means a ‘nice to have,’ not a critical or core piece of the puzzle.

Mike Monteiro stated in his interview for An Event Apart:

“Yes, investments are great. They’re also not necessary. When I think of investments I think of stocks, artwork, original Star Wars figures mint in box. Stuff that’s nice to have, and that you hope increases in value someday. Design is core. It’s not a nice-to-have. It’s plumbing. It’s foundation. You don’t invest in design. You can’t exist without it. A website without design isn’t a house without art, it’s a house without a bathroom.”

And web design becoming increasingly less “voluntary” in this day and age. If a company doesn’t have a website, one might assume that they aren’t legitimate. And when a company’s website doesn’t feel intentionally or professionally laid out, it begs the question; “does this company really offer a premium product or service?” So Mike’s sentiment that rings so true for design in general is becoming more pointedly accurate every day for websites.

Reasons why a website is not an investment:

  • An investment is a luxury, and a website is core.
  • If you don’t have a website in today’s economy and social understanding, people severely question your legitimacy as a business.
  • If you build a website in-house with people who don’t consider web design as their primary/everyday discipline, you may get an “acceptable” end result, that is actually poorly done and not designed with particular web marketing principles in mind, or  built to get conversions.


So for goodness sake, hire a professional.

I wouldn’t bring car to my cousin who does auto work on his old trucks, partly because I don’t want to inconvenience him, but really I just want someone to be working on it that does this 40 hours a week. If I don’t hire a pro, I shouldn’t be surprised if my car has radiator problems 3 months later and the professional I finally bring it to says it could be prevented if I had just done one small thing.

That one small tweak on a website, could be a mislinked contact button or something really simple. It could be adding call to actions at the end of every page. It could be a general understanding of how people are using websites these days. For me that expertise has been enhanced by facilitating and watching website user tests where (non web marketing) people interact with websites and cite ways they could be improved to be more user friendly. Every time I do one of these tests, I learn something about how most people use the web and what they expect.

  • They expect the work to be done for them: they don’t expect to have to search through a list to find their sales rep just to get in contact with you, they expect you’ll do that for them.
  • The expect navigation items to have clear and obvious language, not to have cute (read indecipharable) or based on industry language that not everyone in your primary demographic will understand.
  • They expect the site to be intentionally designed and look professional enough to at least not be distracting from the content. They want reasons to trust you right away, whether they always say that explicitly or not. Making these reasons (invisible) visible in as many ways is possible, is a major advantage for you.

Ask the design teams you’re considering working with if they care about the numbers. Attention to analytics,  and accountability for increases in ‘conversions’ are huge when working with a web marketing firm. Likely many C-level marketing executives are paying attention to this like hawks already, but if you’re a small company; take heed!


How can web marketing teams be more accountable?

The clearest way is to set up reasonable growth strategies based on your current amount of conversions (or people that contact you, buy your product or service, or whatever you want them to do on your site), and where you’d like that number to be at. If you currently have $130,000 in sales from the website in the past year, you might reasonably hope you could increase that to $195,000 over the next year. If you have a service where you only need a few super high-quality clients, and you currently have 1 lead in two months from the website, maybe you set up the goal to have 2 on average a month.

The point is that it’s specific and connected to a time frame. Just like goal setting, you don’t want to have vague out-there goals like “Get more people to our website,” or “Get more contact submissions.”

So Assignment one: Go look in your analytics. What are the key things people need to be doing on your site, and how many of those are people doing each month in the last 6 months on average.

If you don’t have ‘conversions’ set up in your analytics account, step one is to do that or have someone do that.

Assignment two: Based on a reasonable growth strategy, where do you want this number to be on average 6 months from now?


If nothing changes, nothing changes.

Now, the more you’re clear and intentional with the desired growth, and set reasonable growth numbers your web marketing team will be that much better equipped to help you achieve your digital marketing goals. They’ll even be incentivized to do excellent work for you because, the expectation is around a clear and quantifiable outcome. If they are paying attention to the numbers, it can become a case study for them, and increase the quality and quantity of their work as well. Win, win.

But if a redesign two years ago, didn’t stop the leakage of customers on the website, what makes you think a new website will in 2015? Quality design elicits trust from customers, but it needs to be supported with other ongoing efforts. If you’re a small-business owner this might hurt to hear. If you’re a CMO of a fortune 500 company this is painfully obvious. You need content, and it has to be at an ongoing pace to keep up with the criteria the algorithm (more accurately, the software) that search engines such as Google use to determine the ‘freshness’ of website. So clearly you need to be paying attention to SEO, and depending on the industry, you may benefit from some Search Engine Advertising or Pay-per-click.

Think about the ongoing strategy of web marketing, in measurable numbers connected to specific dates. Don’t think of your spending on web marketing as a nice-to-have, understand for most industries the web marketing spend is necessary, and hire the right fit for your company at an appropriate price.