Today I’m going to talk about a topic that’s been a persistent bugbear of mine for years. It’s about websites – specifically, about new websites that lack even the most basic digital marketing features.
I still see way too many newly built websites that don’t even have the most elementary features in place that allow it to attract an audience and generate business for the client.
Often these sites look pretty good on the surface. They’re aesthetically pleasing and function well on a superficial level. But when you start digging a bit deeper, many websites that are built and launched today are lacking in what I feel are non-optional features. I’m talking about things like…:
- Unique and human-readable URLs for each page
- Ability to change and optimise title tags & meta descriptions
- Web analytics, including conversion tracking
- Ability to create campaign landing pages
- Integration with relevant social media platforms
- Email capture forms
- Basic security checks
Too many websites are still being sold, built, and launched, without even these rudimentary features in place. Sometimes I even see fresh websites that aren’t even mobile-friendly!
I can’t even begin to start counting the times I’ve been asked to provide digital marketing input on a newly launched website and found that the site is fundamentally flawed for SEO, let alone that it has any basic SEO features. Getting SEOs involved in the early stages of a new website project is crucial, but stating that circumvents the real issue at the hear of all this.
The real issue is that too many web developers don’t see these digital marketing features as mandatory.
Optional Features? No.
For many developers I deal with, implementing things like static human-readable URLs, or an email capture form, or sometimes even making the website mobile-friendly, is an added feature that comes with additional costs.
These developers see digital marketing features as add-ons, as extras that are surplus to requirement and thus cost more to implement.
And I find that to be an utterly obscene position to take. It’s abhorrent to me that such websites are still sold to clients, who often don’t know any better, and then more money is extorted from these clients to put the basic elements in place that allow the website to attract visitors and generate business.
It’s like selling a car without wheels, and then charging extra for them. And you want a steering wheel too? Well, sorry, that’ll cost you more too. A gearbox? We’ll have to think about that, not sure if the car can handle it. Oh and you want an engine with more than 10 horsepower? Well, that’s going to cost quite a lot more, I’m afraid…
I’m totally and utterly fed up with it.
Let’s get one thing straight: these features are not optional. It is not acceptable to sell websites that have no digital marketing capabilities. Contrary to what many web developers think, a website is not a static finished showpiece – it’s an interactive product that exists to be used, and that means it needs to be able to attract users.
I find it entirely unacceptable that a newly built website does not have even the most basic features in place to help it earn an audience.
What Every Website Should Have
So let’s be clear here: a website without basic digital marketing features is not a functional website, in the same way a car without wheels is not a functional vehicle. We cannot allow web developers to get away with shipping half-arsed, incomplete products any more. We need to change the dynamic and educate businesses on what is an acceptable feature set for a new website, and what isn’t.
When we think of a website, we all have a certain set of features and functionality in mind. A website has pages, structured in a logical way, and contains text and images. We expect websites to have a content management system that allows the owners to make changes, add and change content, and so on.
Let’s illustrate this with a simple diagram. The basic website idea outlined above is what we all understand as the bare minimum requirements for something to be classified as a website.
Too many web developer see this as the entirety of their remit – to design, build, and launch websites that adhere to these basic expectations. That’s it. Anything more is extra functionality that’s optional and, thus, chargeable.
And that’s not true anymore.
To me, a website is only ready when it has the following features:
- It’s fully mobile friendly, ideally designed with mobile UX as the foundation
- It’s fast-loading and provides an optimised experience on slow connections
- It has web analytics implemented, including goal/ecommerce tracking
- It has all the necessary on-page SEO elements in place, including XML sitemaps
- It allows owners to create new landing pages for specific campaigns
- Email capture forms integrate with the client’s email marketing system
- It has basic security and privacy features in place
If a website doesn’t have these basic elements in place, it’s not a finished product in my eyes, and I will communicate that to both the client and the web developer.
Note: What is acceptable to me might differ from what is acceptable to you. I’ll admit it’s not something easily etched in stone, and that it depends on the purpose of the website and the client’s requirements. But I think we can all agree that there are some standard elements, like the ones mentioned above, that most websites should have if there’s any expectation of getting traffic to the site.
Then there’s a whole range of secondary features, which are steadily becoming more important and thus at risk of becoming mandatory features in the near future. These are things like structured data, a fully featured blog/news section, canonical tags & pagination tags, Facebook Open Graph & Twitter Cards markup, social sharing features, etc.
For specific types of websites there are additional features that should be considered as close to this second level of mandatory elements. For example, if a site uses faceted navigation, I don’t think it’s excessive to expect the developer to put basic elements in place to prevent search engine crawl waste. Or, if it’s a WordPress site, to have some additional security features installed.
Let’s call this an acceptable website. For me, this is the bare minimum that every web developer should deliver.
Then there’s a third layer of features and functionality, that go above and beyond the realm of expectation. This is where web agencies can make a name for themselves, and create products that sets them apart.
Here we’re talking about really cool things like fully AJAX-generated pages that are still 100% SEO friendly. Real-time integrations with several different stock management systems. Automated translation workflows. User-testing at every stage of the design & build process to create the most user-friendly experience.
That’s the wow!-factor. That’s where web developers can make the biggest difference and really elevate themselves above their competitors, and build a name as deliverers of true excellence.
Where Web Developers Need To Be
If you’re a web developer and you churn out basic websites, with little regard for the features that make up the ‘acceptable website’ category, then you’re going to lose. In fact, I want you to lose. I want you to stop making websites entirely. What you do is simply not acceptable any more.
If you’re a web developer and you’re confident you build acceptable websites, good for you. You’re doing your bit to make the web work and to keep the internet economy ticking over. But you should still be worried, because you’re eventually going to lose out to web developers that are the next level up – the ones that deliver the wow-factor. You’ll need to find your own wow-factor, and start creating things you can be truly proud of.
And finally, if you’re a web developer firmly in the wow-factor zone, there’s nothing I can say that you don’t already know – and then some. Hat’s off to you.
It’s Not Just The Developers
Now I’ve been criticising web developers for the past 1200+ words, and that’s not entirely fair of me. I have to put a massive caveat, and lay some of the blame squarely with clients.
Because many clients – many, many clients – have no appreciation of the value of a great website. These clients just want that basic website and pay as little as possible for it.
That would be fine, if those same clients didn’t also have extravagent expectations about what that website is capable of delivering. A cheap, basic website is not going to make them overnight millionaires. And in fairness to web developers, they are often faced with clients like that who have no budget but still want the full Lamborghini experience.
So yes, let’s be honest and acknowledge that web developers have to make compromises on functionality due to the client’s budgetary constraints. And that needs to be communicated adequately to the client, so that there is no expectation that their new site is all-singing and all-dancing when it’s actually an eviscerated skeleton. Make the client understand what they’re getting – and what they’re not getting – and don’t make promises you can’t keep because you need the sale.
Let’s All Do Better
It’s very easy for me to sit on the sidelines here and throw rocks at web developers. Though, in my defense, I used to sit on the other side when I was digital director at an agency that made websites. I’ve been there and done that, and have had those struggles where balancing client demands and budgetary constraints is simply impossible.
So let’s commit to making life easier for all of us. Let’s communicate effectively with our clients and educate them on what’s feasible and what isn’t. Let’s make our work as transparent as possible, so that clients can come to appreciate the value of what we do. Let’s be honest in our promises to clients, and where the lines are drawn.
And please, I beg you, let’s start building more websites that do everything they need to do, and then some. Let’s commit to make awesome things.