The Failure of a Successful Website

One thing that has amazed me since the first moment I started working on commercial websites – for clients and employers – I have been amazed about one thing; people want to have immediate success but don’t want to carry the burdens of making it a success.

For example, at this moment I am working on a website, actually a group of websites, that simply cannot succeed for two simple reasons. First, the subject matter of the website (“Getting people to buy a new car”) in this economy might not be a wise choice. Second, if you lay out the whole blueprint of the website and put it against a maintenance model for such a website, it is impossible to manage technology, content and marketing if you are with a small team.

So, the website has been online since the beginning of ’09 and showing a complete lack of performance. The traffic is there, the visit information is excellent, but people are – what a surprise! – not buying new cars in massive numbers, and are not even becoming the so called e-leads (people who want a dealership to call you up).

This is a good example of what happens a lot these days with commercial websites; the owners think in money, not in passion or an idea anymore. True, an economic crisis like the current one delivers tons of opportunities, but new cars might not be it, just like many other concepts. When starting a commercial website, it is important to lay down a plan, and really think it over. Don’t think that any plan will make a lot of money. For example, the whole reason why we are in a crisis right now is that banks provided loans to – for example – buy too big and too many cars compared to someone’s income and banks don’t give out those loans anymore. So even if people want to buy a new car, they simply can’t. And then, cars have been made better and better, and are not breaking down that fast anymore. Even the ‘dreaded’ lifespan of an American car is more then 200,000 miles since 2000. So the reason why new cars are not being sold so many anymore has nothing to do with people not wanting to buy a car, it is a combination of not needing and not being able to.

You do not have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. Sure, dealers and the car companies want to sell new cars, but when a market is saturated, it is almost impossible to earn more money with it. And the competition in the car-markter web world is killing, dealers are horrible to follow up on leads and let’s face it, who voluntarely would like it that a car salesman will call him/her anyway?

But that comes the moment that after a lot of money has been spent on bringing the site up, that the reports flow in and show clearly that a site is heading for the Abyss, the number of visitors are low, the number of people returning are even much lower and of the metrics that you should have to have any sight of profit in the distant future; you are not even coming close.

The recipy to a succesful commercial website is simple; first have an idea and then let it linger for a little while, think it over and over. Rewrite your site-plan as if it was a business plan. Read up on material concerning your plan and learn from competition. It is not the technical aspect that makes a site succesful, it helps, but in the end, it is the content that will de the trick. The car site that I am working on features 430 full micro-sites about any car model that the major car-brands sell in the US today. But keeping it up-to-date is a major task, but it needs to be done if you want to compete out there. 430 microsites, and they all contain about 8 pages of content.That is 3440 pages of content, that might change overnight if car brands update their cars. If you are not up-to-date with it, your visitors notice and cannot value your site anymore on it’s accuracy, while other sites can.

So, the next ingredient for a succesful website is to plan your site in such a way, that you are able to manage it. With this car site we have just one copy-writer who is, as you can figure, by far not enough to maintain this number of content-pages, let alone write new content. If one of your site essentials is to keep up to date, make sure you have the people available to do so. Missing out on one update might cause a  serious dent in reaching your goals of the site.

Let’s jump to the next ingredient, make sure that you have a good back-end set up for your website. Not only to manage your website that suits you or your company the best, but if you plan to be a commercial website, make sure you have everything arranged to manage the money stream, and performance of your website. Just like with building a house, you can only build it on a reliable foundation. For example, people are now being taught not to provide any information if not at least it shows the SSL-lock icon in your browser. So if you don’t have one, that might already be a problem. But be able to ship out products fast when you are a store, or handle subscriptions immediately when you have a subscription website. Make sure that your site performs well even if you just have one paying customer, as well as 1000.

The final ingredient is pure luck. For every commercial site concept, there are 10 free versions online. News, games, erotica, it does not matter. Still, don’t give up. There are many massive multiplayer games online, but none performs so well as World Of Warcraft, a quite expensive one actually, but users are happy with it and value the price worthwhile for what they get. But, you can’t buy success. Especially in an online environment, people have the complete freedom to like whatever they want to like. So have patience, look what the metrics of your site are telling you, where to improve and what to invest in. Don’t let your own concept rule your motivation, in the end, you are not making the site for yourself, but for your audience. Learn to know them, see what makes them tick, and finally, learn to love them.

Well, for me starts another week to try to teach these lessons to the owner of the website I am working on.

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