I had a great conversation with a transitioning veteran today who was eager to dive into development. He was disappointed because he was applying for junior front-end developer jobs throughout the region but walked away feeling unqualified and defeated. I encouraged him that the issue wasn't his qualifications, the issue was confusion within our industry.
For the last two decades, I've sat on all sides of the online marketing wall – including consulting on and developing integrations, designing and testing user interfaces for user experience, product management to develop and prioritize product features, back-end developer, front-end developer, and even designer. Much of the frustration and confusion I see in our industry is that the terminology is vague and the descriptions often overlap.
He thought a junior front-end development job might be a great entry-point into a career building websites. He associated front-end development with the aesthetics and interactions of the user. I had to explain while that's true, no one hires a front-end developer to redesign their website. That's a highly focused position that typically designs web application user experiences for large companies.
What Job Title Does Build Websites?
So you believe you need a new website. Do you hire a web developer? Do you hire a web designer? Do you hire a marketing consultant? How about an SEO consultant?
When companies engage in contracts with one of the above, things often take a turn for the worst. The frustration happens when expectations aren't met. I'll provide some real-world examples:
- We hired a web designer. The site is beautiful, but we're not getting any leads.
- We hired a developer/programmer. We spent quite a bit of money but the site is quite buggy and it's still not implemented.
- We hired a marketing agency. The new site is nice but it's really slow and we've lost a ton of traffic.
- We hired a graphic designer. Our branding is awesome but our site is horrific and we can't figure out how to update anything.
- We hired an SEO consultant. We rank much better now for a multitude of industry terms, but it hasn't led to any additional business.
Every time a company goes out to build a new web presence, the expectation should always be the same… growing their business and getting a positive return on their investment.
At times, that's just having a highly engaging site that helps build the awareness of your brand. Sometimes the expectation is to build your personal or corporate authority in your industry. Many times, the expectation is getting more leads for your sales team. If you're an ecommerce site, it's more traffic driving more conversions.
The Gap is Expectations
Did you notice what wasn't mentioned with those expectations?
- The site is aesthetically beautiful and portrays my brand perfectly.
- The site is responsive and designed well for my target audience(s) to navigate and find the information they need.
- The site is fast and utilizes best practices for search engines to index it accurately.
- The site is informative, providing the content necessary to help my prospects make a purchase decision.
- The site is easy to use, with the flexibility to make whatever changes we may need to in the future.
- The site is integrated to our other systems, reducing the effort necessary to move data between sales, marketing, support, and other systems.
- The site is optimized for social media, empowering my advocates to easily share information in well-formatted updates.
- The site is performing well as part of our overall digital marketing efforts. Our reporting and dashboards we get are helping us continuously optimize and improve our offerings.
All of these goals aren't often discussed in meetings with your [insert title here], but they should be. The problem is that the market place for talent is often fractured. The clients that I work with have often spent hundreds of thousands of dollars between internal manpower and external resources… and never met the goals above.
If you hire a developer or programmer, the expectation of that developer is often that they're going to start with a blank editor and write every line of code you've requested. That's insanity nowadays. I have literally tossed code that took years to develop and hundreds of thousands of dollars for solutions that cost hundreds of dollars. I'm not blaming the programmer for this, they're doing what programmers do. The problem is the gap in expectations.
If you hire a designer, your site may be aesthetically stunning. But they also may hard-code elements making it impossible to make edits. They may use uncompressed imagery, causing the site to load slow. And they may not actually integrate it to a solution for lead capture. I once had a client contact me months after their new, beautiful site was live. They couldn't understand why it wasn't generating any leads and hired me to help out. Within minutes, I found that the form they had was purely aesthetic and didn't actually submit the data anywhere. They may have had hundreds of leads… but they never had any way to find out. The design agency met their expectations… but not the business needs.
More often than not, I see sites sold as projects. As a result, the agency, designer, or developer is financially rewarded for delivering a site that takes every shortcut possible to save time and make a better profit on the engagement. And, of course, the project goes to the lowest (or next to lowest bidder). Companies sometimes chuckle that they had someone quote a twenty-five thousand dollar site and they were able to get theirs built for a few thousand dollars. I follow up asking how it's performed for their business and the response is often… oh, we get most of our business by word of mouth.
Well duh. Your cheap site sucks. You threw money away. Had you invested the $25,000, you may have doubled the growth of your business depending on the capabilities of the resource you were going to hire.
Hiring a marketing resource who understands your business needs and can research the audience and goals you're trying to attain is a much better investment. An individual or organization who understands content, research, design, development, integration, analytics, the landscape of tools and platforms, integration, as well as trends in social, search, mobile, advertising, video, et cetera… can move the needle forward for your online marketing needs.
But that's often neither a designer nor a developer.
My advice to this veteran? He was honorably discharged so we know he has good character and work ethic. He traveled extensively throughout the world during and after his enlistment, so he has a great business acumen and experience no one else has. He was an outstanding and engaging communicator, I enjoyed my time speaking with him.
He admitted that he didn't think he could sit in front of a screen all day writing code so I advised him to abandon his goal of becoming a developer. That's not to say I advised him to abandon development, I think he should pursue building expertise there. I do a ton of development, but it's never the expectation of my clients. They want business results, not code.
By developing a wide array of knowledge and expertise in my industry, I'm able to prioritize their investment where it's going to attain the highest ROI. You don't have to be or find the best designer, the best developer, the best SEO consultant, the best whatever… you can find those resources when you need them. Your primary goal when hiring someone to build your next website is to find someone who understands your business.
I don't build web sites for my clients, I build business results using many assets… including a web site.