I’m like you. When I see something I want (and hopefully need), my next question is “What does it cost?” It’s a fair question, for sure, even a wise question. But in order to judge the value of anything you buy, the first thing is to determine exactly what you’re getting.
Case in point: I was speaking with a new client last week. The business in question is in limbo — the owner is open to sell it and has interested buyers. The sticky point is the new website she paid to have custom created (an edited template, actually) tanked her search results. That’s when she called me.
The site design is certainly pretty, but it lost effectiveness. I jumped in to correct the primary fails for the design (no site map, no https functionality, and such) to get her search rankings back … but there is much more that needs accomplished.
Therefore, the question: How much will it cost?
My answer: It doesn’t cost anything, really, but it takes a ton of time.
Here’s Why Website Optimization Is Free
First off, I own and subscribe to tools for webmaster work that cost hundreds of dollars each month … and the truth is there is no free lunch. Somebody or something pays for everything you get. Everything. So saying “It is free” isn’t a fact.
Nothing is free. Once you have the tools, though, the rest takes experience and knowledge (I’ve been a webmaster for years and have invested thousands into education). That’s why small businesses either need to have someone on the team who can handle the many site-centered tasks or suffer the consequences.
And that’s also why small business owners are hammered daily with emails and phone calls from salespeople pretending to be experts who promise to get them ranking high on Google for a paltry $5K or so. Buyer beware. Most of that (maybe all of that) is a total scam. You may get a quick boost from underhanded tactics, but you are likely to soon see your rankings crash hard.
Here’s the truth: Larger businesses have people on staff who manage the website. Small businesses typically don’t even realize they need help. True story.
How Can a Small Business Compete Online?
In my experience, most small business owners focus entirely on appearance. They want to look good. That’s like putting a new paint job on a car that barely runs, though. It may look good, but doesn’t perform well at all.
Here’s a sampling of just three tasks and skills necessary on a regular basis to make sure your website will draw visitors and get customers.
Pretty has little to do with it.
- Security is tops: It would scare your pants off to look deeply at your site and see how many bad actors are out there trying to find sites to “hack.” Once that has happened, you are in deep trouble. Stay secure.
- Performance is critical: Much of your ranking ability depends on how quickly your website loads and how user friendly it is. If they don’t see your offer, they can’t take it.
- Content is essential: Content management is both a science and an art. I can’t even begin to describe the fails that occur here. All words may be considered content, but the right words at the right time to the right people build business.
Beyond that is plugin management (most sites have way too many and open themselves up to big problems), regular backups for safeguarding your site, ongoing testing and optimization, lead generation, and more.
So, how much does webmaster work cost? A lot.
A lot of time, a lot of study, a lot of research, and a lot of work. A whole lot. Most small business websites are prone to being hacked, aren’t ranking nearly as well as they could, and aren’t generating the business they’re there to get in the first place … but … they are pretty.
How Can a Small Business Compete Online?
Every website needs a webmaster. Few small business sites have one (but don’t even realize it). Fueling the problem is the need for specialization. There’s so much one needs to know that digital marketing folks find a niche (maybe advertising, site building, SEO, or another function) to learn.
Back in the day “webmaster” was a popular term. Everyone knew they needed help. Today, you can throw up a “custom” site using a template within a day, no problem. It will look fine, but will quickly crumble without a webmaster to make sure the issues that need addressed.
Big businesses can (and do) afford to hire the necessary staff. Small businesses typically don’t know what they need and would be shocked at how much it costs. Instead, they pay for site design, hire SEO “experts,” use clueless writers who worry only about putting enough words on the page, and shoot themselves in the foot.
Worse yet: Nobody is looking at the entire pie, they’re all adding pieces. It’s a recipe for disaster. I see the trainwrecks all the time. It’s heartbreaking. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and they are at a disadvantage here.
So, how can a small business compete online?
There are two ways I recommend:
First, take the next few years of your life to learn everything you need to learn about webmaster duties (and be sure to keep up with the latest developments). Or, send your most capable web person to me for guidance.
Option two: Find someone (probably someone who was online in the 90’s and has kept active in sitework) to help you and pray they can stay within your budget. The good news here is that many of the people who can do the work the way it should be done are likely retired or ready to retire — meaning you may be able to get an affordable price from someone who can help but doesn’t need to charge the going rate (the job is worth $10k per month or more).
The remaining option is to do nothing, wait for a catastrophe, then find somebody to blame. If you’ve read this far, though … there’s only one person you should be pointing that finger at. You are forewarned. The worldwide web (the “internet”) is getting more dangerous and more competitive every day, month, and year.
Stay safe out there.
NOTE: If enough business owners see the train coming and want to avoid getting run over by it, I will create a training course for webmaster work and make it available. If that’s you, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.