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The Hardest Lessons in 15 Years of Web Design And Why SEO and Marketing Matters

Jun 25

THE HARDEST LESSONS IN 15 YEARS OF WEB DESIGN AND WHY SEO AND MARKETING MATTERS

There is a tendency to think that as long as you’ve been doing something a long time, it qualifies you as an “expert” in the same thing you’ve invested your time in. It’s true only to a certain degree because the internet has changed the game — and several times over in the past 5 years alone.

Let me explain.

In the past 15 years since I started my little company doing web design with then Macromedia Flash with fancy animations and Actionscript that my clients loved, it gradually became defunct with the advent of the iPhone. I was all about marketing and websites were the means to achieve the complete suite of marketing objectives and it was an amazing platform where businesses could showcase their products and services as well as get responses from their customers by a simple signup form. And after they got the enquiry email, they would proceed to market their products to them as part of a newsletter. Conversion rates were amazing and everyone was pumped.

Then it was 2008. Apple in all its wisdom and in one fell swoop decided that Flash as a web platform was a battery drain and it wasn’t compatible with their focus on mobile users. I was pretty much looking at all the time invested in Flash and the party was coming to an end, it was painful but we all had to bite the bullet and go into CMS HTML5 development. Well, Apple and their 50+ billion in annual profit was a clear indicator that they had a bigger say in comparison to my humble opinion. This left me and my company in a sink or swim situation which I must say I didn’t fare too well either.

This story isn’t one about and underdog overcoming the odds, but one of someone getting punched in the gut and learning things the very hard way and actually barely making through intensive care to recount the survival tale of “The Brutal Internet.”

We hoped Apple were wrong. Some part of me already knew that with the iPhone, even in its initial launch, as a whipping boy to the big boys like Nokia and Ericsson was actually a dark horse to be reckoned with. Fast forward 10 years and the jokes on Nokia and Ericsson.

Let me put it into a little context: Kids these days fiddling with “Fortnite” on their smartphones have no idea who Nokia and Ericsson are, and what in the world is a “Flip Phone”. We do live in different worlds.

Which brings me to the next point. The internet landscape kept changing as I was grappling with what was happening and it will keep on changing as long as you’re running a business, internet, F&B, retail or otherwise. I won’t delude myself or my customers into thinking  that they can “build a good website and those visitors will magically arrive at their doorsteps”.

The above sentiment is hardly a valid approach to marketing even in 1930s. Age old marketing frameworks still apply even in 2018 albeit in a vastly different timeframe. The truth of the matter is that your website is but only one single component of the large machine that your business must invest in for you to even consider being relevant. It’s but one touchpoint by which your future customer will interact with before taking out their wallets.

Your website isn’t going to go away. A company’s website is still as important today as it will be in the near future BUT you cannot assume that all you need is a website and putting the $150 stock photo on your landing page with a pretty face is going to mean your customers are going want to come in and buy your products and services.

One cannot ignore the beast that is the internet, if you don’t change your online marketing mindset and strategies, you WILL be left behind in the dust and your customers WILL and up being your competitor’s. It’s a harsh landscape where only people who are nimble and constantly innovating stand any sort of chance in progressing to the next internet evolution.

The internet is massive and more than what we could even imagine it to be. It will no doubt continue to surprise and shock us because of the speed at which Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence is growing and become more mainstream. Most people cannot comprehend how much it has changed since 1994 (I was messing around with a 2400bps modem connecting it to my friends telephone wire connected dialup server to mess about in Multi-User Dungeon games and it was inconceivable what the internet would become) and now we have millions of people engaging on numerous platforms and literally being emotionally affected by the comments that come their way on social and the billions of dollars of jobs and income it has created in its wake.

It’s an ecosystem that is every changing, where the wealth of resources and knowledge is increasing at an exponential rate that outstrips any predictions made within the framework of Morse’s law — at one moment you have a highly desired skillset in web development and next thing you know, AI and DIY website systems are bearing down on your business and your livelihood is being threatened because you are about to be replaced.

The internet does not discriminate in whom it chooses to render obsolete. No one is immune.

I will let that sink in for a moment.

I’m not immune and no one is. And that’s where it took a while to understand the game and how it’s played, because I watched companies that created pretty mediocre websites get lots of customers and I was wondering why were people buying pretty horrible-looking websites from these firms. (which by the way have also gone bust with the dot-com bust cycle, something I’m secretly gleeful about).

The market doesn’t care what you think, because the market decides if they want to buy your product or service. And if they don’t even know about you and if you’re still clueless about online marketing though funnels and Facebook and Instagram ads, your business days are numbered. 

This is not a scare tactic, because I care enough to tell you how it really is, that’s how I have been created as a person. I hate to see another viable and possibly amazing business lose out and shut down because they didn’t know how to compete with the other players despite having a vastly superior product.

The landscape is ever-changing and you have to get used to being nimble as a way of life to deal with the crushing waves; and rolling with the punches. Most people don’t have the stomach for this because humans are largely creatures of habit and dislike change. Some just simply give up because they aren’t used to changing and adjusting to new platform trends.(remember the dot-com bubble? Long after the party was over hordes of people still thought web companies were worth investing in. Well, they were, but they were over-valued with nothing concrete to back it.)

SEO: the word I never liked because I thought people were just focusing on creating content for the sake of getting searched on Google or Yahoo! My romanticized notion of how the internet should be was completely different from the reality of the landscape.

Blackhat folks in their attempt to game the search results rankings were just simply copying meta tags of competitors sites and getting ranked above or just below them. Google in its infancy took a while to deal with them and of course the blackhat guys always got found out and were subsequently punished by the being no longer visible on the search results. There’s always a tendency to reach for quick gains and ignore the long-term implications. Another lesson if you are still reading this article.

What I observed and in my trifle dabbling with blackhat and greyhat as part of finding out what is actually being done and the results, I would recommend not doing it because it’s only a matter of time before Google’s AI will figure out what you’re trying to do and you will get put in the sandbox — the land that no one will ever find you on their search platform. Most of the time, you don’t ever recover from that.

SEO is actually a long-term game, and most people are not patient which is precisely why few find long-term success. For example, a new small enterprise starts up, looking to build a profitable business with a growing client base, they don’t want to hear about SEO investment or ROI because they feel there’s no time to be dallying around with the unpredictable algorithm updates to Google (or Bing). There isn’t an immediate quantifiable value to it. So, maybe they decide to stick a press-release here and there for $300 and hope that it sticks.

Few business owners actually have the time to do an in-depth study into SEO, backlinking, long-tail keywords, or online marketing. They still have the mindset that as long as they build a pretty website, people will be flocking to their retail or physical location. The point I’m trying to make is that, it’s way more complicated than that. There are so many intricate layers of processes that require different skillsets to achieve the “traffic game”.

I’ll be upfront and say that I have changed my view on SEO and developed a system that is proven to get results for just about any business out there that isn’t already doing any marketing. It’s taken a lot of time, and research and testing to find out what actually works for different industries to develop a cost-effective marketing stack. It’s not just about good website design, it’s about the entire stack. What is the entire stack? Here’s what I think your business online should look like beyond just “building a website.”

THE REALISMA RECOMMENDED ONLINE GROWTH-HACKING STACK

The name of the game is customer acquisition when it comes to sales and revenue. But not everyone has a huge budget for marketing.

If you want to get very targeted customers and prospects through a proven and workable marketing system, please contact us and we will find an online marketing rollout that best suits your needs according to your budget.

We know that not everyone has a 6-figure marketing budget to get up and running but it helps to start understanding the objective in terms of your return on investment, or ROI.

Here’s the outline of the process:

  • Building a credible, attractive site with good content coherent with your brand
  • Making sure your site is tested and works with mobile devices as well as desktops computers across different brands
  • Set up your social network accounts and pages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, SnapCha etc.
  • Plan your content rollout based on the marketing requirements and SEO keywords
  • Figure out which keywords you want to be competing for for SEO, provide most cost effective search traffic plan
  • Create your marketing plan and your content funnels for the different customer stages
  • Set up your Advertising Campaign for the funnel based on your budget
  • Monitoring analytics and adjusting your ads and content to reach your marketing objectives and establish the ROI
  • Security hardening and optimization of your website to ensure it loads fast

The above stack would start from 6,800SGD. I firmly believe that the above framework is extremely effective in setting you up for an amazing return on your investment as long as you continue to invest in building good and valuable content for your potential customers and audiences.

Back to what other lessons I learnt in my 15 years of doing the internet business.

The internet isn’t going anywhere and there is still massive opportunity to reclaim lost time if you have dawdling about and waiting and watching what’s happening. This is where there is huge arbitrage in advertising on Facebook and Instagram. (Google and LinkedIn ads are great but they are priced correctly or above the market rates)

There needs to be a mindset shift from “spending money on ads” to how many customers can I acquire given the $100 I’m going to be spending?

How can I ensure that the $100 I’m spending is actually going to be used properly?

What if no one is interested in my content and how do I get good content?

Snapping Out of the Paralysis of Analysis

If you have been reading up to this point. Congratulations. I applaud the fact that you could still find value in what I’m writing. But isn’t it a common theme in marketing that people are so hung up on getting the “best of everything” that they pour all their time into researching what is “best” only to find out that they don’t know what to do next?

Looking back at the past 15 years is like looking at the disaster scene of a movie called “my worst decisions”. It’s not easy to come out and openly admit that people actually don’t care too much about design. People care more about content and design, just not exclusively on design. And if you’re into building content, it better be valuable or relevant or it’s better that you just not put up any content and

Social Network Platforms, SEO and Online Advertising

Much as I hate privacy intrusions, there is simply no escaping the fact that your data is being logged somewhere for the purposes of national security or online usage accountability. There is actually no true internet anonymity for the average Joe anymore. There’s big money in big data for re-targeting customers. You know how you were looking at coffee machines and suddenly you are seeing more coffee machine ads on other sites you visit subsequently? That’s retargeting.

If you aren’t being tracked via one of 30 browser cookies for ad-retargeting, you are being tracked by your IP address. At this point, Google probably knows more about you and your family than you would be comfortable with and no one is going to be any wiser speculating. They will probably know what you are going to be searching for before you even complete typing it out on the search bar. It’s scary and but it’s true, remeber

So we can fight the system and complain about it, or we can just play the game and use the digital landscape to our advantage. Let’s just say I made the “wrong decision” in the past years but have realized that most people don’t care about privacy even though they may suggest they do.

So here we are in 2018 and the game is about using social networks, SEO and online advertising to reach the different customer segments as well as to understand that there is so much information that this post is unable to go into such as predictive email marketing or customer segmented landing pages for the entire marketing plan you might want to embark on.

If you are interested in finding out more about Realisma’s design and growth stack services, please feel free to contact us and we would be most happy to schedule a chat and be a partner in your online growth and success.