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Web Design & Digital Marketing

By January 29, 2020 January 31st, 2020 No Comments

Hey everyone, I’m Alex. I’ve got my partner Michael here with me. We’re with Sage Digital Agency. We’re a digital marketing firm based in Las Vegas and Miami. We’re here to talk to you today about all things web development and digital marketing.

Ah, finally back into the swing of things. First episode of the year. Last week has been extremely busy getting caught up with new tasks, new projects.

It certainly has been a very, very hectic start of the new year, but that’s a wonderful thing and we have a lot of fun doing what we do.

Yeah, should only everyone be so fortunate to be busy. I find right around the New Year’s, everyone’s trying to get up to speed, looking at their numbers, looking at their analytics, trying to figure out where they went wrong last year, what to do for the upcoming year, trying to plan out their road map and hit the ground running for the New Year, 2020. So let’s talk about websites today.

Let’s do it.

Today’s digital landscape, obviously the website’s the forefront, it’s the billboard, it’s the real estate that businesses have to be able to rely on. And excluding any sort of brand, if you will, that has to rely on Instagram or Facebook ads, the website certainly is important to any business.

I think that at the core of it, it’s crucial for a business to have a website that properly displays, “This is my product, this is my service,” and it’s a correct representation of who they are and what they do. Oftentimes, you and I come across a rather large company, but you’d look at the website and you’d have really no clue of that. It’s quite amazing that in today’s day and age, 2020, some of the most foundational issues are not being dealt with properly. So we’re here to really expand upon that and see how we can get involved and help.

With the websites, in some aspects are becoming commoditized where they have these drag and drop builders and it’s sort of projected that anyone can build a website. I think a lot of it gets lost in translation. For instance, I feel that if I were to watch some YouTube videos, read some books, I think in a matter of weeks I could potentially wire a home for electrical. But I’ll tell you what, that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to spend the time, I’m not going to want to live there after I ended up wiring that home and-

Fire hazard!

Yeah. I think people spend so much time trying to build their own websites and then they’ll step back and if they’re not accounting for either design aspects or hosting or SEO elements that they’ll put up a half done project and sort of be a little detoured based on just the loss of time alone.

I like to say this, I always say, “Hey, you run your business, let us focus on the website and let us focus on marketing that website.” At the end of the day, I completely agree with what you said. Anyone could spend tens of hours, dozens of hours, thousands of hours, whatever it may be in order to reach a certain skill level for development of a website. Do you want to do that on your own or do you want to focus on being the owner of your business and doing the day to day tasks that are required of you in order to do that?

And at what point does it make sense, is logical, in order to outsource that to a professional firm that keeps up to date, has the technology and the understanding of how to provide the best possible level of service without you having to go learn the whole thing yourself. Yeah, sure, you certainly can, but as you’ve said, I don’t think it’s very feasible in most cases.

Right. I think one thing that is certainly important to look for when considering an agency or a freelancer, you certainly want some focus. You definitely don’t want to be the Jack of all trades, someone who does print billboards and magazine ads and anything else. But they certainly should have some focus and at least a basic knowledge of SEO and conversion optimization. Those aspects go a long way in addition just to being able to build a good looking website.

Sure, sure. Yeah, so there’s certainly the user experience part of it where we want to make sure that aesthetically the site looks good. We want to make sure it functions well. We want to make sure that all things are happening according to best practices, certainly. Why would you want to work with an agency with experience in a number of different areas as you’ve just outlined? We want to make sure that we build something properly the first time, as you said, kind of half doing a website on your own, not optimized for search, not optimized for certain things that a customer may not even know exist or that are important, but in fact could be potentially hindering them from success.

Right. Well, what do you think about agencies or freelancers that specialize in a specific industry or vertical?

That’s something I’ve asked myself for a very long time. Hey, maybe Sage Digital should be only doing websites for real estate agents, for example. We work with many real estate agents. I don’t want to be limited in that respect. I think that if someone specializes really, really well in one particular vertical, I think that that might work for them. In my particular case, I love the idea of having a certain skill set, improving upon that skill set over time, and applying it to a lot of different industries in the most intelligent way possible. That is exciting. It is interesting and it’s something that has worked well for us.

Yeah, it certainly prevents having another, a me-too website where it’s based off a template or it’s literally just a copy and there’s nothing special about that new website. You’re not really being able to set your brand any different than the website that was just used for the prior person.

I think that’s very well said. Where does it become simply here’s just an exact copy with a few different words changed so it’s not plagiarized and where is the fun in that? Where’s the creativity in that?

And when people say how long is it going to take to complete, what’s typically your response?

My typical response is how fast can you get me the information that I need? I say that kind of half-jokingly, but usually, I’ll provide an initial list of needs almost immediately when a project starts. Things can vary pretty significantly, but I would say overall at this current point in time, we’re in the two to three weeks from start to draft. Just a little bit of background there, what we do is we build on our development platform so that the site is not live on your domain, of course, while it’s under construction. So we will present a fully functioning draft to you in about two or three weeks depending on a number of factors.

You said something pretty interesting that I think a lot of times get overlooked or people aren’t really thinking about as far as how long will it take. You said as long as it takes to provide that initial list. Now what does that list typically look like?

It’s basic stuff like access to their current registrar, images, content. I’ve seen a recent uptick in clients that are starting from scratch and we explain the importance of, hey, we have to have the right content, let’s do some basic research on keywords and what your target market is potentially searching for on Google right now. And you have to write content that is embedded with those keywords so that we can potentially show up online. These are very simple SEO strategies. So again, it varies widely.

Some projects come to you and say, we really like the content we currently have on our website, but it’s old, it’s stodgy, whatever the issues may be, let’s do a revamp of the look and feel. That’s one part of the spectrum. And the other would be, hey, we have no marketing material, no content whatsoever. So some thought needs to go into it and some quality control needs to go into what we’re doing. So it’s not just let’s grab content from five different sources online, plagiarize it, put it on the site and call it done. It’s just not what we do.

Now, for someone who’s either just getting started or maybe they haven’t given a face-lift to their website in eight, ten years. Images, where do people get images from if they don’t have them?

So two avenues we will look at. Avenue number one are professional pictures done by some photographers we recommend locally. I love it, they’re custom, they’re done, they’re efficient, it’s not very expensive and you get incredible images of your office or your shop that do not exist anywhere else on the web. So that’s number one, love doing that. Number two, there are stock image sites that are available where you can purchase royalty free images that are excellent.

So we obviously have accounts with several different stock image repositories and well, as part of our development, as part of our creative process, we will choose accordingly. I like to develop sites that are both. We have some custom content done by photographers and the rest are stock purchases that are royalty free so you don’t run into any issues down the line by using images that don’t belong to you.

Right. Now, a lot of people, sometimes they want either a custom site or a template or they don’t really know which direction to go. What’s usually your suggestion?

Okay. This is a beautiful question and this is exciting to be able to talk about this subject. Very often I’ve seen situations in which a web designer, a web developer will say, we’re going to build you a custom website. I ask, well what does custom exactly mean to you? What does that mean? And more often than not, I feel as if it is a tool used in order to somehow validate their worth, so to speak.

So let’s get very clear on what custom means. First and foremost, we’re WordPress developers primarily. 90% of our work is on the WordPress content management system. It’s an open source platform and it’s something that we absolutely love. So WordPress is a system that works on templates. Templates and themes, those are synonymous terms. There’s nothing wrong with the fact of starting off with a very high quality template, either one from WordPress or a premium one from some other source. We of course have our themes that we prefer.

Now, where the skill comes in is not being able to just download some theme and change some colors and add some text. The idea is that we can apply language, custom coding languages in order to affect any change that our clients want or that we feel is necessary in order to develop a custom site for them. So let’s just make sure we’re understanding what the word custom is and how we’re applying it. Does that answer your question?

Yeah. I know when a lot of people hear the word template they’ll think of cookie cutter or generic or the exact same website that someone else is getting.

Sure.

To be clear, a template is purely the foundation, the functionality that the website will be able to be built off of.

Exactly.

It’s not the website itself.

Exactly correct. It is the building block, it is the slab of concrete that a house is built upon. It is the starting point of which we build upon. I think there’s a misunderstanding by most people that say, no, I don’t want a theme, or I don’t want a template, where in fact that’s how it works. Same with Shopify, for example. Shopify offers to you a number of themes in order to start off with. You can certainly custom code your own, but in most cases that is not the best solution.

So Mike, let me say it in a different way. Let’s say a web developer, a very, very talented one wanted to custom create a WordPress theme for you. No matter what his skill set is, more than likely he’s not going to be able to develop a product of which is available to us foundationally right there out of the box of which we can then affect updates to.

What is somebody possibly going to do that requires a custom theme? Let’s think about this for a moment. Is somebody going to create every single file that’s associated with your website, the tens of thousands of potential lines of code required? It doesn’t make any sense and I think again, it’s a tool in which to try to oversell a service to somebody as opposed to just being upfront and saying, no, that’s not how it works. Nor is that the reality of how WordPress or Shopify or another content management system functions.

I find that the need for a quote unquote custom site would really only come is if that site had to function as a piece of software. Because that’s really what they’re building at that point, they’re building a piece of software that would function as a website. You know, whether you use big commerce or Shopify or WooCommerce or WordPress, it really doesn’t matter. They all have their own fit if you’re doing eCommerce or not.

Now I mention this as well, Mike. There’s a tremendous opportunity for custom development when it comes to, let’s say, making changes to plugins, plugins do specific things on the site. We have any kind of ability to custom create functionality that may not exist out in the world today. Point is that in most scenarios, for most businesses, when they want to achieve some kind of functionality, really you’re coming to us for our expertise, for us to be able to immediately, inherently know, hey, this is the best solution, this is something that we recommend and we will ensure that the entire ecosystem works well for you and for your business.

Now when you talk about functionality or custom code, does that entail for mobile? Mobile friendly, mobile responsive?

There is no scenario in which we will be providing a website to a customer that is not mobile friendly and responsive. In fact, Mike, I like to say we build mobile first. I mean, in many cases, hey, you’re the analytics expert, Mike, not me. Wouldn’t you say that views on mobile are most times at least equal, if not more than desktop?

Yeah. Typically I find that anywhere from 60% to 75% of the total website traffic is coming from mobile.

Exactly my point. So, the reason I say that then, mobile first, is let’s ensure that the lion’s share of the traffic that most people are getting anyway is best suited for mobile.

All right. Now what about cost? How should someone gauge what the cost is or what’s an appropriate budget for their website?

We have developed a set of packages available for development and we have several packages available for monthly maintenance of the work that we create as well as some additional managed services that we provide on an ongoing basis. I think there’s a big gap in potential pricing for sites depending on where you go. You could go to big agencies and you’re going to get invoices in the tens of thousands of dollars, and you can go build a website for $199 bucks somewhere. But we certainly don’t fit in either of those categories and we ensure that we were as effective as possible with the budgets of our clients.

All right, now if you’re the client and you’re spending a few hundred dollars, a couple thousand dollars and then they get the website and all of a sudden it’s not really what they were expecting. Now, shouldn’t people be looking for a company that will give out an architecture, a blueprint, wire frames if you will prior to…

Yes, agreed. So I see it in a couple of ways. One, oftentimes a client will say, I’m in this particular business and I absolutely wish that my site looked like A, B, and C. Those are always really good comments because it allows us to understand their style of what it is that they’re looking for.

Additionally, on the other side of the spectrum, when somebody has no idea what it is exactly that they want but they know they want a website and they want certain functionality, we will ensure that we have an idea of the site map. We have an idea of look and feel, we have a color theme. We have many, many different things that we need to be on the same page about upfront so that as you said, the first draft can be as close to as desired as possible.

One thing I think that gets overlooked is clean code. Oftentimes people overseas or if it’s a freelancer who’s getting paid by the hour, they’re not going to take the time to make sure that the code is clean and that could certainly have negative SEO implications and-

It absolutely can, yes. A lot of the time if a page is just code heavy and not done in a correct way, it certainly could have negative ramifications.

All right. Now, once the site’s given to the client and the handoff is complete, how does maintenance typically work?

Okay, so we have a number of maintenance options available. We have a small percentage of our customers that want to maintain their site for themselves, which again, rarely happens. We have some solutions with respect to managed core updates, theme updates, plugin updates, we strongly recommend that are done for security purposes.

We have virtual private server hosting that we offer to all of our clients on an ongoing basis, we manage that for them. We have offsite backups on a daily basis. What this means is essentially your website’s going to load quickly and it’s secure and there is little to no chance of ever going down and losing information or something like that.

Now, a lot of people are concerned about what happens if you get hit by a bus. Who manages the site? How does the site work? Where are the files? How does that typically work?

This is an excellent question. This comes back to why we love WordPress and why we do what we do the way that we do it. So number one as I mentioned a bit earlier, WordPress is an open source platform. What does that mean? It means that developers from around the world can affect updates to it. Alex or Mike or anyone else that is currently in charge of somebody’s website, it doesn’t mean that that needs to be the case forever. Obviously, we’d like to maintain long-term relationship with our clients, goes without saying, but in an unlikely event of some situation, a site can easily be taken over by another developer.

Now with respect to ownership, with respect to where are the files, every client that utilizes our hosting platform has full cPanel access to their website, has full back up access. It can be uploaded to any other hosting plan at a moment’s notice. Again, we don’t see this situation happening often, but in some unlikely event of a problem, yes, you are the full owner of your site and it can be easily migrated so that another development firm can ensure the continuity of the website.

And obviously we’ve been talking a lot about the developers or customization, but how hard is it for someone to make their own updates?

Okay, it depends on what those updates mean. Are we talking about core updates, theme updates, plugins, et cetera? There’s a certain level of skill required or knowledge at least in order to ensure we’re doing things correctly. So those we recommend we do ourselves. With respect to content, I would say it’s pretty even. 50% of our clients like to be able to have the keys to the car, so to speak, login, make any updates, they want, changes, et cetera.

And the other half just say, hey Alex, we want to use your ticketing system. They send us a quick email and it’s handled. So it really depends on the person. So Mike, can you talk to me a little bit about why call us, why talk to Sage, why not go elsewhere? Can you give us some idea of what the benefit to a client would be?

I think that in many ways the resources are there that anyone could potentially build their own website, but it’s something that probably doesn’t make sense. If you don’t have the technical knowledge of SEO or conversion optimization or site architecture, you’ll end up spending your time, maybe you’ll get the design right if you start with some sort of generic website builder, but at the end of the day, is that really what someone wants for their business? Do they really want another Me Too website that everyone’s going to have and basically already outdated and it’s not going to set their vision or their business apart?

Sure.

My strength is on technical aspects of SEO and paid search and email marketing. I’m not a graphic designer, I’m not a web designer. If you want to know about backend optimizations, I’ll tell you about that all day long, but as far as why you would look to hire a professional, it’s because they’re going to have the knowledge, they’re going to have the creativity, they’re going to be able to see that vision. It’s going to help someone’s business to stand out.

That’s right. And I think what it is, Mike, I think it’s about, it’s a skill to be able to boil down all that a business does and is and be able to display it in an interesting and intelligent way online. I think that’s one of the greatest benefits of why you work with a professional company in order to do these things. As you said, use a drag and drop, use some other inferior service, you’re starting off on the wrong foot right out of the gate. And we believe very strongly, set up a proper foundation, get it right the first time.

And as my grandmother used to say, cheap is the most expensive, Let’s make sure that we do things correctly the first time and we’re effective and strategic in our decision making and how we process the website.

I heard a saying very similar. Cheap man pays twice. Once the first time-

And once to fix it. That’s a great one, I like it, I’m going to steal that one, it’s great.

I think the cost is probably one of the biggest deterrents for people when it comes to websites. You’ll see some sort of builder that you can sort of do it yourself and pay the two, three hundred bucks for the site. And oftentimes big box agencies will give quotes of 10, 15, 20,000 for a site, which for most businesses is far out of the budget and in many ways it’s not even needed.

Sure, sure. My first big question would be, well, what are the deliverables? What am I getting for this price? And oftentimes I would say that we are probably comparatively offering the same, if not a better service. So do we really have a solution for all people, all projects, all industries? Certainly not. We are very targeted and strategic in what we are offering and in most cases it’s a good solution for small and medium sized businesses.

It’s great to find a company that can do it all or claim that they can do it all, but oftentimes there’s certainly red flags that will show up that people don’t really account for when shopping. Getting a website’s an exciting part of starting a business or growing your business or taking your business online, and if there’s not a digital presence, what are some things that stick out to you that could be red flags?

Okay, let’s do some basic due diligence. First and foremost, Google reviews. Are there positive reviews of the business on Yelp, Facebook, Google, et cetera? So that’s number one. Number two, let’s check their body of work. Does the portfolio look like a website that I would want for my business? If the answer is no, there is nothing more to talk about. Wouldn’t you agree, Mike?

Yeah. If they don’t have a good web presence, why would they make one for you?

Correct. If their website is not great, you can be absolutely sure that yours is going to be worse.

Definitely. You know how many times people have said, oh I don’t need a website, I don’t like business’s referrals. Don’t you think that for a web design agency they should have a good looking, functional website that’s easy to navigate?

But there’s a big gap between a great looking website of a web developer and a lot of the standard, hey, we do website type of stuff.

From a developer or designer perspective, a lot of people have been detoured where these graphic designers are now trying to turn into web designers and all of a sudden they put up a good looking site, but it’s not functional. And vice versa, when someone doesn’t have the design knowledge or the understanding of how to optimize a site for the customer.

So many people think, oh, I like these colors, or this is what I want my website to look like. Meanwhile, the goal of the website is to provide resources and knowledge and to drive potential customers or current customers through one or many funnels. And I think oftentimes that get overlooked on how functional, well what’s the customer experience really like?

Sure, sure. I like what you said, it’s so true. And maybe a graphic artist might say, hey, people are asking me about websites, why don’t I just do it myself? And if you ask myself or you, for example, to do a logo for you, you’re going to say that’s not what we do. It’s not our wheelhouse. Of course we have recommendations, we’ll put you in touch with the right people within our organization or outside our organization. But we are not ones to take on work outside of what our expertise is.

And I think that there’s a certain level of ethics that is required in a business like this to say, hey, we are driving, not just the look and feel, but we are driving the potential long-term success of a business. And we take that very seriously. So when we say we are going to do something for you, it is going to be done in the absolute best fashion possible. It is not something half done. It is not something done that is outside of our skillset.

So when a client comes to us and they say, I’d like to get started, what’s the next step?

Number one, we have a simple, few page agreement that outlines the deliverables that you are getting based on the package you’ve chosen. We like to be very, very clear. Now, we are not long-term contract people. If you opt to utilize our services on an ongoing basis, we believe that we should earn your business and if there’s a point where you no longer want to use us, we certainly have no interest in binding you contractually.

So that being said, we have an outline of what are the deliverables you’re receiving, what is the timeline, what are the needs we need from you, and it’s as simple as that. We’ll provide you a list of needs, we’ll request a deposit against the total balance, and we’ll get started right away.

When it comes to building out a website and getting started, I think that if you plan from a client’s perspective, if they plan this out two, three, four weeks in advance, I think they’ll have a clear understanding and a clear direction on what the final outcome is. And oftentimes you hear people say, oh, I spent three months waiting for our website and I have nothing.

There’s been many scenarios in which I heard, I’ve paid a deposit, months have gone by, they’re slow playing me, whatever the case is. That’s not how we operate. We have a project management system we utilize to update not just our staff and our clients, there’s many cogs in the wheel, there’s many people doing different things. Again, everything is in concert coming together, working together in order to create a final product.

There is no point where our clients don’t know where we are in the process and there is no point in which we are going to go past a due date for a draft or for some other deliverable without a very good reason why and an explanation to our client. As time progresses and we’ll continue to create these podcasts, we’ll really drill down and we’ll speak at length about very specific topics that could be of interest to our listeners. What’s your takeaway from today’s conversation?

Yeah, certainly a good conversation. It’s such a commoditized industry that whether you decide to get started by yourself or you decide to hire a professional agency, I think there’s certainly some key considerations on how serious someone is about their business or what the actual purpose is of the website. If a business is in a stage of growth and they’re looking to scale and take their business to the next level, I think it’s crucial that they understand what to look for, what not to look for. You can find web designers anywhere, but what type of person is going to be able to execute their vision for someone else’s business?

It’s really well said, Mike. And it’s also a matter of perspective. I think that when you work with us, you’re gaining a perspective that otherwise may not be available to you. We see things from let’s just say a 30,000 foot view, all of the things required in order to put this project together in a proper way and one that will truly serve the function of the business. So with all of that being said, I enjoyed the conversation and until next time, we’ll talk soon.