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4 December 2007

Web marketing pitfalls

By Andrew Clifford

Reading the websites of similar businesses can be a great way of recognising the weaknesses in your own.

Metrici are marketing a new method for ongoing IT management and assurance. We are currently building up a network of businesses who use our products and services, and businesses who provide IT review services into us.

To do this, we scour the web for potential partners. We read their websites, understand their business, and introduce ourselves by email. 30-40% of the people we contact want to meet us, which is very respectable for cold-call emails.

Our marketing approach depends on getting to know businesses from their websites. Over the past few weeks I have read hundreds of websites. If you provide IT strategy, IT review or IT audit services, the chances are I've read your website. This is what I found.

  • Many websites emphasise style at the expense of basic usability. Flash animations taking up half the page. Impossible to use drop-down menus. Pictures of beautiful people staring at laptops and pointing. The worst was a live chat pop-up that obscured the site and which would not go away, making the website completely unreadable.
  • Many websites forget the basics. Tell me what country you are in. I got excited about some businesses, but then found they were in Zambia or New Zealand. If you use a .com domain name and are not global, say where you operate.
  • Many small business dilute their offer with minor services. "We are experts in IT security. And we also do web design and VB programming." Which do you really do? Sounds like you are an IT security specialist who can't get enough work.
  • Some large businesses confuse their readers with dozens of complicated-sounding services like "Strategic architecture alignment maturity process review". I have no idea what that means. Just tell me that you do project management and architecture consultancy.
  • Everybody hides behind info@ and sales@ email addresses and behind contact forms. A personal email address is so much friendlier and shows that you really do want people to contact you. Give a picture of yourself. I don't care that you look awkward in front of the camera. (If I wanted pictures of beautiful people, would I start by searching for "IT auditor"?)
  • Specialists with unique offers do not provide enough context. For example, you might have special expertise in holistic security awareness, but nobody understands what that means. You have to start by saying that you provide "IT end user security training", and then explain your unique angle.

The worst thing about this is that it has made me see many shortfalls in Metrici's website. We are as bad as everyone else. We don't explain our products and services clearly enough. We hide behind general email addresses. We don't clearly relate our unique offer to things that people already understand.

We all know how important it is to present ourselves clearly. Reading hundreds of websites has made me realise how difficult this is in practice, and helped me recognise weaknesses in my own websites. So before I criticise any more, I think I should go and put my own house in order.

Next: XForms to the rescue


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