Five effective techniques for encouraging website investment

As web professionals we know that websites require ongoing investment in order to keep them operating at peak efficiency. However, convincing clients of that can be challenging.

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Frustrating isn’t it? You design and launch a website for a client and then watch it slowly atrophy because of a lack of investment.

The web moves at such a pace that by the time you launch a site the design and technology have already begun to feel dated. Within a few months it is starting to get embarrassing and a couple of years on, nobody points customers at it because it is just so out of date.

Admittedly many clients recognise that some basic maintenance is required in order to update content and fixed typos. However, there is little investment in the ongoing evolution of a site.

The problem is that when we talk in these terms it can sound like we’re trying to extract more money from our clients. We know that is not the case, but we need to learn to communicate the benefits of ongoing evolution more clearly if clients are to believe us.

Below I share five approaches that have proved successful in explaining the benefits of ongoing investment to our clients.

The garden analogy

Seth Godin once wrote:

Great projects, are gardens. They are tended, they shift, they grow. They endure over time, gaining a personality and reflecting their environment. When something dies or fades away, we prune, replant and grow again. By all means, build. But don’t finish. Don’t walk away.

Replace the word project with website and you have a great way to describe website evolution to clients.

The problem is that clients think of the web like constructing a building – You draw up plans, begin construction, finish the build and then it is done. Yes, you may do the occasional bit of maintenance, but essentially the building does not change again.

Comparing a website to a garden is a great way to get clients thinking. Gardens take time to ‘bed in’. They have to be nurtured and almost always improve with age. What is more, gardens need to be pruned and most websites I encounter certainly could do with their content being cut back every few months!

The false economy argument

Clients prefer to think of their website as a series of finite projects, because that doesn’t require an ongoing financial commitment. However, ultimately this thinking is extremely costly.

Most company websites exist in a constant boom/bust cycle, with periodic redesigns every few years. Unfortunately there are two problems with that approach.

First, each redesign usually consists of entirely throwing out the old site and starting from scratch. This is a huge waste of money. There is no need to throw out everything. The only reason this happens is that the site has been neglected for so long that its easier than picking through the mess. If the site is continually evolved this is not necessary.

A graph showing the effectiveness of a website over several years
The boom/bust cycle means that a website is rarely operating at peak performance.

The second problem is that the website is only really at its peak performance when it has just been redesigned. When the money then dries up it starts to decay. The design begins to look dated, the technology becomes superseded by what the competition are doing and the content fails to update as the organisation changes. Before long it is an embarrassment and so is more of a hinderance than a help.

The path to user enlightenment

In fact you could argue that most websites are never at peak performance, because they are not built on user behaviour data.

Sure, we do some usability testing during the development process, but the truth is we don’t really understand how users will behave on our site until it is live.

When a site goes live we have all the data we could ever want about how real users are interacting with our website. The problem is that there is no money or resources to either look at that data or act on it.

Graph showing a decline in investment as our knowledge of user behaviour increases
Unfortunately the money often dries up as we begin to learn what users really want from our websites.

A website should be constantly monitored and improved based on the analytics gathered. Explaining this to a client helps them see the need for ongoing investment.

Quoting some figures also helps. For example, I recently did some split testing on the wording associated with my newsletter subscription form and was able to increase signups by 96%. That wouldn’t have been possible without ongoing investment in the site.

The SEO carrot

The one thing all clients want more than anything is to become number one on Google. Of course we know its not as easy as some spam emails would suggest. However, there are somethings that Google really like and a site which is constantly evolving is one of them.

Google likes fresh content and updating sites, because they demonstrates that the site owner is committed to improving what he offers users.

This is a great way of encouraging clients to invest in their sites. If they want to improve their rankings, then they need to evolve their sites and create new, fresh, engaging and relevant content for their users.

The wish list trick

You know how annoying it is when clients suggest things out of scope? What if you could turn that into an advantage? What if you could use their desire to expand the scope of a project to get them to invest in the ongoing development of their site?

I am actually a great fan of scope creep. I actively encourage it. In fact I am always the first to suggest an idea for the site that is outside of the project’s scope. This allows me to introduce the idea of a phase two wish list.

The phase two wish list is where all ideas out of scope are put. Nothing is too silly, too big or too ambitious to go into the phase 2 wish list. That is because the phase two wish list gets the client thinking about the long term development of their site. Sure, its out of scope for the current build (phase one) but it can be introduced later.

After all that is the great thing about the web, it is easy to evolve, improve and grow.

Ultimately all of these approaches are simply about shifting the clients thinking. They are about showing them that the web has a lot more potential if it is set free from the periodic redesign and allowed to evolve over time.

“Online Theft – Computer Laptops” image courtesy of Bigstock.com

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