Recently I had someone request we completely change a platform for a site. They minimized the effort required to change, feeling there would be zero negative impact on the site. It would change both the host and the underlying technology, which is no small task at all. In the auto world, most companies hire a firm to build and manage the site.
Some of those companies are part of the factory co-op. The co-op is a system set up by corporations that helps get their dealers access to advertising resources that the corporation pays part or all of the fees. The company pays the vendor and the factory co-op reimburses the company. Now the issue here is that the request was based on two factors, the infamous “someone” said they didn’t like the current website and there was a co-op deal available. From those two items they reached the conclusion that a 6 month old site should be thrown out and started over.
We know in our gut that isn’t really a good enough reason, especially if the site is performing well. It’s easy to mutter, “Dunning-Kruger Effect” and move on, but sometimes you need to unplug your ego and look deeper.
No matter what, a site change will always create new problems, new needs and take a large amount of work to achieve. Even with a switch to a co-op site, you will still have a lot of work and out of pocket expenses to get it running. With several vendors working on the project you will have the inevitable buck passing and finger pointing. Let’s dig into some common reasons people want the change and when a tipping point is hit.
"Someone doesn’t like it"
Ask for specifics. I’ve had people passionately argue against a standing site just because it wasn't in their favorite color. Once you have valid feedback, compare yourself against your competition, look at how you stack up in your industry and then how you stack up against sites facing similar problems. If you find something lacking; determine what you can do about it.
I had a customer tell me that he hated our camping web site. He was 6’ 6” tall and his gripe was that he couldn’t find a sleeping bag that fit him without looking at every single product. This lead to a new custom tool that helped people find a bag from hundreds that fit exactly what they wanted. We had the customer try it out and he loved it. Just because there is a problem, doesn’t mean everything needs to go. Presentation can be altered to fit a new found need. How do you tell when the look of the site is costing you money? Your first clues aren’t bounce rate and the constant emails with jokes that start with; “Your site’s so ugly...” I use a multiple metrics to analyze the site. First, check your depth of visit. Look for a decrease in visitors going past three or four pages. Second, on ecommerce sites I like to look at cart size. If your orders have a drop in the number of products in the cart or dollars in the cart, you have an excellent indicator you need to change. People aren’t shopping as usual. These early warning signs can give you a head start on changing over before a huge drop in conversions becomes impossible to ignore.
"Someone else can pay for it"
Websites can be expensive to own, but a necessary cost of business. Using price as your only deciding factor can cause as many issues as opening shop in the cheapest real estate in town. Check out Google ZMOT for a great dissertation on what people expect from companies online. The inherent problem with someone else writing the check is that they have the power over the vendor. You have very little say in what they will do for you.
Car companies love a level playing field. Two Toyota dealers on the same platform in the same town cannot possibly have an advantage over each other organically. Often, the websites will be bland designs with just a logo change. It’s often a case of a nondesigner trying to build a site in a system they don’t understand. The unfortunate result is a person getting the logo in place after a huge struggle and hitting the default button for everything else. Once you are on a co-op site it becomes very difficult to leave. If factories were really interested in a natural landscape they would simply have a list of requirements and audit the dealership websites from time to time. The co-op money would flow where the dealer wanted it, not where the factory wants. When I look at top sites, the best often run their own web site on custom code. I’m not sure going to that extreme is required; however there is a need for control over your content.
"The technology has changed so much since launch"
I’m afraid I have some bad news. The technology changed before you launched, it changed before I could finish writing this article. If the technology is truly good, it will come to you in an easily digested form. Integrating YouTube or Facebook was a nightmare at one time, now it is easy to get their features integrated. I see new features daily and about 20% of them look promising at best. Customer reviews were pushed hard a few years back, yet most sites with them have zero reviews on a majority of their products. ‘Email a friend’ buttons were the musthave tech at one point. In the last 10 years I have seen people email friends maybe 10 times total. Now it is quietly disappearing from sites. It is difficult to determine what the visitor will use. What does the new technology bring to the table? A new site that integrates with your CRM seamlessly is exactly the tech that gives you an advantage over competitors. The best tech now allows easier integration for new features that are provided by third parties.
"The site is so slow!"
"Every time we make a change, we have to write a check."
I’m a big believer in CMS. When someone pays for a site, they own that site completely. I know that makes me a different animal than most consultants. I train each customer how to make changes to their site. I even set up content spots on their site that they can use without damaging the overall site if they make a mistake. A small customer can change their hours or add a line that they are closed for a holiday. Large customers have personnel that can’t wait to take over the site and the easier you make that transition the more likely they are to call you in the future. If a site isn’t on a CMS, it isn’t hard to change it over.
"We need a mobile site and this platform has it built in.
You don’t need a mobile site, you need a responsive web design. The people specializing in mobile only sites are endangered species. Responsive websites are the literal future of web design. I’ve heard some argue against them, I’ve also got a great article about how social media is a complete fad written in 2009 that talks about how Facebook was as big as it could possibly be at 100 million. Responsive might not be perfect but in a year responsive will be the standard and not the exception. The limitations people point out are all things that will be solved. The best quote I’ve heard recently is, “Mobile websites are a 1997 solution to a 2013 problem .” TemplateMonster has a great infographic to help explain the idea behind responsive web design.
"The entire site is static."
There is no arguing with this one. Having just worked on a site that had thousands of pages that were all semistatic, I can tell you what a nightmare that is for upkeep. All the products in the database had an entry that pointed to a static file. Every sentence about each product was contained in a separate file that had to be edited by hand. It was a site begging for a content management system. Gigantic sites simply can’t be effectively managed without a solid framework. There was never a time when that was a good idea.
"The artwork/design is terrible"
I’ll be the first to say that design is subjective. We have all seen terrible designs on busy sites. Sometimes the simplicity is their key to making a customer comfortable. As I’ve said before, there was a time with almost no graphic artists working on web design. Too often we’ve had clients who said, “Just make it look like Amazon” regardless of whether the design is a fit. Ironically Amazon changes all the time and you’re far better off doing what they haven’t tried yet. Old sites often have terrible designs because they simply weren’t designed. We’re now at a point where we have a number of designers that understand both the technical and artistic side of web design and they are creating great layouts. I have a saying when it comes to redesigning a site. I call it, “NASCAR syndrome”, when your site is sporting little graphic bugs that weren’t part of the original design and it starts to reminds you of the fender on a stock car, it’s time for change.
This perfect storm of great design and new content management tools is making for a very fluid landscape. We’ve always known the web was constantly changing but it is accelerating beyond what anyone thought possible. Rebuilding a site is a huge undertaking. A lot of voices yell, “We can!”. I think the first question is, “Should we?”
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