Choose The Right Tool – And Choose The Right Results

So, your company needs a new website. You’re not going to build it yourself, or farm it out to your nephew, you know that much—but who can you turn to, to create a site that represents your brand properly, provides a pleasing user experience, and meets your business objectives?

A lot of dedicated web development houses think they have the answer. “Trust us!” they say, citing exhaustive technical expertise, impressive certifications, and laundry lists of sites developed and deployed.

Yes, these are all impressive credentials. And yes, depth of knowledge and experience count for a lot, especially with regard to technological considerations. But they still tell only part of the story – and the parts that are left out can make a big difference in the project’s outcome and your company’s ROI.

Many companies make the mistake of thinking of a new website project as just that: A new website project. But for most businesses, a new website is really something quite different, such as:

  • A lead generation system
  • A branding mechanism
  • A primary customer communications tool
  • A public relations vehicle
  • A product promotional tool
  • A mark of company legitimacy

In all cases, the site is actually much more than a high-functioning online system—it is a strategic pillar of a broader communications strategy. And in all cases, it involves a wide range of skill sets that web development houses usually don’t have – but ad agencies do.

Any good carpenter will tell you that knowing the right tool to use for the job is the first rule for success. The same principle applies to building websites.

  • If you have a fully-actualized communications and marketing function within your company;
  • If you don’t need to integrate your online presence with other marketing and communications channels;
  • If you have a means of driving site traffic;
  • If you have top-flight branding and web-ready visual identity materials and finely-honed content ready to go…
  • Then maybe a web development house will be able to do the job without agency guidance.

But that’s a lot of “ifs.”

In most cases, building the site is only the beginning of a successful digital marketing initiative—and that’s where an ad agency’s broader skill set makes all the difference. It’s the agency’s job to begin by thinking about site users, rather than the site itself—what they need and want, and the triggers needed to get them to browse, click, and buy. The agency uses this knowledge to guide development of the site, creating the content, visuals, and functionality that best meets customers’ needs—and that drives them to act.

Marketing Comes First – And It Has To

Smarter web development houses are aware of the strategic and marketing needs needed to drive web success. Many have integrated digital marketing teams into their companies as a result. The problem is that marketing remains a secondary, and probably lower priority, activity.

The purpose of the website is to drive a business outcome, not a technological or aesthetic one. A site can look great, function perfectly—and fail spectacularly if it is not closely aligned both with business needs and consumer wants. The “soft skills” that an ad or marketing agency has are the precise skills needed to make that happen.

To build a good house, you need a good architect before you need a good carpenter. Likewise, you usually need a marketing “architect” to devise your online strategy – and call the shots – before the code is written. Someone who understands paid and organic search, content optimization, content marketing, social and blogging strategy and the proper role of a site in relation to offline marketing, PR, and broader company communications efforts. And while Web Dev houses might be great carpenters, architecture isn’t necessarily their strong point.

Short-sighted companies that focus only on technical and technological concerns when selecting a company for site development might save a few bucks up front—but they’ll usually wind up paying a lot more later, in the form of lost revenues, lost visibility, or lost market share. They’ll pay even more when (or if) they finally realize that those agency “soft skills” are vital to their success—and they have to redevelop their site again. They learn the hard way that when it comes to the finer distinctions between agencies and web houses, what you don’t know can hurt you.

Pete Doanato is CEO of PGN Agency, a successful Southeast Michigan-based advertising and marketing agency focused on developing and implementing successful digital marketing strategies and projects.