I recently witnessed a startup website train wreck. It was an extreme failure because the owner launched too soon and the consequences of doing so were fatal. As the owner, or just the designer/developer of a website, you must understand that following the correct steps, using the right checklists and having the marketing sense to know when your website is truly ready for a successful launch are all vital for any web initiative.
So, what can you do to keep a client from rushing the web development stage to launch too soon?
I was approached by a company that was starting up a new website dedicated to teaching people how to blog. My first reaction, knowing the niche was already crowded with such blogs, mostly by charlatans, was how they could move into a crowded niche and not only compete, but overtake the competition for a bigger piece of the “starting a blog” audience. It is possible, with careful and dedicated planning.
When there’s no planning
Unfortunately, they hadn’t planned, nor did they look at the competition to see what was needed to compete, and excel.
At first, the “blue sky” wishes of the website owner seemed impossible. When it comes to such thinking, it’s okay to have a big goal for your website, but planning how to get there is still needed for success.
As an experienced designer and social media manager who has worked with many startups, as well as top, iconic publications, I thought I was hired not only as a developer, writer, and proofreader (the company was not American and English was their second language, needing everything proofed before it went live on the website) but also to help this website establish itself and grow. That was the plan… at first.
My first question to the website owner was for his action plan, starting with choosing a domain name all the way through to hitting the button that would publish the first blog post.
Quickly, it became clear there was no plan except for a nebulous goal to “be the premier website for people who want to learn how to start a blog.”
Established with a growing following in six months is one thing… but to be the “top website” on blogging?
I suggested that while content was being prepared for the website, we needed to start building our social media platforms and target followers. The blog would not only provide guides on how to start a blog, but also video guides, interviews with “top bloggers” (basically, as it turned out, anyone who would answer the questionnaire, written in broken English by a new addition to the staff—who spoke very little English) and articles instructing people on everything from WordPress widgets and social media tips and tricks, to monetizing a blog.
The owner agreed and I started out designing the social media platforms for the website while coming up with the needed articles, and videos.
At the same time, the owner brought on board several other people to work on this massive push to launch and be “at the top within six months.”
When I hear such a statement, my blood runs cold. Established with a growing following in six months is one thing… but to be the “top website” on blogging? It wasn’t possible without a huge advertising budget. The only hope for being on an even playing level with some of the competitors was to use social media in an aggressive manner.
The website, to which people would be pointed, had to be spectacular. It had to have what no other competitor had. Unfortunately, not only did it not have the “WOW!” factor, it didn’t even have the necessary functions many blogs require for success. The biggest mistake made by my former client was launching before the blog was ready.
Unlike the website’s competitors, which focus on blogging as a whole, the owner chose to create a blogging guide for as many niches as possible, wanting to launch a new “how to blog” guide for a new niche every month. Real estate, music, fashion and other niches would have a separate guide, a separate video, six to thirty, or more (they tried for fifty) interviews with bloggers from each niche (yes, he wanted thirty or more “interviews” with “top bloggers” all answering the same six questions), and very long articles (3,500 words minimum) all meant to tie together into one niche, rather than one grand “how to blog” site.
When all of your content is set and your best foot has been put forward, then, and only then, should you publish your website for all to see. By placing only two niche guides, videos and interviews on his blog when it went live, any visitor looking for information to start a blog was faced with a choice of two niches. If one of them wasn’t what the searcher was looking for, they left and found another blog, never to return to his blog again. A waste of time and effort!
Impatience = stupidity
The belief that more is better can be confusing and limiting. In this case, one guide on how to start a blog would have sufficed across all niches. Sometimes the KISS Method (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is the best way for website visitors to comprehend what the site is about and take away the intended lesson, which in the case of this failed startup, was to convince visitors to book hosting on his prime business or web hosting. A-HA! There was the monetization angle. Sell overpriced hosting packages with a host that doesn’t even show up on legitimate hosting reviews.
Within the first few months, the website imploded with incompetence. Several of the new staffers started adding their own posts to social media channels. They started their own accounts and posted the oddest things under the name of the website.
The guy who made the videos sat at his computer with a messy dorm room showing behind him — and he always looked like he was red-eyed from being stoned on weed, or he just cried a lot!
The person who took over dealing out questionnaires decided she only wanted to deal with creating fashion blogs and now the website is populated with 50+ fashion blog interviews, and four music interviews. What would you, as someone wanting a how-to blog guide for a specific niche think if you visited a site that obviously leans towards fashion fans and nothing else?
If people start to stray into the territory of others set them straight immediately or there will be a gladiatorial struggle in the end.
Since I was fired from “helping” because “(they) don’t need proofreading and the other stuff anymore,” their “how to strat a blog” (yes, they misspelled “start” on their homepage) really didn’t matter as their domain name would never lead you to believe the site had anything to do with teaching people about blogging, and they have changed their landing page design six or seven times over two months (three times in one weekend alone). Their Twitter account also hasn’t been touched in over four months, nor has their Facebook page. Their counters have also been removed from their site. Under ten satisfied new bloggers just wasn’t much of a pull, I guess.
The handy website launch checklist
NASA had a checklist before faking the moon landing, and one for Apollo 13, when they actually tried and failed to land on the moon (so go the conspiracy rumors), and you’ll need one for any website building and development project.
The right domain
While the short, easy to remember .com names have been gone for years, there are new gTLDs available with more to come. Extensions like “.design,” “.guru,” and other more fitting domain extensions will only help you create a domain people will not only remember, but is the perfect fit for your business.
Grab a few more domains, all of which can redirect people who sort of remember your name, and don’t forget to pick one that will localize your SEO.
Check your demographics
Do the market research so you know who your audience is. The people you want to reach will drive your website design and the elements you must use to give them a great user experience.
You must also check out your closest competitors. Don’t just look at the bigger sites. See what the latest addition in your niche is doing. They may have a great new idea you can build upon.
Teamwork, not a mob
Make sure everyone involved knows their required part of being on the team—and what they shouldn’t do! If people start to stray into the territory of others set them straight immediately or there will be a gladiatorial struggle in the end.
- If you want everyone to be onboard with the plan and changes, you have to tell everyone! One broken link and the chain will fall apart.
- Hold meetings twice a week (less won’t work and more will drive the team crazy) so everyone knows where the project stands and who is screwing up royally.
Have at least a month of content ready for your launch. Once your website is up, you’ll have to scramble for new contributors, content and whatever images you need to keep up a professional appearance.
- Proofread! When you are done, have someone else proofread — if your headline is “How to Strat a Blog” then you’re not off to a good start.
- Put enough content into place before launch so first day visitors will find enough to show them you have a serious website with all the information they need!
- If your content is the same as every other niche, you give people no reason to stray from their preferred niche website. Be different and people will visit your website.
A few smart words on launches
Since the problem outlined was about a website that used the “how to blog” niche, I thought I would ask someone from the same niche, who successfully helps people launch websites and blogs, to comment on the problems outlined. Matthew “Kaboomis” Loomis owns Build Your Own Blog, an instructional site for people who want to start their own blogs (see how the domain says it all?).
Matthew’s is not the top website for blogging lessons, but one of the strongest, and most straightforward sites about the subject, using the right amount of tools to push digital marketing without trying to scam visitors into buying overpriced crap. Matthew imparts some helpful advice:
- Persuading someone to check out a virtually empty blog isn’t a good strategy to start. Your first blog post better be totally brilliant if you do this. Even so, if that’s all you have to offer, you will lose many visitors.
- I’m one of those who advises a blogger to have at a minimum of four articles already available before doing any heavy promoting of the blog. The more content you create ahead of the launch, the better. This provides more value for visitors, more content connects with more people, and this offers visitors a much stronger case to take the time to subscribe to your blog.
- Driving people to an empty or inactive blog (no recent posts) can be annoying.
- So, this includes social media. If you do need to start using social media for your brand, I simply would not post any links to the blog until the minimum of four pieces of content are available (includes video, infographic, slideshare, etc.).
Any business needs a firm operations plan and certainly a website, whether for yourself or a lunatic client, is a big business tool—like a runaway chainsaw if you don’t handle it correctly. You really only get the one chance—and ten fingers, and two hands.
Oddly, since the website went static, one of the staffers has listed himself as the owner on his LinkedIn profile. It’s either a lie, as no one remains to say that isn’t true, or he bought the carcass—cheap! Whatever the truth is, that website will never rise from the grave.
Featured image/thumbnail, chaos image via Shutterstock.