The Cost of Poor Execution
While walking in his cornfield, novice farmer Ray Kinsella heard a voice that whispered, “If you build it, he will come”, and he had a vision of a baseball diamond. If you’re not familiar with the story behind that sentence, Shoeless Joe is a novel by W. P. Kinsella. It became much better known through its film adaptation, Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner. The Ray Kinsella character hears that voice and sees that vision, then plows under his corn to build a baseball field. Putting his entire income and assets in jeopardy and risking financial ruin.
- Make links to your social networking sites easy to access from every page. Often users are “window shopping” and those links provide them an easy way to stay connected with you if they are interested.
- Provide a functional call to action that is visible on all pages (Buy Now, Contact Us today, Call Now, Add To Cart…). Your goal is to convert visitors into sales, so encouraging them to take the action, and making that action as easy as possible is imperative. Shoot for “One Click” access to your contact form or purchasing information.
- Include your phone number, address and any other relevant contact information on every page. The footer is a great place for that information, and the header is a great place for a visible number to call.
While Field of Dreams was a great movie, this is not a column about books or films, nor do I feel compelled to provide any spoilers to any readers who have yet to read the novel or see the film. It is the phrase “If you build it, he will come” that I’d like to focus on, because all too often I see people making the mistake of believing that to be true when it applies to their Internet presence.
Confidence is an asset for any entrepreneur or sales representative, and it is certainly encouraged when it comes to putting your business online for the masses. However, when it comes to bringing visitors to your web site and achieving your goals, “If you build it, they will come” is not the simple recipe for success. Just as Ray Kinsella discovered shortly after leveling his crops and building a baseball field, simply building it is not enough.
Your online presence is your virtual storefront to the world. Your web site represents your brick and mortar existence, your social media accounts represent your brand, and the execution of everything you do to promote your business online has much more to do with simply creating something for people to view. It has to perform, impress, encourage, attract, talk technical to search engines, please the visitors who arrive to discover you and above all convert those visitors into leads and/or sales. And if you make mistakes in executing a well-planned online presence, the results can be very costly.
In August 1998 business-to-consumer company Pets.com was created to offer pet supplies to retail customers. A high profile marketing campaign gave it a huge public presence, including an appearance in the 1999 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Its popular mascot was interviewed by People magazine and appeared on Good Morning America, and they even threw in pricey advertising for television and the 2000 Super Bowl.
All of that spending on promoting the site led to a massively successful launch, and during its first fiscal year the site earned revenues exceeding a half million dollars. The site was easy to use, offered a variety of pet supplies and achieved the goal of reaching pet owners as their target audience.
- Flashing graphics and animated GIF images are a thing of the past, and annoying to todays Internet users. Use clean, professional looking graphics, images and buttons that compliment the colors and layout of your site.
- If you include any videos on your pages, avoid having them automatically play when the page is loaded. The video will force the users browser to work harder loading the page, and should the user have their volume turned up the surprise audio will no doubt cause them alarm and likely leave your web site.
- Test your site frequently. It is a rare occasion that a site visitor will encounter a problem that you may not be aware of, and actually contact you to bring it to your attention. Try to test your site on many different computers as well. Your site may function great on your machine running Windows 7 and the latest version of FireFox, but a user running Windows XP and using Windows Explorer may experience something completely different.
“If you build it, they will come” was implemented, and they did indeed come. However, due to skyrocketing advertising costs and the simple reality that it is quicker and easier for pet owners to purchase pet food or cat litter locally, Pets.com found itself upside down financially and closed in November of 2000.
Boo.com launched in the autumn of 1999 to offer branded fashion apparel. The site relied heavily on scripting technology to display 3D views of the apparel as well as a virtual sales assistant. Many users had to wait several minutes for the site to load, as broadband technologies were not widely available at the time. The site’s front page went as far as to display a warning, “this site is designed for 56K modems and above”. In addition, users found that in order to make a purchase it required several clicks and/or pages, questions to answer or other intrusions getting in the way of completing the transaction.
“If you build it, they will come” was implemented, and they did indeed come. And although they may have found something they were interested in purchasing, the malfunctioning, slow loading and troublesome web site left them frustrated with no other choice but to shop elsewhere. In June 2008, CNET listed Boo.com as one of the greatest dot-com busts in history.
Those were the early days of retail web sites and Internet Marketing, and since then there have been many failures like those mentioned that have provided us with examples and lessons that shed light on the consequences of launching a web site with poor execution. Businesses, marketers and web developers have learned from history the do’s and don’ts of executing a successful web site.
Well, maybe not all…
As I type this article, the most widely reported failure of launching an Internet web site in the history of the Internet is unfolding before the eyes of America and the world. Bare in mind this is not a political comment, just a geeky web developer’s fact regarding a web site that I am confident everyone is now familiar with. The launch of healthcare.gov, the official site of the Health Insurance Marketplace and the home of information regarding the Affordable Care Act, was launched on October 4 and America was encouraged to logon to discover the benefits of this new health care plan. What many discovered was a web site that did not work.
“If you build it, they will come” was implemented, and they did indeed come. Unfortunately, after weeks of seeing a web site that had not been executed correctly, they left. By the time this column is published, the site may or may not be up and running correctly. However with the immediate launch having been covered so widely in the media and online, the probability of users never returning to purchase is quite high, and the poor execution will always remain a part of its history.
I don’t think it is speculation that the majority of us in the Imprinted Sportswear Industry do not have the budget to purchase an ad to run during the Super Bowl, much less invest a very large amount of money for a web development company to design and develop a flawless, perfect web site that represents our individual talents, offerings and business model. We certainly don’t have millions to spend on an I.T. firm in Canada, nor do we have three years to create a functional web site. As a result we tend to lean towards a low budget approach, or even do it ourselves.
Neither of those options is necessarily frowned upon. I am admittedly guilty of encouraging the readers of this column to tackle their web sites and Internet Marketing strategies with a hands-on, DIY approach. However it is important to look at the big picture, and perhaps recognize that sometimes a cheap or free method of implementing something online may not be the best way to achieve ones goals. Likewise over-spending can result in a catastrophe as well, as Pets.com learned back in the day.
The important thing is to ponder: “If you build it, they will come”. What will they discover?
Have a look at your online presence and consider what has been a success and what areas may need updating or even require an investment in getting some professional assistance with. Ask for friends, family and customers for an honest opinion for insight into what others experience by putting a different set of eyes and mouse cursors on your web sites. Your site is not only something you should be proud of, but something that is an asset to achieving success. And without all of the right elements that keep your visitors engaged, poor execution will only lead to a poor Internet presence.