In the first part of this series, we discussed the importance of effective website messaging, how it should ideally come before design, and how it works together with web content to form an effective messaging strategy.
In the second part, we looked at the key elements of that strategy, and established a checklist of questions to ask to determine whether your site is delivering the information that a prospective customer needs to make a decision about working with you.
So then what if your website is already “out there”? What if your business has put in the time (possibly a lot of it) to build a site, or has shelled out money (possibly a lot of it) to somebody else to build you a site, launched it, and now you realize that the messaging strategy isn’t achieving your business goals? Is it too late? Or is it possible to fix the messaging on your site without starting from scratch?
The maddeningly vague answer is: It Depends.
For those who follow my videos, a few weeks ago, I established that something was wrong with my car. Each time I shifted, the engine would rev loudly. At the time, my brain jumped to the worst case scenario. Many years ago, I dealt with a car that blew a head gasket. (And yes, that’s an actual thing, and not just something your mother does when you bring home a really bad report card.) So I was nervous.
In the end, it turned out to be the clutch. I paid to have it replaced, and the car is running fine now. The repair wasn’t cheap, but it could have been much worse.
This got me thinking about how I categorize my car’s status. And that reminded me of the old DEFCON system, which those of us who grew up during The Cold War saw referenced quite often in the movies at the time (like the classic Wargames with Matthew Broderick).
For those who aren’t familiar, DEFCON (“defense readiness condition”) is a 5-stage alert status system that the military uses to determine how prepared it should be for nuclear war. It’s similar to today’s Homeland Security Advisory system. As you can see in the image below, DEFCON 5 is good and DEFCON 1 is very, very bad.
So what does this have to do with my car? Well, I have something in my head that I like to call the CARCON alert system, which goes like this:
- CARCON 5 (LOW): Routine Maintenance is all the car needs. Change the oil and air filter. Change the windshield wiper blades and add wiper fluid. Maybe rotate the tires. All is well and the cost is low.
- CARCON 4 (MODERATE): Long-Term Maintenance is things most of us can’t do ourselves. Flushing the radiator. Changing the brake pads or serpentine belt. The cost is higher, but can prevent repairs down the line.
- CARCON 3 (SUBSTANTIAL): Minor Repairs are usually needed when your car is still running, but not optimally. Maybe the thermostat or spark plugs or the ignition coil need to be replaced. The cost isn’t high, but paying for them can avoid much costlier repairs later on.
- CARCON 2 (SEVERE): Major Repairs are something like my car’s failing clutch. Not only was the cost over $1K, but I was less than a week away from not being able to shift gears at all. And since changing the clutch means pulling out the entire transmission, it’s a good bet you won’t have the use of your car for a day or so while the work is done.
- CARCON 1 (CRITICAL): Critical Repairs are of course the worst. When my old car blew a head gasket, the proposed cost to fix was more than the car itself was worth. So I ended up cutting my losses and junking it. Other fun repairs include replacing the transmission ($4-5K) or the cylinders ($7-10K). Faced with estimates like these, some people may start shopping for a good bicycle instead … or even decide to give public transportation a try.
So now what does this have to do with website messaging? Glad you asked. Because I also have something in my head that I like to call the WEBCON alert system. Which is how I evaluate whether it’s “too late” for a website’s messaging to be fixed, and if not, then what’s required to fix it.
WEBCON 5 (LOW): Routine Maintenance
Every website needs routine messaging maintenance. Let me repeat that, in case it wasn’t clear. Every website needs routine messaging maintenance. The days when you could simply design and launch a website and then forget about it, if they ever really existed, ended a couple of decades ago.
Things change. Products and services and employees change. And yes, even the date changes. How many times have you visited a site that still has last year’s date in the copyright line in the footer? …
Or been to a site where somebody on the staff page hasn’t worked for the company in six months? …
Or click the Tumblr icon, only to find that it hasn’t been posted to since July 2016, when the owner shared a video of his dog chasing after a bottle rocket?
Routine awareness and maintenance of the information on your website is critical. Because if a prospective customer visits your site and gets the sense that you’re not keeping it updated, then that sends a clear message to them:
That you don’t care.
And if you don’t care about your website, then you probably don’t care about your business. Which means you probably won’t care about them either.
WEBCON 4 (MODERATE): Long-Term Maintenance
For a website, long-term maintenance of the messaging might be something you only need to do once per quarter or even once per year. It depends how often and how dynamically your business is changing its goals, targets, and KPIs, as well as on employee and senior management turnover . Substantive changes in any of these areas will likely affect the messaging on your website.
For instance, how does the mission statement on your website hold up right now? Is it still in line with the company’s business philosophies? …
Are the products or services that receive the most emphasis on the site still in line with your company’s sales priorities? …
Are the social media links featured prominently on the site in line with the current digital marketing strategy?
The good news is that like routine maintenance, none of the messaging changes mentioned here should require heavy lifting from a content management standpoint. However, unlike routine maintenance, they may require communicating with various departments to ensure that the site represents the current state of the business from a 360 degree perspective.
WEBCON 3 (SUBSTANTIAL): Minor Changes
Here’s where things start to get interesting … and more challenging.
What if the conversion rate on your website (the percentage of visitors that convert to customers) used to be strong, but isn’t any more, making the site less effective at generating new business or revenue? And what if this is happening even though no major changes have been made to the website?
This could be a sign that something outside the website, like the expectations of your target audience or current best practices in your industry, have changed. If so, then the site’s messaging strategy, conversion flow, and text copy may need to evolve and adapt accordingly.
Fortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the overall architecture of the site needs to change. To switch metaphors from cars to houses, this might be like hiring an interior decorator to redesign your home. Their job, like the job of a professional messaging strategist, is to revitalize the house/site while keeping all of the rooms/pages exactly where they are.
Think of it as Feng Shui for your website.
WEBCON 2 (SEVERE): Major Changes
What if the messaging issues go deeper than this, though?
What if your website has never actually done a great job of converting customers or generating revenue, because an ineffective (or non-existent) messaging strategy was implemented in the first place?
Sadly, this is not an uncommon occurrence, particularly for websites that have been designed primarily to look good–attractive visuals, animation, or cool mouseover effects–at the expense of true, effective messaging.
When this is the case, the ability to resolve such messaging issues will depend to a large extent on how exactly the site was built.
The good news is that these days, 55% of all websites are built on some kind of CMS (content management system) platform, and 60% of those are built on WordPress. The beauty of CMS’s in general, and WordPress in particular, is that on the back end, they separate the content of a site from the design and structure, making it vastly easier to create, delete, or modify the features of the various pages on the site without crashing it or experiencing downtime.
For this, imagine a house with movable walls, inside of which you can change the size and location of any and all rooms while still maintaining the basic shape, structure, and location of the house itself, as well as its “curb appeal.”
That annoying dark and narrow hallway that made it hard to get from the front door to the television room? Gone. In its place, a clear, well-lighted path. Just like the one that, with effective and compelling messaging, can guide your visitors to become customers.
With the right amount of effort, even a website at this stage can be remediated, assuming it’s built on a platform that allows for such changes.
WEBCON 1 (CRITICAL): Complete Overhaul
So then what if your website has major messaging issues, but is one of the 45% that’s not built on a CMS? …
Or is built on one that doesn’t allow for these kinds of changes? …
Or has become so outdated and compromised that trying to move the rooms/pages around would result in bringing everything down like a house of cards?
It happens. And for better or worse, as with my old car, sometimes the cost of proposed repair is simply higher than the cost of starting from scratch. If so, then while the prospect of tearing everything down and rebuilding from the ground up may seem daunting, it’s probably your best chance for success.
The upside of this option is clear, though, and should be obvious to anybody who’s ever owned anything that’s new–whether it’s a new phone, a new car, or a new house they’ve helped design themselves. This option brings with it a world of possibilities, while also relieving the daily stress of compromise and inefficiency that comes with dealing with something that’s past its prime.
Most importantly, starting over will allow you to approach the development of your website as you always should, by starting with the messaging first. For more on that topic, refer back to the first article in this series, Effective Website Messaging (1 of 3): Not an Afterthought.
Dealing with the prospect of a website that’s no longer yielding or has never yielded results isn’t easy. But that doesn’t always mean throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Or cutting off your nose to spite your face. Or any one of the other gruesome metaphors that people seem to like to use in situations like this. By working with a messaging professional, it may be possible to fix your situation with less trouble or cost than you think.
Need help with the messaging on your website? Not sure if you need help but would like a complimentary website messaging analysis? Drop me a line here or connect with me on LinkedIn and let’s have conversation about it.
As a reminder, this is the last in a series of 3 articles on the topic of website messaging strategy.
In Part 1 of 3, “Not an Afterthought,” we discussed why messaging strategy is a crucial first step for any website, before either design or development, and why it’s important to work with the right professional for the job.