5 Reasons that Websites Fail

This is an image of a search bar, as we explore 5 reasons why websites fail

This has been an interesting month for my company. KCX Media has been shifting our gears from being a web design company to being a digital marketing development company. Gone are the days when we sell our client’s websites, and here are the days where we sell our client’s content-driven solutions, and there are two major shifts in this thinking. Both of these reasons have resulted in a general shift in the perceived value of having a website.

First, DIY web building companies are sprouting up everywhere. Seriously, the barrier to entry of building a website is getting lower and lower. On one side of the coin companies like Squarespace offer a no-code, no-experience, required solution to having a website. Meanwhile, companies like Wix are offering the same sort of website builder experience, and top it off with letting you get in for free.

Second, the increasing popularity of CMS website builders, like combining WordPress with Elementor or Beaver Builder, have lowered the bar of professional entry to just about anyone who can drag and drop a design module. This means that just about anyone can claim to be a full-stack, web design company.

Now, before we get started, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not talking down on these services. Squarespace has gotten so much better in terms of the quality of their code output and SEO capabilities and there is nothing wrong with designers who can’t code- as long as they are honest with their clients about their limitations and are charging accordingly.

My concern with these services is that they dilute what a website is and isn’t, while lowering the perceived value of the work. I decided to write this morning, on why a website fails, because there is very little distinction about what separates professional website design, entry level website design, and understanding how to know if you’re getting what you pay for. In other words, why do so many of these websites fail when we’ve paid so much for them?

1. Websites fail due to unrealistic expectations.

In “The Field of Dreams”, Ray Kinsella is walking through his cornfield when he hears a voice say “If you build it, they will come” and he pictures a baseball diamond where Shoeless Jo Jackson is ready to play to the victorious cheers of an excited crowd. This is an iconic moment in cinematic history because no one believes in Ray and they question his sanity every step of the way, but Ray is vindicated when the ghosts of baseball’s past show up and play.

Unfortunately, a similar mindset takes hold as people get the idea to build a website to promote their new businesses. People just know that once they take that site live, everything is going to change for them. The problem is that just because you build it, doesn’t mean that they will come. Having a website is not enough to succeed. After spending the first week looking for yourself on Google, many people become disillusioned.

Realistic expectations for your website are important because your website is more like the cornfield that Ray Kinsella plowed, then the baseball diamond that he built. In other words, it has to be nurtured if you want it to grow. You have to put serious work into building content that matters to your business plan. In order to gain significant ranking in search engines, you have to put time into building meaningful backlinks to your website. In other words, you need a plan to initiate the growth of your website.

Most people don’t nurture their website’s enough, and eventually give up.

2. Websites fail due to a lack of planning

I have clients reach out to me sometimes and they tell me about their current websites and how they aren’t doing well. I always ask the same question, what is your website supposed to do for you. This question is always met with confusion. Without fail, most of the time, I already know what my prospective client is going to say.

Without planning, metrics are useless for measuring the success of your website.

This isn’t the client’s fault, because the fact is that what separates a web professional from a novice is that a professional knows that a website has to have a purpose if it is going to successful. A novice is really good at looking at what other websites are doing and doing something similar, but every aspect of a website has to be carefully crafted to achieve some purpose. No matter if a website’s job is to get a prospect to make a phone call, fill out a form, or make a purchase, your website needs to be built towards doing a job.

Planning is important, because you have to know the specific journey you want a prospective client to take in order to do business with you. Some people attempt to market by accident, and then they get frustrated when they don’t see the growth that they intended to see. In today’s market, nothing happens by accident, everything requires a well laid plan. A good plan will help to create a website’s purpose and eliminate unrealistic expectations.

When I was a kid, we watched this show called “The A-Team”, and the A-Team was led by a man named Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith who used to say “I love it when a plan comes together.” Hannibal knew that he had to know his exact move at every point, like how to get B.A Baracus on an airplane or turn the teams van into an impenetrable tank.

Failing to plan is planning to fail, and this is just as true with building a website as anything else.

3. Websites fail due to poor craftsmanship.

There are so many ways to build a website. It’s not a stretch to say that web designers are a dime a dozen these days. On the ultra-cheap end of website design are DIY options like Squarespace and Wix, in the middle are web designers who use page builders paired with WordPress, and on the more expensive end of the scale are full-service agencies that work with the client to create a top-shelf web experience.

At the end of the day, the way your website is crafted accounts for a lot of your success- especially as it pertains to search engines. For example, Google algorithms will reward or penalize a website’s ranking depending on the way that their code is built, structured, and executed on the client end of the website connection. Complicated coding structure may make it difficult for Google’s web spiders to understand the context of your site, or the abuse of site linking might suggest to web crawlers that you’re website is attempting to abuse he ranking system.

My biggest complaint with most web builders is that their code is unnecessarily heavy or forces you to load unused scripts on every page load. (We call this website bloat.) This is a price that you can pay when you hand your development responsibilities over to a third party.

In the interest of being fair, the good news about these web builders is that they are starting to get savvy about the need for lighter coding structures. The bad news is that the well-built site builders still require semi-talented coders to execute truly dynamic websites…which means that a lot of the mid-tier designers aren’t ready to jump on board yet. But I truly believe the craftsmanship of the mid-tier choices out there is going to get significantly better over the next ten years.

4. Websites fail due to bland branding

Go to Google and do a web search for a company in your city that does what your company does…look at your website and look at theirs. Go to another website…if you do this all the way down your Google Search, I’m willing to bet that you will find that many of these company websites look an awful lot alike. Now close your browser tabs and think back to the websites you saw. Does anything stand out?

I did this for my website recently, and I was really disappointed in how much my website resembled other websites in my industry, but there were two websites that really stood out for me, and the reason was as plain as day. These companies embraced the personality of their brand. They stood out amongst their peers, instead of blending into the crowd.

This is why many websites fail, because they water their voice down in the step-by-step content creation books that you can buy off of Amazon for fewer than 15 dollars. It’s not that these books, and processes, give bad advice. Many of them give great advice, but it’s because they are guidelines and not rules. When you treat advice like hard and fast rules, you constrain your voice and sound like everyone else.

Think about it, when you think of Canadian rock who jumps to mind as a unique talent, Nickelback or Rush?

5. Websites fail due to neglect

Finally, the biggest reason that websites fail is a simple one, they get neglected. One of the biggest myths about websites is that aren’t expensive and that they are easy to maintain. To that I say “Boooooooo….websites require care and growth to succeed.”

Websites require care. You have to keep your platforms up to date, watch your server for sluggish performance, downtime, or security exploits. The average website under my care is reported through my security logs and firewall reports, to be attacked at least a half dozen times a day. That’s just on the low end; some websites get a dozen or more attempts on their health daily. Fortunately, I use a toolbox full of security measures- such as enforcing strong passwords, restricting user names, vetting any third party tools I use to avoid defunct products with no support. In other words, I care for my websites on a weekly basis.

Websites also require growth. Google crawls your website at least once a month, and it’s sincerely hoping for new content and a better understanding of your site. When it finds that you are regularly engaging your own content, it concludes that you are a trustworthy web owner and you must have authority over your subject. In other words, you start to earn Google’s trust and this trust inspires it to send more visitors your way.

Some websites will start strong, gain good ranking over two or three months and then drop ranking as the algorithm concludes your content is out of date. When you neglect your website, you can’t expect any positive growth, because Google will give up on you.

There are many reasons why a website might fail, but I believe that these 5 reasons are the most responsible for why people lose perspective about the value of their websites.

When you build a website, you need to have clear and realistic expectations for your website. Set a realistic goal when you set out to build a website, and then build your website’s content around achieving that goal. Measure your current traffic and conversion rates, make the changes you feel you need to make, and see what changes over the next few months. If you do this, you can identify your successes and build on them, while moving away from your failures and what isn’t working.

You have to plan your website. Ask yourself, what do I want a user on my website to do? Do you want them to call and talk to you? Do they send an email? Can they make a purchase directly from your website? All of these are examples of conversion goals, and your content needs to be built to reinforce these goals. If you want the prospect to call you, give them the phone number often, and set up the expectations for the phone call clearly.

For example, if you want a prospect to call, don’t just say “Call us today”. Instead try to say something like “Call us today, and set up an appointment for your free consultation!” Now your user knows that they are calling you, and what they need to do when they call.

Make sure your website is being built with proper coding structure and best practices. Craftsmanship is important, and if you’re paying more than $2,000 for a website, then its code should validate and run with minimal bloat. Otherwise, you might be getting taken advantage of. If you suspect your site might have technical issues, there are many companies that will do an audit on your website for free. Take advantage of these offers, because they can be invaluable for finding out if your website is holding itself back.

Content is King, it’s a cliché in the world of web building, but it’s absolutely true!

Make sure your website reflects your brand’s unique personality. When a website looks like every other website in your industry, then it runs the risk of being drowned out in a noisy business environment. That’s not to say your website has to be 100% unique, but you can tell when a website has copied and pasted its general look and feel from another brand. Your brand needs to be cultivated.

Make sure your site isn’t being neglected. It’s fairly easy perform fairly basic management of your website, all of my client’s receive a how-to-guide to perform the actions of my lowest tier of website care plan for themselves. I feel very strongly in educating my clients, and I want them to understand how important regular upkeep of their website is. If they don’t want to pay me to do it, that’s fine, interestingly enough, most of them sign up for a care plan when they see, not how hard it is, but how persistent you need to be.

At the end of the day, if you can keep all of this stuff in mind, then I believe you are better armed than 98% of the people who are scratching their heads and wondering why they aren’t seeing any success from their website.  

Jason Usher

Jason has been studying design and web programming for over 10 years. He's a big fan of brand-oriented design with an emphasis on value for value growth. When he is not neck-deep in market research, he enjoys photography, time with his wife and kids, and a good movie.

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