Avoiding Website Ratholes: Advice for SaaS Marketers

Nobody seems happy with their website. 

In talking with lots of Marketing managers over many years, I’ve found that they tend to fall into one of only two camps: 

1.     People that are currently redoing their website or

2.     People that are planning to redo their website. 

In other words, nobody’s really happy with their existing website.

Over the last year, I’ve worked with 4 different clients on a complete overhaul of their websites.  And I’ve recommended suggestions for website improvements for almost every other client.

Too many choices

One of the most challenging parts of overhauling a website, or building one from scratch, is all the choices.  You need to make decisions about design, text, navigation, development, illustrations, ad infinitum. 

Though certain conventions have been established (e.g. a navigation bar running horizontally across the top of the page), there are still millions of details to wade through.  I’ve had discussions about the right color of a person’s hair in a stock photo, I kid you not.  Working through all these issues large and small, it’s easy to get lost, stuck, or frustrated.  You can head down a lot of ratholes.

Based on my experience – meaning I’ve gone down lots of these ratholes myself – let me offer some suggestions on avoiding the same mistakes.

Keep your goals top-of-mind

Specify your primary goals at the start of your website overhaul, get everyone on board, and keep those goals in front of you throughout the project.  They’ll help you stay focused, remind you of your priorities, and guide you as you work through details.

As you think about whether to add a particular section, use a screenshot instead of an illustration, or where to put call-to-action buttons, refer back to your overall goals.  Which action best supports those objectives? 

By the way, you may find that some of these choices make no real difference at all, in which case you’re wasting time fixating on them.  Just move on.

Clearly articulate your value proposition

The key benefits and advantages of your solution should be consistently conveyed throughout your website.  In fact, that should be the case with all your marketing programs.  (See “Two essentials for SaaS marketing.”)

You can argue about particular words or illustrations, but the messages should be set in stone.  It should be crystal clear to the visitor who your solution is for, what problem it solves, and why they should buy it from you.  Don’t move ahead with the website until the value proposition and messages are in place.

Work from an outline

Before you start writing text, selecting illustrations, considering designs, or doing anything else, prepare an outline.  Think through and get agreement on the structure, the purpose, and contents of each page or section.  You’ll probably end up making changes as you get into the project, but to use a construction analogy, you don’t want to be designing the house while you’re building it.

Measure what can be measured

Rely on actual website data when it’s available. Information on visitors’ behavior collected on the existing site can often be helpful in making decisions about the new site.  You’ll see how visitors found you, how they entered and navigated through the site, what material was most popular, what material was never found, and other vital information that can help you make improvements with the new site.  Referring to data can often be more useful than opinions in guiding the project.

Overhauling a website or building an entirely new one is a big project.  But that’s what you should expect with such a critical piece of your customer acquisition process.  It will require hard thinking, difficult decisions, and probably more time than you think.  By following a few basic rules, though, you should be able to make the experience a bit less frustrating and a lot more productive.