Should developers know design?

People (friends, colleagues, relatives, etc.) that know I am in the web business often approach me with a similar variant of the following:

“Hey Orlando, I’m doing X and I want a website for it, what do you think?”

And I always struggle a lot with this question. For one, I am a web professional and of course I want people building websites. But second, and perhaps more important: I am a web professional and I know not everyone needs a website. So this is an answer (and a series) that’s very controversial for me to write.

There a many different kind of reasons for which someone could want a website but, for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to divide these people into two groups: Business owners and Content creators.

Of course, these two groups usually end up overlapping with each other: business owners will probably benefit from creating content, and content creators will probably end up wanting to monetize their content. But as a starting point, I would say most websites probably get created for one of these two reasons.

For the sake of simplicity, I will be using the word “business” to reference both of these groups in this first section. But if you just so happen to belong to either of them, and are interested in getting yourself a new website, then this article is for you:

You say website, but you probably mean Audience.

Audiences stand at the center of successful businesses

I am about to argue that when people say they want a website, most of the time what they really are asking for is online presence. And if we dig even further, I bet we will find that what they truly desire is to build up an audience.

But before we can continue we need to answer, what is an Audience? Putting it into simple terms (extrapolated out of this definition from the Oxford Dictionary) an audience can be defined as: The people paying attention to your business.

These are the individuals invested in your brand, the ones who are going to be interested in hearing about your newest sales, the ones who will be reading the articles about you on the newspaper, the ones who will be buying your products, etc.

An audience stands at the core of every successful enterprise or, as 37signals asserts in their best selling book, Rework:

“All companies have customers. Lucky companies have fans. But the most fortunate companies have an audience”

Building this audience should be near the top of (if not at the very top of) every single business’ priority list. We’ll leave the specific details of how to construct an audience for another occasion, but if you’re interested in learning of an effective and efficient way of kick-starting the process (that costs almost no money), then I can’t recommend Rework enough to you.

A Website doesn’t build an Audience… By itself.

Website SEO and Marketing are king.

So how does a website help us increase or construct our audience? Well, it doesn’t, or at least not by itself.

Let us imagine we just started business as a local craft brewery, and we want a website to promote our first beer, an Irish Porter aimed at true beer connoisseurs. We then get ourselves a simple landing page that advertises the product and collects emails from whoever’s interested in it; we put the page online and see that it shows up when we search for it on google.

So far so good.

Then weeks go by and we have gotten exactly 2 emails from our page, both of them spam.

We remember that the web developers we hired installed this thing called Google Analytics on our website so we decide to check the statistics on it: Less than 10 people have visited our site since it was created.

We then do a quick google search for “porter beers”, “craft beers” and “beers in <your_town>” only to see that we don’t even figure on the first few pages. Suddenly, drinking our first batch of beer ourselves starts to seem pretty appealing.

I know all of this can seem hard to believe, after all, we now have a timeless piece of technology on the web that basically advertises our business to the whole world; it should be bringing more people to us, right? Except our website is competing with every single other one for everyone’s attention.

That doesn’t mean our site isn’t ever going to bring in more business, it just means it’s going to need a lot of help to do so. It will need to be Search Engine Optimized, become part of our general Marketing Campaign, advertised on Social Media and, in general, be given the same amount of attention you would give to any other product.

Since we know that our website isn’t going to attract attention by itself, but instead become a part of how our brand gets perceived; we need to define another purpose for it if we’re going to justify our investment.

Websites are good for many things:

And much more. All of which require an already stablished audience. But if there is one thing that sites cannot do, is that they cannot advertise themselves, that’s what Marketing and SEO are for.

We can go into depth about the mysteries of SEO and Marketing Campaigns some other time, but for now there’s just one thing I’d like you to remember:

A good website capitalizes on an already stablished audience.

Do you really need a website? Probably not, yet.

Now that we know that a website by itself won’t help us grow our business’ audience, we start to realize that perhaps making one shouldn’t be our first priority; building an audience that the [eventual] website can capitalize on, should.

On the next article of this series we’re going to discuss a few means by which both business owners and content creators can start generating an online audience even before they invest on a website. And even more so, we’ll look at effective and simpler alternatives that they can use to bring their respective businesses online without ever having to call a web design agency.

My name’s Orlando Paredes Hamsho. I’m a 25-year-old Web Developer living (mostly) in Guadalajara, Mexico; albeit I intend to move pretty soon. Apparently, I also run a blog now, and have been doing so for a while.

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