How buying a website is like car shopping

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Photo by Artem Sapegin on Unsplash

By Chris Manley

Have you ever felt intimidated when buying a car? If you’re like me, you’re not a freelance mechanic. You don’t follow the car industry with avid fascination, but you get to the point where your current wheels just aren’t cutting it and you need something new. So you go to a few dealerships and check out cars that (as far as we can tell) all look the same, smell the same, and drive the same.

We assume that the $40,000 car does something better than the $20,000 car, because, well, it’s more expensive. The features we can make sense of are often the cheapest to incorporate, like cup holders, all-weather floor mats, and backup cameras.

It’s hard to tell the difference between seat fabric that’s made to last versus seat fabric that’s made to look great but lasts only six months. How about the safety features, all hidden within the framework of the car? And the engine quality — the most expensive part of fixing a vehicle over time. Will it still work well in a year? Two years? Three?

I’ve always enjoyed the experience of driving a new car. But picking one out and thinking through all the options leaves me a little exhausted. I’m not a car expert, and often the salespeople use fancy mumbo-jumbo that leaves me feeling even more ill-educated than I already am.

This isn’t the 1950s when everyone changed their own oil and was their own backyard mechanic! Cars are far too complicated nowadays, with advanced electronic systems and all. I don’t care to understand exactly how the car works; I just care greatly about it working consistently.

In spending nearly two decades working with business owners and leaders, I often see some of the same stress I have when buying a car in their faces as I talk to them about their website.

Comparing what first seemed like apples to apples now turns into needing to understand the difference between Fuji, gala, golden delicious, red delicious, granny smiths, and more. It’s never as simple as it seems. Is there any hope?

Perhaps. Here are a few tips to make this experience less painful for you down the road:

  1. Past performance foreshadows future results
    Talk to other clients. Did they buy a clunker? Has this company worked well with them? Don’t ask for references; just call up some of their current clients and ask for their candid experience. Nearly all web design firms will have a portfolio. Start there.
  2. Look for patient teachers
    There are two kinds of experts in the world: those that make you feel really dumb and those that have the patience to help you understand. Seek out the latter. If you talk to the former, you’re probably not at the right place.
  3. Are they upfront and honest?
    Does the firm you’re talking to own up to the fact that they’re not perfect? Ask them how they’ve corrected mistakes they’ve made in the past. That is an indicator of how they’ll treat you when something goes awry.
  4. Seek transparency
    Are they an open book about how they work and being forthcoming about what is and isn’t working for you? Are they giving you the numbers so you can see for yourself — and helping you understand them? People who hide things often have a reason, and it’s never good.
  5. Is it clear who is doing what?
    A great plan is key to great execution. Has this firm thought about what you’ll do, versus what they’ll do? How many details are in their plan? Is it well structured and proven? A solid plan will lead to a painless process.

These tips won’t guarantee 100 percent success, but they’re some of the questions I don’t hear being asked enough from those buying a new website.

Chris Manley is the CEO of Engenius, a marketing firm specializing in helping businesses navigate digital marketing through strategic web design, search optimization, and digital advertising. You can contact him at chris@engeniusweb.com or by visiting www.engeniusweb.com.

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