“Is your Hong Kong website a waste of money?”

It may not be voiced often, but for many business people this is a worrying question that they are not willing to ask out loud. Therefore it is not one that I’ll dismiss quickly as being frivolous.

Just saying “Of course not”, which may seem reasonable for the online-line cognoscenti, is not a thoughtful response.

TL;DNR

  • Probably not, but you should check.

A real concern

The question reflects a real concern for many business people in HK who have, for whatever reason, got themselves a website for their business. And there are costs associated with owning a site.

There are small sums relating to technical issues such as domain registration, web server hosting fees and the like. Though depending on the service provider and the markup they use these can be not-quite-that-small.

Then there are long-term commitments such as the need to renovate and update a website at least every few years, to adjust to changing technical requirements or behaviour of the ordinary internet user. If you were an early adopter and had a website from 1995, then it probably looks somewhat archaic today.

Having a website in 1995 made you cutting edge. It showed your company was connecting with the latest trends. Whatever history or character the company might project it certainly was preparing for the 21st century.

But have a website from 1995 in 2017, and you project an entirely different image.

Outdated. Staid. Behind-the-times. Inattentive.

Do you want your company to be represented as outdated?

Not at all the image any company wants to project.

Ten year old websites

Even a less extreme example, say a website from 2007, just ten years old is going to look quite out of place compared to the norms that your visitors will expect. It probably won’t be mobile responsive or use some outdated concept such as a separate mobile site.

Presuming you have been keeping the website updated from a technology point of view, have you also been keeping the content updated?

It may seem obvious, but it is something that many companies fail to allow for.

So who gets to do that? It will be an unwelcome addition to the tasks of existing team members, so perhaps responsibilities have been reassigned or spread out over a team. Or a new person may have been hired to take up the extra work.

Whatever solution you have arrived at, there are costs and effort involved.

With all those apparent outgoings, costs and expenses it can be no surprise that there must worry about whether this is all worth it.

Businesses operate to make a profit

Businesses operate to make a profit, to sell products and services, not merely to contribute to the bottom line of web developers.

With the notable exception of e-commerce businesses, which sell products directly through their website, most companies will have a harder time directly attributing income to their online presence.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t connected, and anybody who thinks about the typical buying cycle of today’s connected always-online consumer will understand that.

Understanding and agreeing with the reality of the concept is not the same as being able to allocate income against online marketing in a balance sheet.

This is not a new problem that is unique to online marketing; any marketing channel may potential have similar issues. But the continuous and multi-channel attributes of most web-based marketing make the attribution of sales even harder, perhaps too hard.

One approach, of course, would simply to accept this and revert to the old maxim that goes “Half my advertising budget is wasted, the problem is I don’t know which half”. That is another way of saying that you have to advertise anyway, even if you can’t necessarily attribute success, vs waste, to any particular part.

If we stopped at this point it would be a valid answer to the question “is my website a waste of money”. You know perfectly well it isn’t entirely wasted, but yes some of it is a waste and as there is no way of knowing which half is which the rational thing is to continue.

It is possible to go beyond that though and to do that we need to go to another cutting-edge marketing technique for inspiration. And that technique is of course Direct Marketing.

Cutting-edge

Cutting-edge? Yes, direct marketing was cutting-edge in the 1950’s. Or before, I’m sorry I wasn’t born then and my grasp of the dates may be a little weak.

The “new” thing that DM brought to marketing was not just the use of cheap, often government subsidised, mailing in order to reach an audience, but the idea of traceability. Of tracking. Of coupon codes and response rates.

As soon as marketing moved from broadcast, literally in terms of TV and radio or just wide-band in concept such as billboards or even print ads, then the marketer becomes motivated to optimise cost vs response.

Today’s digital marketing shares a lot of features with those other ancestor marketing methods and in our hurry to put up a website that is sometimes forgotten. Lessons learnt become lessons lost and the chance to more accurately define, refine and target the promotional investment is lost.

“Digital Analytics” means tracking what is going on with your digital marketing, keeping records via automated systems of every visit to a website. Determining the source of those visitors, and what they read, do, click, subscribe, enquire and buy on that website.

It goes beyond just websites because analytics can be used to connect to social media properties, to newsletters and other emails. Connections to an in-shop point of sale systems, to telephone systems for taking orders and more. Of course, each integration involves another set of complexities, costs and their challenges. Privacy concerns make some forms of tracking neither possible, legal nor desirable.

In between these restrictions, there are plenty of opportunities to learn more about your customers, your almost-customers and your might-be-customers.

An answer

Does that mean you can answer the question of whether or not your Hong Kong website is a waste of money? No, not directly. But it is safe to say some things with great confidence.

1. Any business can benefit from a website, even the least likely cases in Hong Kong which includes fashion retail and small business services among others. Why? Because the population is online and if your company is not well represented then those people are not going to be seeing the message that you wish to put forward.

2. Direct marketing techniques of tracking and analysis can and should be extended to you online marketing

3. Digital Analytics should be a central part of the design of any online marketing campaign. But they need to be analysed, interpreted and the knowledge gained acted upon for them to have value.

So where is the answer to the original question?

Question: “Is my Hong Kong website a waste of money?”

Answer: “Probably not, but if you are concerned, then measure it”.

Even if you are not concerned, measure it anyway as measurements lead to knowledge and knowledge can lead to improvements.

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