The Most Common Misconception About “Web Magic”

I belong to a website called Alignable, and how often do I hear small business owners complaining about “not getting ranked” and how all the “big business” is killing small business. After a while, your humble narrator has to jump in and open a can of whoop ass. Maybe you will find this interesting, as what I wrote seems to be generating muchos buzz about it on the site itself.

First of all, the comment that set me off was this (the poster will remain anonymous):

“I am concerned, and I see the rapid reliance and escalating costs of doing business on the internet. I am concerned that what was once freedom for business to proliferate without these giant companies monopolizing advertisement as slipping away, and once again small business will pay the lions share of business advertising expenses with large companies getting fat with lower percentage costs, but getting top placement.”

And here is my reply:

As a web designer, I will say for the most part that it is not the website that is probably the problem. It’s the idea of “saving cost” on the website that is the problem, and then blowing your hard earned dollars on bullshit like AdWords and high-priced SEO companies. Most people I design for say they have “no idea” how to develop a website, and then once the contract is signed, all of a sudden they dictate how the website should be built. That is not how web design should be. You don’t tell a doctor how to remove your appendix, do you? Professional designers have spent many years analyzing code, noticing what works and what doesn’t, researching demographics, etc…And we often see what is best for a business because we have an objective view of it. But how often do we here “I don’t think that is necessary!” or “That is going to cost HOW MUCH to do?!”

*sigh*

Look…If you are worried about the “cost” of your website, you are missing the whole point of having one. A design spearheaded by a professional may cost you more than what you were looking to spend, but it will pay off ten to twenty fold in the return on investment. So if your website is not doing what you wanted it to do, you have to ask yourself this one question: “Did I not let the professional do the job I paid them to do, or did I argue because it was going to cost too much, and I didn’t think it should?”

In other words, did you let the professional do what they needed to do in order to make your website do what you wanted it to do?

I understand what [anonymous poster] below me is saying. But my company specializes in making small businesses look like bigger businesses. We level the playing field on cost for the concerns mentioned. But a client has to trust the professional and the process, or else they get what they have always had: Something amateur. They also have to want to play in the major leagues. I know the biggest complaint about competing with big business is that they have “deep pockets”. But at one point, those big businessess were a small business just like you. The only difference between yesterday’s market and today’s market is those now big businesses understood what small business today does not seem to understand: “the only want to make money is by spending money”. In other words: You don’t skimp on the damn budget when getting people to know you. When we go out on date’s, we wear our best outfits, and let’s face it…Fashion isn’t cheap. We spend oodles of time and money at the gym, so we can look good naked. We spend god awful amounts of money at high end grocery stores so we can “live healthier”…But when it comes to our source of income?! We have a shit fit about the cost…How stupid is that?!

It’s not considered stupid at all. It’s considered “Small Business Marketing Model 101”…Or at least that is what it has morphed into.

And it’s flat out dumb as fuck.

It’s the idea of giving the illusion that you are a successful small business owner to your judgmental neighbors (shopping at Whole Foods spending hundreds of dollars on the “trendiest foods”, driving a BMW, wearing fancy clothes from Nordstroms, etc) rather than the idea of actually being successful and moving away from your judgmental neighbors to a nicer neighborhood.

When people try to cut the cost of how they present themselves to the world, it shows…Trust me. You know it, and so do we all. No amount of SEO will save you if you budgeted the look and navigation of your website. No amount of being at the top of Google will help you, if someone clicks off of your site as soon as they are horrified by it (bounce rate). In other words, you can lead a horse to water, but if you do not make that water look tasty and relevant, that horse will go find another well to drink at…And that well will usually flow from the bigger company who realized when they were a smaller company that they needed to let the professionals do their job, the job they spent years doing, and worry about the cost later. I know I will get flack on this, but sometimes the truth hurts. After all AT&T (Bell) was up against Western Union when they started off, and now the only time we hear of Western Union is when we need to wire money. AT&T believed enough in themselves to invest in themselves wisely…Do you? And don’t get me started on the demon Wal Mart, because that started with just one store, and now it is like the Starbucks of retail. And speaking of Starbucks…Are you starting to get it yet?! That is the difference between small business and big business…The reason big business has “deep pockets” is because they keep investing in themselves. It’s the difference between the “big picture” and “sweating the small stuff”. My business started off with my own money (which was actually below $500), and we are now in competition with big design firms…Even got some of their clients…It’s not because we spent a lot of money…It’s because we spent our money wisely, and listened to other’s who were guiding us in those early days. Sometimes it means “this is going to hurt your pocketbook for a while, but it will pay off in the long run”.

Just because the internet enables others to find you faster, does not mean they will like what they see. Let’s face it, many small businesses don’t look like they take themselves seriously, because they are cutting costs of the very thing that will get them noticed. These days, it’s all about presentation…Not just getting client’s to your door. Top placement means nothing if the one who clicks in does not like what they are seeing…Or even worse, have to dig for what they see.

And so it begins…

tom servo

I suppose the first issue I want to tackle with this thing is how “cheapened” the creative world has become. Whoa, Phil…Them’s some strong words. Well, maybe…But it’s true. Especially when you put it into a certain perspective…Which is the point of this entry and having an opinion.

I suppose I will preface this by saying this is only my opinion, and I am not trying to pass it off as fact as so often many bloggers do. That being said, let’s move on.

As I peruse the web, there are many sites out there claiming that “you, too, can be a designer in a just a few simple steps!” which is a bunch of crap. I think this philosophy started with the idea that “everyone’s a winner” in the 90’s, when even the last place teams got a trophy for “trying”. You know what last place did to people like me: It made us look for something we were actually good at. That’s the heart of the argument here. Technology has watered down the whole concept of the creative process. What takes me and many of my colleagues thought and hours to create, there is now an “app” for that…Giving people the illusion of being “creative”. But just because your iPhone has an app to give photos a certain look and feel to them, there is nothing creative about it. If anything, the phone is creative…The person who created the app is creative…The person is merely an observer of art.

Think of going to the art gallery. People like certain forms of art, and despise others. But give them a paintbrush and a canvass, and they won’t be able to recreate even the pieces of art that they determine are atrocious or even too simplistic to be art. They won’t notice the lines, the attention to detail, the thought process that went behind it. All they know is what they like and what they don’t like. That is true for all of us. Just as I stated from the beginning, I am guilty of having an opinion myself. But simply because I can appreciate or not appreciate Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”, does not mean I would even know where to begin to re-create it. In fact, I cannot even paint on a canvass, and if I do, it would look like a 3 year old did it. But because I can appreciate it, does not mean I am creative.

That being said, what makes me and so many others like me creative is the fact that we sit down and create. We apply teachings and technology to what we do and have a plan. There have been growing pains, there have been moments of self-loathing, there have been many hours honing our craft…And then to hear that you can do what we do with just a few easy steps is an insult to our dedication. I am sure the same thing could be said about doctors and lawyers as well, because it is true. If someone showed me how to do an appendectomy, I am sure I could walk through the steps and perform one. Yeah…I said it. It doesn’t mean I would be good at it, but I could do it. I wouldn’t know why I put a clamp here, or why I can’t cut there…And here’s the thing: Not knowing could cause me to take short cuts that could be fatal. “Well, putting a clamp there is annoying. I think I’ll just skip that.” Patient bleeds to death. Lesson learned, I suppose.

Of course, no one is going to die with bad design and cheap photo tricks…But it is killing an area of expertise that is being cheapened by such tactics. “Why would I want you to do this for me, when I could save money and do it myself?” Well, say you are starting a business…You want your business to stand out, yet you go to a website that offers templates. You spend time and energy promoting and writing about what you do…And then you surf around some day and find someone else, just like you, who thought that same template looked just as cool. How professional do you feel now? Or maybe, just maybe, that template you thought would be really neat for your designer doll business is the same template being used by some goth rock band located in Kansas. Are you seeing what I am saying? Let me sum this up for you…

Sure you can appreciate what you appreciate…It just doesn’t make it what is right for the situation. Those cool effects that you put on your photos and save them forever…What if some day you want to remember the situation as it was? What if you are getting older and just want a picture of yourself without all the crazy effects to remember what you looked like to begin with? And just because you have a certain aesthetic style, does it mean that your audience is going to have that same aesthetic? You would think so, but you might be surprised. THAT is what a professional does. We create websites to appeal to your audience. We choose imagery and custom create it to fit the mood and audience you are looking for. We look at the lines, the attention to detail, and have a thought process about the whole thing, and we are OBJECTIVE about it, which is something someone who is wholly invested cannot do. So put your “iCan Website” tools down, put down your iPhone with the Hipstimatic app, and call a professional. You will notice the difference it makes. Don’t dabble with your image…Don’t call your cousin that “diddles” with Photoshop to create your website for you…There are no trophies given out for last place anymore.

I think Tom Servo from MST3K said it best during “Devil Fish”: “Just because you can edit, doesn’t mean you should.”