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Digital Strategy

There is an old “joke” in the web development world that is both funny and sad:  What is the difference between a $20,000 website, a $200,000 website, and a $2 million one?  Answer:  The gullibility of the client.

In 24 years of building websites, we have yet to meet a gullible client, which is why this joke is so offensive.  And if we did, we expect that they would “smell a fish” if they were presented with a nonsense proposal.

Yet surely there are differences between the cheapest websites, and the most expensive?  Should you look at your website as a commodity, or as your most important strategic asset?

The cheapest sites are templated sites from consumer or small-business web hosting providers. These are offered “free” to serve as a barrier to cancelling the hosting contract; no one but the smallest solopreneurs use this option.

Next up are sites built on proprietary content management systems: rarely is there custom design here either. Special functionality (email lists, blogs, calendars, e-commerce) are usually sold as upgrade modules.  The downsides of this approach include little design flexibility, the inability to add special functionality beyond the modules that are available, and vendor lock-in.  Security is also a risk point.  While this approach was popular 15+ years ago, most organizations don’t see it as a viable approach today.

At the “bottom” of the business-class website barrel are basic brochure sites:  This usually means 5-10 pages, a blog, custom design work, basic site analytics and a site that is built on an open-source social platform such as WordPress or Drupal.  Beyond this, it is simply a question of adding options – here is a partial list:

  1. Add responsive (eg mobile friendly) design
  2. Add compliance with accessibility  legislation (eg WCAG 2.0 Level A or AA)
  3. Add strategy
  4. Add content creation (writing, or editing, or both)
  5. Add usability testing
  6. Add built-in SEO
  7. Add basic functionality (lead gen forms, calculators, etc)
  8. Add a separate development server
  9. Add connections with Social Media
  10. Add security and firewall
  11. Add stress-testing
  12. Add e-commerce
  13. Add multilingual support
  14. Add more advanced site analytics
  15. Add a persona-based strategy
  16. Add a staging site
  17. Add separate database and content servers
  18. Add members-only area and user management
  19. Add distributed content management and roles
  20. Add micro-sites and landing page management
  21. Add geolocation services
  22. Add a content delivery network
  23. Add training
  24. Add workflow and content approvals
  25. Add integration with Marketing Automation and/or CRM systems
  26. Add integration with ERP and/or financial systems
  27. Add advanced tracking and monitoring
  28. Add personalization, contextual content delivery
  29. Add advanced usability testing
  30. Add integrated analytics
  31. Add page-based optimization
  32. Add advanced SEO
  33. Add mobile app integration
  34. Add omni-channel support
  35. Add locally-hosted versions of the site in different continents
  36. Add advanced security and user authentication
  37. Add integration with an Extranet and Intranet
  38. Add monitoring and technical optimization
  39. Add consulting on governance

Beyond the specific features of the site, another driver of cost is the content: who writes it, who edits it, and who approves it.  Connected with this is the total page count of the site: more pages mean more templates, more content loading time, more site testing and more graphics that need to be created, optimized, and loaded.   Finally, the largest sites may be part of an organization’s digital transformation strategy.  In these cases, the website is really the vector to drive process change, both internally and externally.  All of this takes time and incurs cost.

Generally speaking, as more is expected of the website, the “optimal” platform changes to an industrial-strength – and significantly more costly – platform such as Adobe Experience Manager or Sitecore Experience Manager.

Yes, the simplest websites are fast becoming commodities; but user expectations, competitive pressures, and legislative requirements are also forcing many organizations to re-look at whether their current site is pulling its weight.

This week’s action plan: Except for the largest organizations, a $2 million website makes no sense.  But a $20,000 website will also omit many key capabilities, dead-end others, and likely expose the organization to undue risk.  This week, compare your website with your competitors:  have they made a different investment decision than you did?  And what has been the result?

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site Web strategy, technology, and design
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders




Back in the dark ages of the internet, building “the list” was a best practice for email marketing. The theory was great: send a monthly ezine, sales offers, and any other buzzworthy content down the pipe and a certain percentage of people will “convert.” Money automatically transferred into your account as the list was monetized.

Today, however, there are a number of flies in the ointment that have significantly reduced the effectiveness of this strategy:

  • Who is actually interested in reading low-value ezines?
  • Who really wants to be a member of a list?  Or be “marketed to”?
  • Who has the time to read the newsletter?

One approach to these problems is to stop producing the ezines/newsletters altogether. Another is to shorten them to their essence, and increase the value provided.  (My Make It Happen Tipsheet follows this strategy.) And a final parallel strategy is to develop stakeholder-relevant communications: that’s where marketing automation comes in.

Marketing Automation can be defined as the family of initiatives (and underlying technology) that automates the improvement in the relationship between your organization and a particular stakeholder. At the most basic, consider Marketing Automation as a sequence of interactions – usually by email – that both educate and increase trust.

Here are nine key marketing automation sequences that every organization should consider:

  1. Web lead generation forms: A whitepaper download form that tags the user with a number of attributes, sends the PDF, and later asks if there are any questions. Here is an example for a white paper that describes how social media can be used for events.
  2. Lead capture from traditional advertising or tradeshows.  A series of emails that are triggered by the user’s registration, that provide more information, usually with a follow-up call-to-action.
  3. Drive to Social Media engagement campaigns. These are campaigns that drive selected segments of your database to engage within your social media communities.
  4. Webinar/event follow-up campaigns. These sequences encourage registration, add value post-registration/pre-event, and then continue the conversation post-event.  See how we do it by registering for one of our webinars.
  5. Long-term nurture-marketing sequence. A sequence of emails that continue a conversation after an initial touchpoint. When the subscriber is ready to commit, the subscriber will be both better educated and predisposed to work with you. Here is an entire tipsheet on nurture marketing.
  6. Mini how-to education sequence. This is a short sequence that provides specific education on a topic. Here is one example Six Steps to Strategic Blogging, and another Five Quick Reads: an Executive Social Media Briefing.
  7. Sales trigger/Onboarding campaign: This is an email (or series of emails) that kick off when a new organization comes into the fold. It might start with an automated “thank you” email, then perhaps a short series that helps educate them on how to get the most value from their relationship with you.
  8. Referral and testimonial capture campaign: This campaign is designed to capture a testimonial, and generate referrals.
  9. Service delivery campaigns: These are the family of campaigns that either improve the efficiency of the delivery of your services, or reduce your customer support costs.

Done right, Marketing Automation can do it all: improve relationships, educate prospects, improve efficiency, and grow the organization. But if you are clumsy, Marketing Automation can kill your brand.

This week’s action plan:  If you currently are using Marketing Automation, how do you know that you are getting the most from your efforts? This week, look carefully at the metrics: what is the one thing that you can do to improve your numbers?

If you don’t have a marketing automation program in place, maybe it is time to look into it. (Shameless plug: happy to provide an open-the-kimono demo of what this type of system looks like: just ask me at

Marketing Insight: While choosing the right technology is clearly important, a successful marketing automation initiative is grounded in the strategy, copywriting, and implementation.  Don’t believe the product vendors when they say it is “quick and easy”.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders