Observations and Trends - December 2011

So this is Christmas... already!

2011 saw some massive changes in website development as we all adapted to a tighter economy. The major trends I've noticed are:

  • Graphic designers have shifted away from traditional platforms like Nuke, Drupal, Joomla and towards Wordpress. Wordpress has a great library of effects that can be added to sites and look great. It also has an enormous number of templates that can be customised. It still produces cookie-cutter sites.
  • Bulk email has been embraced as a method of marketing. I have written before about the importance of doing it right. That will become even MORE important as inboxes fill up with bulk mailouts from everybody else.
  • Dodgy bulk website makershave started advertising on TV as well as radio. Don't be fooled - I had a florist in my office a few weeks back who paid $2200 for her $396 website. What is worse is that her site did not work on an iPhone or iPad and did not show any of her flowers! I have written before about why you should avoid them or any other company who promises a cheap website. We all like value, but nobody likes being ripped off.
  • I am starting to see sites that are highly ranked in Google but do not get any traffic. It's a worrying trend, but I am not completely surprised. I have written before about how if all you had to do was get "number one on Google" then the entire advertising landscape would be different. I have spoken to several sites who have paid up to $12000 per year for less than 40 visitors per month. I will be investigating this in more detail in the new year.
  • The amount of emails coming from obscure gmail addresses promising high Google rankings has exploded. I have been watching several of these companies and NONE of them have delivered on their promise. Do you buy medications from strangers on the internet? Apply the same logic to these frauds.
  • I am seeing companies offer a "free" website if you sign on for their "SEO" service. That's a great bargain for them when the SEO service typically costs several hundred dollars per month! This area now requires dedicated expertise. Think of it as like an operation - there is not just a surgeon, but also nurses, an aneathesist, and so on. Like that example, a good website requires specialists in each field due to the complexity required to compete with everybody else these days. The days of tinkering with your own site to get higher ranking are over.
  • Online shopping has been embraced by consumers but not yet by traditional retailers. One of the myths aboutonline shopping is that it's all about price. It is also about convenience and the buying experience. An online store is a tremendous addition to a bricks and mortar store. Just don't fall into the trap of using PayPal.
2012 promises to be even more challenging than this year. I expect the focus to be on:
  • Social media. The hype is already deafening. I held great hopes for Google+ but am concerned that the Facebook juggernaught is yet to peak. As it approaches a billion users, though, I am not seeing it translate to direct new business for many of my customers. I will continue to improve my Facebook shopping software and keep a close eye on how it performs. At this stage I recommend every business set up their own Facebook page because it is free, and it can still be an effective way to support current customers. Twitter is largely being ignored by companies who think it is the same thing as Facebook. It isn't.
  • Websites are adding options to sign up for a newsletter in exchange for a "free ebook". This will get old very quickly! Unless you are prepared to write your own ebook (which hardly anybody does) then the value to the person signing up is dubious and they will work that out. Expect this trend to die in 2012. Provide REAL value to your customers in exchange for their details.
  • "Deal of the day" and other bargain sites. There are still new players coming into this market and I've even had a few people speak to me about writing similar sites for them. Some of the big players are VERY big now so I am hesitant to do that. Be aware that they take a large margin (sometimes 40%) for listing your product or service so your end price will be very low, likely at a loss from what I've been told. The justification that I have been given is that these are a great way to get people to try your product and be converted into regular customers. This is NOT true. The buyers of products or services from these sites are typically bargain hunters who will move to the next offer without giving it a second thought. I expect this industry to contract over the next year as companies providing the offers become painfully aware of this.
  • Microsoft will be pushing their own tablets in a big way. You may already have an iPad, and if so then you know how easy it is to browse websites and buy things from them. With more Android tablets and with Windows tablets entering the market next year I expect this way of browsing to explode. You don't need an "app", just a sensibly designed website that works nicely on that style of interface. It also means that Adobe Flash is dead and buried. It already does not work on Apple devices. Adobe have announced it will not be updated any more for all mobile devices. If your website uses Flash then it will effectively cease to exist next year.
My advice for website owners in 2012 is this:
  • Take care of your customers by using the internet properly. Keep them informed via your website and social media. If they want something to be on your website then make sure it is there. Start a Facebook page and let them ask questions or get advice. Communicate regularly using bulk mailouts - BUT treat them with respect when you email them. Make it look classy and attractive, and give real advice they may not be able to get elsewhere.
  • If you have something to sell then start selling it through your website. Your customers trust you and like your service. They may have seen something in your shop or premises and thought about it but not picked it up when they were there. Tell them they can go to your website later and buy from you when it suits them. You don't need an entire shopping site. It can be an addition to your current site. Even a few sales online is better than none.
  • A few months back, my wife and her sisters and friends all wanted to book a day spa in Daylesford for a special occasion. They all sat in their own homes, on the phone to eachother, with a laptop or iPad, browsing the websites of day spas they found on Google. They did not speak to or email a single day spa - all interaction was with their websites. This should frighten the hell out of any website owner who does not bother updating their site! This is how things are done now. If your information on your site is out of date or does not reflect your current offers or specials then nobody will know. It's time to take website content seriously.
  • Look at how your website converts visitors to leads. The focus so far has been entirely on Google ranking. As I mentioned above, I am seeing sites that are top of Google but not translating that to business. I will be looking into that in more detail in the new year but it's worth asking yourself if you would contact your own company based on your website.

I hope you had a great year in 2011 and that 2012 is successful and profitable. There are a lot of people out there complaining about the economy or making sad predictions about it. I'd rather concentrate on what I can control and do it the best I can. If nothing else then at least I'll know that I gave it my best.

The current business coaching motto seems to be "zig when your competitors zag". If everybody is zagging then let's zig together in 2012.

Gerard McDermott
GMAC Internet Solutions

/email_attachments/gerard_mcdermott.jpgBy Gerard McDermott

Gerard runs GMAC Internet Solutions and has been developing websites since the mid-1990's. He has even been acknowledged in one of the first books ever written about Javascript programming.

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