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In theory, recent changes in web design and related-areas should mean that small businesses can design, build and manage their own website without any expert help or outside guidance. The reality, however, is a different story.

For small businesses and small businesses looking to revamp or launch a website, times apparently could not be better. When it comes to web design, there is no need to consult those lovely but ever so costly web design people. Not only are there literally thousands of designs available for download instantaneously, but most of them are free! And what is more they are templates based around free CMS software, so there is no need to consult those lovely but ever so costly web development companies. When you want to add to or update the website, upload video or manage the website’s SEO, this can all be done in no time – and no cost – at all from your laptop. And with hosting now demystified and available for less than the cost of a pint each month, it really is a golden time for any business to successfully run their own website. What in A-level economics we called the cost-barriers to market entry were swept away in one glorious march of technology. Choose your web design, add some copy then up goes the website, and in comes the business.

Is Google to blame?

The reality for most businesses is very different. While the web design element has become less expensive, and user-friendly CMS software such as Joomla and WordPress have made building and maintaining websites accessible to non-specialists, suddenly changes in Google’s algorithm and the continual rise in ‘social media’ now means the investment comes largely in the content and marketing side, and not in the web design or build. Is Google just out to create business for website developers, digital agencies and SEO specialists? The real blame lies with us, the website users. After all, Google’s so-called Panda changes are just an attempt to improve the experience of those who use their search engine. Users want to be directed to best sites – ones who are the best match for their enquiry. Suddenly we all want relevant and unique content that is fresh and up to date. Today we like a variety of delivery methods – words, audio, photos and video. Most of all we want websites to be an interactive tool in which our voices play a part– reading reviews, getting feedback, communicating directly – and the raise of social media is the result of this. For the SME and small businesses, this creates additional burdens that makes old-school paying for a web design seem like the good old days. Larger brands can afford to outsource or add to their marketing department’s duties. For smaller companies, the investment is not just financial, but something more precious: time. Time to source, write and upload new content on a regular basis; time to put together videos and non-written content; time to engage with customers directly and regularly. No wonder many are going back to those lovely but ever so costly web-specialists to develop and implement web marketing strategies that now include Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogging, guest blogging, forums etc. etc. – in addition to running the website.

The permanent revolution

As with many business decisions, how much investment – time and money – goes into the web marketing strategy is a matter of ROI. Businesses need to come to understand that web strategy is an on-going process, almost a kind of permanent revolution: when one area has been conquered [costly web design, build and hosting] a new wave appears that needs to be taken onboard in order to build a competitive advantage. As long as customers search online, you can guarantee in five years time there will be a whole new area to be understood: increasingly bespoke searches and mobile searches are just two obvious areas. There is no simple answer as to whether an small businesses can run a successful website without professional help. Much will depend on their ability to meet the challenges that come from ongoing changes in how the Web is used – today and in the future. Perhaps fortunately, the cost for much of the professional help has seen a relative decline. Like web design, there is much help online that is free. If nothing else, professional advice can help you develop the right tools for the challenges ahead. As a Birmingham website design company, Opace would love to hear from small businesses on how they view the challenges of online marketing.

Image credit – Creative Tools


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