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18 Questions Your CEO Forgot to Ask When Building Your Website

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 8 years and 27 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

Why are you always retrofitting and re-optimizing? Your CEO (or other decision maker) didn’t ask the right questions. You need to know how to build and promote a website from the ground up to be successful. Picture your perfect web presence. Visualize web 2.0 Zen. Now work backwards and apply these principles to your website among various time, budget, legacy technology, and personal ego obstacles of varying degrees in the way of your quest towards website enlightement. Welcome to the world of SEO.

There’s a big difference between an “ideal website” built in a vacuum with an unlimited budget and no competition versus retrofitting, optimizing, and improving and existing website. These are the questions your CEO forgot to ask. Make sure they get asked. If you understand the IDEAL website and the value of each component that would go into it – you can understand how to balance financial and time budgets for the highest ROI on a project, and overcome the normal hurdles that every company faces. These are the top questions your CEO forgot to ask.

1. Do we have a brandable domain?
I have always underestimated the power of a brandable domain. No longer. Once you reach critical mass – branding puts you over the top. Save a spot in your users mind, and traditional advertising might still work for you. As the saying goes, it’s much cheaper to keep a customer (or user) than to attract a new one. It’s easy to lose users with .net’s, dashed domains, and typos if it’s their first or second time to your site.

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  • Who should we host with that will be reliable?
    There’s nearly nothing worst than doing a great job marketing – seeing the website get hammered with traffic, and feeling your stomach sink as you realize you blew it with crappy hosting. Don’t skimp out on hosting if your planning something big. At minimum – plan to scale and learn how to implement proper caching when necessary.

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  • Do we need pretty urls and will we use subdomains?
    If you’re starting a site from scratch – pretty urls should be a priority – if you have an existing site, you need to weigh the benefit of the increased usability (and positive “SEO side effects”) against the time it takes to retrofit them with existing systems. Sometimes the cost jusitifes the change – sometimes not. Doing it right from the start is ALWAYS good practice, and it’s a lot easier than trying to fix this issue later (it turns real tricky real quick to retrofit this one).

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  • What is our website’s business model and how are we unique?
    If you haven’t asked yourself this yet – you better hope you have a whole lot of visitors and sell before the web 2.0 bubble bursts. Just because myspace didn’t need one, doesn’t mean you’ll get away with just having a good idea, and a lot of eyeballs. Even if you have an AWESOME idea – you should develop ideas for an advertising or subscription revenue model or some fundamentals of it.

    Don’t get sucked into being the web world’s equivalent of a hypebeast.

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  • Who is our target demographic and what will they search for?Think BEYOND SEO – even if you don’t believe in it – Planning for the search in your user’s mind can save you from retrofitting for it later. Be one with your user. Unleash your inner customer Zen state of being. How would YOU search? How would your mother search? How would your grandmother search?

    I currently have a client whose target market are mainly alpha computer geeks. I’m hoping we can make the website one that Nick Burns would love. Know whom you are writing too, their personality type, and how they read and learn.

    "If your target audience isn’t listening, it’s not their fault, it’s yours." – Seth Godin

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  • What will the information architecture be like? What are the important top level keywords?
    There needs to be balance between information architecture for usability and keyword information architecture for findability (SEO). IA is definitely one of the most underappreciated aspects of good search optimization as well as usability.

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    7.Which platform should we use?
    Your platform is going to be heavily dependant upon your staff and their strengths. You need to decide early on if you’re going to be a windows shop or an open source bunch of commies. I’m a LAMP fan myself, but I’ve always heard great things about MS SQL server for powering large DB’s. With Windows, you’ll probably get better support, with open source you’ll get less licensing fees. There are many other considerations including security, scalability, reliability, labor costs, add on licensing fees, availability of add ons, and much more.

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  • How do we create a professional design?
    There’s no underestimating the power of a strong design. Design is one of the very strong indicators of trust and credibility in most users minds. It’s true that ugly sells – but sexy sells better. Don’t move backwards – create a CSS driven site that can be redesigned easily in a year, and separate the site form and function.

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  • How do we prove high credibility?
    You need to maintain your credibility. With ANY business or organization you are only as good as your word. Prove your credibility and make it apparent – don’t make your users wonder about it.

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  • What ideas can we use for linkbait?
    Why beg for links when you can convince people to give them to you naturally? Learn how to attract people’s attention and their link love.

    Search Rankings = Content * Links * Time

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    Shameless plug: My new Linkbaiting service

    11. If we can’t create great bait, how do we buy, barter, and beg for links?

    Sometimes you just have to know the value of a link and how to ask for it. Even if you’re the best in your business, you should still spend SOME time asking for links. Only arrogant wankers think they are are too good to ask for links. Be prepared to offer something of value in return. As Mike Grehan has said, "asking for a link is like asking to do business".

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  • Where else can we advertise?
    Pay-per-click, banner ads, print, radio, flyers, direct mail, television, billboards and even bathroom stalls are all options. I like stuff I can track for improving later. Okay, I’ll admit I suck at traditional media – but when I need help in the area, I can certainly find the right places to look. I am certainly biased to online media because of the ROI I know it can demonstrate. There is still a multitude of opportunity with other traditional advertising – just be SURE to leverage your online presence (include and plug your url as well as special tracking urls like redirected domains) when doing your more traditional advertising.

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    13.What will we use for tracking and analysis?
    Which stats package is right for you? The one that tracks the needs of you and your customers and most cheaply and easily integrates to the rest of the web systems you’ve put in place. If you’re not doing tracking and analysis of your users with something more than free software – your company deserves to go out of business because of your hungry new upstart competitor.

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  • What will help increase conversions and/or actions and how can we provide users incentives to stay or return?
    The beauty of online marketing is that you can track – and when you’re tracking, it’s all about the actions. You should strive to reduce your CPA (cost per action) through thorough testing and tracking to better understand your user’s behavior. Do you really think Google bought Urchin because of their intense desire to help webmasters by giving it away free?? It’s all about conversion.

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  • How will we keep administration simple for the entire staff to use? Your web presence will be much more powerful if you allow everyone in the company to share their expertise. Don’t force everyone to learn HTML – make it easy for them to contribute to the site without burdening others. You could create an overpriced custom CMS that will become nightmare legacy code when the programmer storms out in a fit of rage due to upper management’s ignorance – or you could find something friendly and open source that’s been around a while, and lots of people know about.

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  • How can we manage our reputation?
    Do a search for your company name. Do a search for your key employee names. Do you really want someone else ranking there? If no, it’s time to start getting
    proactive.

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  • How do we make the site “cluetrain friendly” and build a strong community environment?
    In case you haven’t realized, “content is king” is cliche for a reason. Are YOU really gonna create ALL the content it takes? Is you’re company so full of itself that you only participate in monologues instead of dialogues?

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  • How do we scale and specialize for effective use of time?
    The CEO should not be answering customer service e-mails. The strategist should not be doing link requests. The CTO should not be writing copy. It’s good to have cross discipline experience, but there is something to be said for sticking with specialized expertise. There are a lot of considerations that go into a website as you can see – If you specialize and organize your team you will get much better results. As the saying goes, "a cup of prevention is worth a pound of cure". Plan for your growth, and how time and resources will be allocated to scale properly.

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    Summary – (Ask yourself, your CEO, or your SEO and get back to work)

    1. Do we have a brandable domain?
    2. Who should we host with that will be reliable?
    3. Do we need pretty urls and will you use subdomains?
    4. What is our website’s business model and how are we unique?
    5. Who is our target demographic and what will they search for?
    6. What will the information architecture be like? What are the important top level keywords?
    7. Which platform should we use?
    8. How do we create a professional design?
    9. How do we prove high credibility?
    10. What ideas can we use for linkbait?
    11. If we can’t create great bait, how do we buy, barter, and beg for links?
    12. Where else can we advertise?
    13. What will we use for tracking and analysis?
    14. What will help increase conversions and/or actions and how can we provide users incentives to stay or return?
    15. How will we keep administration simple for the entire staff to use?
    16. How can we manage our reputation?
    17. Is our model sustainable? (if you have a lead gen model like Quinstreet
    18. How do we make the site “cluetrain friendly” and build a strong community environment?
    19. How do we scale and specialize for effective use of time?

    I got through the whole list with nearly no specific mention of SEO – that’s because SEO IS all these things – sure we could nitpick titles and internal anchor text, and there is certainly some value in that. There’s even more value in balancing the things mentioned above that impact search, and leaving the nitpicking to those who spend all their time in forums, and doing no actual work. I don’t care about the diminishing effectiveness of reciprocal links and h1’s – I care if our product is selling.

    SEO is understanding the fundamentals of strong web presence principles, and being able to implement them within the constraints of a given project. SEO is not meta tags and keyword stuffing. You won’t get the right answers and results until you ask the right questions.

    This is my list – What’s Yours?

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  • More information about Todd Malicoat aka stuntdubl.

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