No, You Can’t Evaluate My Website.

Every now and then, I get one of these offers by a web development company to evaluate my website to see what I’m doing well and what I’m not.

You probably have too.

It goes something like this:

“We would like to provide you with a complimentary site evaluation. We will pinpoint any issues we see within your company’s website. Then we will provide recommendations on how to increase web traffic…”

Sounds like a reasonable enough thing, right? You’re not paying anything and they’re offering to help. Except for one thing – getting this kind of evaluation often confuses the heck out of the company that’s receiving it and raises more questions than answers.

Why? Because there are some firms – website and otherwise – that are really great at compiling data but have no idea what to do with it. They provide more numbers to people who already may have had a set of numbers, which in turn makes the marketer say, “So, um, which numbers are the most important here and what does all this really mean?”

Ah. Meaning. Insight. Direction. Now there are some important things. You can’t just spit back a bunch of stats at someone and expect them to magically interpret it in terms of next steps. And if the next steps are, “You need to hire us to help you,” that’s lame.

It’s not to say they’re necessarily off in those statistics. It’s to say that they don’t go nearly far enough to clarify.

Like they’re going to say anything the incumbent agency is doing is going to be great. “Hey, Agency ABC is doing a bang-up job so you don’t need our services…”

Riiiiight.

Show me someone who does this honestly and isn’t trying to poach business. Show me someone who can walk away when the work already done by the existing agency is largely great in their view. I don’t doubt they’re out there, but I don’t think they’re plentiful.

If you’re an agency and your client wants to hear this pitch at all, that should be a red flag. Hopefully not that the client wants to work with someone else but that they are open to hearing other voices in the room on the brand that don’t belong to you. The deeper issue there is that there’s a reason why they have this openness to alternatives. Perhaps you aren’t communicating as clearly what it is you’re doing well or where there can be improvement (come on, you don’t communicate just sunshine and rainbows, do you?)

Back to the web evaluators.

Another problem with their free evaluation pitch is that they assume web traffic is your main focus – but is it? Maybe you’re good on traffic but you’re not hitting well on conversions. Or you’re not able to get enough repeat purchases. You know this but they come in with assumptions that may not match your main priority.

Another problem with their evaluation pitch is that the pitch itself is confined to their expertise but doesn’t speak to all the brand components that you’re dealing with. Is the website the only component of your brand? Hope not and I’ll bet it sure isn’t. So they can’t just drive up to your window and say, “Here’s all the things we think you should do.” Because it’s not just about websites or social media or ads or direct mail. It’s about the brand strategy that drives that stuff beforehand. So while Johnny Web Designer can roll up with his worksheet ready to check off all the areas that need improvement in his view, he’s coming into it with little to no perspective on the overall brand. I’m not talking about hits, impressions or Google Analytics. I’m talking about the goals of your company, how your audience behaves, what the voice of your brand should sound like – the deep stuff that has to be sorted out long before a website goes live. Will he take that into consideration? Probably not.

So what’s a web firm to do if they can’t pitch business in this freebie evaluation way? Work harder and smarter. As in there are tools out there for intelligently getting to know the challenges your prospect is encountering. Yes, that means you have to actually study the prospect before barging in the front door shouting, “We can evaluate your website!” Connect the person’s current challenges to what you believe the website may be neglecting. It shows you actually gave a damn.

If it sounds like you have no choice as a result of this but to be more choosy about who you target, you’re absolutely right. Whether it’s a top 10, 50 or 100, it’s smarter to narrow your focus and study deeper than to do the blanket approach and form letter. It’s true for job hunters and when other types of agencies are targeting accounts – and it’s no different here.

If you want to have a sign-up sheet on your own website to capture evaluations, that’s fine. But utilizing it as your prospecting tool is the wrong way to go.  There’s a million web development firms with that approach. If you want to stand out, get to know your prospect better so that when they hopefully do reach out to you, you know plenty about them going in.

You’ve got to work hard to earn the invitation.

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