Sometimes digital agencies get compared to software-as-a-service (SaaS) website builder companies. To the uninitiated, it appears to be a fair comparison. After all, the most glaring difference between the two types of services is the cost. Custom developers seemingly charge a lot, but their online counterparts can somehow just charge a small amount—albeit indefinitely. If the comparison ended there, discerning business managers would just sign up for the latest and coolest website online, pay a monthly fee, and call it good. But as you will see, as with most things in business, you actually get what you pay for.
If you are a modestly funded new business startup or a smaller business with not much marketing experience in-house, you are most vulnerable to falling into the trap of thinking that a shiny new website will get your business branded, noticed, and buzzing. It’s tempting to believe that you can just sit back and let the website do its magic, and then presto, the phone rings! But then it doesn’t.
Consider this: A shiny new website with no other marketing efforts is not much different than a shiny new business card that you never give to anyone. That’s right…you keep that box of 500 cards on the shelf just in case you need them. And when you do need one—you cannot find them! This is where most businesses fail to achieve a successful website or e-commerce strategy. They fail to grasp that a shiny new website is only the first step of many that lead to online success.
Let’s dive below the surface and look at the differences that are not so obvious but most likely will have a significant impact on the success of your website, and yes, your businesses go-to-market strategy.
First of all, I totally get the lure of “free” and the appeal of paying “only” $$/mo for a website that gets your business up and running online. These kinds of SaaS website companies have their place in the world. Yes, there are times when I recommend these services to clients.
I noticed recently that a typical marketing message of most SaaS website builders focus around the entrepreneur, characterized as the “get ‘r done” types that pull up their sleeves and chart the waters of website design with a pure passion for their business. Apparently, all these determined entrepreneurs need are some useful online tools that are seemingly smarter than they are, and the Internet is theirs for the taking. No doubt, it’s an appealing message to all those Type-A’s, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple or easy to be successful online for most businesses—small or large.
As a marketing director for 16 years in the high-tech industry, where I helped develop new B2B services designed and implemented as software-as-a-service, I have experience on both sides of the fence. That said, this article is not a rant but an explanation of what separates a reputable digital agency from an online service provider. It’s these differences that can make a difference for your business, and once you know what they are, it will give your fledgling business website a fighting chance for success.
Here’s my message-in-the-bottle to those that have been marooned on a deserted website island, unable to make their SaaS (or template) website successful by any measure, much less turn it into a thriving place to generate sales leads as most business owners want.
The first lesson business owners need to learn about the Internet is that just having a “cool” website design (however you want to define that) is not really going to get you where you want to go. Fortunately, a fumbled website strategy will cost you a lot less than this colossal mistake: Imagine building a beautiful store where no one goes because there are not any roads.
“Preposterous!” you say? Yes indeed, and this is the essence of what is going wrong when you only have a cool website and nothing else to support its purpose.
Of course, good website design is a skill that is an important part of your website strategy, but it’s just one part of a skill matrix that makes for an astounding website strategy. Here’s a sample of just some of the competencies a competent digital agency applies around a typical website project:
- Graphic Design
- Logo Design
- Custom Programming
- Video Integration & Promotion
- Social Media Integration & Promotion
- Hosting, Testing & Troubleshooting
As you can see, when you hire a reputable website design company, you are in reality getting seasoned marketers, programmers, and creatives who partner with you to not just get you online—that’s the easy part—but to work with you to help build your website into a lead-generating machine, or whatever your purpose may be.
I think we all know the marketing hype around SaaS website services. Some of it is justified—much of it is not. Let’s flip the hype over on its backside and read the small print to learn what a business is not getting from an online website service:
- You are not getting a custom website that looks UNIQUE.
- You are not getting a custom website that DOES exactly what you want it to do.
- You are not getting any unique functions that may be CRITICAL to the success of your online business.
- You are not getting a website development team who has your best interest in mind by working with you as a PARTNER.
- You are not getting a uniquely branded and positioned website developed by MARKETING specialists.
- You are not getting top organic GOOGLE rankings because SaaS-based websites have less than average SEO capability.
On the other hand, with an online SaaS provider, here’s what you are getting:
- An amateurish, template-based website that you will pay on monthly FOREVER!
- A DO-IT-YOURSELF service that requires you to be the expert on everything. How much time do you have to devote to this endeavor?
- OK, since you are going to be the MARKETING EXPERT, who’s going to actually run the company?
- A SaaS website is a proprietary website (typically) STUCK on another host with no easy way to transfer. Professional websites use WordPress or other open-source platforms that give you unlimited hosting options.
- Unless you are paying BIG SaaS BUCKS for digital talent (real people not just algorithms), you will only get a slight amount of technical support and little marketing insight.
So by cutting through the marketing hype, some important questions any business owner needs to ask can be boiled down to…How much is my time worth? And…How much expertise do I have in the major website competencies that will be enough to set my business apart to reach brand objectives?
OK, maybe you are a jack-of-all-trades entrepreneur often portrayed in the SaaS website promotions, and you really do have multiple skills that will create new leads or sales for your business. We wish you only the best. However, before you journey to deeper waters and make hard-to-break commitments of a SaaS/template service, you might consider some additional facts of custom websites vs SaaS that you may not have thought of yet.
A digital agency that develops websites offers a lot more than a faceless DIY website builder service, which is the essence of what SaaS online builders are selling. For example, a digital agency provides expert branding, marketing, SEO, and programming expertise with on-going consulting that will craft the central message of your website into a unique, differentiated customer experience. Digital agencies are commonly found in your region, they understand your local culture, and they have an intrinsic interest in your community because it’s where they live and work, too. Bottom line: Your success is their success.
Do you really think the faceless SaaS giants give a flip about your business? Control your destiny. Don’t be fooled. You get what you pay for.