From the Digital Marketing Experts:
How Your Website Can Hurt Your Project

BY: AUTHENTIC FORM & FUNCTION NOVEMBER 21ST, 2018

In this digital age, it is now likely that the first touchpoint someone has with your project is going to be online. It should come as no surprise that when we create a project's marketing plan, a website is almost always included as keystone deliverable.

Unfortunately though, time and time again we come across project websites that seem to be doing more harm than good. The intention comes from the right place, but misguided assumptions on the role of a website can prop up an asset that creates little value, even negative ROI.

I want to highlight common problems we see when a project website falls flat, and provide suggestions for rethinking many of the assumptions you might have to help avoid these issues.

Issue 1: You're paying too much for your site


Let's get right into it: websites can be expensive. As someone who's been building them for over a decade, I'm confident in saying that if you're considering building a custom designed agency-built website, you're starting in the $25K ballpark. Custom websites with unique functionality or e-commerce can easily go beyond this number.

While we're the first ones to advocate for incorporating a website into your project's marketing plan, we're also the first to empathize with those hesitant to invest a majority of their marketing budget on a site.

One real estate developer we now work with had previously over-invested in the website, adding all the superfluous bells and whistles that made it feel slick and polished. The problem was that this left no room for investing in PR or social media, the important pieces that bring people to that site. They were left with a fancy website that few people ever saw.

The truth is, ROI on digital projects can be tricky to determine. When done correctly a new website can add ample value to your project by establishing your brand and building useful relationships. When done wrong, however, it's hard to justify spending excessive amounts of money on what amounts to a fancy digital brochure.

We often see the same teams that over-invest in digital under-invest in important aesthetic assets like branding, photography, or even drone footage.

Issue 2: You're not prioritizing branding and photography


We often see the same teams that over-invest in digital under-invest in important aesthetic assets like branding, photography, or even drone footage.

The reality is, web design is in many respects more a product of curation than it is a standalone creative deliverable. It's the glue that brings together branding, photography, videos, and more to create a captivating experience for visitors. Without those foundational branded elements, your site's design can't tell a powerful story.

When you invest in professional branding and creative assets, building a sleek and simple website that highlights these assets and communicates the vision of your project is the "simple” task at hand.

On the flip side, when you try to build a website without supporting materials, it turns into an unexciting experience for visitors, misrepresenting your project and leaving people unsatisfied.

We worked with small architecture studio who wanted to launch a site but only had a handful of renderings for their project. Rather than build a multi-page complex website, we advocated for using the majority of web budget for hiring someone to develop nice brand collateral and to hire a visual effects editor to turn their renderings into a short video fly-by. The result was a single-page website with fantastic visuals that told a much more compelling story than a multi-page poorly branded site.

Issue 3: You're forgetting about content


If you ask someone at an agency or design studio what the most challenging part of a web project, you may be surprised at the answer. It's not the technical process of writing code or the creativity needed to design the site, but the prosaic process of gathering content.

While seemingly easy (it’s just writing, right?) the process forces you to articulate the ethereal qualities of your project and make sure the right message connects with the right audience. It’s a process many people have a hard time justifying budgets for, but often it adds a massive bottleneck to the project. We often see projects scraping entire pages or important pieces of content because it simply wasn't written.

In these cases, projects are launched before they’re ready and those sacrifices hinder the site’s impact.

Issue 4: You haven't done due diligence


This issue is so common it almost feels cliche to write about. In short, it happens when teams jump right into a building a site without having a solid understanding of why they’re building one to begin with.

With a website now being such a common piece of a project's marketing stack, teams forget to think about the necessary "who, what, and why" questions that help frame the intent behind the website.

Is the site intended to resonate with capital investors, potential commercial tenants, renters, or members of the community? Once one of these groups land on the page, what's your goal for their visit? Is it simply to have them read and absorb content, or do you want them to submit information, get in touch, or encourage another type of action?

Having answers to these preliminary questions gives you a better understanding of why you're creating a site to begin with. It makes sure that you're thinking about the value a website will bring to your project and not just focusing on the task of launching a site itself.

How to Ensure Your Website Helps Your Project


1. Define your audience and marketing goals


First, answer basic questions about your project’s audience and broader marketing goals: Who do you want the website to resonate with? What problems are these audiences experiencing in their work and daily lives? How can the project help them with those problems?

Think about your broader marketing and outreach goals for the project and map those to outcomes of the website. Do you want to increase leasing speed? Capture email addresses for future marketing campaigns? Build relationships within your community? Remember that websites are more than just digital brochures. They're tools that collect information and automate slow and tedious tasks.

Having answers to these basic questions helps establish the intent behind your project and make sure you're not creating a site that attempts to do everything for everyone, but ultimately resonates with no one.

2. Start with brand and assets


Quality branding, photography, renderings, and video make or break the design of a website. Before you jump into building a site, don't make the mistake of over-investing in your website only to under-invest and under-deliver in the assets.

3. Rethink the agency approach


Agencies are nice because they provide many different services all under one roof. Unfortunately, they're usually not specialists in all of those services and can be very expensive.

In recent years we’ve found success when taking more of a micro-services approach, teaming up with smaller specialists who, all together, can replace the full-service work done by large agencies. For example, we’ll often team up with photographers, copywriters, and videographers who together bring a much more robust and specialized skill set, as opposed to a single agency who does all of those services, at average quality. There might be a little more hand-holding necessary, but the work can be much better and the costs substantially lower.

4. Consider a platform


When budgets are below $10K, we'll often recommend teams use platforms like Squarespace or Wix to build their site. They allow you to create beautiful websites for a fraction of the cost of an agency-built site. If you've already invested in solid branding and photography (which you should), you can load these assets into their pre-built templates to create a nice looking site.

At Authentic F&F many of our clients are on Amplify, our website platform that serves as a middle ground between heavily-invested agency-built sites and small-scale SquareSpace projects.

We decided to build Amplify after we saw the poor options available to developers and architects when thinking about building a site. Typically you needed to either overextend budgets and spend $40-$50K on an agency built site, or make big sacrifices on quality by going the $25 per month Squarespace route.

Amplify is a lean but robust website platform built specifically for urban projects. It blends studio-quality design process with out-of-the-box technology, giving your project the finesse and power of a custom-built digital marketing platform at a fraction of the cost.

Wrapping up


While digital branding can be a tricky and confusing part of your marketing process, fraught with these pitfalls, avoiding the above can ultimately provide unlimited opportunity to bring new value to an urban project.

My first conversation with a potential client is always about the goals of their project and finding out what makes their project unique. From there, we learn about their industry and market, the audiences of their project, and finally arrive on the tactics they should use for reaching those goals. We’ve wrapped all this strategy work into a Zero to Launch workshop, which you can read more about here.


This article was written by Brick & Wonder members Authentic Form & Function.