With all the excellent open-source website design platforms out there now such as WordPress, Ruby on Rails, Drupal etc. the shelf life for website designs has dropped dramatically. Most sustainable websites, by that I mean those that actually make a profit, are redesigned every 12-18 months. It’s the way it is now. Innovate or die.
When I started as an online marketer roughly a decade ago, it certainly wasn’t as saturated as it is today. And lead generation was cheap, cheap, cheap – big fish small pond benefit. The flip side, however, is that a good website back when I started as an entrepreneur cost about $25,000 or more. Today, you can build a phenomenal looking editorial-focused website for $1,500.
Over my career I’ve had about 12-15 different websites built for my companies, spending probably close to half a million dollars on these sites. And if there is one thing I can share with entrepreneurs about building a website for their business it is to take the Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) approach – the exact opposite of what I did early on…
Up until 2014, virtually every website I created for my companies had several custom features. These were features which I thought would be game-changing and propel my company above the competition. The reality, however, was that the custom features were only utilized by a few thousand users on my sites, a fraction of the overall traffic. And not only were they expensive to build (they required custom coding which doesn’t come cheap), they were ridiculously expensive to upkeep. Like an aging supercar, making sure the custom website features operated properly after web browser updates, mobile adoption and platform upgrades cost me an arm and a leg. Frankly, the ROI was terrible… most likely negative.
It took me nearly a decade to realize, and several hundred thousand dollars spent, that new, big and shiny doesn’t stay that way for long, especially online. And with all the great open-source platforms utilizing a plethora of innovative plugins, entrepreneurs need to take the COTS approach when building websites. Not only will it look amazing and unique if done correctly, when you have to stay current and give your COTS website a facelift it’ll be seamless and inexpensive. Furthermore, if you have custom coding done on your site, you can be tied at the hip to that programmer, depending on how he codes. When you use the COTS approach with an open-source platform, if you need to change programmers down the road (which happened to me several times) it’s easy to do as your site back-end will contain a universal language.
I understand the urge to make your company’s site unique. I understand the natural desire we entrepreneurs have to blow our competition’s offering out of the water. But given how mature the internet, and more specifically website platforms, have become, you needn’t look beyond what’s provided via open-source. At the end of the day, internet users, which is basically the entire global population, have seen it all as far as special features are concerned. There is now only one way to differentiate your company online: by creating exceptionally novel content that the masses love to consume.
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