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The Five Stages Of Web Maturity

In this article, we discuss the five stages of web maturity in the business context.  Some businesses may reside somewhere between two levels. It should be noted that some very successful businesses never proceed past the first or second stages. However it’s rare to find a business that won’t benefit from achieving the 5th level. What level is your business at?

Awareness

Many customers come to us at this level. Clearly they’re aware of the internet, but recently they’ve become aware that e-commerce is accessible to them, and that their customers have failed to find them online. They’re wondering if Facebook would be a help or a hindrance to them, and they’re looking at their competitor driving a new car and wondering what his secret is. Franchise owners may be stuck at this level, as the franchise will provide a website and social media presence to represent the entire chain of stores. Individual owners may be expressly forbidden from having an online presence as it risks diluting or damaging the brand if done incorrectly.

Embarkation

This represents the first steps into the online world. Many may take these steps alone, and often find it daunting and frustrating – some decide at this point that an online presence is not for them, and leave it at that. A good way to dip your toes in the water is to create a social media presence – a Facebook business page can work well for business-to-consumer applications, whereas Twitter and LinkedIn can be solid bets for a business-to-business context. Some may create a free website on WordPress.com or Wix.com or one of the other sitebuilders out there. These services make it simple to choose a template and add pictures and images. However these services tend to be very much “on rails” – most people will find that they want to change how something looks or add a piece of functionality, and these choices are simply not available to them. This level of maturity is appropriate for businesses with low turnover that may be selling a generic product with very little in the way of a USP. The odds are stacked against such a business generating significant conversions from a web presence. Any other business stuck at this level is missing out on sales prospects.

Professional

The business owner decides that they need a professional web presence to lend credibility to their business, and support their sales function either directly, through e-commerce sales or indirectly by prompting the visitor to make contact. Some with the time, inclination, technical and design ability will take the job on themselves. It can be very rewarding, but also very frustrating. The answers tend to be out there on Google, but sometimes it’s difficult to frame the question correctly. We often meet clients who are incredibly protective of their first website, even though they know it’s a little hard on the eyes! Others will contract a web developer. Some will contract the cheapest, and get what they pay for. Some will over-specify and overspend. Most business owners are savvy when it comes to spending their children’s inheritance, and will do their research, seeking out an agency they gel with, that can provide the design they need at a price they can afford.

There are so many sites out there at this level of maturity. They are launched with fanfare and then slowly forgotten with the day to day banality of running a business. A well designed, well specified website will do a reasonable job of driving prospects to a business, but over time, the neglect shows. We’ve all visited the website with the solitary news item from three years ago, celebrating the launch of the site and promising regular news and updates. It leads some to wonder if the business shows similar signs of neglect, and may actually hurt conversions.

Mature

This is the level that most businesses aim for. It is analogous to the waterfall model of software development, running sequentially through distinct stages:

conception, initiation, analysis, design, construction, testing, production/implementation and maintenance

They will be updating the site frequently, adding content on one or more social media platforms, running the odd digital ad campaign to drive business,  and monitoring their SEO performance and Google Analytics performance. By being proactive, they’re keeping their customers aware of the brand. By not resting on their laurels, they stand a good chance of a high page one search engine result placement for a couple of realistic target key phrases. They have invested time and money in their web presence, and are protecting that investment by further small investments that drive traffic to their web presence, and converting that traffic into business.

Excellence

It’s rare to find a web presence that has achieved this final and difficult stage of maturity. Excellence comes only with a large investment of time and money, but the good news is that if you’ve got a product or service that people want to buy, achieving excellence is an investment that pays handsome dividends. At this level, the business is actively engaging with customers. Their social media presence will inform, entertain, advertise, and act as a customer service portal. It will be actively monitored by trained staff, during regular business hours, and more sporadically at other times. Their web page will be a well oiled marketing machine. SEO tactics will be used to optimise each page for a given search term. Data gained from Google Analytics, digital advertising and A/B testing will feed back into the process of tweaking content, building links, seeking out profitable keywords and boosting conversion rates. It’s likely that to do this work successfully, a business will need the resources of a full-time employee, although unfortunately that employee would need to master many skillsets – design, development, project management, social media, digital marketing, customer service, etc. More often, savvy businesses will handle what they can in-house and outsource more specialised tasks to one or more agencies.