Black pot and kettle over open fire When the Internet was young — you know, back when dinosaurs moved in herds — it was all blinking lights, garish web-safe colors, Comic Sans, and embedded WAV files.

It morphed into “Design is king!” and foisted off on us multiple-column layouts and color-theory smart palettes, birthing a whole new language (CSS) just to make the point.

Next, it evolved into “Content is king!” and we were extolled to “write epic shit” and create “pillar content” and publish every single day. (Yes, including Sundays.)

Now it seems to have transitioned into “Content is king and design is queen!”

I posit to you this tantalizing thought:

What if this is just wrong, wrong, wrong?

In my view, the problem with these various formulations on “what’s most important” is that they fail right out of the gate. Wait, no — before that, even. These suckers drop dead of an undiagnosed heart condition before the gate even flies open.

The fault lies, not in our stars, but in the unspoken question itself. It assumes, and not just for argument’s sake, that:

  • There is a one-size-fits-all “rule” somewhere, which – once decoded and properly applied – ensures success, however a site owner or entrepreneur may define that word; in other words, a good idea for Jack is also a good idea for Jill, never mind that Jill has a completely different business model, targeted market, and brand; and
  • The mythic Great Website (and its even more elusive sibling, the Perfect Website) exists and can be reduced to a formula.

Not one of these assumptions is accurate.

Not. One.

(There’s also a third problem with these various formulations of the age-old debate, but let’s leave that one for a few minutes.)

Your website is a barrier to entry into the marketplace these days. You have to have one. Pretty much everyone in business for themselves needs one, or at a minimum some web-based presence that serves the same function.

But there, the similarities end.

Give me two people in the same business — two lawyers, let’s say — and let’s also make them involved in the same specialty or practice area, both women, and both in small towns in North Carolina (just ’cause that’s where I live) with populations of less than 30,000.

Despite all these similarities, I’m almost certainly not going to advise these two hypothetical almost-identical attorneys identically. What works for one may not be the best choice for the other. That much should be clear.

So there is no one-size-fits-all prescription here.

Not for marketing in general, not for business websites specifically.

What makes a website good, or even great (no such thing as Perfect), will also vary from site to site, and business to business. There’s so much that’s contingent on highly individualized factors, such as goals, business model, targeted market, current market position, USP, future plans … I could go on and on. But the point is simply stated: There is no “one” “formula” to get to “there” wherever there happens to be for you – no matter what the latest A-lister selling a blueprint system may say to the contrary.

Sure good design matters. So does good content. So do a truckload of other things, potentially. But a well-coded, functional, aesthetically pleasing website isn’t a really a goal – it’s just the (very low) barrier to entry.

And that leads me to the third thing that riles me up about this false debate: Such quippy maxims are pretty much so meaningless as to be useless in any practical sense.

What makes a website design “good” to you? Is it the same thing or things that make it good to me? Or any random ten people on the street?

What makes content great? Or even valuable? Here, too, there’s no one answer.

So by focusing on these “which came first” kinds of questions, we’re just completely missing the boat altogether. And I blame myself, as well as my colleagues in the web dev and digital marketing space. We’ve directed this conversation for the last few years, and we have only ourselves to blame.

My advice to any current or future biz owner out there, trying to make sense of this digital marketing space and wondering what it all means and how in the name of Ada Lovelace they’re gonna get this site DONE:

Forget about which is more important.

Get clear on your goals, your business structure, your business model, your business marketing story.

Get your website up. Use WordPress (unless you’re planning an e-commerce site with more than a few hundred items of inventory in which case WordPress may not be the best solution for you). Pick a clean theme (there are literally thousands out there, hundreds of which could work quite well for you and dozens of which are also well-coded and responsive). Write the best content you can. (Or hire someone like me to write it for you.) Write it for your audience, and answer the questions that matter to them.

Then watch what happens carefully. Analyze your results. Make the changes necessary for better results. The great thing about WordPress is that it’s relatively simple to make changes of all kinds to your site – whether you’re changing the design, the content, or both.

This post is part of the monthly Word Carnival – a collection of cool biz bloggers from various fields, all writing about a common theme of interest to small business owners and freelancers. This month, we’re talking about some issue in our respective industries that has two extremes. Or two different schools of thought that are in diametric opposition, answering the question: Where do you fall on the spectrum, and why? Catch up with all the Carnie magic on the fairway here!

 

Photo Credit: marktcorbin via photopin cc

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shipping containers stacked on dockIt’s time we had a little … talk.

About that “s”-word.

No, not that one.

Ship. THAT one.

Now, don’t get me wrong. “Ship” is a perfectly acceptable word.

IF YOU ARE ACTUALLY SHIPPING THINGS.

See these big containers up above? The ones that look like railroad cars without the wheels? Yeah, those are what we call shipping containers.

And unless the thing you’re ostensibly “shipping” could, conceivably, at some point between you/your place of business and the home/office/yurt/whatever of your end purchaser, travel INSIDE ONE OF THESE, you are NOT shipping.

You are finishing something. Something even maybe huge for you, in which case – yay! Congrats! I am SUPER proud of you!

(But you’re still not shipping.)

You are getting ready to launch a new service, maybe. Or maybe you’ve completed your awesome writing project and are about to upload it to Amazon for sale as a Kindle ebook.

(You, too, are still not shipping.)

“OK, OK,” you may be saying right about now, “but ANNIE, language evolves, and words come to mean new things!”

Yes, pumpkin. You are absolutely 100% correct on that point. You’re still not shipping.

“But, but ANNIE,” you may sputter, “I kinda AM shipping ’cause it’s similar!”

Touché, my lamb. Totally solid point. And yet, similar isn’t shipping, either.

ANNIE!” you fairly roar. “It’s just a … a … METAPHOR! Or something!”

“Something” is thoroughly correct, my poppet. But what it ain’t? Is an accurate use of the word “shipping.”

“Well so what?” you mumble. “Who’s it hurting?”

You mean besides me?

Excellent question, you rock star, you. (Still not shipping.)

OK, all joking aside, here’s where I’m coming from:

  1. Words are important. They mean stuff. They mean specific stuff. When we use them to mean other stuff, we weaken their impact, both individually and as a whole. (Do I need to remind you here that literally literally doesn’t mean literally anymore?!)
  2. You don’t want to sound like That Guy. You know what I mean. You know WHO I mean. That. Guy. The one (because That Guy can be either male or female) who sounds like a reject extra from an early ’90’s movie about day traders.

Ditch the ship. Unless you’re talking about ‘shipping. In which case, I TOTALLY ‘ship Caskett.

Which is a completely different thing than shipping caskets.

P.T. Barnum was a man of many words, which he used to promote hoaxes and circus acts. These days, a whole cadre of words belong to a genre known as jargon. These jibber-jabber nonsense words have come to be a nuisance for legitimate businesspeople and the elixir of life for the more unscrupulous snake oil salesmen in our midst. This month’s Word Carnival explores jargon in depth across a variety of industries, but one thing’s for certain: there’s no double-speak here, just on-the-money advice for anyone tired of flim-flam. Find all the awesome posts from our Word Carnies here!

Photo credit: Tristan Taussac via photopin cc

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