Website Design, Strategy, Social Networking, SEO, Susan Pomeroy, Ph.D.

How Is a Website Like a House?

by Susan Pomeroy

how is a website like a house?

The Heart of Business blog had a great post by Judy Murdoch recently called “How Is a Mailing List Like a Pizza Delivery Truck?”

Judy said that a list is like a pizza truck because they’re both marketing assets. This made me think about web sites. And I realized that for me, a web site is like a house. A web site and a house are both highly integrated systems for making your life easier and more comfortable.

We don’t usually think of homes as systems, until we have to fix, renovate, or build one. Then suddenly the “systems” aspect is clear. Not just in what needs to be done first—electrical, then drywall, then floors—but in how it all works together once it’s finished.

A house has systems: water coming in, waste going out, fresh air and light coming in, heat pumping in, a mailbox. Pretty basic? Yes, but let’s say you don’t have all these things, or don’t have some of them.

For example. No plumbing, just an outhouse. I’ve lived in pretty primitive conditions and an outhouse can work just fine. In fact you can be darned happy to have one. But would it be an inconvenience to have to dig and use an outhouse in my little urban backyard? Absolutely.

Running water. When I lived in a small village in Mexico, most people didn’t have running water inside, just outside. And it wasn’t hot, it was only cold. This was a warm climate, and taking everything—dishes, clothes, babies, selves—outside to wash didn’t seem like a big deal to anyone. But if I had to do it here? I’d freeze. And in between hauling, heating, and fussing with water, when would I be working on my business?

Or a washing machine. For many years I took my clothes to the laundromat. And compared to having to wash by hand on an outdoor washboard, a laundromat is pretty efficient. But going to the laundromat was an imposition, an interruption, and a hassle which, between packing, loading, driving, washing, drying, folding, and schlepping back home, took several hours every couple of weeks. I am SO glad not to have to do that anymore.

So. In order to live reasonably well and work at maximum efficiency, I need certain things. Indoor plumbing, hot water, heating, ventilation, a washer-dryer, waste pickup.

A house is a system of integrated components that makes life easier. Our web-based businesses are the same. Judy uses the example of a mailing list, and how, when she started, she sent out all her emails by hand. So did I. And I know people who are still doing it that way, even though their list numbers in the hundreds.

It’s like having to take all the dishes outside to wash. Very time-consuming, and unnecessary. Whereas with list management software, sending a mass email is the work of ten minutes, not several hours.

Your web site supports your business. For many of us, the web site is about as “physical” as our business gets. It’s where our business “lives.” And it needs systems too. It has an outside, that people strolling by can see, and an inside, where you do your living and working.

From the “outside,” or visitor’s point of view, your site needs to

  • be findable
  • respond to a need or problem
  • be cohesive, coherent, make sense
  • communicate clearly
  • offer actions visitors can take to engage with you & your business (and increasingly, to interact with each other via sharing on other social networks)
  • everything has to work smoothly and transparently

From the “inside,” from your vantage point as the business owner and manager, your site needs to:

  • attract traffic
  • have a way of creating a pool of people with whom you can connect at will via email or other means
  • give you a means of sending out email or some other kind of periodic update and announcement to them
  • have a stats package that you can use to test and monitor changes to your site, as well as number of visitors and their search habits
  • often, it needs to enable you to collect money—better yet, in a way that links with your bookkeeping systems
  • often, to deliver digital goods
  • be quickly updatable
  • be able to grow with you and your business, not lock you into a technological box
  • be cost-effective to maintain

As with a house, you can do without certain things, if you’re willing to live with the inconvenience. No mailing list manager? OK, so you spend several hours entering email addresses into your list, then sending your emails out by hand. Is that an efficient choice for you now?

No stats package? Or one that just shows number of visitors? Fine. But that means you don’t know how people are searching for your site, where they’re finding you, where they enter, where they leave, how long they stay, which pages they spend most time on, how many buy or sign up versus how many visit. Any alterations you make to your site will be based on guesswork, and you’ll have no way to test their effectiveness. Does that make sense for you now?

And just like building a house, when you’re building a site it’s far less expensive to put things in at the right time. Are you going to sell merchandise? Then great, let’s set up for that now instead of having to spend more money to rebuild the site to accommodate a shopping cart down the road. Write a blog? Great, let’s build that into the site design, rather than tack it on later.

The point: to live and work at the level modern life requires, you need a house with all its systems working. Same with a web site. All the site’s systems—email gathering, social networking, selling, download-handling, order processing, bookkeeping, traffic monitoring—need to work together as efficiently as possible, or it will be very difficult to work at the level you need to to make a living from your business.

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