Why Brochure Websites don’t work for 98% of Businesses

You know that moment when you are a bit down the road in the quoting process, you send your proposal and the client is taken aback? They email you in shock.

Acme Corp: “We weren’t expecting it to be at this price point.”

2C: “Okay, let’s go back over your goals.”

Acme Corp: “We were just interested in a “brochure website, not a full-blown site.”

2C: “I am not sure what a “not full-blown site” means. As I understand it, your goals are to have a new website that is super usable, will help you gain leads in the residential market, since you are stuck in a lull in the commercial sector. A site that includes good site architecture, and is completely SEO friendly.”

Acme Corp: “We just wanted a web presence, not something that would be interactive or require updating. Just something really visual, but not too expensive.”

I wanted to say, “Ah, but we don’t make “not full-blown” websites. Instead, I explained what a brochure website is, and how it inevitably makes clients feel disappointed and let down.

Brochure websites are not what you really want. You just don’t know it, yet.

What is a Brochure Website?

When we started 2C, in the mid 1990’s, a simple web presence was all you could hope for. And, yes, it was very cutting-edge, back then, to be the first on the block to have one. It made a sharp impression, due to its rarity. This is when this terminology and idea became prevalent. In fact, I cold-called, door-to-door, drumming up sales for brochure websites, knowing that people didn’t even know they needed a website. Something was better than nothing, right?

They typically included about 4-5 pages, had almost no functionality, no contact forms, no calls to action, and spoke primarily about the business, not the customer.

Here is the way one website (that looks straight out of the 90’s) describes a brochure type website.

Brochure Website Definition

Brochure Website Definition – “Do you exist? What do you do?” I think this guy is having an existential crisis.

Brochure Websites are the Unicorn of the Internet

Brochure Websites: the Unicorn of the Internet

Fast forward to today. Websites now have the power to do so much more than just tell people you exist. Things have really come a long way, baby.

Except the terminology. It has lingered and lingered, much to the frustration of web developers. It has become the unicorn of the website industry. Beautiful, but unable to be found (on Google).

Seeking this unicorn always ends in disappointment.

Here is why I say that.

Disappointment #1: A Brochure website doesn’t make the search god, Google, happy.

Google is very specific about what kind of site will make it happy. Google’s intent is to fill the internet with quality sites. It rewards sites that meet the guidelines and punishes those that don’t. It is very simple.

Google states: “Your site’s content should be unique, specific and high quality. It should not be mass-produced or outsourced on a large number of other sites. Keep in mind that your content should be created primarily to give visitors a good user experience, not to rank well in search engines.”

Quality

Brochure websites are not created for the end-user. There are only a few pages in which to extol the virtues of the company. No room (or strategy) for content that will help your users. Thus, there is little opportunity to “give visitors a good user experience.”

The online authority on marketing, Ad Age, features an article that says, “Keep it real. Just because you’re creating marketing content doesn’t mean it needs to be a sales pitch. Prospects and customers appreciate well-researched, thought-provoking and entertaining content. Simply put by one survey respondent: “Be real, be focused and accurate. Cut the sales fluff.”

Freshness

Brochure websites are a one night stand. You build them, and you leave them. There is no plan to update the content. It is built to sit there day and night, for years on end, with the same content you had the day you launched it. No “freshness, made to order”.

Rankings

I am not saying that a one or three page brochure website cannot get ranked for a few keywords. It can. Can it rank for the number of keywords that it will take to bring in sales and leads? Absolutely not. The sheer lack of pages of content is a disability right out of the gate.

Moz, the world’s leader in SEO, features a great SEO article that says: “Some SEOs insist you should add 20-30% new pages to your site every year. This provides the opportunity to create fresh, relevant content, although you shouldn’t neglect your old content if it needs attention.”

How much fresh content is needed per year.

How much fresh content is needed per year. Image Credit: Moz

Disappointment #2: No way to know if your investment was worth it.

Our client, Wirth’s Custom Automotive, is on the path to recapturing their investment, in a new custom eCommerce site, in around 6 months. This is purely on an organic traffic basis. No PPC. If they ran a PPC program, their investment would be paid off a lot sooner. Here are the stats:

Why Brochure Websites Dont Work - 2C Development Group Redesign Stats

The goal is to launch a site that returns your investment in months, and in trackable ways. Brochure websites struggle to see ongoing increases like these.

Brochure websites (and brochure website budgets) don’t include interaction, or calls to action. “Full-blown” interactive websites do.

Just putting your phone number and email on your site is not enough. Those are passive forms of communication. An interactive website juices up the customer and makes them WANT to contact you. It takes expertise to know how and where to place the best calls to action on each page.

I have talked to so many incoming clients that tell me they have no idea if anyone is using their site, or if it was worth their original investment. Nothing is being tracked.

A good website company will insist that your website be built in such a way that what happens on your site is tracked in multiple types of software that can prove what your return on investment is. The data that is produced should be looked at on a regular basis and adjustments should be made to your site in an ongoing way to ensure the best possible outcomes.

Brochure websites are meant to be made and forgotten. No continuous improvement program is planned.

Disappointment #3: Unicorns are beautiful, but elusive.

You cannot imagine how many times I have heard new clients ask me for “slick, butt-kicking” design. Sounds beautiful, but who knows what kind of design that actually is?

So I Googled the term just to see what came up:

Slick, Kick-Ass Design

Slick, Kick-Ass Design

Not so brilliant, actually.

  • A blathering of colors, fonts, content, all competing for your attention.
  • No clear call to action.
  • No interactive forms.
  • No white paper give-aways.

Yet, customers come to us with this kind of design in mind. Why? Because they have seen sooo much bad website design. This type of design is ubiquitous on the internet. It has set your expectation to the lowest possible standard.

In 20+ years in the industry, I still don’t know what these clients want. What’s worse? They don’t know what they want, either.

Brochure website design is based on an elusive, indescribable design type, that typically fails to please. The design is done, and all of a sudden the client realizes that that isn’t really representative of their business. The budget is toast. Back to the drawing board. Everyone is unhappy. Client hates the web developer. Web designer wants to stab her eyes out.

Brochure website budgets have no time on the clock to do mood boards, wireframes, conference calls, meetings and consultations. Somehow, the designer is to magically read minds and get it right on the first try.

While we like to think of ourselves as Web Dev Super Heroes, we cannot read your mind, or leap over tall buildings.

Instead of trying to impress your visitor with the slickness of your design, follow good principles of content marketing to create an ongoing relationship with them.

A good user experience is defined as the Five E’s of Content Marketing:

  • Engage
  • Educate
  • Effect
  • Entertain
  • Encourage Action

Disappointment #4: It’s all about you…not.

Ever been with a “friend” who spends the whole night talking about their self, while you keep refilling their wine glass? Ya, that is what brochure websites are like.

When you only have a few pages to get your point across, it is likely that your website will be following the 20/80 rule. That is 20% about your users, 80% about your company.

But, the last time I checked, that is supposed to be flipped.

The 80/20 Rule of Content

80% of the information (content) on your site should be about your customers.

Examples are FAQ’s, Videos, Blog Posts, and Podcasts. Content that gets to the heart of your audience’s needs. Solve their problems. Help them live better lives. Because the more you are all about them, the more they will be all about you.

20% of the content should be sales-related content.

This is when you can get your wine drinking friend on the payroll to talk about your products and features and how wonderful your company is.

Brochure websites are not “informational” websites.

Well, not informational to your audience. Your audience wants more than the basic services and contact pages, which is where brochure websites stop. “Just the facts, ma’am.” Because, being boring always leads to conversions and brand awareness, right?

And if your site is “slick”, it will feel like one big sales pitch. We have a name for those guys: ‘Greasy Al’. The guy at the used car lot that makes you feel that really uncomfortable queasy thing in your stomach. You fill your site up with that, and your users will head for the hills.

Disappointment #5: Your Sand Castle is about to be washed away.

One of my favorite things to do is to make sand castles on the Coronado Island beach in southern California.

If you watch long enough, you can gauge the best time to build one, before the tide changes and waves roll over your masterpiece.

Brochure websites are good for about as long as the tide is out, but at the first change in online technology, or needs change in the organization, the waves roll in and smash the site.

Professional website developers should never build sites that are not future-proofed. That means using less than the latest and best technologies and best practices. Companies that build websites that don’t stand up to the waves of progress, are robbing companies of their hard earned cash.

For the record, 2C does not build sand castles.

In conclusion, as you might have guessed, we didn’t contract with Acme Corp. They left, still chasing a unicorn. I felt pretty confident that they wouldn’t find it.

Once in a while, I think about these unicorn hunters and check online to see if they found a company to do them a disservice, or if they finally figured out what they really needed. About 85% of the time they have invested heavily in a company that promises to help them find the unicorn. I wish them the best on their journey.

In the meantime, if you can tell me what “slick, kick-ass” design is, please let me know below. It’s still bugging me.

Holly Nelson

Holly Nelson, CEO of 2C Development Group brings more than 20 years of success in internet marketing to every project. Her ability to identify production, communication, customer service and logistical pain points and to solve them through increased efficiencies in website design/development, online catalog management sales solutions, online content development and marketing brings consistent, clearly demonstrable ROI to clients. Follow on Twitter and Google+