Q&A: What is proactive web development?

A lot of people think they need “just” a website. A simple place to post their information online, and let customers find them. Easy, right?

While for some, this can be a good first step, it doesn’t fully take advantage of all the opportunities digital marketing has to offer. In these cases, we like to use an approach we call proactive web development.

Proactive web development blends technology, user experience, marketing and business strategy into a single project. At all stages, we make sure to ask “why” and make sure the technical details align with the business goals. At McNary Marketing and Design, we try to walk hand-in-hand with our clients and partners. This approach lets us see the big picture.

Read on to learn more about how this approach was developed and some of the key features of proactive web development in this interview between Joshua and our friend and contributor, Sarah Binder.

So, what is proactive web development?

This is a term I came up with, to describe my approach to web development and technology. I taught myself how to build websites back in high school, in the early days of the Internet. So I’ve been in the web development space for a long time. What I’ve realized as a marketer and business person is that you can do web development, but if you don’t have the marketing and business strategy built into it, you’re going to build something that doesn’t really suit the business need. Even worse, you might spend a lot of money building a technology solution to the wrong problem.

So I always come first at any web development project from a business and marketing perspective, and then I figure out how to apply the technology. I use the term ‘proactive web development’ to help people understand, we’re not only developing something pretty that works technologically, we’re also proactively thinking about how it helps the business.

We also think about where you’re at in the stage of your business. If you’re just starting out, there’s certain business and marketing criteria that are going to be more important, but you can also set up the runway to allow yourself to grow into something. So by understanding the business needs now, and into the future, you can make sure you choose the right technology.

What are some hallmarks of proactive web development?

proactive web development
Photo via our friends at startupstockphotos.com
  • It’s centered around a strong call-to-action. Something that happens with many, many of the clients I use this approach with, is that their project is missing a strong call to action. This happens with what I call the “brochure websites” – where literally you take a paper brochure and turn it into a website. You can make a really nice looking brochure website, but if it doesn’t scream ‘click me,’ or ‘sign up’ or ‘download this thing,’ something that allows the visitor to raise their hand, you’ve basically wasted your time. Now, you might not have wasted their time, you might have still provided good information. But you haven’t given yourself the opportunity to know who that person is and perhaps do some kind of proactive follow-up with them.
  • It goes beyond the website. Another hallmark of proactive web development is tapping into the full ecosystem of digital marketing tools available. The call to action, or CTA, can simply be a form that collects data. But it becomes more powerful when that form can link into your customer relationship management (CRM) system, or tweet at the person, or maybe it automatically sends them an email 24 hours later that says ‘hey, thanks for checking out our site, do you want to schedule a call?’ Often it starts with a strong call to action, but then, what are the other steps that connect with it? And we always ask, why would you use those steps in your business?
  • It can offer a loss leader or “lead magnet.” Consider writing a whitepaper, or a top 10 list about your industry, some kind of interesting value-added thing that the user can get for completing the CTA and providing their information. This links you to them, shows your expertise, it helps them, and by the way, when they downloaded it you got their name and email, so you can follow up.
  • Or, provide a tool for the user. Similar to a lead magnet, you can build in additional tools that help your visitors. Let’s say you sell widgets, and the customer is trying to determine what specific widgets they need from you and how many – offer them a calculator or a visualization. Real estate websites often have these types of tools – maybe they provide a way to save your favorite homes, to make notes on listings you like, or to estimate your monthly payments. It’s leading right into a sale, but it’s also addressing the needs of the user in a proactive way.

How does the process work?

We start with the initial consultation to figure out what the business is doing, their needs with their website, and just explore the opportunities. We also try to think one step further – what’s beyond what they think they need right now. That first consult meeting is about 75 percent listening, and about 25 percent actually technology. Sometimes I know right away, this particular set of tools will be useful, but we’ll step back and do some research before proposing a technology solution.

Then it turns into an estimated and scoped project, that has line items and expectations. That’s where we take what we discussed at the consult meeting and turn it into something tangible. That’s also where prices are discussed. Sometimes we forget something and have to add to the list, or sometimes we end up tabling some ideas for later.

Then we start implementing, get the whole project going. We have a whole process in place to make sure things are done on time, and that both the expectations of the client and of McNary Marketing are met. It’s very much a hand-in-hand approach. You can go subscribe to some of these digital services on your own, or you could go online and find someone to build a website for cheaper than McNary Marketing does. Our goal is to do a good job and to stand there with you, and figure out we’re meeting your real goals, not just building a pretty website (though we do build pretty websites). Often times there’s an ongoing relationship where we help out with maintenance or or items that need to get done in any given month.

Do you have a success story?

We had a client we recently built a website for. Previously they had a site on one of those ‘what you see is what you get’ website builders, they paid $20 or so a month for it. It was a budget website and they knew it, but it was good to get them started. They had also partnered with another firm to help them generate leads using search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising. They were actually leading a ton of traffic to their website.

But what was missing? That strong call to action. Sure, there was a phone number and a form. But it wasn’t set up in a way that was super obvious, that was attractive, that made you want to click it. So in this case, they had done some of the pieces right already, but a main one in the middle was missing.

We talked it over, discussed a number of different concepts, and eventually decided to go with a WordPress website. We looked at the entire navigation of the site to make sure people would be led to the call to action, in addition to including it in the same place in the footer of every page. It’s still early with this project, but where before they were seeing limited contact with the website, now they’re seeing regular contact in ways that exceed their expectations. It should pay for the whole project pretty quickly if any of those leads become customers.

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