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Why Websites Fail and How to Succeed

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Sad, but true: a large number of website businesses will fail. Why does this happen and how can you avoid adding to the statistics?

Dog failing

Hard facts on failure rates are hard to come by (one informal survey suggests that approximately 70% of business websites in the UK are no longer live after 3 years) as private companies do not have any responsibility to report their performance, but the percentage of online businesses that fail is likely to be close to statistics collected for all businesses (one study cites a failure rate of 64.2% within 10 years). Depressingly, online businesses tend to do even worse than offline businesses.

Why do they fail?

Sometimes the failing is due to inadequate website planning. Failing to plan often leads to a flawed design, weak content, and poor usability, which translates into low sales or visitor conversions.

However, a website can be planned, designed and executed to perfection, but can still result in failure. The reason is simple when you step back: business is business whether in the “real world” or on the Internet. In the real world, you can design and build a store perfectly, but if you’re selling something that is wanted, or nobody knows about your store, then you will fail.

A lot of people seem to think that they can create a website and that entitles them to the share of the millions of Internet users worldwide. This is simply not the case. The internet is a ferocious marketplace. It is the great leveller, where you have to compete globally on the same playing field as any other individual, company or corporation. While this equality can work in your favour as you can compete with larger entities, it also means that everyone else in the world can compete with you.

Internet marketing is as competitive as any offline marketing. The bigger players have marketing budgets and departments focusing on selling their websites. Do you have a strategy to compete with that? There are many promotional strategies that you can and should employ after your website is finished.

Strategies for success

Here are three suggested options, that will keep you from wasting your time and money. While they are valid standalone options, they are not mutually exclusive.

1. A sound business plan

This is the most obvious way to avoid failure, and should be a no-brainer. It is unfortunately, all to often neglected or given reduced importance in the “magical land of the Internet”. There are enormous numbers of resources both offline and online for creating a business plan.

Make sure you actually listen to what your business plan tells you and don’t try and force the business plan to say what you want it to say. If the business plan suggests your potential profit is paltry, then by all means re-examine your model, but don’t tweak reality to give you a false sense of security.

2. A stripped-down tester website

If you can make a website or get a website made at a low cost, you may decide it is worth your while to go ahead without an in-depth business plan. However, at the very least your idea should have a stripped-down basic business plan.

3. A hobby website

Instead of approaching your website as a business, treat it as a pastime. If you don’t expect to make money off it, you cannot fail. Obviously this strategy will only work if you are passionate about your website idea, and have the motivation to keep it going even when you are not making a profit.

Conclusion

Whichever method(s) you choose, don’t forget that you still have work to do after completing your website. You cannot just sit back and expect for success. Even the best web application or website will fail if no-one knows about it.

If you have found yourself to be unfortunate enough to have a failed website, then try to take heart in the old cliché: failure helps you to learn. Next time you’ll make the big bucks.

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