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SEO is actually simple---maintaining a website is hard. When it comes to website hosting, you get what you pay for. Print is a lousy way to explain web, and traffic is a lousy way to gauge the effectiveness of a website, according to Mark O’Brien, president of North Carolina-based web-development company, Newfangled.

Intrigued? I was.

Following are notes from a recent interview with Mark where he debunks the five most common web-development myths.

Web Development Myth #1: SEO is complicated.
While getting that No. 1 position for a highly competitive search engine phrase can get pretty tricky, the type of SEO that most businesses need is quite straightforward. You need to do two things, scrupulously. First, regularly add original, expertise-based content to your site that is well-written and relates both to what you sell and what your prospects are interested in. Publishing two to four 500-word articles (or one ~2,000 word article) monthly should get you in the game and keep you competitive. Second, make Google-facing elements, such as the URL, title tag, and H1 tag on each page, reflect what that specific page is about. Think: thesis statement.

Web Development Myth #2: Maintaining a website is simple.
Business leaders are slowly coming to the realization that their website needs to be more than an online brochure. They have the sense it can and should be delivering more, but are in denial about the time and financial commitments necessary to create and operate this critical business asset. Gimmicks, such as Flash intros, personal "walk-out" video intros, or e-book flip-throughs, may be incrementally cheaper, but they cheapen the perception of your business and rarely contribute to the site’s effectiveness.

Website Development Myth #3: You can communicate a website plan with a PDF sitemap and/or wireframe.
I'm always surprised that web developers still create static sitemaps and wireframes in PDF (or Power Point, Excel, etc.) docs to explain the web when planning their information architecture. Paper leaves too much to the imagination. Websites are non-linear, complex objects. They can't be reduced to linear, simplified paper documents. What's worse, paper-bound specifications leave both clients and developers under the illusion that they have effectively communicated. In reality, website planning on paper results in a document whose meaning can later be argued about when the final site fails to match miscommunicated expectations. For more on this, see the Newfangled newsletter that talks about using prototypes to plan for a website.

Website Development Myth #4: Web hosting should cost $5.

If you have a site that is really working for you, then there is very likely quite a bit going on behind the scenes. You probably have a CMS (content management system) that you use to make updates, there is a systems administrator at work somewhere making sure your site stays up 24/7, and, if the host is really good, someone you know and trust is always available to answer your questions. All of those things cost money. Filling those roles with talent is quite expensive. Website hosting and support is more in line with the average household utility bill than the average cable bill.

Website Development Myth #5: Traffic is king.

For most businesses, traffic volume is not a meaningful measurement of a site’s success unless you make money by selling ads or plan to do so. Sites make businesses money by spurring visitors to take specific actions. Even points of engagement that don’t directly correlate to a sale will at least allow you to gauge a visitor’s intent. Think: “Sign up to Receive our Newsletter.” Your best opportunity to continually refine your site’s effectiveness as a marketing platform is to make decisions based on the actions your visitors are taking on your site, as opposed to making decisions based solely on traffic numbers.

Mark and I both agree: A well-designed website is a company’s most conspicuous representative and can be one of its most effective sales and marketing tools. This poses a huge challenge for today’s web developers, who now must not only know how to create the site, but also understand how it fits into the business-development process. Your web-development representative should be able to connect these dots. If all they offer you is a digital brochure, they likely are operating within the old mythical paradigm, and it may be in your best interests to take your business elsewhere.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Helena Bouchez is principal and owner of Helena B Communications (www.helenabcommunications.com). Reach her via helena@helenabcommunications.com or follow her on Twitter (@HelenaBouchez).