Custom or Packaged Software: How Do You choose?

When it is time to choose a new software solution for your business, there are two choices: Packaged or Custom Software.

Most business applications are ‘off the shelf’ packaged software, like Intuit QuickBooks or Microsoft Office.  Packaged software is designed to serve the needs of thousands of users.  By contrast, custom software is specifically created for your company and is developed to match your business needs exactly.

Which is the right choice for your company? 

The best choice will be driven by your business needs, budget and future plans.  With these in mind, you can select the best choice. Companies are often surprised at the cost effectiveness and high level of functionality available in custom software.

Packaged Software Benefits

  • Development costs can be spread over a larger install base
  • Can be very sophisticated and full-featured
  • Fast integration
  • May be training classes or books available

Packaged Software Drawbacks

  • May include functionality that is not used. (The average Microsoft Word user employs about 10% of the functionality)
  • Large feature set can add complexity and increase training time
  • You must change to meet how the software has been designed
  • Popular applications will be used by competitors, forgoing any advantage
  • Difficult to make change requests

Advantages of Custom Software

  • Most flexible and can be modified as your requirements and business practices change.
  • Integrates with existing software to create a end-to-end solution
  • Requires less training since only the functionality wanted is present
  • Matches your current processes
  • Direct say in the development and feature set
  • Professionally developed custom software can provide an edge over your competition.

Drawbacks of Custom Software

  • You are responsible for maintaining source code and documentation. Otherwise you are wholly dependent on your developers continuing existence and good will. Choosing a developer with a solid reputation and keeping local copies will resolve this.
  • Substandard code may be unstable, unreliable and full of bugs (This is also true with packaged software!).
  • Longer development time

Which costs more?

Cost is completely dependent on the solution.  For utility programs (accounting, anti-virus and email) packaged software will likely be less expensive.  For line-of-business and data management solutions, it is certainly a good idea to do some research.  The internet and open-source software, have lowered development costs for custom software.  In addition, compare recurring license fees.

Choosing a Custom Developer

If you decide to investigate a custom solution, your software developer will be critical to the success of your project.  Choose a developer that you can easily communicate with and who understands your business needs. The best company for you will be able to explain the options in a way that you understand.

Software is an integral part of your business infrastructure.  Make the best choice by focusing on your business needs and weighing all the available option.  Then you will clearly know whether packaged software or a custom solution will be the right fit for your company.

Do You Need A Landing Page?

If you’re on the fence and not sure if a landing page will benefit you, then quickly answer the following questions in your head.

  1. Do you have a downloadable product?
  2. Do you need measurable results you can track for an advertising campaign you’re running?
  3. Do you need more leads for your business?

If you answered yes to one of the questions above then you can benefit from creating a targeted landing page, or a few landing pages.

Since landing pages are so targeted then you could build a page that goes after a niche market that needs your product or service. If you offer multiple services you could create a landing page for each service.

Promoting Your Page

How do people get to your landing page? Visitors are directed to your page from different online advertising channels. You can run banner advertising, use Google AdWords, do guest blogging and include a link to the page, social media postings, etc.

You can direct visitors to your landing page in a variety of ways, but it all comes down to your target audience. Where are they on the web? What are they reading? Where are they visiting? If you know that then you can put ads in front of them that direct to your page. Get creative with it.

Does A Landing Page Have to Be One Page?

Yes it should be one page, but it could be a long page. The amount of content on the page all depends on what is going to help convey the value of your product or service. It depends on your product type, product pricing and what you need to say or show in order to get a visitor to give up their information, or make a purchase. Your content must be justified. Don’t just add content to add content. It should really add value to the page.

What Makes A Great Landing Page?

If you’ve never setup a landing page before, or if you have one that’s not converting and aren’t sure why, then don’t worry. There is a lot of content out there on this subject and I’m going to outline a few baseline points you can use to evaluate your landing page(s).

Get Your Content Right

Headlines Are Important!

First evaluate if you have action driven statements, and if they convey some value for the visitor. People skim web pages and the headlines are the first piece of copy they’re going to read. When you think of headlines think front-page newspaper. Something short that grabs your attention and makes you want to keep reading.

A good headline pre-qualifies a visitor by giving them an idea of what to expect, which allows them to make a quick decision if this is for them or not.

Also, does your headline match the page the visitor just came from? No? Well it should. They most likely clicked a google ad, banner ad or some other link so that link name or headline in the ad should match the headline on your page. They have an expectation of what they’re going to see, so reassure them by giving them what they expect.

Don’t Forget The Sub Headings

I often see clients forget sub headings on the page which is a big mistake. The sub heading should reinforce the headline above it, and briefly describe the benefit of what you’re offering.

Your Body Copy Should Not Look Like One Large Paragraph

People reading on the web looking for answers are skimming pages. Break up your paragraphs and write a small heading that summarizes what that paragraph talks about. Look at how the paragraphs are broken up on this page. Can you quickly look at the headings and get a general idea of the content?

Images Should Match the Content

You would think this is a given, but there are plenty of landing pages that use the wrong imagery. I’ve seen images that don’t go with the headlines or the content. Just completely out of context, or people have used outdated images. Yikes! Please don’t use images from the 90s. Visitors can tell. Unless of course it goes with your product.

Keep Your Form High On The Page and in The Top Right

Tests have shown that contact forms produce better results if they’re placed on the right side of the page. You also need to be mindful that the form is seen as soon as a visitor lands on the page, so keep it up higher on the page.

Short or Long Contact Forms?

There really isn’t any statistics that show shorter forms are better, or longer forms are better. What it comes down to is the quality of leads you want to receive. Shorter forms tend to yield more leads, but possibly less qualified leads. Longer forms tend to yield less leads but more qualified leads.

What’s going to be the best form to put on your landing page? I don’t know. I can tell you that if you make it easy to fill out, only include what’s necessary, then it’s a good place to start. Honestly it’s something you’re going to have to test.

Remove Distractions, Remove The Navigation

In just about every test and every case study I’ve read, if the landing page has navigation and then it’s removed; the conversion rate automatically goes up. Think about it; you’re removing the option to go anywhere else, and you’re forcing the visitor into a decision. They can leave or fill out this form.

Fight the desire to add more, or give them links to videos, or more information pages. If you send them anywhere else you run the risk of them getting distracted, and you’re giving them too many options. You’re adding another decision they have to make because now they have to come back to your landing page. Just make it easy for them. Fill out this form, or leave.

Build A Responsive Landing Page

Don’t build a static page that doesn’t format well on tablet or mobile. What happens when someone directed to your landing page and they’re on a mobile device? Does it look bad? Do they have to pinch and zoom? Make it easy. Make it look good. Keep it simple.

Try Using Tokens Throughout Your Landing Page

A token is something that places a piece of content in specified areas of the page. For example, placing a visitors name in a headline, or in certain spots of the body copy, so as they read it then it feels more personal. This strategy is a lot more in-depth and requires more planning, but if done right can be very effective.

Test Your Page, and Test Again, and Again, and…

It’s a tall task to have the highest converting landing page the first time out the gate. A high conversion page is a result of A/B testing, tracking, looking at results, testing again and paying close attention to the results.

The first thing to remember is change one thing at a time. If you change more than one thing at a time, and conversion is effected, then how do you know which one of the two worked? Change a single photo, or change a headline, or change the offer, then evaluate your results. You’ll be surprised how much a headline or a single image can affect your conversion rates.

Don’t Ignore Your Page Once It Starts Converting

Ok, so you’ve tested your page, it’s converting the way you like, you allocated more advertising dollars to drive more traffic, now you can just sit back and let the leads roll in. Way to go, you’re done! Wrong! Don’t turn your back on it.

The bottom line is the economy changes, people change, and technology changes, businesses change. Nothing stays the same, so keep a close eye on your landing page results, and when the conversion rate starts to drop then start testing again.

Did this post leave you confused and overwhelmed about creating your own landing page? If you feel like you don’t know where to start then pick up the phone and give us a call. We’ve got you covered. (916) 749-1500

What Is A Landing Page?

A landing page is a web page designed with one specific goal in mind; to convince the visitor to give up their information for something that they want in exchange. Landing pages are one of the best ways to collect leads from the web, and feed them into a sales funnel. Whatever the purpose is landing pages are all designed with one targeted goal in mind. That’s it, one goal, not many goals. Some pages are designed to capture contact information from visitors for sales leads. Some are designed to test out product ideas, and others are created to sell a digital download product like an eBook, video series or audio downloads.

Your Home Page is NOT a Landing Page

You might have heard marketers, or other designers, refer to a home page on your site as your landing page, but they’re wrong. Yes it is the first page someone sees when they “land” on www.yourdomain.com, but it’s not what I would define as a landing page. Your home page has multiple purposes, but a true landing page has a single purpose. Depending on your business, your home page might have a rotating banner, it can showcase latest products, latest works, recent news or blog posts, multiple buttons, a phone number and links to other pages on your website. That’s a lot of stuff to detract which makes it tough to guide the visitor to a single action. That’s why we strip away the navigation on a landing page, and keep things simple.

Who Uses Landing Pages?

Almost any business can benefit from using landing pages in some way or another. Startups and companies that want to test or validate a product idea can use landing pages to gather valuable data.

Realtors wanting more leads to sell homes, colleges that want leads for potential students, auto dealers looking for people interested in buying cars, auto mechanics, software companies, landscapers, home services and technically any company that wants to generate sales leads.

Parts of a Landing Page

A traditional high conversion landing page usually features:

  • A single headline with a photo toward the top of the page.
  • A short contact form in the upper right of the page.
  • Additional information that reinforces and adds value.
  • No other navigation or buttons that direct away from the page.

We’ll talk more about what makes a great landing page in a later article, but for now just know the features listed above are a good baseline.

So now that you understand what a landing page is, have you determined if you need one or not? Having trouble deciding? I have another post coming out soon explaining how to determine if you can benefit from a landing page.

Choosing a Developer: Finding the Right Fit

I know Software and Web development projects can feel overwhelming and exciting. On one hand, you have a great idea and on the other hand you are nervous about finding the right partner to bring this vision to life.  Can they do the work? Will they deliver? Can they make it better? Can they steer you around the potholes?

When you find the right fit, the project can be a success. The wrong fit can make it feel like a sludge.  So, how do you find the right fit?

Here are the top things to consider: Communications, Experience, Approach and Pricing

Communications: Communications will make or break a project; nothing is more important. Software projects can involve a lot of decisions and technology talk.  It is important that you understand your developer and you feel comfortable asking questions. Also, they need to understand you.

In the best relationships, I’ve clicked with a client from the first call.  I understand their project and can talk about our approach and processes so they get it.  But I’ve had conversations with new leads where I simply can’t quite get their vision.  We just seem to be talking past each other, not a good fit.

Take the time to find a development company where communications go well.

Experience: You want a custom software development company that build the features and functionality that you need. Now, this doesn’t have to be a one for one.  Meaning they don’t have to have built the exact project for a company in the same industry.  You are looking for a developer that can show you projects that have the same kinds of things you need.  If similar features or comparable functionality are in past projects, then you can see that they have the right kinds of experience.

For design, the important thing is to see quality and variety in their work.  Custom designs are created for each client and are unique and specific to their needs.  Your user interface will be unique too.  You want to see past projects where you like the approach and where the user experience is thoughtful. You also want talk to the designer to see if they get your vision.  Variety is the spice of life. Don’t be afraid to let a designer try something new if the rest of their work is solid.

Approach: Every vendor has their own approach.  Finding the right approach to development can be difficult if you haven’t been through a software project before. To start, listen to each developer and how they work. Does it sound like it would work for you? For instance, we anchor projects with a weekly meeting and our clients are very involved.  Our clients love this approach, but some people prefer a more hands-off approach.

Pricing: Pricing will be dependent on each project and vendor. The important thing is to understand how a project is billed and how changes (which are inevitable) are handled.  I expect that clients will have questions on pricing, and I welcome them.  Make sure you can communicate pricing with your vendor in a way that works for you and feels productive.

If you consider Communications, Experience, Approach and Pricing for choosing the best development company for your project then you will find a vendor that will be a great fit.

How To Tell If Your Site Is Working

Your web site has a job to do; Is it doing it? And doing it well?

The first step is to identify the jobs your site needs to be doing.  Here are some common jobs and how you can tell if your site is working.

  1. Online Brochure: Can you send leads and clients to your site for information? Are you having to supplement the information with other files? Do your leads have a good idea about your company or are they feeling lost?
  2. Lead generation: This one is easy – Are you getting leads? Are they good leads?  Are they profitable?
  3. Customer Portal: Can you r customers communicate easily with you? Can they make new orders or get statuses on existing orders? Is it saving you phone calls? Is it improving your client relations?
  4. Billing Portal: Can you r customer view, print or pay bills online? Is it saving you phone calls? Is it preventing double entry?
  5. Document Control: Can people download what they need? Can you do online signatures? Is the process clearer then without the site?
  6. Tracking: Are statuses clear? Are the alerts working? Is it making your customers happy? Is it saving you time and money?

These are just a sampling of the jobs a site can do.  If you aren’t sure what your site is doing, or if it is doing it well.  Start by thinking about what you WISH it would do.

If you want to talk about your site and how to evaluate the job it is doing, call Amanda at 916-759-1500 x105.

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