Jumping the Gun – Companies Self-Promoting on the Web Without A Functional Website

Today I’m writing about something I see surprisingly often, a form of “jumping the gun” when it comes to marketing, that yields wasted effort and can even form a negative impression of your company.  The way I most often see this manifest is when a company promotes itself through social media or even outreach to other webmasters, before it has a functional website.

I do not believe that tea companies need to have a website in order to be successful.  I wrote some time ago about tea companies without websites.  But I think that if you are engaging in web marketing or social media networking, and especially if you’re giving out the URL of your website, it is jumping the gun to do so without having a functional website.

One example of this sort of wasted promotion

Today someone followed me on twitter, and they had a URL listed in their twitter profile.  When I followed it, it led to a parked domain on GoDaddy, displaying the following page:

Screenshot of a Godaddy parked domain

Clearly, this website isn’t up yet.

This is hardly the first time this has happened…I see this happen surprisingly often.  It seems like a big waste of effort.  When someone follows me on twitter, especially if it’s a tea company or other user with a direct interest in or relationship to tea, and I don’t know them or their website, I nearly always check out their website.  In some cases, a new user merely following me has sparked me to research their company and add it to RateTea.

When people follow me and they have a broken link, I feel like it’s wasting my time and I think it sends me the message that they are jumping the gun like I described above.

Another example of jumping the gun

A while back, I added a new tool to RateTea that allows tea companies to submit a brand application to list themselves on the company.  You can find it at the bottom of the brands page on RateTea, and here’s a direct link.  The idea was for me to streamline the process for listing new brands on the site–allowing companies to format the information I want to show on the site, in a format that makes it easy for me to quickly add them.  The goal is for it to save me time, and also get the brands listed quicker, which benefits the companies being listed.

Several companies have already used this successfully, and I’ve added them.

I’ve been sorely disappointed though, with the typical use of this form.  It’s not that people are submitting overt spam in the form, so much as that they’re submitting incomplete applications, or applications for companies that aren’t even launched and don’t have a functional website.

For example, today a company submitted an application which was almost completely empty, providing no information about the company beyond its name, website URL, twitter handle, and Facebook page, and the fact that it was based in China.  When I followed the URL to check out the page, I found the website wasn’t even up yet, and it just had a few Chinese characters redirecting to a Google+ page.  This is a waste of my time, and it makes a negative impression on me.  It’s clear to me that the person did not follow the instructions on the page.

This is probably the worst example of behavior I’ve seen in using this form, but I’ve found that the norm is for companies to not fill the form out completely.  The questions I ask on the form are very basic: where is the company located?  Who owns the company?  If a business owner or representative of the business is not forthcoming about these basic questions about their company, I don’t see why I would want to list them on RateTea.  I am cautious of listing companies that aren’t real tea companies, i.e. sites that make money off affiliate links (I saw one “tea company” just “reselling” Teavana teas through affiliate links) or operations that just drop-ship from other companies.  To me, a lack of openness about ownership and location send up red flags and make me suspicious.

Even if the company in question isn’t suspicious, it’s a missed marketing opportunity.  I ask questions about the location, ownership, and history of a company because I want to highlight the company.  I want to share interesting facts and details and write a captivating mini-story about the company, and share these things with an audience of people interested in learning about the company.

When people don’t fill out the form, it makes me think that they’re not prioritizing effectively–they’re cutting corners to get the company listed quicker, and passing on an opportunity to talk more about their business in such a way that will benefit them much more in the long-run, by making it seem more personal, captivating, and appealing.

What do I recommend instead of jumping the gun?

My recommendation for best practices is simple–hold off on marketing until you have a working website.  It doesn’t have to be the most extensive website, it doesn’t even have to be fully-featured.  A basic placeholder page with basic information about your business, perhaps a contact form and about page, is much better than a parked domain, broken link, or referral to a Google+ or Facebook page.  If your web development is complex and involved, but you’re really itching to promote your company on the web, then whip up a quick, bare-bones site to start, and then make the full site come later.  But don’t market on the web without any website at all!

What do you think?

Have you ever seen companies jump the gun in web marketing, promoting a website or distributing materials with its URL, before the website is up and functional?  Do you think that this represents a missed opportunity, and can harm the company?

  • Have you ever seen companies jump the gun in web marketing, promoting a website or distributing materials with its URL, before the website is up and functional?
  • Do you think that this represents a missed opportunity, and can harm the company?
  • Do you think that the practice of creating a very simple, bare-bones website, doing promoting, and then rolling out the elaborate, full-featured website later is a good approach, or do you think that’s still jumping the gun?  Do you agree that that’s at least better than having no website at all?
  • How do you feel when you follow a link to a dedicated domain, only to find it redirects to a social media page like a Facebook or Google+ account?  Does this seem like jumping the gun, or do you think this can be a valid model of business or marketing?
  • Are you suspicious of companies that don’t identify basic business information, like location, ownership, and history of the company?

7 thoughts on “Jumping the Gun – Companies Self-Promoting on the Web Without A Functional Website”

  1. I think some companies don’t understand the value of web marketing and try to do too many things at the same time.
    Is is specific to small ones or medium ones? This could be an interesting thing to investigate.

    1. I definitely have seen examples of this sort of thing, i.e. timing the marketing so it comes before the product is fully there, playing out with bigger corporations. Because the tea industry is a relatively small niche industry dominated by mostly smaller retailers, there aren’t many examples of truly big companies, and the big players that do a lot of business online, like Teavana and Adagio, all have solid websites.

      Looking at other industries though, I see a lot of examples. One website that comes to mind was the social networking website Friendster. Friendster was one of the first social networking sites, and was hugely innovative, a leader…but the site was very buggy. They did enough publicity to reach a pretty broad audience (at one point I had an account on it–and that was before I was a web entrepreneur myself, I signed up just as a user), but they didn’t work out the kinks.

      I remember very consciously choosing to not put much effort into Friendster because I thought it was too buggy and didn’t look like it was “there yet”. I remembered checking back with it several times, over a period of many months…but soon it fell by the wayside, and I found Facebook offered a similar environment, but with a more finished and reliable interface.

  2. I agree with your basic premise. I further think if people are too slipshod to get this right, how much care to they take with their product.
    I find the bulk submission method very straightforward.
    The alternative – user entered data – is awful. We at the Devotea have had reviews of teas we don’t make listed against us on steepster, and our teas against others.

    1. I also share your concerns–when I see a company engaging in marketing in a way that seems sloppy or poorly thought-out, it makes me wonder whether they’re putting much care into sourcing and selecting teas, storing and packing them properly, keeping their stock fresh, and whether or not they’re being scrupulous about checking the accuracy of the claims of where the tea comes from, what variety it is, etc.

      I also could see how that would be upsetting to find reviews of teas you don’t even have, associated with your company, especially if there were negative reviews, but even if they were positive.

      I have not yet caught a single review listed with the wrong company on RateTea other than ones that were listed briefly and I caught right after they were added. I generally read all the reviews, because the site still doesn’t have a massive volume, and I love reading tea reviews myself, but I especially make sure to manually screen (I get an email for each one) any tea added by a user.

      It’s unfortunately the norm for teas to be misclassified by users. I don’t judge anyone negatively for it–our site is pretty complex and when you add a tea, there is a lot to list, including the style, region, etc. A few teas even really require expert-level knowledge to classify, and there are a few categories where I find myself scratching my head and realizing that my own classification scheme is inadequate and needs overhaul.

      I care a lot about the info being accurate though, so I’ve taken great lengths to avoid duplication of teas and ensure every tea on the site is correctly classified. I hope that in the end, people recognize this and come to RateTea as a resource.

      Also I want you and others to know, if you ever see anything that looks a bit sketchy or inaccurate on RateTea, about your company or any other, I would like to know ASAP. I want to be really responsive about addressing concerns about misclassifications, misentries, or anything of the sort.

  3. I’ve also been puzzled by the links to nowhere. Just seems spammy to me. It’s very hard to run a good website and sell tea especially if you’re a one (wo)man show. Some people clearly lack the time or knowledge to do both at the same time. I think generally it’s fine to push out a website that is functional but not yet perfect. Many sites run in beta for years.

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