Andy Nicol, Sputnik Digital

Sticking go-faster stripes on an old banger will not fix underlying flaws. Andy Nicol, CEO of digital transformation agency Sputnik Digital, explains how to get your company motoring from day one

If you raced a second-hand Ford Fiesta against a Ferrari, which do you think would win?

The same is true when it comes to building software solutions, including websites.

I founded Sputnik Digital 21 years ago and it’s become worryingly commonplace to see some clients buy cheap websites unaware of the long-term remediation and opportunity costs resulting from their decision.

Businesses in the market for websites or web applications look at the bottom line and think they’re comparing like-for-like. Agencies are often incentivised to put in the lowest cost possible, resulting in a race to the bottom. The quality then has to suffer.

Depending who you speak to, you can get quotes for the same requirements of £5,000 – £50,000, or £50,000 – £150,000. But what’s under the bonnet? The differences aren’t always obvious – and so the client can end up with the equivalent of a rusty Ford Fiesta.

They then spend monthly fees on search engine optimisation (SEO) and conversion rate optimisation (CRO), desperately trying to turn that old banger into a Ferrari.

SEO and CRO are both vital as part of a digital strategy. Deployed to an already well-performing site, they make sure you maintain your advantage.

It’s often a matter of horses for courses. A sub-£10,000 site is fine for a micro-business which simply needs a local presence with some simple information. Customers will probably be able to find them through search engines by combining brand name and hyper-local search terms. But for large, serious players which generate revenue from the internet, building a highly optimised website at the outset can deliver that crucial Google juice without the monthly outlay.

If you don’t, that Fiesta will end up in the garage riddled with problems. And if the mechanic needs 15 days to fix everything that’s wrong with it, to drive it away again is going to cost you twice as much as you paid for it – and that’s before you factor in the downtime!

At Sputnik Digital our strapline is ‘Precision digital engineering’. We write flawless code resulting in websites and applications that are scalable, secure and robust.

We have worked with the likes of GoCompare, Swinton Insurance and Fluent Money and everything we do is customer-centric. We’re like the F1 pitstop crew that adds rocket fuel to a client and gets them back on the track.

In my experience it’s cheaper in the long run to invest appropriately in the first place rather than to start with something too basic, and spend time and effort trying to improve it.

It can take you years to get the same level of performance, and all the while you’re distracted from getting on with core business.

Of course, not everyone has the money to buy a supercar. So how can you compete on a budget?

Firstly, find a digital agency you trust and engage with them. Discuss your brief in detail and work out how much it is going to cost to deliver your super-fast, optimised website which is pixel-perfect whatever device you happen to be using.

If the quote is too high, speak with your account manager to find a solution within your budget. When a BMW shoots past, does it matter if it has leather seats and cruise control? Buy the same model but lower down the price range. By reducing the scope of your website and focusing on what’s important, you can still have the straight-line performance you’re looking for.

You are far better off scaling back the features and page templates than cutting corners on design and a flawless codebase. If you do cut those corners, it’s going to massively impact the attractiveness of your site to Google.

Building solid foundations is at the core of what we do at Sputnik Digital.

Every developer and agency has at some point in their career had a client come knocking with the accusation: ‘That website you sold me is a lemon.’ We do everything we can to avoid this situation by having the awkward conversations about costs and timescales right from the start. Our motivation is for everybody to sleep well. Looking after our clients by delivering a top-performing website means they will sing our praises for years to come.

Have upfront, frank conversations with your potential agency partner – and buy the vehicle which will leave your competitors and their go-faster stripes in the dust.