1. EMPOWER A DEDICATED WEB TEAM
In many organizations, the website is managed by either the marketing or the IT (Information Technology) department. However, this inevitably leads to a turf war, with the website becoming the victim of internal politics and bureaucracy. In reality, pursuing a web strategy is not particularly suited to either group. IT may be excellent at rolling out complex software and hardware systems, but it is not suited to developing a friendly user experience or establishing an online brand. Marketing, on the other hand, is frequently only a little better.
The Web is a conversation. Marketing by contrast, (excluding Social Media Marketing) is a monologue, and then there’s all that messy business with semantic markup, CSS, unobtrusive scripting, HTML run-throughs, involving users in accessibility, and the rest of the skills and experience that don’t fall under Marketing’s purview.
Instead, the website should be managed by a single unified team. Put them in a division that recognizes that your website is not a bastard of your brochures, nor a natural outgrowth of your group calendar.
2. RECOGNIZE IT’S A FULL-TIME JOB
Not only is the website often split between marketing and IT, it is also usually under-resourced. Instead of a dedicated web team, those responsible for the website are often expected to run it alongside their “day job(s).”
3. CONTINUALLY INVEST IN YOUR WEBSITE
Periodic website re-designs are not enough. Because corporate websites are under-resourced, they are often neglected for long periods of time. They slowly become out of date with their content, design and technology.
Eventually the website becomes such an embarrassment that management steps in and demands that it be sorted. This inevitably leads to a complete redesign at considerable expense. This a flawed approach. It’s sometimes a waste of money, because when the old website is replaced, the investment put into it is lost, too. It is also tough on finances, with a large expenditure having to be made every few years. A better way is continual investment in your website, allowing it to evolve over time. Not only is this less wasteful, it is also better for users.
4. DO NOT TRY TO APPEAL TO EVERYONE
One of the first questions I ask my new clients is, “Who is your target audience?” I am regularly shocked at the length of the reply. Too often, it includes a long and detailed list of diverse people. Inevitably, my next question is, “Which of those many demographic groups are most important?” The most common answer, is that they are all equally important.
The harsh truth is that if you build a website for everyone, it will appeal to no one. It is important to be extremely focused about your audience and cater your design and content to it. Does this mean you should ignore your other users? Not at all. Your website should be accessible by all, without offending or excluding anybody. However, the website does need to be primarily aimed at a clearly defined audience for optimal results.
5. AVOID WASTING MONEY ON SOCIAL MEDIA
This is not what you think. I find it encouraging that website managers increasingly recognize that a web strategy is more than running a website. They are beginning to use tools such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, and a plethora of social platform tools to increase their reach and engage with new audiences. However, although they are using these tools, too often they do so ineffectively. Tweeting on a corporate account or posting sales demonstrations on YouTube misses the essence of social networking.
Social networking is about people engaging with people. Individuals do not want to build relationships with brands and corporations. They want to talk to other people. Too many organizations throw millions into Facebook apps and viral videos when they could spend that money on engaging with people in an authentic, transparent, and generous away.
Instead of creating a corporate Twitter account or indeed even a corporate blog, encourage your employees to start Tweeting and blogging themselves. Provide guidelines on acceptable behavior and what tools they need to start engaging directly with the community connected to your products and services. This demonstrates not only your commitment to the community, but also the human side of your business.
6. FOCUS ON YOUR AUDIENCE, NOT YOURSELF
Where some website managers want their website to appeal to everybody, others want it to appeal to themselves and their colleagues. A surprising number of organizations ignore their users entirely and base their websites entirely on an organizational perspective. This typically manifests itself in inappropriate design choices that cater to the managing director’s personal preferences.
A website should not pander to the preferences of staff, but should meet the needs of its users, and should be designed to accomplish specific objectives. Too many designs are rejected because the boss “doesn’t like green.” Likewise, too much website copy contains acronyms and nomenclature used only within the organization.
7. DO NOT SQUANDER THE VALUE OF YOUR TEAM
Whether you have an in-house web team, or use an external agency, many organizations fail to get the most from their web team. Web designers are much more than pixel pushers. An experienced web team has a wealth of knowledge about the web, and they understand how users interact with it. They also understand design principles and techniques, including grid systems, white space, color balance, spatiality, content delivery, and the appropriate use of technology.
It’s wasteful to micro-manage by asking them to “Make the logo bigger.” or to “Move that 3 pixels to the left.” By doing so you are reducing their role to that of a admin or software operator, resulting in a dilutive approach by wasting the wealth of experience they bring.
8. THOU SHALT NOT KILL WITH A COMMITTEE
The ultimate symbol of a large organization’s approach to website management is the committee. A committee is often formed to tackle the website because internal politics demand that everybody has a say, and that all considerations be taken into account. To say that all committees are a bad idea is naive, and to suggest that a large corporate website could be developed without consultation is fanciful. However, when it comes to design, committees are often the kiss of death.
Design is subjective. The way we respond to a design can be influenced by culture, gender, age, childhood experience and even physical conditions (such as color blindness.) What one person considers great design could be hated by the next. This is why it’s crucial that design decisions be informed by user testing [when possible] rather than personal preference. Unfortunately, this approach is rarely taken when a committee is involved in design decisions.
Instead, designing by committee becomes about compromise. Because committee members have different opinions about the design, they look for ways to find common ground. One person hates the blue color scheme, while another loves it. This leads to designing on the fly, with the committee instructing the designer to “try a different shade of blue” in the hopes of finding middle ground. Unfortunately, this leads only to bland design that neither appeals to, nor excites the most important committee… your existing and prospective customers, consumers, and clients.
9. MAN SHALL NOT LIVE BY CMS ALONE
Many of the clients I work with have amazingly unrealistic expectations of their CMS (content management system.) Those without one think it will solve all of their content woes, while those who have one moan about it because it hasn’t!
It is certainly true that a CMS can bring a lot of benefits. These include:
1. Reducing the technical barriers of adding content
2. Allowing more people to add and edit content
3. Facilitating faster updates
4. Allowing greater control
However, many CMS platforms are less flexible than their owners would like. They fail to meet the changing demands of the websites they manage. Website managers also complain that their CMS is hard to use. However, in many cases, this is because those using it have not been adequately trained or are not using it regularly enough.
Finally, a CMS may allow content to be easily updated, but it does not ensure that content will be updated or even that the quality of content will be appropriate. Many CMS-based websites still have out-of-date content or poorly written copy, not to mention sub-par images and artwork. This is because internal processes have not been put in place to support the content contributors.
10. AVOID WHITE NOISE AND CLUTTER
Part of the problem with content maintenance on large corporate websites is that there is too much content in the first place. Most of these websites have “evolved” over years, with more and more content having been added. At no stage has anybody reviewed the content and asked what could be taken away.
“Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.” – Steve Krug
Many website managers fill their website with copy that nobody will read. This happens because:
1. A fear of missing something: by putting everything online, they believe users will be able to find whatever they want. But with so much information available, it is hard to find anything.
2. A fear users will not understand: whether from a lack of confidence in their website or in their audience, they feel the need to provide endless instruction to users. Unfortunately, users never read this copy.
3. A desperate desire to convince. Organizations are desperate to sell their product or communicate their message, and so they bloat the text with sales copy that actually conveys little valuable information.
Steve Krug, in his book “Don’t Make Me Think” encourages website managers to “Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.” This will reduce the noise level on each page and make the useful content more prominent.