The IE6 Decision

More and more website publishers are deciding to drop support for Internet Explorer 6. This browser has notoriously poor, incomplete, and outright missing support for modern standards in web design and interactivity. Thus making a site that works well in IE6 and current browsers requires significant additional effort. Many web design firms are moving to a model of charging extra for IE6 support on top of regular design fees.

IE6′s days are numbered.

However, many organizations wrestle with when to drop it from the list of supported browser for their site. Total traffic from that browser version is often cited as a metric to use. Only 6% of our visitors use it? Drop that browser like a hot potato!

Hold on though, what if those 6% do something important, like making 20% of your online purchases in your store? Do you want to walk away from that income? Probably not.

Here are a few criteria to use in assessing if you should continue to support IE6 for the time being while we wait for it to finally die off (which is happening more rapidly now).

Do a significant proportion of IE6 users on your site:

  • Login to a members-only area or frequently use other core functionality?
  • Make purchases in your store? Representing how much revenue?
  • Represent key constituents or prospects for your organization?

You get the idea. If IE6 users are not part of a relevant audience for your key goals online then you are safe dropping them even if they are a somewhat high percentage of your traffic. If IE6 users are valuable to your organization, then you very well may be better off investing in supporting them.

Web Career Tips for High School Students

Someone on a list I belong to asked for tips to share with high school students considering a career in the Web. Here were my four tips:

1. View source.
2. Build stuff for your friends.
3. What they teach you in class is always going to be years out of date.
4. If you want to be successful long term, learn the business behind the site.

What would you recommend to the same audience?

Serving Current Users in a New Site

Last week I was asked about how to handle current users who may be confused or frustrated by a redesigned site that has a new layout, navigation, etc. Ideally the new site will be easier to use for all concerned but for people who learned the old site, there will still be a learning curve.

From my perspective, the best path to resolve this issue really depends on what your current audiences come to the site for and if you will continue to support those same outcomes with the new one.

If you have people who regularly come to your site to complete a specific task or get a piece of content, and you will continue to support those outcomes, you can make sure to still facilitate those actions even in a redesigned site. Ideally the new design will facilitate those well but you can also make a set of custom pages for specific audience segments that guide them to the new location of these items. These pages can be promoted directly or provide as a highlighted help tool for a period of time after the launch of the new site.

On the other hand, if the site will serve entirely new outcomes, then your audiences will have no choice but to learn the site anew and there is not much you can do to avoid that.

Quoted about using data to grow your e-commerce revenue

I was quoted last week in the E-Commerce News about how to use data to grow your e-commerce revenue. One of my favorite topics! Here is an excerpt from Having Your Data and Using It Too:

“The best online sellers know their own data like the back of their hand and use it every day to improve their e-commerce performance,” Gammel said, adding that it is important to identify a few key metrics. “Only use metrics that enable you to make decisions about how to improve your marketing and conversion to sales online.”

Budgeting for a Website Redesign

The big question: what’s it going to cost to redesign our web site? Everyone comes to this sooner or later (usually sooner!) when they are determining how to improve their web presence. I’d like to share a page from my book, Online and On MIssion: Practical Web Strategy for Breakthrough Results, that addresses this very issue.

Show Me the Money!

Budgeting for your website falls into two general types: ongoing and redesign. Ongoing budget support should cover things such as staff, outsourced resources, hosting, maintenance and support agreements for technology, and other items required to keep your site up and running and performing well. Redesign budget is money specifically allocated to update or completely replace your existing web site.

Ongoing budgets vary widely and are often a function of the size of your organization and the relative importance placed upon web operations. It is easy to overlook the ongoing expenses required to keep your current site humming along while you are in the midst of figuring out how to replace it entirely. Always plan this out after devising your strategy but before investing in a redesign. The best site in the world won’t do you much good if you can’t afford to maintain it. You don’t want to be like the game show contestant who wins a new car and then has to sell it for cash because they can’t afford the taxes and insurance on the windfall.

Budgeting for a revamp or redesign of your website always raises the question of how much you can expect to spend. The investment will be determined by the technology you ultimately need and the expertise and assistance you require to create the site, including design and content development. All of these variables have a huge impact on what you will invest in and to what degree. When working with outside providers (rather than doing the work in-house with your own staff) I’ve seen everything from budgets of $25,000 to well into the hundreds of thousands. In general, the budget will track with the size of the organization’s overall budget, since complexity and the total requirements tend to go up proportionally.

Ultimately, a redesign should be driven by a change in strategy. The same goes for budget; it should be an output of your chosen strategic direction online rather than your starting point. Once you have your strategy, look at the available budget and consider if you can achieve it given the resources you are likely to have available. Sometimes you can get pretty creative and do a lot without huge budget but you won’t know until you do the strategy legwork first.

The reality is that web strategy projects often do start with a pot of money that was allocated for the site. If that is what you have to work with, look at that number briefly and then try to forget about it while you devise your strategy. Do not limit any ideas or concepts because you think you might not be able to afford them. You won’t know until later in the process, so eliminating them early may simply limit how much value you can create online with the budget you have.

When interacting with outside vendors you are considering to help you with your site, I am always in favor of disclosing to them the budget you have available. Firms that are out of your league will withdraw and those for whom your budget falls into their sweet spot will actively pursue your business. This is a good outcome! Hiding your budget simply delays things and wastes a lot of time both for you and the providers that will not be a good fit.

Finally, this strategy process will give you very good ammunition for increasing your budget to fund site development and maintenance. When done well, you will have clearly identified outcomes the site will create to serve the core of your organization’s mission and purpose. Outcomes draw money. When someone tells you they don’t have money available to fund the site it means that they don’t see the value in doing so. There is always money available if you demonstrate enough value.

Ultimately, there is no magic answer and benchmarking against other organizations is not going to be tremendously valuable if all you look at is raw budget. Above I mention $25k as a low end but you could certainly do it for considerably less if you are simply putting a new look on an existing site, not adding functionality, and already have a good content management system in place that can push the design out. That is rarely the case in a redesign, however.

If you’d like to get a copy of the book, please visit this page.

Too Many Chefs in the Home Page

This post on Fast Company, which features purported inside scoop on how the American Airlines home page is managed, tells an all too common story.

The post features a hypothetical redesign of the home page that dramatically simplifies and focuses the page from the hash that it is currently. An anonymous staff person from American commented on how their decentralized team of over 200 people who work on the site are simply incapable of creating a design like that due to their structure and processes.

Here’s the problem at American and many other organizations with overcrowded, ineffective home pages: they have decentralized the ownership and management of a centralized interface. In effect, no one owns this one page, so any design has to be the product of compromise and consensus.

Home pages benefit from benevolent dictators who make sure this critical entry point to their site (yes, home pages still matter even with Google driving people past them) is focused on achieving tangible outcomes that matter the most.

Massive teams and committees simply cannot muster the discipline required to create a focused and effective home page.

Jared Spool and The $300 Million Button

Great story from Jared Spool this week: The $300 Million Button.

It’s hard to imagine a form that could be simpler: two fields, two buttons, and one link. Yet, it turns out this form was preventing customers from purchasing products from a major e-commerce site, to the tune of $300,000,000 a year. What was even worse: the designers of the site had no clue there was even a problem.

The button? Register.

I personally worked with an association where we made a similar change to an e-commerce process that resulted in a six figure improvement in revenue. Some small changes can have a big impact!

Only 75% of Our Customers Can Open Our Front Door

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? However, that’s exactly what can happen with a poorly designed web site login. The login is often the gateway to most of the value that a site offers, yet it often receives scant attention from designers and developers when it is created.

Here are a few things you can do to review and improve your login:

  • Use it a few times! Don’t apply a saved username and password in your browser. Login manually as your first time or infrequently visitors do. This alone can reveal a lot of issues that you can fix.
  • Observe some people using the login. Have your mother or grandfather try it.
  • Analyze your web traffic and see if you are losing a lot of people at the login stage.
  • Talk to people in your call center or anyone who fields customer complaints about the web site. I guarantee they will if your login is not working well for your visitors.

Once you identify any problems, immediately meet with your web team to determine what needs to be changed and make it happen. Commit to getting in done in no more than one week.

Make sure your virtual front door is appealing and easy to open.