Revenue is a Great Metric

A brief thought for the day:

People paying you money via your site for products and services is actually a pretty useful metric. While certainly not the only one you should look at, I’ll take increasing online revenue over increasing page views any day.

What revenue flows can you measure through your site? Track them and see if you can correlate promotions, changes in design, user interface improvement, blog mentions, etc., to changes in revenue. This will provide you with knowledge about what works and doesn’t for creating online sales.

This kind of knowledge is not priceless: it has a specific hard dollar value to it. This is a very good thing. Don’t forget to leverage it.

Zappos using video to drive next actions, the online shoe (and more) retailer recently acquired by, is experimenting with video promotions to drive click throughs to produce detail pages. Here is an example* from their first effort, promoting Nike running shoes. (Scroll down to see the video.)

As you watch the video you can mouse over both the shoes as well as the shirt the model is wearing. The video shows a box over clickable items, which then launches a small dialog box from which the viewer can then click to go to learn more about that product. Nifty technology!

The way Zappos is deploying this facilitates seeing the product in a rich medium while still making it very easy to progress to the product detail page where the sale will be completed. This approach could be effective for any product that would benefit from a video presentation to convey its value and message.

* I tried to use the embeddable video for this post but the way they have created it takes up a huge amount of space since it displays a lot more interface than just the video. This will need to be adjusted because few people will share a video that will blow up their web site layouts.

Internet, Second Floor

I’m in Toronto kicking off a new client project. Last night I had to walk the last few blocks to my hotel due to a subway shutdown that had snarled traffic. As I lugged my luggage, I saw a small sign on a store front, saying “Internet, Second Floor.”

I love that sign! Looking for the Internet? Second floor, please. I tweeted last night, “I always wondered where they kept it!”.

The truth is, you no longer have to go to the second floor to access the Internet. It’s everywhere. Back in the day, you could go online via your home or work computers, maybe an Internet cafe (which is what this sign was most likely referring to), and that was it. You had to go somewhere else to go online. Now, Internet access tends to be where you are.

The current trend with Internet ubiquity is to connect small devices to the online world so that people can access information and services while on the move: smartphones and netbooks being the primary examples today.

This raises the question for web strategists: how can we provide value to people on the move via a tiny screen and still relatively low bandwidth?

In considering serving your own users online via the ubiquitous Internet, think of what few things your audiences would want to do with you while on the move and focus on fulfilling those. Is it quickly looking up a key bit of data? Finding another user of your site? Updating their status?

The most effective strategies for mobile users are going to be those based on highly focused needs and serving them simply and elegantly via tiny screens.

I’ll have to back and snap a picture of that sign with my cell and post it online before I head home. Via the ubiquitous Internet.

Update: No need to go back, here is the sign courtesy of Google Maps Streetview.

That is just too cool.

The Growth Trap

I’ve written and spoken much about how associations and non-profits in general tend to have a hard time ending programs and services. You can read more about this here: Slaying Sacred Zombie Cows.

I’m going to take this same idea in a bit of a different direction today. Many organizations innovate through growth. As membership increases or non-dues revenue goes up, they now have more resources with which to start new initiatives. Innovating new value is much easier for leaders when you have a healthy growing organization. You can just put that new money to work and let the rest of things carry on, avoiding tough conversations and decisions.

The challenge comes when that growth stops or reverses, something many have become familiar with over the past year or so. If the only way your organization can innovate is through growth, then you now face a serious problem: just when you need to be the most nimble you are actually at your least flexible.

This is what I call the Growth Trap: relying only on growth for change traps you in the status quo when that growth goes away. Thus, being able to stop doing things not only makes for a more responsive organization, it is an existential necessity in tough times.

If your organization has come through the depths of the recession, you have probably learned how to stop doing things that are no longer of value, allowing you to reallocate those resources. Don’t forget this precious skill once your revenues are back on the upswing. It will continue to serve you well in good times and will make it much easier for you to weather the inevitable downturns when they come.

That skill will help you to escape the growth trap.

Fiber to Cuba Illuminates Future Opportunity

I wrote an article for Association’s Now earlier this year on the web strategy implications of a more open Cuba. One of the key factors I noted was that Cuba has no fiber optic lines, to the rest of the world, which drastically limits the available bandwidth in the island country. Looks like that may change in a couple years: Miami Firm Plans First U.S.-Cuba Fiber Optic Cable.

If an open Cuba is an opportunity for your organization, then you have a window in which to prepare for making greater connections online with Cuban citizens.

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.

Web Strategy Outcomes

There are a few key outcomes that any web strategy formulation process should help you to achieve. They include:

  • Clearly defined and prioritized outcomes and audiences that your site must address.
  • A statement of strategic intent that clearly indicates how you will address those outcome and audiences.
  • A plan of action that ties your future website directly to your mission and organizational priorities.

If you can get clarity on these items then you have just dramatically improved your ability to create significant value with your web site.

Your Website is a Gateway to Global Markets

This article from a Harvard Business Publishing blog cites recent studies showing that China may have the worlds largest market for luxury goods in the near future. What caught my eye in the post was this statistic:

And Chinese consumers engage with brands online. Almost 90% of the respondents in the China Luxury Forecast say they use the Internet to gain a better understanding of luxury brands and products. Over 310 million people in China have the Internet, and the world's top blogger in terms of visits is Chinese — Xu Jinglei. In this way, China is very similar to the US in that companies can support their marketing efforts with effective online communication.

Many organizations that I work with have significant global strategies going into action, looking to extend their mission and value across the world. As this story shows, your website is a key platform for engaging with overseas markets even before you have a physical presence or partnership set up in their country.

How well does your web presence address and engage with visitors from your future global markets? It’s not as simple as just translating some content. See this article I wrote last year for more on this topic.

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.

What is social media good for?

I saw an update on Twitter this morning that asked plaintively: what is social media good for?

It is so easy to get buried in the daily details, drudgery and distraction of social media that it is very easy to lose sight of what you hope to achieve with it.

The simple truth is this: you have to identify your desired outcomes and then focus with great discipline on achieving those outcomes with social media tools and techniques. Ignore everything else. Ignore check lists that say “you must do X of these on Facebook and Y of those on Twitter otherwise you are doing it wrong!” because usually only a few of those tasks are relevant to your goals.

If you are creating value for your desired outcomes with social media then you are doing it right in my book.

If you aren’t creating value (or can’t tell!): take a break. Take a few steps back. Redefine the goals you hoped to achieve and then look at your current activities with new eyes. Focus on just those things that are likely to advance you toward your goals and drop the rest. You’ll be more effective and do so in less time.