Cascading Website Improvement

Here is an easy to implement process for making quick improvements to your website that have a large impact in terms of the number of visitors they benefit and your bottom line in one month.

Identify the top 10 pages on your site in terms of number of page views. Go through each page and identify one change you could make to each that would improve the experience for the user. Some things to consider:

  • What is the most important next action we want people to take on this page? How can we make it more clear or easy to do?
  • What extraneous content or interface can we remove from this page to make the core purpose more clear?
  • Use live visualization tools to see where actual users seem to be having problems on those pages.

You are looking for low-hanging fruit in this exercise. Identify one change you can make in the next business day to put the improvement into action. Capture other ideas that require more effort and use those when considering longer term projects.

Now make that one change. Repeat for the next 9 days.

Next, identify your top 10 pages in terms of the revenue they generate for your organization. Look for easy changes you can make to those pages to enhance the earning potential with your visitors. Use the same processes as above.

If you do this you’ll have made 20 improvements throughout the site for your most visited and highest earning pages. Not bad!

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Preventing Problems When You Leave a Web Designer

All business relationships come to an end eventually. Needs change, goals change, people change. Here are a few tips, learned from helping many people who didn’t do these, to prevent disruption when you decide you need to leave your web design or development firm.

  • Own the relationships with your web hosting company, rather than going through your web design firm. You must have total control over your hosting environment (servers, internet connection, back-ups, etc.) by having a contract with a hosting company. Worse come to worse, you can have them cut off access for your web firm.
  • Control your domain names with your own registrar account. Many smaller organizations will end up with their web designer or firm managing their domains on their behalf. To minimize risk, your company should have that relationship with the registrar and have direct control over the domain name settings with them.
  • Have fresh copies of all web assets backed-up and archived, including data. This ensures you have the raw material of your site and could get it up and running on another host and domain name in relatively short order.

You can’t prevent all problems but the above steps are very prudent precautions to take if you are working with a solo designer or a major firm. Your website is too important to leave it at risk of significant disruption due to a changing business relationship.

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.

No One Cares About Your Intranet

James Robertson points to a post decrying the lack of attention that corporate intranets receive nowadays in a challenging economy.

Expecting executives to fund the intranet is like expecting them to fund fax machines: better make a good case leading with the value of the outcomes an intranet can achieve rather than the depth of your features or total document count or the purity of your taxonomy.

In fact, I’d stop calling your group an intranet team immediately. Rebrand yourself as the rapid solutions team, working tirelessly to help profit centers make more profit and cost centers to cost less.

Creating New Ideas for Your Association Web Site

I had a great time presenting on Sunday at ASAE’s Great Ideas conference about how to create your own ideas for your association web site.

I emphasized in the session that:

  • Anyone can do this, you do not need permission.
  • Ideas are literally all around us if you open your eyes to them.
  • Creating and implementing new ideas is inherently an act of optimism, which will make you stand out from the crowd these days!

I had a few people come up afterward saying how enabling they found the ideas of the presentation. They were not ‘tech’ people and, before my talk, didn’t think they could do much of this themselves. Untrue! If you can simply edit content on your site (or have someone do it for you) you can immediately begin improving it.

Here are the slides for your reference.

I also offer this same presentation as a staff workshop. If you see value in empowering staff to do more with your web site, drop me a note and we can discuss putting a program together for you. Your members will thank you!

Are Your Web and IT Teams Fixing or Improving?

On a global consulting forum I belong to, Alan Weiss suggested that one thing to explore on a regular basis with direct reports is whether they are spending their time mostly fixing things or improving them. This is a great question for your Web and IT teams as well.

For teams that involve technology such as the Web and IT, it’s critical that they have a primary focus on improving the value of what others in the organization can achieve. IT and Web technology are pre-requisites for almost any endeavor these days. Teams that focus on improving and creating new value will increase the ROI of your technology investments and create an organization that constantly increases the value you offer to your constituents.

If your teams spend most of their time simply putting out fires, then they are leaving a lot of value on the table.

Don’t get me wrong, being able to troubleshoot, debug, and investigate the weird glitches and problems that technology entails is an important activity and skillset. However, it’s not why your teams exist.

Session Summary on Super-charging Web Teams

Mark Athitakis, senior editor with ASAE & the Center for Association Leadership, posted a great summary of my presentation last week at the ASAE Technology Conference.

In the session, titled Super-charging Your Web Team: Recruiting, Training, and Managing Your In-house Web Talent, I shared my top tips and secrets on how to maximize the value that your web staff can contribute to your organization. You can read Mark’s notes here on ASAE’s wiki.

Should You Have a Web Committee?

An association executive on a list I belong to asked this week if organizations should have a web committee to determine the content, design and functionality of their site.

My answer? No.

The problem I have had with most web committees is that they often pursue solutions via consensus. Each individual comes to the committee with their agenda and the group then works out some compromise where no one gets everything and everyone gets something. This results in web sites where no one can find anything and that produce relatively low value for their organizations.

Every site must have defined, focused, outcomes that it is intended to create if it will generate significant value. Committees just can’t do this because of their structure.

What does work? Teams.

This isn’t just semantics. A team is a group of people who are pursuing a common goal. They will succeed or fail together and therefore have incentive to collaborate and endeavor toward common goals. This requires some extra effort and thought by senior management but, hey, that’s why they have that job!

Web committees, as they are usually constituted and governed, fail to produce value at the level that a focused team can achieve.

Guides, Not Straight Jackets

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard bemoan the limitations of draconian style and design guides for their corporate web site. It is a very common complaint and always happens to a certain extent. However, when the complaints are endemic it’s usually because the department that manages the site has determined their job is creating compliance rather than results.

The best web teams are those that focus on generating results above all else. Guides and standards can be very useful tools and I’ve helped to generate a bunch of them. However, they are a means to an end. Don’t let your guidelines become straight jackets that limit your ability to achieve fantastic results online.