TECHWISE : Bob’s Building Site

TO: Kim, Murray, Steve, Cath, Kurt
SUBJECT: RE: Things for the website
Murray and the IT team are starting on the new website. Could you all let him know what you want on it? Check out the attached design mock-up. We’ll need your feedback by the end of the week at the latest.
TO: Murray
CC: Bob, Kim, Steve, Cath
FROM: Kurt
The product managers agree it’d be great to have support forum – that’ll reduce the load on phone support. Also let’s have the product catalogues, prices and technical specs up there. Design looks good!
TO: Murray
CC: Bob, Murray, Steve, Cath, Kurt
We should be using the website to generate leads for my sales team. I agree with Kurt that the product catalogues should go up. But not prices!! Don’t want customers to buy just on price! How about an enquiry form people can fill out for pricing? The design’s bit “funky” for me. Kim
TO: Murray
CC: Bob, Kim, Murray, Steve, Kurt
FROM: Catherine
What about “Careers” section?
TO: Murray
CC: Bob, Kim, Murray, Cath, Kurt
FROM: Steve
Could everyone please send Murray their photos for the “About Us” page. Kim – did you mail clients to check it’s OK to use their logos on the “Our Clients” page? We’ve got that corporate video too. What about putting it on the home page?

Given the poor quality of many corporate websites, I’m willing to bet that this email conversation mirrors the design process at many companies. The problem is that often companies start to build their websites without first establishing their objectives. Usually they start by getting someone to mock up design rather than thinking about what the site needs to deliver in terms of functionality.
Another common failing is not involving the right people in the pre-design process. The site ends up becoming the responsibility of the IT department (because it’s techie stuff) or the marketing department (it’s for marketing right?) or an external web-design company (that knows little about your business and even less about your customers).
If companies do involve relevant people in the pre-design process, they often don’t involve them in the right way or involve them deeply enough. Opinions are sought, but there’s no clear process for managing the responses. Everyone has an opinion about what’s needed but have competing objectives. And options are not reviewed and prioritised by the people responsible for setting overall corporate strategy. As result many sites end up trying to be all-things-to-all-people and satisfying no one.
Companies also often look at the construction of their website as one-off process: “whew, that’s the website done, back to business”. How often have you visited website to see “Latest News” section where the last posting is over six months old? Building website needs be an evolutionary process – it needs to be tweaked and tuned over time to ensure that it delivers its objectives. Someone needs to be responsible for developing and regularly maintaining the site on an ongoing basis.
Next time you think about re-designing your site, start by asking some basic questions:
•What do our customers or prospects want from our website?
•Have we involved everyone in the company with an interest in determining the website’s objectives?
•What is the list of objectives? What are the respective priorities – what’s crucial and what’s nice-to-have?
•How will we measure success? What are the key performance indicators?
And start thinking about the things you hate about sites you go to. Learn from their mistakes. Some of my pet peeves are:
•Sites that purport to sell products but don’t give any pricing information.
•Sites that tell you all about how great the company is, their huge list of customers (see the logos) but nothing about what they can do for you.
•Sites that have “Contact us for more information” form. I’m yet to get timely or useful response from one of these. Look, if I contact you, it’s because I’m interested in buying something. In which case either I’ll buy it on your site (if I can) or ring you and order. I won’t fill in form because you’ve failed to give me enough information for me to make purchasing decision, I’ll already be at your competitor’s site – where they have.
•Sites that are hard to navigate, or have important information (like phone numbers and addresses) hidden in the bowels of the site.
And one final suggestion. How about involving your customers in the design pro-cess? Ask them to help you ensure your site delivers what they need. After all, at the end of the day, your site’s for them.

Mark Evans runs Techtelligence, and is director of Sway.Tech, marketing, communications and strategy consultancy for hi-tech companies. [email protected]

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