Thursday, October 3, 2013

Section 3: Getting organized

Figure out corporate goals for the site.

What’s the first thing you do when you getting ready for an unexpected big change in your life? Scream? Well, all right. If that works for you, good luck with that. Once you’ve finished with that, you might want to inventory what you’ve got (and what you don’t) to help you get what you need.

Websites are still like a kind of black magic in a lot of people’s minds. People don’t have a solid mental model about what a website does and how it relates to their work/responsibilities. Because of this, you tend to get wildly wide-ranging expectations. Some people will think the website is a waste of time. Others will think it’s going to magically solve all of the organization’s problems. Most people fall somewhere in between and tend to sway from one end of the pendulum to the other depending on whom they are talking to.

Why does this matter? If you don’t nail down some authoritative and agreed-upon goals early on, you are going to find yourself doing a lot of tap-dancing later to incorporate the new goals that tend to pop up unexpectedly. See if the person you are replacing ever had any specific goals for the website – not personal performance goals, but corporate goals for the website. Often the goals are annoyingly vague: “to communicate product information” or “to help create a positive image of the organization.” If the CEO signed off on them, however, they are still useful. When someone comes up to you and suggests that the website would be much more snazzy if you put his or her life story on the home page, you can point back to “communicate product information” and at least have a place to start negotiating. The key is to emphasize that you aren’t haphazardly making up rules about what does and doesn’t go on the site. You want to emphasize that your content decisions align with business strategy.

Remember that you have to stick to your corporate goals.
Don’t forget to toss in the fact that the CEO (or some other feared executive) signed off on it. If it’s on the year’s strategic plan, all of the execs signed off on it.

If you are lucky enough to have some very specific goals (i.e., numbers attached), paste those bad boys up on the wall over your monitor because every decision you’ll make from now on will need to map back to those goals. It’ll help you stay focused and with as many decisions as you’ll be making over the next year, focus will really help.

If you’ve rifled through the strategic plan six times and can’t find any mention of the website anywhere, then you need to write some goals down. Don’t be tempted to take the “vague” path. The vague approach will can come back and bite you later. Look at your web server analytics (measures of how people are using the website) and see what you can measure. Check to see if there are any existing trends you can build on. Put numbers (and make them as conservative as you can get away with) on every goal and get someone in a higher pay grade than you to approve it. Common and easily measurable goals include:

  • Number of unique visitors
  • Percent of new visitors
  • Revenue from the website or from outreach efforts (such as an email campaign) 
  • Time each visitor spends on the site
  • Number of page views
  • Number of products purchased on the site (if applicable)
  • Number of comments/forum posts posted on the site by site visitors
  • Reduction of phone calls to a help desk (if applicable)

Ten percent growth in a year is pretty safe, even without marketing. Be aware that these aren’t particularly sophisticated ways to measure a website’s effectiveness, but they are common and pretty easy to understand. If you decide you are going to stick with this web management thing and really build on it, you’ll need a much more sophisticated set of measures that really target who is using your site and how.

Quicky guide to Web analytics terms.

Goals and “discovery” 

If you have been brought in to oversee a big redesign or replatform to be done by an external vendor, don’t spend a lot of time creating goals yourself. The vendor will take you through a long “discovery” period (that your organization will pay dearly for) that gets to these goals. No vendor worth his or her salt will negotiate away this discovery period. It’s just too important.

What is a “discovery period”? That’s basically where the vendor comes in and asks for the goals and expectations that I’ve pretty much laid out here. Every vendor has their own process and documentation, but they all boil down to the same things:

  • What do we need to do?
  • Who do we need to do it for (who is the key audience)?
  • When do we need it done?

If an organization isn’t 100 percent sure of what they want from a web redesign or replatform, the vendor can use this “discovery” as a gentle prod to get the decision makers to... well… make some decisions.

There’s no need for you to duplicate the effort. The vendor will probably do a more thorough job and will have more caché with the executives in your office.

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