When a business launches a new website there is typically some fanfare. Congratulatory emails abound. Executives make laudatory announcements. Website analytics are carefully watched for improved performance.
Yet the results that follow are often disappointing. Traffic stays steady. Bounce rates don’t move. Average time on site doesn’t change. It seems that no one cares that you’ve launched a new site.
If you find yourself in this position then your team needs to honestly evaluate how they got there. In my experience it’s much more likely that they got the website strategy wrong than the execution. No matter how good your website looks or how compelling your content is or how clever the technology behind it is, if your strategy is wrong then nothing else matters.
Following is a quick rundown on the top 10 mistakes that cause people to get their web strategies wrong. I’ve already reached my quota of offended people this week so I’m not going to give specific examples here (tempting as it is).
This is a killer problem for businesses of all sizes. Your site should aim to solve problems for your users by being genuinely useful. The concept of ‘Branded utility‘ is not new, but today it is more relevant and important than ever.
Far too many corporate websites seem to be designed around their organisational structure rather than their customers’ needs. This makes for a frustrating experience for customers, who don’t care how your organisation is structured and just want to achieve what they came to do as quickly as possible.
3) Diffuse identity
What is your site’s value proposition? Do you know? Is it clearly communicated to users as soon as they arrive on your site? There are billions of websites out there. You need to tell your users straight away why they should spend their time on your site rather than somewhere else.
4) Lost in translation
Taking analogue ideas and applying them to the digital world is a recipe for failure. Many websites are literally an online representation of a brochure. Is this really the most effective use of the medium? Does your site do things that would never be possible offline? Does it do them in ways that would never be possible offline? If not then you’re probably missing out on big opportunities.
The best websites are generous to their users. They don’t try and lock up their content on their site – they provide ways for users to share it. They don’t hide their best ideas behind registration forms and paywalls – they give it away for free. If you’re not being generous with your users, then why should they waste their time on your site?
6) Listening to tech people
Tech people have a frustrating tendency to solve every problem by focusing on technology before worrying about what the business or its customers need. To avoid this, Forrester proposes the POST model, which outlines the order in which you should think when establishing web strategies: People, Objectives, Strategy, Technology. Understand what your customers need first, what your business is trying to achieve second, and your strategy for meeting both their needs third. Then figure out the best technology solution.
7) Disrespectful irrelevance
Creating a site that isn’t truly relevant to your users is disrespectful and a solid waste of everyone’s time. This seems strikingly obvious but if you spend some time browsing the average corporate website you will be amazed at the irrelevant crap you’ll find. Do your customers really care about your Occupational Health & Safety policy? Or the lengthy bio of your marketing director? Or are these just getting in the way?
8) Same same
You can’t expect to attract a significant audience by creating something that is similar to your competitors. Users have endless distractions and short attention spans. Unless you offer them something unique that they can’t get anywhere else, you’ll be invisible.
Creating overly complex websites can be an extremely costly error. You should aim to create the simplest thing possible that achieves both your needs and your customers needs. Ask yourself what Apple would do, not what Microsoft would do. Ask yourself “What can we take out?” not “What can we add?”.
10) If you build it, they probably won’t come
Finally, one of the worst mistakes of all: putting all your time, budget and energy into making the website absolutely perfect rather than figuring out how to promote it and make it successful. You can build the best website in the world but if no one ever finds out about it then you’ve wasted your time.
If I’ve made getting your web strategy sound difficult, that’s because it is. It requires a deep understanding of your customers, a clear idea of your business objectives, and a relentless focus on creating something simple, relevant and useful. If you do these things right then you can’t really fail.
The good news is that the execution part of building great websites is getting easier every day. Services like 99designs and SquareSpace make it easier than ever for small businesses to cost-effectively create excellent websites. This gives you more time to focus on getting the strategy right!
Alex Campbell is a strategy and planning consultant at digital agency, DTDigital.