Three keys to happiness for your new website

After ten years of working with clients who are struggling with websites that aren’t meeting business needs, I’ve learned that most organizations overlook three important things at the very beginning.
      Let’s review those three important things so you won’t repeat those common mistakes.

Important thing one – get clear on what you want

Clarity is the key to effective websites

Before you call a web person or start your do-it-yourself effort, be sure you have a firm grasp of three critical things; get clear on your purpose, define your call to action and outline your content.

What? You thought the web person would do that? How could anyone outside of your organization possibly deliver on those three action items without being a mind reader?

No – those tasks are yours and yours alone. When these tasks are successfully executed, the organization can prepare a written document called a request for proposals or RFP. When an RFP is developed for a web project, this written recipe will make it much more likely that the project will be finished on time, within budget and to your liking.

How is this accomplished? By conducting three team meetings focused on developing a recipe for a new or updated website. 

Note to HiPPOs (that stands for Highest Paid Person in the Organization): HiPPOs are generally the farthest from the customer, client or patient and are singularly unqualified to lead a meeting on customer engagement strategies. HiPPOs suppress communication and drive groupthink.  HiPPOs should facilitate, not lead these meetings.

Why three meetings? I’m a big fan of the ‘three and done’ model of meeting execution. Have an agenda, take notes and set a time limit – good fences make good neighbors just like time and session limits make good meetings.  

What would a good agenda look like?  Here’s my favorite recipe:

1.  What is the business or mission purpose of your new site?

  • Increase customer traffic in a brick and mortar business?
  • Increase inquires for your service business?
  • Inform prospective clients of the services your non-profit offers?

If you don't know what you want, you probably won't get it!

As surprising as it might be, this is where most web projects go off the rails. Keep working on the purpose of the site until the purpose is understood and agreed upon.

2. What is the very next visitor action you need a visitor to take in order to achieve your purpose above?

  • Visit your store?
  • Call your phone number?\
  • Click a ‘buy now’ button?

If you don’t tell a visitor what to do next, they probably won’t do it!

This is where being clear on the site’s purpose becomes so very important.  An effective call to action needs a purpose.

3. What is the minimum information you need to provide to support your purpose and desired action?

  • Does the right information appear?
  • In the right order?
  • In the right place?

If you don’t help your visitors, your visitors probably won’t help you!

Note the phrase ‘minimum information.’ This is the Twitter era so no one reads anymore. Whatever needs to be said on the new site needs to be said succinctly or not at all. The most effective websites put all the content in one place, where the visitor can consume all you need to say in a single sitting. Long gone are the days of menus, long form articles and links to “about us” or “testimonials” pages. If it’s not on the first page it’s not going to be seen by anyone.

Why? Back in the days of the 640 X 480 screen, 256 colors and 56kbps dial up, developers had to break up content into tiny bites and spoon feed content through those tiny spaces. Now we all have faster connections, ten times the screen space and one tenth the attention span.

Once you are clear on these three agenda items, your meeting notes can be turned into an RFP – see how efficient that was?

Important thing two – put on your fighting shoes

After you’ve selected your web professional (or designated an in-house team member to do the work), it’s time to start fighting. Web projects are complex and have many moving parts. Each movement presents the opportunity to lose focus. Fight for focus!

If you hire a web developer, you will need to constantly fight to keep your purpose, your needed actions and your supporting information in focus. Web developers know web but know nothing at all about your business or mission purpose. Web developers focus on their purpose – to look good to their peers and prospective customers – and will completely lose focus on your needs. Fight back!

If you do it yourself, your ego, lack of customer perspective and personal idiosyncrasies will push you to make a site that looks good to you but not to your prospective visitors.  Most business owners and service providers are not in their own target markets, which means a do-it-yourself developer has a very poor understanding of customer needs. Fight your ego!

Here are a few additional fighting topics.

Fight ‘F menu’ syndrome – F menus were those old link lists that went across the top and down the side of an old ‘home page’ to link the visitors to additional content.  Don’t do that. Keep all your content on one page. Use the new agile templates if you need more screen space but don’t waste your time on menus – your visitors certainly won’t.

Never, ever use clip art or stock photos – these are great for mock ups or building scammer sites but have absolutely no role in a quality web presence. What the customer, client or patient is really buying is you, not a stock photo. Give your visitors lots of you. Show your team in action and decorate your site with lots and lots of you. Anything less is a waste of screen space.

Flashy is for selling trashy – resist those video splashes, moving slide shows and other visual garbage that are often used make websites look like video games. These elements always look great on the developer’s demo and are really exciting the first time these effects appear.  Unfortunately, these graphic elements quickly become annoying as visitors return.

Important thing three – how does the date end?

If you hire a developer, always get a full set of backup files for your site so you can protect against lost data. This includes hosting information for the server storing your files, log-in credentials for server access and written confirmation from the host that you, and only you, are authorized to make changes to the hosting account.

If you build your own website, be sure you get exactly the same things. Make backups, document your host information and keep your registration information up to date.

Either way, build these requirements into the RFP so respondents know what you want in this important area. Having backups and server access will assure your site can be effectively maintained, updated and even repaired if necessary. Having server access will also make it possible to gat additional web work done even if you lose touch with the original developer.

These tips won’t guarantee a great website but they can protect against a dreadful website and prevent a miserable site owner experience.
     Want to learn more about effective sites? Call Kevin, your web-literate business adviser at (360) 865-4938