Recently, my six year old son, Evan, stopped me dead in my tracks with the following, seemingly easy question:
“Why does Superman need a secret identity anyway?”
If you can imagine the baffled expression on my face as I vainly struggled to come up with a coherent answer, you have a pretty good sense for the look I typically get when I ask business people a different, yet also seemingly easy question:
“WHY DOES YOUR COMPANY HAVE A WEB SITE?”
If you want to cause trouble in your company, this is the question to ask. Responsible, capable, experienced business people, many of whom would never think of purchasing even a pair of shoes without giving a great deal of thought as to what they planned to use them for, seem perfectly willing to dive into building multi-thousand dollar web sites with strategies that can basically be summed up as, “We’re building a web site because everybody else is.”
Although I do agree that the vast majority of businesses can benefit from a presence on the web, please, please, PLEASE, do yourself a favor, and before you begin discussing site layout, design and navigation, much less begin interviewing outside firms to come in and build the thing for you, pull your project team together (even if it’s only you), and write down an answer to the following question:
“WHAT DO WE HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH WITH OUR WEB SITE?”
I guarantee you that getting agreement on a succinct answer to this question will take you a lot longer than you think. And whether you ultimately decide that your site’s purpose it to increase the size of your customer base; develop new revenue streams; make it easier for people to do business with you; improve your communication with existing customers; or reduce operational costs, you need agreement up front as to what your site is all about.
Without it, you run the risk of building an unfocused site that is difficult to use, difficult to manage, and that wastes your time and money. At the extreme, you may end up with a site that is full of “cool stuff,” but that does little towards moving you in the direction of accomplishing your business goals.
One last thought. The reason for putting all this in writing is that your web site is alive (aaahhhhhh!!), and will constantly evolve whether you like it or not. Thanks to the varying perspectives of all the people who will necessarily be involved in maintaining and updating it, as well as the inherently iterative nature of the web, a quality site should look very different six months from now than it does today.
A written document is your best chance at making sure that everybody (including yourself) stays focused, over time, on why you launched your site in the first place. It doesn’t have to be long or fancy, but it does have to be in writing.
Join us next time, when we’ll take a look at how to measure the success of your web site. In the meantime, if you can shed any light on this whole Superman thing, Evan and I would appreciate hearing from you.