News Flash! Scientists Discover What’s Wrong With Your Web Site!

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t hear some variation on the following statement:

“We have a web site, but it just doesn’t seem to be contributing to our business in any tangible way. It’s not helping our sales and it’s not reducing our costs. We’re not sure what to do next.”

As I talk further with these people, I usually find that the fixes under consideration are — almost without exception — centered on making improvements to the way the site works or the way the site looks.

“Maybe we need a cool Flash intro?” “Maybe we need to rethink the layout of the site?” “Maybe we need live chat?”

After listening, I usually end up suggesting that they are looking in the wrong place for a solution.

In my experience, the causes of most ineffective commercial web sites are not design, navigation or technology related. In fact, they’re not really about the site itself at all. The key problems are almost always related to how the existing business and the web site work (or don’t work) together.

What I’m suggesting is that although the actual building of your company’s web site requires the blending together of thenon-business elements of design, navigation and technology, and although there are always improvements to be made in these areas, at the end of the day, these things are secondary considerations. What is going to make or break your site is how you address some key business issues.

Read on for more . . .

In a previous newsletter, we talked about the #1 site effectiveness killer: The Lack Of A Written Plan(see, “In Web Site Development, Up Front Planning Leads To Time And Dollar Savings,” 11/3/00, in our archives).

Today, we’re going to talk about effectiveness killer #2 (also business related): The Web Site Is Not Logically Integrated Into The Existing Business.

Consider this example:

One of the first things that’s generally put on a web site — no matter how modest the effort — is a “Contact Us” button or section. The purpose of this is to allow a visitor to easily send a request, make a comment, or ask a question of the company. It’s a fantastically valuable tool for both the customer and the business, and it takes all of about five minutes to set up. Few commercial sites these days are without one.

Notice however, that the setting up of this simple tool suddenly necessitates a whole range of operational actions and decisions within a company:

• Somebody needs to know that it’s his/her job to respond to the comments that come in.

• A business rule has to be created regarding how quickly comments will be responded to (Within 4 hours? Within 24 hours? Approximately never?).

• Replies to the comments need to be thought out ahead of time, to make sure they are complete, as well as consistent with answers that might be given through other company channels (e.g. telephone, printed materials).

• A tracking system needs to be set up. At the very least, you will want to compile basic information about the comments, such as how many you receive each week; which questions are asked most frequently; whether the comments are positive or negative; etc.

I’m sure you can think of other steps as well. It’s a lot of work for one little button!

Unfortunately, many companies just activate the button and do none of the back end planning. Visitors send questions and never hear back (see “This Week’s Interesting Internet Tidbit” below for more on this point!).

The result is a web site that is unresponsive, frustrating to use, and a negative reflection on the company. The exact opposite of what the “Contact Us” button is intended to do in the first place.

And that’s just a simple button. The operational impact only increases as other, more complex features are added such as newsletter subscriptions, order placement, appointment scheduling, or bill payment.

But wait, don’t get depressed. The news is good! With a little bit of up front planning (OK, a lot of up front planning), you can anticipate the resource requirements, business rules and operational processes that you need, ahead of time.

What it requires is a step-by-step approach to mapping out how each element of your site will lead back into your business, and a firm commitment that nothing will ever be put on the site without first thinking through the process.

To sum it up, if your site isn’t delivering the results you had hoped for, first take a step back and consider how it fits into your business overall!!

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