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7 Common Web Strategy Mistakes

Scott Snowden
Scott Snowden
Business & Technology Strategy
Write to Scott

Here are a few traps that are easy to fall into when you're starting your digital project. I'll talk about how to shift your thinking when you fall into these traps.

1. List the features you want

Don't dictate the feature that you want to see. Instead, talk about the desired experience you want to accomplish.

Oh, it's so easy to just start listing the behaviour you want on your website! Often times these lists come out of brainstorms and ideas you've had for awhile, or something trendy you just saw somewhere else. Usually there's a phrase that starts, "It would be great if our website could do…x." Yes, you need to capture these lists. But, I'd say the single biggest trap is to consider this list of features as your final project brief and to then start the project and dive right into design and development.

This missing piece is defining the desired outcome. It is much better describe what you want users to be able to accomplish that to define the steps you think they should go through to achieve that objective.

If we use a simple example, perhaps your website needs a list of members / vendors / partners that are part of your organization. "It would be great if users could come to our website and find a list of our national partners." Yes, a list would be nice. But really what you want is to provide users with contact information for a partner that is closest to where they are. Users want to see a map… not a list at all.

2. Outline the frustrations you've had

Set your sights on the future and don't trip on the hurdles from the past.

This is similar to listing features you want to see, but from the opposite stance. It's again really easy to vent and talk about all the shortcomings of your current website. Again, the solution here is to talk about desired outcome and to describe the user experience you're after.

Take a retail scenario for example. When I'm at home doing product research I probably want to build a wish list, read reviews, link to the manufacturer for more details and share the information with my wife. When I'm in the store and on my phone, those features may all be helpful, but the priority is different. I'm probably more interested in knowing which aisle I can find the product on and that batteries are not included.

A simple approach to building a responsive website will ensure that the design wraps and stacks well so no content is missed by users on different screen sizes. But, a good mobile solution will take context into consideration and help you create a site that best serves that situation.

3. Go on instinct

Even if you're right, the process of validating your opinion will help uncover other insights.

This trap might be the one I personally fall into most often. In the interests of time and cost and getting your message to market quickly, you speak on behalf of your audience. Many business leaders have come to trust their gut - likely that gut has been right before too.

Ideally you're able to build in a thorough amount of time and budget to accommodate some good research, but it doesn't have to take too much effort to validate (or invalidate) your opinion. Talk to clients, talk to vendors, talk to your staff and any other stakeholders you can identify. At the very least, whip up a survey that's quick to answer and send it out to as many people as you can. Pick up the phone and talk to a few customers to bounce the idea off them. At the very least, I bet you'll discover another nugget of useful information.

And please, use your existing analytics too. Many business are driven by data, but I'm surprised how often a marketing campaign is built without going back to recap analytics from previous campaigns.

4. Pick a solution based on the technology

Consistency is good, but having a unique system may in fact give you a competitive advantage.

Do these quotes sound familiar?

  • "I was at dinner the other night and I heard that no one is using the system that we're using anymore."
  • "Our whole system runs on this technology so everything else needs to match."
  • "I need an app"

Firstly I'll admit that there's value in running a system that uses a technology that is familiar and can be more easily supported by your business.

However, most software vendors and systems integrators want to remove barriers for their clients and there is an understanding that the IT infrastructure will be a collection of tools. Most systems are now built to allow connections to other systems.

Balance a focus on the technology with a consideration for how that technology will be put to use for your business. Make sure the team that you have working for you on the project knows how to map your system to your business

5. Budget for today

Keep an eye on the bottom line AND implement a strategy that will endure.

Most of the time clients and vendors both wish the project had an endless budget. The consequence of trying to maximize the project budget is the risk of leaving nothing in the well. As a vendor, I would advocate for making sure that the initial spend does not leave the business without the budget to promote the project after launch.

Kevin Costner made sure that we all know, "If you build it, he will come." And in business that gets positioned as, "I know this will be useful, because everyone is asking us for it."

The trap here is forgetting to let people know what it is you've got to offer. Don't underestimate the effort it will take to sell and promote what you're doing. If necessary, split your project into phases so that you can invest part of your budget now and spend to grow adoption.  Then, enhance the feature set and offering as your audience (and revenue) grows.

6. Decision by committee

A moment ago I said not to go on instinct alone.  Swing the pendulum too far the other way and you'll be paralyzed by indecision.

Collecting feedback from stakeholders is an important step in the planning process for most new endeavours.  The trap here is forgetting the two-way communication.  Build a brief and use it to communicate your business goals. Without that step in the process it is hard to decide what feedback to listen to and what feedback is leading you astray. A brief gives you a project charter to refer back to and that will ensure you stay on strategy.

One useful tactic with digital projects is to remind your critics that changes are easy to make down the road. If decisions are made that turn out to be mistakes, the analytics and user feedback will confirm that for us and adjustments can be made. Veterans of the print world have a hard time coming around to that reality, but it helps reassure people when they know decisions can be changed later if necessary.

7. Assume nothing will change (for now)

Iterate. Iterate. Iterate. Repeat.

Projects take a lot of energy and very often you have run out of steam when the project is done.  Or, maybe it's just that you now need to turn your attention to another priority.  But if you've made that investment, you can't neglect it. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, "Plan now for what needs to happen the day after launch and every day after that."

Scott SnowdenAuthor: Scott Snowden
Business & Technology Strategy

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