“Managing Your Website”

by Jeff S. Pease

Your site has been complete for some time, and you are generally pleased with the results. The pages match your corporate brand and the copy has been tweaked and prodded until it shines – glimmers, even. You can even go so far as to say that your new website looks pretty good. Success! High fives all around! That box now checked, you can go ahead and schedule your next redesign for exactly 5 years from today and pretty much forget about it until then.

Not so fast, there bucko. If this scenario sounds at all familiar, then I’ve got some uncomfortable news – you may want to sit down for this…

Your site is a miserable deadbeat

Most people look at their web site as being similar in principle to a sign outside a brick and mortar store – it announces your presence to people who happen to pass by. You spend some time carving your sign to convey your company’s message as nicely as possible, but as soon as that sucker’s hung up, it’s going to darn well stay up because you don’t want have to get the ladder out again.

The problem with conceiving your website as a static object is that it vastly underestimates its ability to contribute to your company’s bottom line. Think about it: what does your site actually do for you, in terms of increasing your company’s value? Does it contribute to sales? Does it reduce customer service calls? Does it reinforce your brand image with your clients? How do you know?

A well-conceived web site strategy should be able to provide you with this information quickly and succinctly, making your web site’s potential far beyond your carved sign. In fact, at the risk of sounding altogether creepy, let’s consider for a moment your web site as if it was an actual employee – call him “Bob”. Has Bob been a good contributor to the team, or has he just been hanging out in the break room, drinking your coffee and chatting up the receptionist pool? As Bob’s boss, how can you justify his continued employment to your boss?

Getting Bob on track

If you don’t know what you want Bob to do, then he won’t know either, which unfortunately means that you may have to do some homework. To start, make sure that your goals are well-defined and measurable. To this end it is highly advisable to make use of some of the web analytics packages out there – we like the new offerings from Urchin and ClickTracks that use a simple javascript include file to shoot visitor info to an offsite server for analysis. These services can even correlate user behavior to actual sales on e-commerce sites, which can provide very powerful user information.

Make sure your measurements can be easily linked to actual dollars – pageviews and unique visitors are extremely popular metrics, but the reality is that they don’t really mean much if you can’t demonstrate that they are adding to your company’s bottom line. This is fairly straightforward for an e-commerce site or in a customer service situation (how much time are you saving by not having to take a phone call from everyone who finds an answer on your website?). On a typical awareness site, this can be accomplished by creating a call to action (“join our mailing list!”, “watch a short movie about our product”, “send this page to a friend”), and then keeping track of your site visitors who take you up on your offer. Each transaction where a user has signed up for something of their own free will means that your firm has just generated a lead. Compare the trends from this metric to your bottom line and see what you can come up with in terms of dollars.

Once you have a firm gauge for measuring Bob’s performance, review his performance at regular intervals and see how he’s doing. If he seems to be falling behind, step back and consider where pages can be tweaked to increase conversions - in most cases, big gains can be achieved by making relatively simple “tweaks” to your pages. The trick is to carefully consider your site from your user’s perspective to determine what barriers to they’re coming across from doing what you want – often, performance can be improved by reducing extraneous page links and making the links you most want users to follow more evident. Give them a reward for being attentive. Don’t confuse them.

Here’s the cool part of considering your website as an employee: if Bob’s performance does seem up to par during this period, you don’t have to praise him or give him a raise – just tweak your pages some more and raise your expectations.  You should also feel free to shovel more work onto Bob. Websites can do a great job of facilitating communications between your team and clients, and automating repetitious data handling tasks. Just be sure to keep your eye on the bottom line: how much actual value do you expect your new features create? Once you’ve gotten them added, how much value do they actually create?

The end result

For most website owners, the process of undergoing a results-based analysis of a website’s value can seem daunting at first. This isn’t because the process is necessarily difficult – it isn’t. For most people, though, it takes some time to fully accept the paradigm shift that your site should actively create value. Once you’ve spent some time with the idea, though, I can assure you that you’ll never want to go back. The old way will start to seem pretty silly.

And trust me, your site will love all the attention.