Why You Shouldn’t Leave the Web to the Web Guys
These days, everyone is struggling to catch up on digital marketing. In the rush, too much of the thinking is often left to impressive young webbies who seem to know a lot about all of the hubbub.
Your business on the web is far too important to leave to a bunch of technobabble. What’s more, in their quest to show off their dazzling skills, the webbies often forget that your digital strategy needs to fit into overall strategy. The result is usually wasted money and missed opportunities.
Here are a few simple rules that will help you get the most out of your web development and digital strategy.
Usability before Design
The most important thing about your web site is how people will use it. Before you are shown any snappy graphics, you should insist on a functional, clickable model of your web project.
It should give you a basic idea of what your web project will look like, but mostly focus on how users will interact with it. You can concentrate on design elements later. This will help you concentrate on what’s important – how users will understand what the hell you expect them to actually do (as opposed to showing off some cool eye candy).
Usability guru Jakob Nielsen (he’s to usability what Kotler is to marketing) has what is probably the world’s ugliest site. Nevertheless, it is highly popular and extremely valuable (which I believe is part of his point).
You should also conduct ongoing usability testing to ensure that users are getting as much value out of the web site as possible. Here’s a useful and easy to understand guide that will help get you started.
Clarity before Creativity
One of the hardest parts of forming a digital strategy is that not only are there a dizzying array of options, but new and exciting things are coming out all the time (even though we still don’t really understand the old stuff). Everybody feels like they are getting left behind.
However, like anything else, the most important part of your digital strategy is that everybody understands it – both internally and externally. Marketers, in their misguided quest to be different, often forget this simple rule and it’s even worse with digital marketers.
On the web, originality is the original sin. You should always follow web conventions (i.e. logo and home page link on the top left) unless you have a very good reason not to. Conventional design and functionality allow people to use your site easily without a steep learning curve.
That doesn’t mean that you should never do anything new and different, just that when you do the reasoning should be clear and compelling.
And, please…kill the flash intros!
Use the Simplest Tech that Can Get the Job Done
Mathematicians have a great rule which says that you should always use the simplest model that explains the data. The concept is just as important in digital strategy.
Technology moves fast, but people change slowly. Humans, by nature, form habits that we are loathe to alter. If you are hearing about technology for the first time, you probably shouldn’t use it. New tech is often full of bugs and there is usually a shortage of people who know how to deploy it properly.
The web was designed to be scalable, so it’s usually easy to upgrade later if the new tech is really that important. If the old stuff works, go ahead and use it.
All too often, people start their digital strategy with big plans: A new web site with lots of features, a complex new social media initiative that will engage consumers as never before, etc. What usually happens is that after the initial excitement, the big proposal gets bogged down in internal squabbles, technical glitches and other problems.
I have found an easy way to solve this problem – roll out your strategy in stages. Start with something so simple that you can’t screw it up. Then you can build in complexity. A stupid strategy that is well executed will outperform a smart one that is overly complex.
As for social media, the strength of a network comes from building tight communities, not massive reach. So starting off with just one or two social media channels is perfectly viable. You can always add more later on.
By starting simple instead of launching a massive initiative that you think will solve all of your problems, you are more likely to encounter small issues that are easy to deal with rather than massive problems that will kill your initiative.
It’s much better to launch three 2-month projects that build on each other than to go for a six month project that might never get done.
Your Web Site is a Starting Point, not a Finish Line
Most probably your digital strategy has very little to do with digital and everything to do with your business. You might want to get more customers, engage them more, service them better, and so on. That means that it will need to work well with your existing personnel and processes directed at the same goals.
The problem with many digital people is that they don’t know anything about your business. What’s more, they usually don’t care. What they want is to impress other digital people and are not much concerned with how your digital strategy fits in with everything else you’re doing.
So don’t leave your web strategy to web people. You know your business and where you want to take it. It is their job to fit into your process, not your job to fit into theirs.
And don’t let them forget it.