In my last post, I shared some thoughts on how to make sure that you can start your website development project on the right foot.
This time around, I want to focus in on some things to keep in mind as you’re moving through the actual buildout of the site. As with last time, these are general tips drawn from personal/industry experience, so your exact mileage may vary, but the general message is almost always going to be of use.
Remember the Big Picture
Integrate your website with the rest of your organization
Once you have a great plan in place for your website, and a set of goals that you want to accomplish with it, the next logical step is to begin considering how that all of that planning fits into your broader organization. There are several levels that you need to consider, and while it may not be crucial in your organization to have a formal document detailing each of these points, if you’re in charge of the web development efforts you should be able to describe how those efforts fit into the organization in broad strokes.
First, you have to know what your website does. It’s vitally important that you know how your website integrates with all of your other technology. Do you feed sales leads into a CRM? How does the website connect with your internal email – is “firstname.lastname@example.org” set up as a distribution list, and who is on that list? Do you collect email addresses through the site for email marketing? What about job postings on your site? How do people apply to jobs, and how does the information move throughout your organization?
Usually, your web development team can answer a lot of these questions for you, but just like some of our points from my last post, there are some situations where no one outside your organization can make the decisions that will require changes or commitments on the part of your staff. Ideally, you’ll have some website policies and procedures in place for how to use company digital assets, just like physical assets (e.g. you cannot use company letterhead or email signatures for personal communications). If you don’t have official policies and procedures, you should aim at least to be able to pinpoint who is responsible for which sections of your web presence.
Over the long term, you should be aiming to have each of the separate functions of your website assigned to a single department or segment of your organization. For example, job postings should be posted, managed, received and evaluated by Human Resources. All sales should be fed to the CRM and your sales or marketing team should be responsible for understanding what information they need to receive and how they should receive it. That’s not to say that they need a code-level understanding of the system, but they should know where their information is coming from and what it’s supposed to look like when it gets there.
If it isn’t obvious how a piece of your web presence fits in with the rest of the company, or where it should be managed, that may be a sign that you’re creating a solution in search of a problem. If you’re going through all the effort of building and publishing these tools, you ought to know how you are going to use them. If you’re a construction company, you wouldn’t buy a new bulldozer unless you knew exactly where you intended to use it. Think of your website the same way.
Done Is Better Than Perfect
If no one can see it, it may as well not exist
The idea that “Done is better than perfect” is a tricky point to press, so I want to be clear that I am not advocating intentional mediocrity. If you’re putting out truly miserable content, it can have negative effects. You should be giving a good-faith effort to produce quality work. On the other hand, the bar for “truly miserable content” is somewhat lower than many people think.
Anyone creating content, whether for business or for personal fulfillment, is going to be intensely critical of their own work. If you’re serious about doing the best you can, you’ll fixate on the things that you did wrong, instead of what you did well. It’s actually a common trope for artists to hate their own work, so much so that a brief series of google searches reveals variations on the same question targeted at several different creative endeavors, including visual art, writing and music.
Don’t let this stop you from getting your content in front of the eyes of users. Remember, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” No amount of theorizing is going to substitute for the feedback of real people interacting with your products. Focus on getting the basics down, and then get your content in front of live human beings. It may be an uncomfortable experience, but it will also allow you to use your tools and the information they provide to respond to real user input, not to your best guess at what that input will look like.
Remember that you are a content matter expert in your field. Promoting your business or organization isn’t like a writing class in college, where you’re trying to show the professor that you have learned the information that they told you to learn. When it comes to your website, you are the professor!
Finally, keep in mind that for the people using your website, decent content right now is a heck of a lot more helpful than the promise of great content at some point in the future.
Good enough is (almost always) good enough
The key point to consider when you’re deciding when you’ve got presentable material is when good enough becomes good enough. If you’ve identified your goals properly, your web development team should be able to help you determine how much is good enough. I will point out that this tip depends on having successfully implemented the suggestion from last post that you determine what your goals for the website are. You need to know what you are trying to accomplish in order to know if you have accomplished it.
Once you know what your goals are, your next step is to determine how far you need to go in order to actually achieve or exceed your goals. In the case of a business that doesn’t have a website yet, your task is very simple: you need to list your contact information, some brief overview about you and a list of the services that you offer. There is almost no situation where providing that information in coherent, complete sentences can leave you worse off than not having a website.
Now, realistically, you’re probably going to be starting from a point where you have some web presence already. In that case, your task is to figure out what your competitive advantage is and to double down on that advantage. Maximize your effort on pressing that advantage and aim to bring everything else about the website to the level of “good enough”.
For example, if you’re a smaller lawn-care company working on a website upgrade, your key focus should be on showing exactly how high-quality your work is. You need good photography to demonstrate the sort of work that you do and you need a clear path to your call to action. Everything else can be good enough. You do not need market research on how people are going to respond to the exact shade of green used in your logo – you have bigger fish to fry. You do not need Pulitzer-level writing for the copy on your site. Just describe your services clearly, accurately and without any typos, as if you were having a conversation with your user.
If you happen to have great content available, or phenomenal pictures clearly at hand, of course that’s never a negative. But fundamentally, the website is not your product. It is just a marketing tool to get people to try your product (or your services, or your organization, whatever you’re promoting with a website).
For a great example of how good enough is good enough, look at Craigslist. It has possibly the most underwhelming design and graphics you can find on a well-known site (even accounting the for intentional kitsch factor). And yet millions of people use it. Why? Because they make it easy to find stuff that you want from its other users. The design, the color palette, the writing quality in their content sections are all secondary to the mission of the website, so they can just be good enough.
Now you have some good tips to keep in mind for the actual buildout of your website. If you did your planning properly, then following these tips ought to help you build a maintainable web presence that will accomplish all of your goals. Even better, you’ll be accomplishing all your goals and doing it as effectively as possible, because you’ve focusing in on what matters, and you aren’t holding up the project waiting for the time and inspiration to create perfect content.
Next time, we’ll discuss some tips for managing a good website and continuing to grow and improve your web presence.
eLink Design is a national web design, application development, SEO, and business consulting firm, founded in 2001 that specializes in custom solutions for over 800 clients around the country. With this blog, we hope to provide insights into what we are working on, areas where we think we can help shed light on problems we hear, and sometimes just cool things we have come across.