No one wants to be the person who invested hundreds of thousands of their company’s dollars into a new website, app or digital asset, and then have it fail to do what it was built to do.
Even fewer people want to be the ones to then tell their management team that the project needs even more investment – sometimes as much as the initial expenditure – to fix the problems; or worse, start over.
In the web industry, we call this a rescue. They are every bit as horrible as they sound, but there’s good news. They can be prevented.
Sure, we all strive to get it right the first time. When it comes to web projects, it’s easy to be swayed by beautiful design, or set aspirations for your project that the CMS you are using could never achieve. Rescues are not just about fixing a mistake; they are also vital in identifying missed opportunities.
Getting it right is a simple process.
Before starting a project, especially one of such significance, answer two questions:
- What’s your business strategy?
- What do you need your users to do?
A straightforward discovery session helps reveal these intertwined goals. More importantly, it opens a discussion about business strategy.
To avoid a rescue: define goals, user types and target audience; understand if consumption is happening on mobile vs. desktop; determine where referrals come from and know what actions users should take.
What do you want to achieve as a business and what do you want your users to do when they get to your site?
Organizations that are purposeful about their digital business tools understand the mix of business strategy with web strategy. They create intention.
Would you invest with a financial advisor without establishing retirement goals? Hire a public relations agency without communicating your marketing strategy? The discovery phase is critically important. It’s also easy to ignore.
Building a web asset is much easier than ever before. You don’t need deep skills or experience to build a website. There are templates for all sorts of web properties. You can launch an attractive site at a low cost.
Look and feel is cheap. Purpose is not. On the surface, a site can do what the project asks. But without strategy and goals, how do you ever know if your project is successful?
Think the above happens only to the small business with a $20,000 website? No. Rescues happen to businesses of all sizes and budgets from small to large.
Key tips to avoid a website rescue:
- Work with a firm or internal team with strong development chops – the right coding helps avoid a lot of potential issues.
- If your team are Joomla or WordPress experts, don’t expect them to understand how to successfully create a new site or complementary digital assets in Drupal. If your project specs call for Drupal or another CMS that can support complex, enterprise-level web projects, use an expert in that CMS.
- We all like to stretch ourselves, developers included. Your half-a-million-dollar database is not the place to experiment.
- Get all stakeholders involved in discovery. The day before launch is not the time to get the founder’s opinion on the project.
A key tenet of the purposeful web is objectivity. Every component of your website spec should serve a purpose. It’s like having a family based on the number of bedrooms in your house – you don’t need to fill every room. With your web project, just use what you need to meet your goals. Don’t be frustrated by the discovery phase. It can take a while but helps make the rest of the process flow smoothly.
Projects that rush toward creating site pages just to have a tangible result are inviting failure. Objectivity helps justify the investment of time and money that discovery requires. When objectivity is applied and goals are defined, every action happens because it helps meets those goals and helps solve your business challenges and needs.
For enterprise-level projects, we rely on Drupal; the more complex the data model behind a project and the more moving parts involved, the more that can go wrong. Drupal’s value allows you to build complicated back-end models AND beautiful and functional front-end designs. Drupal done well guides your users, automating processes and diminishing the likelihood that a user gets lost or performs the wrong action.
For large-scale web projects, the answer to one more question may help determine if you are investing the right funds, establishing clear goals and using the most relevant CMS: Do you need your site to DO something or just say something?
The burden of working toward the purposeful web does not reside solely with the client. Developers must share the burden. We believe the web development industry must:
- Insist on a discovery phase to start a project.
- Work with a CMS that aligns with your expertise, and pass on a project when it does not.
- For every element your clients believe they need, ask why. You’ll be amazed at how strategic that one little question can be.
- Test exhaustively – find the flaws before your client (or your client’s customer) and fix them.
If a complex app or website is an integral part of your business, follow the counsel above. And if you still need a rescue, have the courage to make the appropriate fixes. Invest appropriately to create an asset that meets your business goals. The web is a powerful tool for complex businesses, and the purposeful web exists for those companies that must have engaged users.
Don’t settle for getting what you want. Get what you need.