Why Organizations Build Under-performing Websites

According to Hubspot, only 49% of people who recently redesigned their websites were happy with the results. In organizations, this dissatisfaction is often a function of how the redesign was approached and/or executed from the top down.

As the internet matures out of it’s wild west phase, consensus has grown around best practices, what matters, information needs, optimizing sites for sales, etc. And from that space comes a number of lessons learned from how website projects can be managed effectively from an organizational perspective. Below are some common reasons why organizations build underperforming websites – and takeaways on how to avoid the same fate.

Failure of leadership to treat the website as a priority

These days, we’re all online all the time, looking up things, vetting things, seeking info to solve problems or make dreams a reality. And as a result, websites aren’t a one-off brochure or short lived advertisement; they’re a living, primary communications tool for connecting with customers and partners and showing the world your value proposition. Yet not all organizations have transformed their thinking on the function of their website as a primary tool in their business toolbox. In fact, a study this summer by MIT found only 26% of managers and executives believed their company’s digital strategy was digitally savvy. Almost one third said their company was “early” in its digital understanding.

For some years, businesses dismissed websites as a fad – a passing distraction, like snapchat or cat videos. Yet we’re 20 years into heavy presence of the world wide web, and it’s time to acknowledge that it isn’t going anywhere, and its reach into the functioning of our everyday lives continues to grow, and websites can no longer be treated as a one off dismissible “product”.

So here’s this for a mind-shifting idea: Websites should be approached with the same seriousness as an investor pitch deck – and contain much of the same information. The only difference should be rather than presenting information for investors, it should be geared towards your customers. This means your site should

  • communicate your value proposition early and succinctly
  • show what makes you special as a firm
  • Show how you benefit your customers
  • feature clients / partnerships / etc prominently – which indicates traction
  • communicate an urgency around why someone should do business with you now.

Takeaway: The days of the 5 page website are over. Websites need to communicate your business’ values and align with business goals in order to be the powerful driver of growth that they can be.

The Website development was not handled by the appropriate parties

A subset of failure to prioritize your website project is delegating it to the wrong people to complete. Outsourcing the public presentation of your company to low level employees or the cheapest firm you can find will have the results you might expect: content that isn’t reflective of your highest-level business goals, and design that is not up to the needs or standards of your organization.

Takeaway: Messaging and business goals should drive the content and development of your website, and thus these sorts of projects need high-level organizational engagement. At the least, your head of communications / marketing should lead the charge in turning your value proposition and important business initiatives into appropriate copy.

Design by Committee

There are stakeholders in every project – and it is important to engage them in the process. In fact, considerable thought and careful planning to ensure stakeholders needs are included can make a huge difference in team confidence and the project buy-in needed to get a project done – as well as in the quality of the final product.

However, many projects suffer the death of 1,000 opinions. Jill, the office manager, likes navy blue buttons, Sam the accountant wants great big maps, not small ones, and Mark, the CIO, thinks the contact form should collect way more information, and doesn’t care that research shows a radical reduction in responses for each question you add to a form…. we can compromise, right?

Pretty soon all cohesiveness to the project has collapsed into a mess of colors, elements, and general user unfriendliness, and the result is a site that looks terrible, doesn’t generate leads and that the designer doesn’t want to put their name on the project anymore, because you’ve sentenced the project to death by 1,000 committee opinions.

Your business’s goals and branding are not related to map size, and Jane and Mark’s expertises’ are not in design.

The key is to engage stakeholders in their areas of expertise. The accountant / cash-flow manager has important insights into how a new website handles payment systems, communicates customer data, and integrates with existing systems, as well how it can solve problems or increase efficiencies in this area. Account managers may have ideas about how efficiencies can be gained from new tech by providing tools that customers frequently request.

Thus group feedback that is collected should relates specifically to the project and business’ goals. This means asking directed questions of stakeholders, not open ended ones.

Asking the open-ended “what do you think” question invites everyone to play designer – and just because Sue likes polka dots and uses the Comic Sans font on the invitations for her book club doesn’t mean it makes sense or belongs on your company’s website or design materials.

Takeaway: Encourage stakeholders’ input and feedback on how the project can improve their functional areas of expertise in the business – but limit the feedback to those areas only.

A High-level Exec Overrides Best Practices or Research-based Advice

Consensus has emerged around best practices for many areas of the digital space. Yet some executives occasionally insist on their way even when presented with research and data that supports different ideas – to the detriment of the project. They can’t separate their opinions or preferences from what will work best for the customer.

A designer friend recently told us a story about a branding project they’d been engaged in. They were hired to help a company with their branding and presentation, which was outdated and in sore need of rebranding to appeal to the consumers who might purchase their products: the well-to-do woman and the man who wants to buy her presents. The designer presented a series of targeted, sophisticated branding elements, supported by research of what the company’s main competitors were doing and what appeals to this kind of consumer. However, the new president, recently hired from a very masculine non-consumer facing industry, scuttled all the designer’s work and research, insisting on using blood red backgrounds and elements, aggressive and decorative font choices, and other branding decisions that seemed more appropriate to a football team or metal band. The result was an expensive yet unattractive rebranding that has not produced the results the company was hoping for when they invested their money in it. The president was having problems separating his personal preferences from those that would be appropriate for their customer base.

Takeaway: website and branding presentations need to appeal to your target customer. Your preferences or habits may be very different than those of your target customer, and it’s important to separate your personal preferences from what will fit your customer.

The process of developing / redesigning your company website can be an engaging and important exercise in business planning and goal clarification – and one, when well executed, can grow your business substantially.


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