Developing websites for large and complex organizations can be an arduous challenge. The problem isn’t really a technical one. The coding part is often the simplest. Rather, the crux of the problem is that every internal department feels that they deserve to be treated equally. Especially on the home page, as for some reason internal stakeholders feel that if the don’t exist on the organization’s home page then they don’t exist. This fear leads to an all out scrap which often results in websites that are very organizationally centric. Or in short, websites that are built to keep the internal ‘powers that be’ and the HiPPOs (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) happy, but not built to actually meet user needs.
One technique that I have found useful for getting everybody on the same page is to start every project with agreed upon principles or ways of making decisions.
Provided below are three basic principles that could work for all large websites. I hope you find this useful.
Great websites help meet user need
With a bazillion other web pages out there your site needs to be above all else useful. It could be the sexiest, flashiest, most beautiful looking site in the work but if your audience can’t do the things they came there to do…you’ve failed. And the sad truth to this is that meeting user needs is not that difficult. Do your users want easy access to phone numbers? Well, give them the damn phone numbers. See, that’s not hard is it?
Great websites help meet organizational objectives
Meeting user need isn’t hard, if you understand your audiences. The real trick is trying to find where user need intersects with helping the organization meet its objectives. Because when it gets down to the nuts and bolts, what really matters is that your site is going to help your organization in some way. Otherwise, why bother?
The key is to understand which users can really contribute in a meaningful way to achieving your organization’s objectives on the web and then really singling those particular users out and focusing on their needs. So, if it’s important that your organization generates online sales the needs you better be fulfilling are for potential customers. It’s a subtle, important and often forgot about point.
Great websites help differentiate the organization in the marketplace
Finally, your website should also contribute to helping differentiate your organization within your competitive set. I’ll give you a hint, looking at what your competitors are doing is a great way to build a site that is exactly like theirs. It’s safe, and may help you keep your job, but in the end it’s not really going to help you differentiate in the marketplace.
Two bonus principles:
The website development world is filled with all sorts of wisdom, tales and lore. Ignore it all and listen to your users. That’s right. Close your ears. Everybody has a, “Well my cousin Bob (in his basement) says a great website should have a spinning logo or a flash page..that’s what users really want.” None of it means shit. Instead focus on what your users are telling you. Relentlessly focus on the data. That’s the best way to build large websites.
A website isn’t something that needs ‘to be done’…it’s something that you DO. You actively need to manage it on an ongoing basis. You need to be present every day. You need to immerse yourself in it. Every day you need to ask yourself, “How can this be made better?”
If I could leave you with one key takeaway it’s this: the world is moving far to fast for you to redesign your site every three years. It’s a bit like trying to keep your house clean without the occasional dusting. Wait three years…and ewwww then you have a mess to clean up.
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