What’s the #1 reason most organizations want to redesign their website? At some point the law-of-new-shiny-objects kicks in and someone in charge decides an “updated” look and feel is needed. The site is ugly and outdated, therefore it’s not producing any results. A new redesign is worked and launched, the hour glass is flipped, and the count down to the next redesign begins. The truth is redesigns have a high probability of failure within the first two to three months, sometimes sooner.
A fresh coat of paint, a little nip/tuck, or a make-over does not equal success. Better serving customers and generating more leads does. This is ALL that matters, and the rest is just window dressing. Making it as easy as possible for a customer to do business with you is the essential #JTBD.
Creating vs. Maintaining
So, why then is this type of thinking perpetually missing from the strategy? One idea is that maintaining something is now perceived as harder than creating something. And because most organizations aren’t confident they have the resources and expertise to maintain, the strategy becomes how long they can get by with what was created. This is why so many redesign projects are front-loaded with every ounce of cool imaginable. But don’t be fooled. A maintenance strategy is both attainable and profitable when done right.
At Green Tie Marketing (disclosure: I work with this agency), we’ve learned the marketplace has a big education gap when it comes to understanding how to manage their online strategy over time. It’s not for a lack of smart and dedicated, mission-driven people, or even budget for that matter. These are the caliber of clients we prefer to work with, and they inspire us everyday. It’s really about how they’ve traditionally defined success in their organization, and how that mindset has bled into how they define success in the online channel.
We find most clients are more than strapped for time and resources. So, everything becomes time-boxed — i.e. X needs completing by this date, Y event is happening on that date, and Z can’t begin until we’re done with X and Y. Think about a component of a larger strategy, like a redesign, and how it looks in this context. The thinking often becomes ‘if we can just get something new up there, our job will be done. Until the next time.’
This is the challenge we see with the redesign as THE strategy. All the perceived value and return on the investment is tied up in the creating not the maintaining. The reality is that marketing teams that invest in a specialist, whose sole job is to consistently refine and execute the online strategy achieve high levels of success and return. And when they outsource to an online marketing partner (if they lack the in-house specialist) they achieve even higher levels of success and return for as much as 25% the cost of an FTE. Maintaining a strategy requires laser focus, and for that you need dedicated experts that can guide and execute.
Deliver the goods, consistently good.
Let’s look at a couple extreme examples to illustrate the point of focus and execution. Have you seen craigslist before? How about Drudge Report? I love bringing up these two examples because you don’t have to know ANYTHING about website design to understand that their visual style is epically craptastic! But they do one thing better than most beautifully designed sites on the Web; and that is for years now they keep chugging along and delivering the goods. The results.
According to their site, CL has about 30 people curating, monitoring and approving content at any given time across 700 local websites in 70 countries. In the US alone, about 60 million people use the service each month. At Drudge, it’s a smaller staff (about 3-4) and their headline content is highly curated by its editors. The design of one of the most popular political news sites “remains entirely written in unscripted HTML with a mostly monochromatic color scheme of black boldface monospaced font text on a plain white background [via Wikipedia].” And Jason Fried of 37signals once called it “one of the best designed sites on the web.”
Now, this isn’t a recommendation to suddenly ditch your brand identity and personality in favor of designs like these. But the examples are living proof that the most critical piece of your online strategy is not in the creating but in the maintaining. Consistent focus over the long-term. Don’t undervalue it. If anything, over plan for it.
You bought a new wardrobe of clothes, wore them once and then neglected their up-keep. You bought the gym membership and never had a set schedule for going. You started a new diet but still kept the bad stuff sitting in your fridge or in your pantry. When you decide to pursue a redesign, make sure you have put in place the right engine for ongoing success. Otherwise, you’re just another pretty website. Until the next redesign.
— Tim Henningsen (@gimmetim) October 29, 2012