Websites are like... close

Rachel Wilde
Rachel Wilde
In Site Launches, Codegent College
19th May 2011
Websites are like...

If you’ve ever seen The Social Network you may have noticed a very interesting comment from the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. When talking about the launch of Facebook Mark is asked, “When’s it going to be finished?” to which Mark responds, “It’s never going to be finished. Facebook is like fashion. It never ends”.

This got me thinking, not only about how much of an accurate analogy that is, but also what else are websites like…?

...fashion

So why is Facebook so much like fashion and why is that of interest to the rest of us?

Well, think about the early days of Facebook. What could you do? Add a friend. Give the odd poke. Write your status. Upload some photos. Now what? You can play scrabble, own a farm, sell stuff on the marketplace, check-in….the list is endless. Mark Zuckerberg knew Facebook would evolve over time, just like fashion.

And although we can’t all be a Mark Zuckerberg and create a multi-billion dollar site, we can learn from him. He didn’t set a completion deadline. He didn’t try and include everything on the site that he could think of at the time. He didn’t put the site live, sit back and relax. He started with the basics. He made sure the core functionality was right and allowed people to become familiar with the site before gradually adding more features. He launched phase one in the knowledge that seven years on he would still be releasing updates.

This is exactly what anyone should do when launching a new site. Adopt a phased approach and treat your site like fashion, allow it to develop over time.

...fat dogs

Fat dogs don’t ask to be fed so much food. Their owners just keep on giving it to them. Is your new website your dog and are you making it fat?

Most people not only want an all singing, all dancing site ready for the big launch, but they put pressure on themselves to generate tonnes of content. This can seem like the best thing to do. Create a rich content site so people spend ages reading through all of your amazing content. But this can create issues. It can mean that you rush out lots of content ready for launch that isn’t of the best quality. Visitors may arrive on the site and read everything, but then they have no reason to come back. Or when they do come back they may see all of the same content and think there’s nothing new to read.

Don’t be scared to start slim. You may have a CMS with which to feed your dog but remember a dog needs to be fed small amounts every day, not just one massive meal a year.

Start with solid foundations on which to build. Allow yourself time to learn and adapt to user behaviour, slowly generate content that you know will be of interest and drip feed your site. Keep your audience interested and excited about what’s going to come next and, most importantly, keep them coming back.

...Big Brother contestants

Websites are there to be watched and analysed. So play the part of Big Brother. Use the tools available to you as your cameras and microphones.

One of the major advantages of working in the digital world is the extent to which you can track user behaviour. If you allow yourself the time, resources and budget, you can monitor your site carefully and make any changes accordingly.

General site stats can give you massive clues as to where improvements can be made, for example:

  1. Registrations not as high as expected? Are people going to the registration page but then dropping off? The form might be too long. Shorten it and see if that makes a difference.
  2. Got loads of great career opportunities but not many people applying via the site? Maybe they can’t find the careers section? Try adding a link to Careers on the homepage.

With a basic tool such as Google Analytics (or something similar) you’ll have even more insight. How people are getting to the site, which pages they are going to, the sections they are spending a lot of time on, etc. You’ll know which sections are working well and which need some TLC.

You can also carry out usability testing. There are a range of techniques you can use, including heat maps to see where users are clicking and setting user goals to see how quickly they can achieve them. For example how quickly can people get to your contact us form? Are they missing the “prominent” link on the homepage?

You can also test different designs or content in what we call an A/B test. It’s fascinating and you’ll be amazed at what a big difference small changes can make. For the phase one launch you could have two different homepages that people are sent to randomly. Find out if people are clicking through more on one design than the other. Or you could change the wording. Does Find out more get more clicks than Click here to view?

It all means that, if you are allowing your site to evolve, you can not only make the changes you feel the site needs but also the changes your audience have told you it needs. Analyse your site constantly and keep making updates before it gets evicted from the Big Brother house.

...women

Websites may seem like they know what they want, but they can change their mind. Just like women (as a female I can get away with saying that!). What they want and need will change over time. Not only because of what you have learnt about your customers but because of changes within your business or, more often, it will be other changes in the digital world.

Think about Flash and how popular it was a few years ago. Every site wanted flash. But now with the lack of support from mobile devices and advances in alternatives to flash, websites are turning their noses up at it. Another example is Search. Whilst we know exactly what a site wants in order to perform well at SEO, all it takes is one change in Google’s algorithms and updates are required. Consider a time when no sites had Join us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter links on their homepage. Now every site wants it added to their homepage.

The sensible thing is to make sure you have a flexible site that allows you to adapt to these changes and new requirements. Although you may be able to build a site that is 100% perfect, it won’t last, because nobody really knows what women want.

...burgers

Think about your website as the burger. Your bun is the mobile site. The chips are Social Media campaign. SEO is the cheese. PPC the bacon etc...

The burger is the daddy of the meal, but it really needs its accompaniments to do the job properly. If the burger’s bad then the meal is ruined. If the burger is good it will do a half decent job on its own. The sides are OK but not really anything without the burger. When they are all on one plate…that’s when you’re talking.

If you’ve followed the process correctly then you will have gradually developed a site that is performing on all levels. Visitors are looking at the areas you want them to, returning to the site and responding to your calls to action. Now you have a good burger you can you start thinking about adding other stuff to the plate.

Add a bun. You will have learnt how many people are accessing your site from mobiles and you may find your audience are more mobile than you thought. Do you need a mobile site, or maybe an app to make it accessible and fully support their needs?

Some chips? You have a site you can really be proud of, so get people talking about it. The power of Facebook and Twitter are yours for the taking. Give your audience a reason to talk and interact with your brand. This will both drive traffic to the site and build your brand into a truly digital one.

A bit of cheese and bacon. Both SEO and PPC search campaigns can be used to raise brand awareness and drive traffic. By now you will have a thorough understanding of user behaviour on your site and can tailor these campaigns accordingly for most effect.

It’s not only about the key ingredients but adding them at the right time and refining them until you have the perfect combination.

...a million other things

The analogy list is probably endless, but these few have helped me think about what we should all remember when launching a site.

Take your time and use a phased approach for launch. Think about future proofing your site. Ensure you build a flexible website platform that allows you to evolve and adapt. Work out who’s responsible for constantly analysing user behaviour. Ensure you have budget to make any required updates. Start planning to support your site with other digital campaigns - when it’s ready for them.

There’s a lot to think about but it’s easy; just consider your new website as a fashionable female fat-dog owner eating a burger on Big Brother!