Bad Websites & the Organizations That Love Them
By Lisa Welchman Most organizational Websites fall far from the concepts that the enterprise had in mind when it conceived its Web presence. What starts with the best of intentions so often turns into a real mess.
We routinely see sites where:
- customers must log into multiple systems to complete a single task;
- there are multiple graphical user interfaces which cause confusion when navigating the site;
- search -- the last chance for information retrieval--is poor.
The original goals seem straightforward enough. For example, many for-profit and non-profit organizations envision the perfect site where customers arrive at their homepage, then click through a seamless funnel that leads to a purchase, donation, membership or inquiry. Perhaps, the organization is a small liberal arts college looking to attract the best and brightest students by presenting a comprehensive view of all it has to offer.
And then there are the sophisticated cases of large enterprises that offer a diverse array of products and/or services. For example, a business with distinct product offerings sold under the same brand name (such as a consumer goods or auto marketer), or a university that has multiple and sometimes loosely affiliated schools.
From the outside looking in, there is opportunity and value in cross-selling and marketing within all these scenarios. But, oftentimes, we find that internal operational management silos -- focused on their own individual product lines or business goals -- aren't able to balance their own autonomy against the accountability to the corporate brand that a cohesive Web strategy demands. The result? Website quality suffers.
In the physical world, a hardware store will display hammers next to nails and paint brushes next to paint to help improve the shopping experience. A car showroom might build a comprehensive rack of brochures for potential buyers to browse. Unfortunately, these ostensibly simple marketing options seem inexplicably unattainable when it comes to replicating this experience online.
Creating and maintaining an effective organizational Web presence requires cross-departmental collaboration and a shared vision. Many organizations fail miserably when it comes to this. Chances are, if the parts of your organization didn't "play well" together pre-Web, they aren't going to do so in the post-Web era. The only difference is that, now, this shortcoming manifests as an ineffective, low-quality Website for all your customers to see. Not only that, it's likely that your organization is missing new business opportunities. That leaves your enterprise vulnerable to competitors.
CIOs and those in IT often exacerbate this issue by acting as a non-strategic service organization, implementing any and all requested Web functionality. They allow internal purchasing and power to drive the technical architecture that supports the web presence, rather than thinking about how this architecture can best serve Website users. IT pros can help their organizations better understand how to create that online "rack of brochures" by supporting improved information management practices.
For some IT organizations, this is a stretch. Those who focus on application and systems development, network management and desktop services may not believe that it's their job to proactively help the organization manage its information. Yes, data management is considered the CIO's domain. But, when IT departments help select Web infrastructure technologies, it's frequently with an eye towards how it will fit into technical architecture (meaning software, servers and hardware) with less emphasis on how it will support the information architecture required to produce a quality Web presence.
For example, most IT organizations aren't involved in the strategy of applying metadata to content so that information retrieval via search is enhanced. So, the organization is left with a Web presence for which the line of business that wields the most money and, hence the most implementation power, within the organization produces reams of (usually) unstructured information and creates a content mess on the servers.
There's a need for hybrid human resources in IT (let's call them "Web people") who understand the importance of clear communications as well as they understand the power of structured, standards-based information architectures that support collaboration and information sharing. You can help improve the situation by populating your teams not just with technical people, but also with "Web people." Your bottom line will thank you for it.
Lisa Welchman is the founding partner of WelchmanPierpoint, a web management consultancy.