Great websites have content that is easy to Find, Read, Understand and Action


It's nice for a website to look nice. But it's not that important.

What's important is whether your users can find, read and understand your content and complete actions easily.

That's it. Everything else is secondary.

Find, Read, Understand, Action
FIND
Can your users locate information and services or is it a constant guessing game? Good findability includes SEO, clear labelling, high scent-of-information, usable navigation, etc.

READ
Can visitors engage with ease or is information shovelled online in dense clumps? Good readability includes clear information flow, good layout and white space, suitable fonts, etc.

UNDERSTAND
Can readers absorb your messages first-time or are they full of obscure verbiage. Good understandability relies on plain language, no jargon or legalese, etc.

ACTION
Can users complete tasks easily or are they faced with awkward interactions and errors. Good actionability has clear controls, clear trajectory, clear micro-content, etc.
You probably already know all this.

However, I bet have you colleagues who talk a lot about the "look-and-feel" and want another "redesign" as a cure-all for endlessly disappointing performance.

They are stuck in the era of websites as art projects.

They don't get it. Websites are not art projects. They're engines. They're machines for doing things. Websites are supposed to be greasy and constantly tuned and tinkered with—not admired from afar.

That doesn't mean they have to be ugly or austere.

Most modern websites are built on responsive frameworks and have good aesthetics and other features (mobile support, accessibility) by default.

Absent some fundamental business change, there is no excuse why such a site should be rebuilt until every ounce of utility has been squeezed from it.

Imagine if you could just work on the website you've got, instead of being told to "redesign".

You could concentrate on what's important by making content easier to find, read, understand and action.

You could restructure your Information Architecture. Change labelling in navigation. Rewrite your content. Simplify interactions. All without a redesign.

The more websites I look at, the more this lesson becomes clear.

Great websites don't redesign - they just get better.

Do something radical to your website after COVID-19. Make it better!


Just as COVID-19 has revealed that many health systems are not fit for purpose, so it has done the same for websites too.

Organisations around the world are discovering that—at the moment they need them most—their websites are too inflexible and one-dimensional to deliver.

This is no surprise. Years of institutional disinterest and under-investment made it inevitable.

Chickens. Welcome to the roost!

My concern is that COVID-19 will be followed by an over-reaction—to (once again) try to "fix" things through a clamour of expensive web redesigns.

A protest march

Sadly, these efforts are doomed to failure. You cannot redesign your way out of institutional digital illiteracy.

Sure, design is part of the solution, but it is not the solution. As usual, good content is orders-of-magnitude more important (but no-one ever tenders for a web rewrite).

That said, it would be pretty stupid for a web manager to refuse a cheque for €-half-a-million. Plus, this is an important learning moment.

Here’s my advice: take the money but tell your bosses you're not going to redesign their website.

You're going to do something much more radical instead—you’re going to make it better!

They may not understand at first, but that’s OK.

Almost certainly, many of your colleagues have a concept of digital that is stuck in the early 2000s. The massive increase in specialisation and the professionalisation of skills is likely completely unknown to them.

That's not their fault; they don't work in web everyday. But this knowledge gap is now a serious organisational risk and it's time to bring them up-to-date.

You can start by explaining why 'web design' is not what they think it is. It is only 1 part of a vast spectrum of disciplines and deliverables that underlie modern online operations.

Tell them it's time to stop thinking of their website as an art project.

A website is an engine. It's a machine for doing things. And it's time they started using it.

It will not be easy, it will take time and it will be expensive.

Think of the €-hundreds-of-millions have been spent on redesigns over the last 2 decades with effectively nothing to show for them. What a waste of time and money.

Don’t repeat the mistakes of the past and expect a different result.

Spend wisely. Hire the skills you need, get the right tools and focus on things that matter.

Don't redesign your site. Make it better!

It will work. Here's how.


Why digital government in Ireland is failing - & how to fix it

Underachievement is designed into digital government in Ireland. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

The symptoms are manifest. Endless ‘redesigns’ instead of meaningful action.



The cause is also clear. A near total absence of essential digital skills.

“But” you might say “look at how easy it is to renew Motor Tax online.”

Sure, Motor Tax is easy. But that’s the point. It’s easy! It’s a very straightforward transaction. What else has government done?

The answer (with some honourable exceptions such as Revenue, HSE and a few others) is not much.

Read the full article on Medium.com.

New video | Why good web governance leads to stability



In this video I talk about "stability" as a factor of good web governance.

Stability means you that you don't have to worry about things like too little authority, inadequate manpower, bad processes or simply stepping on a colleague's toes.

Rather, you have everything you need configured in the right way, so that your web people can just get on with things and focus on pursuing online goals.

In my online Masterclass for Web Managers, stability is the number 1 measure of success for web governance that I keep coming back to.

It really what good web governance is all about.

No perfectly written online standards or beautifully crafted organisational chart can be a substitute.  None of those things matter if they don't work or are routinely ignored.

In that sense we need to constantly remind ourselves that web governance is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end.

Good web governance is simply the system we use to manage digital in a controlled and orderly way in order to create stability.

Unfortunately, stability is not that common

Web operations in way too many organisations are under intense pressure.

The cause is a huge mismatch between the burden placed on web teams (including publishing volumes, customer engagement, platform management) and the size and sophistication of the resources and supports available to them (principally, manpower, skills and tools).

In the Masterclass I explored a classic example of what such a mismatch looks like and how to fix it.

Mom and Pop This is based on the story of a Mom-n-Pop's Diner – a small restaurant that grows into a giant regional chain – and the challenges faced by their web manager "Junior" (Mom-n-Pop's son) as he tries to cope with the huge increase in online activity that results from this growth.

Just as often happens in real life, we find out that Junior remains massively under resourced as scale grows.

This inevitably this leads to huge instability and ultimately an embarrassing online error which seriously damages Mom-n-Pop's brand and reputation.

The second half of the Masterclass explains how Junior and Mom-n-Pop's in general go about recalibrating their web governance (using examples from such world leaders as GOV.uk, Cap Gemini, the Altimeter Group) to create more stable operations based on a properly resourced team and following the 3 broad digital transformation steps of vision, investment and commitment.

Web Governance Tutorials: 8 lessons + 90 mins of video + supports

  • Learn the modern structures, skills, processes & tools your web team needs
  • See how to minimize conflict as your website increases in scale
  • Based on real-life examples from GOV.uk, Cap Gemini & more
  • FREE: Download samples or try now for $29.99 (incl. free extras)

The full story of governance transformation

To get the full story of Junior and Mom-n-Pop's web governance transformation, you can explore the Masterclass online. It has 8 lessons in total, 2 of which can be downloaded for free on my website.

In a recent web post, I said that I also want to publish some more videos (starting with this one) that expand on the concepts in the Masterclass in a bit more detail.

Admittedly, these videos will be a bit more informal than the Masterclass but perhaps usefully can spend more time on individual topics associated with governance transformation.

In particular, I want to tackle the key issue that Junior and Mom-n-Pop struggles with.

That is how to scale up and improve web governance and management systems at the same time as your website is growing and colleagues are demanding more and more from you online.

Is the type of instability that Junior experiences inevitable?

Or is it possible to get senior management to buy into the benefits of stable web governance as a worthy investment on its own terms, in the same way as they freely invest in web "redesigns".

After all web governance (including properly equipped team with the right skills, processes and tools) is the only that makes sure everything (UX, content, code) will all work together.

Surely it deserves attention?

Indeed, as I argue in my one of my online articles the 4 Megatrends of Web Governance, a central issue of digital is that way too often growth in online scale has not been balanced by a corresponding growth in resources.

The result is that web teams have to cut corners in an effort to get things done and which leads to a fall quality, an increase in uncertainty and often embarrassing errors.

Over the coming videos, I'll build on the story of Mom-n-Pop's diner and explore in extra detail how Junior can improve his web governance systems as online grows in size, complexity and levels of engagement.

Web Governance Framework

If you are new to my analysis of web governance or have not yet explored the masterclass, it may be worth familiarising yourself first my Web Governance Framework.

This Web Governance Framework is the conceptual model I use help put order on the many activities and resources of online operations and as a means for making predictions about the types of governance an online presence needs.

However, if you don't get to do that don't worry too much.

In the next video I'll give a brief summary of the concepts involved and show how you can use them to a stable management system - whether you are a 1 man web team or part of a giant digital operation.

Following that, we'll explore the challenges in involved in growing the scale of your online operations and sketch out the 3 factors of success you need to be mindful of.

Web traffic is a delayed signal - your site is already broken

It's always a mistake to track web performance based on traffic alone. It's perfectly possible to have high traffic, whilst suffering huge difficulties elsewhere, eg high cost, risky practices, etc.

Instead, you should measure performance across 3 broad categories:
  1. Online indicators
  2. Operational indicators
  3. Organisational indicators
Together they give you a much better idea of overall performance.

For example, online indicators measure your ability to meet the minimum expectations of your target web audience. Such indicators include:
  • Responsiveness - Does the site load quickly & consistently?
  • Content  - Is text relevant, readable, understandable & actionable?
  • Accessibility - How well can the site be used by people with disabilities?
  • Portability - How well can it be used on different devices (mobile, tablet, etc)?
  • Usability - Can it be used effectively with minimum effort/errors?
  • And many more...
On many sites, few (if any) of these indicators are tracked. Only when email complaints go up & traffic goes down, do they realise something is wrong.

That's why relying solely on web traffic or feedback for assessing online performance is such a bad idea. They are delayed signals. The site is already broken.

Happily, plenty of automated tools are available (a few of which we have) to keep an eye on things. These tools provide the immediate insight needed to maintain stability & intervene before web users start to rebel.

Web content in the age of anxiety

"Nothing distorts intent like anxiety. Anxiety pulls focus from the goal and lets energy flow towards distractions and perceived threats. Anxiety flourishes in the absence of information." 
Muledesign.com

Anxiety is one of the key hidden drivers behind the web.

Our anxiety (fear of legal challenges, negative media coverage, etc) can make our content cagey, vague and stand-offish.

Our users' anxiety (lack of time, fear of error, uncertainty about next steps, etc) can make their engagements tense, their correspondence angry and their reactions dramatic.

We end up exacerbating each other.

But anxiety falls when the right content is delivered with care. Self-assurance from us can give confidence to our users.

"These guys communicate so clearly & are so precise, they are obviously on top of things."

That doesn't mean we say anything & everything online. It means the opposite. We need to be exactly clear about what we say & how we say it - so it can be best understood.

That's what content strategy is for, that is, to:

  1. Isolate the right information to deliver via web: What messages/users are best for web? Which are not? What's core? What secondary?
  2. Determine the right depth & breadth of content: How much is too much? How much is too little?
  3. Identify the right features & formats: Text? Downloads? Video? Decision aids? Interaction? User generated content?
  4. Create it to be persuasive & actionable: Compel the right people to act? Dissuade others?
  5. Publish it so it is easy to find, read & understand: Clear labelling? White space? Plain English? Instructive, descriptive or narrative style?
  6. Manage it after go-live so it remains up-to-date and accurate: Measurement? Ongoing changes? End-of-life?

It's not easy and it takes time. Distractions and excuses are everywhere.

Expect to disappoint a lot of people who think the way out of every problem is a nicer design. Expect to have to repeatedly explain why good content is a good idea.

But for service organisations (eg government, banks, utilities, etc) the pay-off in reduced anxiety (eg angry phonecalls, emails, visits, etc) is well worth it. 

Get 3 things right & you can stop worrying about web governance


Web Governance is a system for managing online in a controlled & orderly way.

For a large and ambitious web presence, 3 critical factors will determine whether your governance system will work:

1. Vision
First, you must commit to governance as a distinct discipline and provide the leadership to make it work. For example, this includes defining clear roles, responsibilities & decision making authority.

2. Balance
Second, you must equip your team with the resources needed to maintain quality, even as scale grows. For example, this includes acquiring the tools, skills & staff needed for online management.

3. Convergence
Third, you must deliver on the “better world” scenario of an improved web presence by involving the rest of your staff in the change. For example, this includes sharing the tools & training they need to maintain their content.

Get these 3 things right and you can stop worrying about administrative conflicts or an inability to get necessary things done online.

Instead, you can focus attention on pursuing your goals and take operational stability for granted.

Learn much more about the 3 critical factors in the Web Manager's Masterclass.

Your website is an early warning system


Did you ever hear of Google Flu Trends?
The idea was pretty simple ... track changes in web activity over time & make predictions.

For example, suppose Google saw a growth in searches for "flu" during February. They could make a prediction (along with other insights) that a flu outbreak was on its way.

Although the Flu Trends project has now ended, the concept remains powerful. You can do something similar by tracking data on your own website

Change in web activity / Time = Prediction

Last year a busy year for foreign passport inquiries.

After the Brexit vote & the election of Donald Trump, traffic to citizenship and immigration websites in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and more soared.

It was an easy bet, therefore, that passport applications would start to increase a short time after. Indeed, in the 2nd half of 2016 applications for citizenship by UK & US citizens in many countries grew dramatically.

This demonstrates how web can act as an early warning system

Changes in business activity (originating from customers) will almost always be detected first via changes in online activity. The insight generated may be used in several ways, for example to:

  • Plan resource allocation
  • Prepare public communications
  • Alert staff to coming work

Of course, the type the predictions you can make is limited by the sophistication of your web management tools. Nevertheless, the idea of tracking online engagement & correlating it to offline activity can serve you well.

A homepage is a landmark, a billboard & a calling card

Although decreasing numbers of visitors to most sites now start their visit via a homepage (thanks Google), they remain important.

The main challenge is to recognise how a successful homepage works & then stay focussed.

A homepage is primarily a LANDMARK for findability (by your users)
Eg, Lost on a website? Go to the most familiar landmark (homepage) & start your task again.

It's also as a BILLBOARD for communication (by you)
Eg, Got something very important to say? Pull in some eyeballs on the homepage.

Finally, it can be a CALLING CARD for familiarisation (by first-time users)
Eg, Not sure who these guys are? The homepage gives you an "at-a-glance" summary.

Overall, you must remember that a homepage is never "finished". Just like a new car coming out of a garage, it begins to depreciate and decline from the very moment it is published.




The web is boring


Sure, it has lots of fancy widgets & whizz-jangles. But when it comes right down to it, it's just a tool. The web is about as exciting as a phone line or an email inbox. And it's hard to become breathless about those.
The truth is that none of these tools are important in themselves. It's only what they can do for you that is exciting. And in that sense, the web is incredibly exciting - especially for government and higher education.

In fact, it's almost as if the web was designed with these in mind:
  • Large distributed audience?  Check!
  • Numerous obligatory multi-step applications? Check!
  • Vast data gathering & processing requirements? Check!
If the web didn't exist and someone described how useful it could be, you'd probably laugh at them.

"That's right. 

If you publish good quality content and create usable services, this 'web-thing' will save you $000s per year by reducing the volume of calls, emails, application-errors, mistaken applications and mistaken office visits you get - and improve data quality and processing speed. 

Not only that, a good website will make your customers happier, improve your reputation and reduce your business/legal risks from out-of-date information."

Pfff! What a dreamer.