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." 

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 undelivered products, credit card theft, 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 gives 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. In fact, it means the opposite. It means 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, ie to:

  1. Isolate the right information to deliver via web. (What messages are core? What’s secondary?)
  2. Determine the right depth & breadth of content to publish. (How much is too much? How much is too little? How much is just right?)
  3. Identify the right features & formats for our purposes. (Plain text? Interactive tools? Video? Downloads?)
  4. Produce it in the right way, so it is findable, readable & understandable. (Plain English? White space? Short paragraphs?)
  5. Craft it in the right way, so it is persuasive & actionable. (Compel people to act? Dissuade ineligible applicants?)
  6. Manage it after golive so it remains uptodate and accurate. (Measurement? Lifecycle?)

It's not easy and it takes time.

But for service organisations (eg government, utilities, etc)the pay-off in reduced anxiety (& calls, emails, visits, phonecalls) 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.

Web accessibility - don't do stupid stuff

A number of years ago I shamefully helped to copperfasten low quality accessibility on a large website. And I did it by validating that it was accessible according to WCAG guidelines.

You see I was asked to make a judgement as to whether the site met AA standard in a very legalistic-type way.

My initial response was:

"Look, forget the guidelines. That's all they are: guidelines. If we want to check if this site is accessible, let's test it with visually impaired users. If they say it's accessible, then that's good enough for me."

But it wasn't good enough for the client. Their requirement was to certify the website met the guidelines - not that some people found it easy to use.

So was it compliant?

Well, yes it was - based on a strict legalistic interpretation. But, it was going to be a really awkward & cumbersome experience for the visually impaired and others.

I was reminded of this when reading Lawrence at Sitemorse's new article about 10 Ways to Improve Website Accessibility.

Meeting an impossible standard, sometimes means ditching the standard. Follow the spirit of the guidelines and "don't do stupid stuff".

Making Digital Governance Work

It is difficult to think of any collection of people or type of activity that is not underpinned in some way by a system of governance. There seems to be a basic human condition that craves structures for the organisation and management of our collective affairs.

Unfortunately, little thought is ever given to such ideas when it comes to the activities of Website Management. In fact, many firms continue to to believe that the only governance they need is a part-time 'web guy' who will take care of everything.

In my visit to UK Department of Business, Innovation & Skills (hosted by JBoye) I explained why this is so wrong. (Slides from my visit are below.)

Whilst there I also got to speak with James Thornett of GOV.uk which was pretty special for me. The reason is that James's team and GDS in general have done such an incredible job of restructuring government online since 2012.

Struggling with Web Governance in a member association?

Why is it that member organizations and associations struggle so much web governance?

The clue is in the name.
Association - An organized body of people who have an interest, activity, or purpose in common; a society. (Merriam-Webster) 
In contrast with the command systems typical of a corporate entity, “associations” are by nature far less rigid and operate based on consensus with multiple priorities and initiatives competing for attention.

Indeed, an overly robust approach to governance could backfire badly in an organization where participation is essentially voluntary.

And yet, some type of unity is still needed.

Read how to "Implement Web Governance in an Association" in my new guest post in co-operation with vendor Vanguard Technology.

Masterclass for Web & Product Managers | Online training

Achieve the Industrial Peace you need to focus on online goals. Sign-up to my new online video Masterclass for Web & Product Managers.

The new Masterclass is composed of 8 informative & engaging videos, divided into 2 parts and lasting 4 hours. (Read a full course outline here.)

After you sign-up, you can dip in-and-out of all videos as often as you like and view them on as many devices as you like.

With over 15 years' experience of tacking governance issues, I designed this course to provide clear, step-by-step solutions to the real-world problems encountered by Web Product Managers. This includes:
  • How to ensure clarity in online ownership, leadership & authority.
  • How to define clear roles & responsibilities for a web team.
  • How to identify the right tools & processes needed to manage complexity.
  • And perhaps most importantly, how to create a Business Case that can persuades executives to act - and implement a transformation project that can deliver on the promise of better governance.
Each lesson is backed-up with lots of downloads, including transcripts for all eight videos.

The purpose is give you everything you need to create a more stable work environment for staff - and an improved online experience for customers.

Ultimately, you’ll learn how to use Web Governance as a new means of competitive advantage, so that as traditional disciplines like design and content are gradually exhausted as differentiators, you can continue to stay well ahead of your peers.