Why websites often don’t meet the needs of the business
These days, it’s not often that a business doesn’t have a website – more usually, there is a website, but it’s not generating enough benefits.
- by Peter Labrow
The reason why is very often the same: the website doesn’t meet the needs of the business, because it was never designed to in the first place. This can be something of a shocker to the organisation itself, which commissioned the website in good faith. Does this mean that the Web developers deceived their customers?
Sadly, sometimes that is the case – but not usually. Websites are more frequently misaligned with the needs of the business because no attempt had been made to define what those needs were when planning the website. When this has happened, there can be two parties to blame.
The first party is the Web development company. Usually the company is a ‘design only’ company, which can produce pages which look great superficially, but that’s about as far as it goes – a ‘brochure in the sky’. In an industry which is still quite young, and changing all the time, plenty of Web developers don’t have marketing expertise, business development acumen, consulting skills and so on – they just know how to create pages. As such, their advice is limited to visual design. The starting point for developing a successful site isn’t drawing up some roughs, it’s sitting down with the client and understanding the on-line needs of the business – getting to know the products, services, markets, peers and competitors. From this, a plan of what the website can do should be developed. And, it’s not just in creating a solid Web strategy where some agencies fall short. Although most people believe that ‘content is king’ many Web agencies leave the website copywriting to the client. What? This is the core of the website – one of the areas where clients often need the most help, although they may not realise it.
The second party is the client. Clients don’t want to be sold a pup, but they do want to drive a good deal – and may not always understand the benefits of taking a more in-depth approach to developing a website. Here, it’s the Web developers’ job to guide them, but if a client is closed-minded, prescriptive or unconcerned about the website, then there won’t be any sponsorship or budget to develop it in the way that it needs to be developed.
As I said, the starting point for a great website is solid planning – planning that goes beyond page layout, colours and branding. It’s about working out what the business is doing, what it needs to do to grow – and then translating that into an effective on-line presence.
Several times I’ve been in competitive pitches where other Web developers have offered to create Web designs speculatively to win the business. To the client, this sounds attractive, and the resulting designs may look good. But if they don’t first take time to plan the site around the needs of the business, those designs will result in a website that ultimately misses the mark. How could it be otherwise? It’s a classic case of creating the solution without understanding the problem.
Creating a website in this cart-before-horse fashion is something you’ll regret – as Rick Blaine said: “Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”