Tag Archives: website management

How do you know if your web site is ‘succeeding’?

I recently worked on a website that was all about conversion. Every week, the marketing and sales people would get together and look at ‘the figures’.

They’d look at total views and unique visits and views to our latest content marketing article. Then they’d look at the total number of sales that were either made through our online form or through the phone number that we only published on our website.

In other words, all the sales that could be attributed to the digital team.

Then they’d try to guess why the sales had gone up or down.

There would be talk about what incentives the call centre had to make a ‘digital’ sale. A digital sale was either one made by answering the unique digital phone number or by calling a person who’d filled out our “I want to be contacted by a consultant” form.

We’d then move to any improvements that had been made to the sales form since last week. Mention would also be made of any changes our competitors had made to their offering in the market.

At no time would the discussion touch on any other aspect of the website. The focus was 100% on our sales channel.

This always puzzled me. What was the point of the rest of the site? Was it just window dressing? Something to pad out the site and give the sales form a place to sit?

Was success purely down to whether the Submit button was green or orange?

I felt there was more to it.

So I started to play with ‘the figures’.

Why I love statistics

When I got my hands on my first intranet, I was so excited! After years of creating radio and print content, with no idea whether anyone was listening or reading, I finally had a medium where I could see what my audience was doing.

That transparency has fascinated me ever since. So it was to the site statistics that I turned to see what was really going on with our website sales.

What is success?

Allow me to digress a moment to talk about success. Simply put, the success of a website depends on that website’s purpose.

If your website is a commercial one, like the one I was working on, success is often defined by the number of online sales you make. If your website represents a university, tafe or school, it’s fairly easy to define success by the number of students who sign up to courses, using that website.

Websites that provide product help and support stand or fall by the calls they stop from going to the call centre, i.e. how many customer questions they answer.

These definitions are fairly simplistic and only measure one aspect of a website’s function. But they’re also the measures most site owners care about.

Simply put, is the website making me money?

More than meets the eye

There’s a lot more to a website than simple conversion and there’s more to measuring conversion than counting how many orders came through the sale channel.

Websites are the first port of call for most people researching any transaction, be it a sale, an enrolment, a support call or booking a restaurant. More people research online than through any other media.

Websites are often the most viewed envoy of an organisation’s brand. Your website may be the only interaction your customers have with your company. It may define their entire experience of your brand.

A successful website can make its visitors feel good enough about a product, service or company that they decide to buy the product or service, or transact with that company directly – on the phone or in a bricks and mortar store.

I often research restaurants online, but I’m not very good at eating their meals through my browser.

What do you measure?

So what do you measure to know if your website is succeeding?

The first thing you have to do is define what success means for your website. The obvious answer, “Does it make money?”, will only take you so far.

Success can be many things.

Your website is only one conversion channel for your company. Success on your site can be giving your customers the information they need to pick your product, find your nearest bricks and mortar outlet and go there to shop.

Success can simply be your customer finding your phone number or email address so they can contact you.

Success is giving your customer whatever they need to complete the task they came to your site to complete.

If you really want to know how well your site is working, you need to dig deeper.

There are a few aspects to ‘success’ for a website.

  1. Search engine ranking – how your site stacks up against your competitors on the search results pages of Google and his mates is a key indicator of how well your site is performing.

    You will need to decide what keywords or terms are important to each page or section of your site and measure your ranking for those terms.

  2. Visits to your site – obvious but still a vital statistic. More people coming to your site means more people possibly transacting with your company.

    It’s a good idea to look at your unique visits as well as repeat ones.

    Unique visits show the success of your site marketing – cross linking, search engine ranking, EDMs etc.

    Repeat visits show the success of your site content – the page content, calculators, info graphics and other content your site provides.

  3. Behaviour on the site – what your site visitors do while they’re on your site tells you a lot about what the site is telling them. A very insightful exercise is to follow a site visit from beginning to end:

    How did the site visitor enter? – what search terms did they use to find your site or a page on your site

    Where they go once they were on the site?

    How did their path through your site match the way they came in? Did the pages they looked at match the search term or entry page they chose?

  4. The Exit – how and where your site visitors leave your site can tell you if they found what they were looking for.

    If a site visitor exits your site via the Contact us page, it’s good bet that they ended up calling you. This can either mean success – a customer called – or failure – they had to call us because they didn’t find what they needed on the site. Which one depends on where they went on the site before the Contact us page.

    If a site visitor exits your site from a product page they may not have found a product that suits their needs or they could still be in the research phase of the buying cycle.

    Where site visitors leave your site half way through your conversion channel – sales form, enrolment form etc – you can be fairly certain that there is something about the site that has put them off or blocked their task.

Measure these together and you’ll get a pretty good picture of how well your site is working for your customers.

So what did I do?

You thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you?

I looked at each measure detailed above and I learned a lot about our customers. I learned that they used different words to describe our products than we did. This meant we were targeting the wrong keywords and, as a result, we were not faring well in the battle of the search engines.

Then I looked at visits to our site, what people were doing when they visited us and where they were exiting. I found it took around 3 to 4 visits for a person to commit to buying our services, on a good day. What I also found is that the most popular task on our site had nothing to do with sales, but was all about revenue. Yet we put all our time and effort into our sales channel.

Our digital sales team were all over the pluses and minuses of our sales form, so I looked at the paths to it. I found that many people were dropping out before they got to the form, as we made the path to the form confusing and the messages about our services unappealing.

I pulled these findings together and shared them with my team and our managers. We changed the way we measure our site success and we changed how we prioritise our site improvements.

We started winning the search engine game, more of our customers found their way to our sales channel and we put a bit more spit and polish on that other revenue generating channel.

Now it’s up to you

All this requires a bit of lateral thinking and a large amount of Excel spread-sheeting, but I’m confident that you’re up to the task. You made it this far.

If you want to know more about how to measure and improve your website, I can help. You can find me at www.ftwo.com.au.

Dog with leash in its mouth

Obedience training for your website

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Change is good – but how much is too much?

It’s amazing how much time you can waste, tweaking a website. I launched a new site a month ago and not a day goes by that I don’t make some small change to it. This morning I spent four hours trying to get it to render nicely on a mobile.

It still doesn’t display properly, not sure why. Cascading style sheets are not my forte

Still, I managed to add some useful content while I was in there, and I fixed a navigation link, so I didn’t waste the whole morning.

But the question remains, how often should you update your site and when should you draw a line in the sand and say “enough, this is done”?

Well that really depends on the size and complexity of the website.

In theory we should publish new content to our sites as often as we can – get our good news stories out there, start conversations with our customers, keep our social media initiatives rolling along and keep the site “live” in our customers’ minds.

But what about our core content? How often should we update that?

I ask this because I have edited and republished every page on my site, on average, around once every second day for the last month. This may be a bit excessive, but I am a perfectionist when it comes to my own content and the site (and the company it represents) are both rather young.

Many of the large corporate websites I’ve worked on had pages that haven’t been touched since they were first published.

I worked on one site that had the same content on the home page for over 6 months. The only thing that changed was the latest news release and that didn’t get updated as often as you’d think

Regardless of the age-old saying about the immediacy of websites and how they can be updated in real time, most website content isn’t updated half as much as it should be.

There are some pages that are updated regularly, they are small in number and usually related to one of three things:

  • Sales
  • Social and content marketing
  • News and public relations

These are the areas of the site with metrics that management care most about – How much are we selling online? What are our customer saying about us? and What good news are we telling our customers?

The rest of the site, the pages that outline who we are, what we do, how to contact us and how to get support for our products and services, they often remain untouched from the day they are created.

Typically what happens is this:

Rebuild – the site is rebuilt as part of a move to a new CMS platform, a company rebrand or some other large IT or marketing-led initiative.

This is usually done by a project team with KPIs around speed and delivery, rather than content quality or usability. All the content is pushed through the necessary signoffs as part of the project.

There is often a large well-funded team working on the project, with access to any part of the company when and how they need it.  This I know, as I have often been part of that team.

At this point, the site has high visibility in the company due to the expense of the project.

Launch – the project delivers and the site is launched to an unsuspecting public. The project team all celebrate a successful delivery and then go on to the next gig.

Maintenance – the site is now turned over the BAU team. Often the same people who were looking after it before the rebuild. The spotlight is no longer on the site, as the project has been delivered.

One of two things tends to happen at this point, depending on the attitude of senior management.

  1. If management are savvy in the world of web, the web team are given a mandate to keep the site current and the tools, resources and authority to do so.
  2. If management are not so up with the play, the web team are left to their own devices with little direction or accountability beyond keeping the lights on.
    They may have KPIs around online sales or the number of blog posts they publish, but they will have little or no incentive or power to maintain the overall quality and currency of the site.

I’d like to say that scenario 1 is the more common, but in my experience we often end up at door number 2. Most companies will only put time and energy into a whole-site review when they’re rebuilding the site for other reasons – the new CMS / rebranding exercise we met earlier on.

Many poor web teams end up with a site that has no clearly identified owners, little or no governance around who signs off which changes and a company that is all care and no responsibility. Everyone is a “web expert” these days, thanks to Google, Facebook and their ilk, and will happily tell you what is wrong with the company website, very few people are happy to take responsibility for putting those wrongs right.

So we’ve gone from one end of the spectrum – updating pages every day – to the other – leaving pages to stagnate.

Which is worse?

I can tell you that one of them takes a lot less energy, but that probably isn’t relevant right now, unless you’re the resource manager for a web team.

I do know that I’m planning to tone down my updating rampage from now on. I need to concentrate on other things, like getting clients. But there are other reasons why I need to leave my site be for a bit.

One is Google. Agile though Google is at crawling through the worldly wise web, even those huge data farms can’t reindex my site every day. I need to keep the site structure and content constant for a bit, so Google can catch up with me.

The other is customers, which is more relevant for me. We humans are creatures of habit, we like a bit of familiarity around us. If I constantly change the content on my site, I’m preventing site visitors from forming a comfortable view of what I have to offer.

So I’m going to cut back on my edits. Maybe only update once a week, rather than every day. I’m optimistically telling myself that from now on, the only changes I’ll need to make will be publishing links to my blog posts (ie this) and my You Tube posts. Now wouldn’t that be nice?

As for those larger corporate websites I mentioned, how often should they change their content? The best answer I can give is – when the content needs to be changed.

Yes I know, a “how long is a piece of string” answer, but bear with me.

The key is not necessarily to update or change content but to make sure that content is still up to date and relevant to your customers.

The trick is to make sure it looks up to date.

On the sites I’ve managed, I set a review date against all of my pages – 6 months for information pages, shorter for more high traffic areas, like product or sales materials. I’ve also made sure that there is someone there to conduct that review when it comes along.

Yes, I am a governance girl! I’m quite good at getting people to step up and own site pages.

I also made sure that the last publish date was visible at the foot of each content page on the site. Even if I’d only changed the colour of a button, the page looked up to date.

Remember, perception is reality!

Dog with leash in its mouth

Obedience training for your website

www.ftwo.com.au

Don’t blame the CMS

Have you ever noticed that when a web site is hard to manage, the Content Management System (CMS) almost always gets the blame?

  • Search doesn’t work well? The CMS must be providing bad data.
  • Half the site is out of date? The CMS must have a bad workflow.
  • It’s hard to move code changes from development to the live site? The CMS must be faulty.
  • You can’t unpublish pages? The CMS must be out of date.
  • Pages don’t have defined owners?  The CMS metadata must be bad.
  • It takes way too long to create a new campaign page? It’s too hard to create new templates in the CMS.
  • It takes too long to update content?  The CMS must be hard to use.

Why do we blame the CMS? What did it ever do to us?

Web CMS systems are just like every other piece of business software. Only as good as they people who use them.

If you had a spreadsheet that was really hard to use, would you blame Microsoft (OK, sometimes it’s fun to blame Microsoft, but you see where I’m going here) or would you ping the guy / girl who created it?

There are a lot of CMS products on the market, ranging from high-end, all singing-all dancing Enterprise systems that do everything short of making your coffee, through to low / no cost open source beasties.

But essentially they all do much the same thing – allow the separation of code and content in a managed environment. In other words, let the coders build code, templates, search pages, navigation, style sheets, applications etc and let the content girls and guys write content – without anyone stepping on anyone else’s code (I mean toes).

When you take a CMS “out of the box” it’s a pretty plain, vanilla kind of creature. No templates, well maybe one but it will be very basic, only one login and no actual content.

Do we all remember “Hello World”?

For a CMS to get out of that box (or downloaded application) and become a fully working website, takes a lot of work from a fair number of people. If any of those people decide to take shortcuts, or are told to do so by management to save time and/or money (a more likely scenario), the end result will be a website that is harder to manage in some way.

Let’s look at the steps needed to ‘stand up’ a CMS. (For those playing at home, stand up means to get a CMS up and running and hosting a working website).

1. First, set up the CMS for your site. What this means is creating an environment for each stage of the site:

  • Development – where the developers build templates and applications
  • Testing – where the testers and other ‘techy’ people test the code
  • Content creation – where content authors can create and edit content (this environment looks just like the live site but with differing content)
  • The live site

and connecting each instance to a database to contain the content and code.

If these connections aren’t made the right way, you might not be able to move code and content from one environment to another easily.

2. Next, define and create roles for each person-type you need to run your site, e.g. Authors, Approvers, Designers, Developers and Site Managers et al. You’ll need to make sure these roles are the same in each environment.

Without these roles, or ones like them, you won’t be able to give your web team the right access to the CMS to do their jobs.

For instance you won’t be able to let content author write and edit content, while keeping them away from the code. Nor will you be able to give your site developers free reign over the templates and site functionality while making sure they don’t rewrite the content.

3. Now you have your base system set up, you need to decide what content and functionality you need on your site.

Most CMS systems I’ve worked with use a database to store the site content – text, images, videos etc – and all the code that defines the site. You will need a taxonomy to define all that content and code. This is your metadata structure and can be a major stumbling block for CMS driven sites.

Get your metadata right and your internal site search (and your CMS search) should be a lot easier to use. Get it wrong and your site authors and managers won’t be able to find anything in the site – they may even end up creating duplicate content or pages because they can’t find the original.

Not to mention, if you don’t have a clean, clear metadata structure, you won’t be able to build dynamic content into your site. Examples of dynamic content are menu pages that automatically update with new content is published and News pages that always show the latest news.

4. You’ll need a good information architect to define your metadata structure and build it into the CMS. Using this and your roles, you can start to create workflows to make sure each kind of content is viewed, approved and published by the right roles in the right order.

5. Now, and only now, you are ready to actually start building things in your CMS.

Ideally, your information architect and senior site developers should already have spec’ed out how the site will be structured and what templates will be needed.

This is one of the points where you can set your site up for success or failure. Most web teams will create a navigation structure and page templates to display content as required for Go Live.

Good web teams will go the extra mile and design and build a structure and templates that are flexible enough to cater for future needs. Extensible is the new black.

6. Once your developers have created all the templates, navigation code, style sheets and other back end components, your content authors can start populating the site.

7. Now you start the ‘real’ phase of the site build – creating pages.

This is another success / failure point. Your main focus at this point is on creating pages. Each content author is usually responsible for a specific section of the site. Their job is to make sure the right content is put in the right place in the navigation, using the right template.

They are all about the site navigation, page layout, content accuracy and (with any luck) usability.

What they are less likely to think about is those pesky Review Date and Content Owner metadata fields in the CMS. Those fields that seem irrelevant now but, if filled in properly, will be invaluable 6 – 12 months down the track.

This is where keeping your content fresh is made either possible or impossible. If each piece of content is tagged with a review date and the name of the Content Owner, you can set up automatic reminders to those owners to review and amend the content when it ‘expires’.

If they aren’t – content will linger on your site, untouched and slowly going out of date.

Two other fields content authors are unlikely to get excited about are the Page Title and Page Description. Again, two fields that seem fairly unimportant compared with getting the content right, but if you want your site search to deliver results, not to mention a good SEO ranking – your Page Title takes on a whole new importance.

The Page Description may not be important for your SEO or site search but it can be really useful in your search results – if it has unique and well written content in it.

This is a fairly high level description of how to build a website in a CMS and it skips a few steps but I think you get the point. All CMSs may not be created equal, but they really do work better if the people setting them up stop to think about how they might need to be used over time.

So the next time you find yourself complaining about your CMS and how hard it is to use, don’t blame the poor thing, it’s only a dumb application. The ones you want to talk to are the ones who set it up.

If you’d like some help reining in your CMS, have a chat with F-Two consulting. We can help you teach your website good manners.