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How to fix a broken website

How to fix a broken website

Whether urban legend or verifiable fact, the story goes that when the Titanic was heading for the iceberg, some of the crew were rearranging the deckchairs.  I’m sure the deckchairs were probably looking a bit untidy (if you’ve seen the movie you’ll have seen the Irish partying in steerage and on deck, I can’t imagine we cleared up after ourselves!) but the captain had a somewhat bigger issue to address.

Throughout Ireland and the UK, the sad truth remains that thousands of websites are heading for icebergs.  Commercially, visually and technically they are doomed to be sunk without trace if they don’t radically change their course.  Unfortunately rather than face the stark truth that their website is a total irrelevance to their customers, companies indulge in rearranging their website’s deckchairs, as it steams headlong into the iceberg.

We’ve all witnessed online deckchair shuffling.  It typically involves giving the offending website a lick of paint.  It is freshened up the same way we would rearrange a room that we have become bored of.  We choose its new design the way we would get enthused by a new pair of curtains.  Its home page is shuffled around as we might swap the TV and sofa and the chair about.  The latest groovy website feature ensures the site visitors knows how clever the designers and developers who worked on the site are, the online equivalent of a water feature if you will.

And it gets worse.  This celebration of self love heralds to the world that it is fresh “welcome to our NEW website”.  I’m sorry no one is interested in the age of your site.  When was the last time you made a buying decision based on the age of the website of the company you were considering buying from?

If your last web project looked a bit like this then I have bad news.  Your deckchairs are looking good, but your site is about to commercially sink without trace.

It all starts with how you approach the project.  If you build your project structure around your customer you will succeed.  If you focus on your internal structures, your design, your technology and your features, your site will be a great big bore.

Don’t adopt the following self centred scratched record methodology:

  • Marketing asks customers what they want
  • They listen to what they want to hear ignore what they don’t
  • Marketing presents engineers with a feature list
  • Engineers review, mock and take deep intakes of breath
  • Marketing and engineers haggle over what’s possible
  • Haggling and coding continue until time runs out
  • Whatever is ready at that point ships
  • Engineers use project management buzzwords to cover the cracks
  • Process is repeated forever

Rather spend your time thinking about your customers:

Who are they?  What age are they?  What demographics to they belong to?  What do they want?  What is important to them?  What are their expectations on your website?  Why are they there?  What segments of customers are most important?  How can you serve them better?  How can you get them to buy / email / come back / engage?

Become obsessed with your customers because it is they your website is for.  Senior Management love to look inwardly, which is why they love to see those deckchairs looking so neat and tidy.  But to look outwardly would be to see the iceberg, change course radically, and eventually arrive in New York, or wherever your own commercial destination happens to be.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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