Written by: Paul DeLeeuw, Interactive Services Manager
What makes a website good? Great? Best-in-class?
We believe a best-in-class website isn’t formed in one go. Yes, that first build is important, of course; it lays the foundation for everything you’ll build on top of it.
To get to best-in-class, however, you need to get all the fundamentals right, and keep them tuned up. What are those fundamentals?
- Analytics – Is my website tracking usage and activity?
You won’t improve what you don’t measure. All the remaining fundamentals will be measured in analytics.
- Mobile-compatibility – Is my website providing a good experience on small screens?
By some measures, over 50% of web traffic is mobile now. Some industries have differing values here, but undoubtedly, your website’s experience needs to accommodate mobile users.
- Optimization – Is my website providing the right content quickly and efficiently?
Page speed, content priority, and search engine optimization go hand-in-hand (-in-hand).
- Accessibility – Is my website content able to be understood by those with disabilities?
Everybody benefits from accessibility enhancements. Visual contrast and legibility, alternative text for images, and screen reader accommodations all improve your site for users—and add important metadata that gets used by search engines.
- Expandability – Is my website adaptable to current content needs?
A best-in-class website can accommodate new landing pages and campaign content without needing a developer to jump in and make functional enhancements.
- Governance – Is my website using a known, reliable process?
Your site will struggle to improve if you don’t have a clear path for reviewing, approving, and publishing, and that is operated by people who are accountable for ongoing improvements.
In an initial build of your site, you gave some consideration to all of the fundamentals above. However, the site itself continued to evolve; it added new content, accommodated new requirements from a variety of internal stakeholders, and before you realized it, it became an unwieldy beast. Now, perhaps it’s a little slower than you’d like or harder than it should be to publish fresh content.
We talked about improving website fundamentals to help capture leads and empower sales in a recent webinar.
The Continuous Improvement mindset
Continuous Improvement is often a catch-all term, but fundamentally, it represents a focused, ongoing effort to make small improvements with a simple process. Repeating that simple process over time creates momentum and long-term change. A common process model is “Plan, Do, Check, Act,” but there are many formal process improvement models including Agile and LEAN that provide a structured approach to continuous improvement.
Within the scope of a website, we implement Continuous Improvement as an extension of our ddm way:
- Create an initial solution to the issue at hand
- Build and implement the solution
- Activate the solution to engage with audiences
- Measure the effectiveness using analytics
With our Continuous Improvement process, we keep track of issues using the fundamentals described above, as well as any issue brought up by our clients or our team members. We use analytics to prioritize issues effectively. With a regular cadence, the team looks at the issues, picks the issues that would provide the most value, and then executes with focus on just those items until either progress is made, or the needs and goals change.
How to approach website issues
Take the following list of issues; imagine that you’ve become aware of these over the past few weeks, and now you’re meeting with the web team to figure out what the best improvement would be:
- It takes too long to publish a change to a page
- Mobile traffic is down this month
- The new landing pages aren’t performing well
- The home page takes over 3 seconds to load, even on a fast connection
In what order would you tackle the above issues? If I look at this list of issues, the first one I’d tackle is the home page.
Home page loads slowly
The home page is often the first landing for search users and mobile users. If the home page is slow, mobile users especially will feel it and leave the site.
Performance issues with the home page could also belie performance issues in general on the site. It’s possible that investigating and fixing this performance problem could take care of the mobile traffic and the landing pages too—especially if landing pages aren’t performing well also due to performance. In my opinion, you get the most bang for your buck fixing issues like this one, and it’s probably something that can get fixed in a day of investigation and troubleshooting.
It takes too long to publish a change
Websites that have fresh content tend to perform better overall and have higher rate of returning users. If you can make it faster and easier to publish pages—the right pages, per your governance model—then you’ll get more website traction in general. Ideally, this flow improvement will help the marketing team address any issues with the landing pages loading faster as well.
Mobile traffic is down
I would use my analytics to figure out where to go on the mobile traffic. It’s likely that a performance issue on the site is leading to slower mobile performance, but if the earlier issue didn’t already fix it, then it’s time to look at UX and accessibility to see if there’s something amiss about your site’s mobile experience. It may simply be a bad navigational element or a strange layout from some new content on the site. Often these things can be found in a half hour and fixed in three; budgeting time for maintenance work like this can help stay on top of it.
Landing pages aren’t performing
Assuming the initial performance issues didn’t already improve the mobile traffic and landing pages, I would look at doing some A/B testing with landing pages next. It’s likely a user experience design consideration. Your analytics may be able to illuminate that.
The order is up to you
Notice that I’m specifically ranking these issues in numerical order. You may have a large enough team that you can work on more than one at once—but in a small team, everyone should be on the same page about priority, and only small, focused improvements can be prioritized.
The order above isn’t the canonical order, either! You might have a huge marketing push, and you want to the landing pages fixed right away and that’s just fine. As long as you make a clear decision and act with intent, you will make progress.
Identification and prioritization must come first
You may actually spend more time identifying the issues and prioritizing them than it takes to fix them, but if you skip that part, the improvements will simply never happen.
The important thing with a Continuous Improvement mindset is that you identify and capture the issues, and then you take them to the team with a regular cadence so that the problems don’t get stale.
Once the site begins to atrophy and the knowledge of the issues becomes old, it will take more effort — which will cause more resistance — to address the problems. Each issue will require relearning and rediscovery, and that leads to higher cost and lower morale. Eventually, you’re back in an age-old cycle where the site slowly gets worse until you decide to throw in the towel and rebuild it—again.
Why Continuous Improvement?
Your website can only improve when it’s given time and attention. It will never get better without those two things. The Continuous Improvement process gives you a framework to mold your time and attention around, and identify achievable, meaningful improvements.
Continuous Improvement: the practice that will make your website perfect.
Begin your Continuous Improvement process
We’ve made it easy for you to start down the path of improving your website by creating an electronic worksheet. The worksheet helps you determine your focus and set smart goals and timelines.