Developing a Strategic Plan for your Website
Only the most successful companies and individuals take the Internet seriously and develop strategic business plans. Most of them take a more haphazard approach to development and struggle to maximize their returns or engagement with their customers and consumers. Many site owners fail to understand why and often feel frustrated by their lack of knowledge, their team’s lack of knowledge or the overall approach to the website. Quite often the development team lurches from one technology to another with no clear direction. There is a gulf between the business objectives and the website, this is where a strategic plan can help.
As the Internet is still a new business asset and is rapidly changing it’s difficult to keep up, we largely suffer from immaturity in this space. Academia fails spectacularly to instruct students in the ways of the Internet and the world is left with a ragtag group of freelance consultants with a wide variety of technical skills and an even wider array of business skills. When our corporate finances struggle to meet our needs, we know what we need and how to get one; we simply find a Chartered Accountant. When our website fails to meet our needs we mostly struggle. We don’t have the knowledge and we don’t know how to differentiate the good from the bad.
There is some good news; there is still room for growth on the Internet and there are markets yet to be tapped. The bad news is trying to find somebody, a team or a company that can lead you to this Nirvana.
A Common Objective
All websites share a common objective; to be consumed. For businesses these websites are meant to increase revenue, either directly through eCommerce or indirectly by providing information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and leading a customer to the normal revenue channels. For non-profit websites, community groups or information-only sites their goal is to reach out to as many people as possible. It may be collecting financial donations or having somebody read a blog posting but the goals are the same across the Internet.
If website operators were not interested in consumers there would be no need to publish the information in the first place.
The diagram above provides an overview of your website but it breaks it down into the stages your visitors pass through and the engines that drive this movement. Whether your site is small or large, the stages and engines are identical. Sometimes these engines are stationary or you rely on the visitors to spin them round rather than providing the power directly. Some of these stages are momentary and some of them take minutes to achieve.
The goal of developing a strategic plan is to outline what these engines are, what the stages of visitor flow are and then breakdown these two facets into steps for improvement and performance indicators. This enables the site owner to increase traffic flow, retention and conversion but also to measure the performance over time and understand what works and what doesn’t.
Websites are nothing more than a glorified laboratory experiment. Most websites have a life of their own and visitors tend to be illogical, often choosing an unobvious way of interacting with your site. Proactive monitoring will provide you with an insight into your visitor’s needs and a constant program of improvement will increase their consumption.
Developing a strategic plan isn’t about defining the technology and the platform for your site, it’s the process of defining your goals and objectives and how you’re going to achieve them. These goals may involve technological changes but technology is just a facilitator and a means to the end; it isn’t the objective. The strategic plan for your website should be owned by the business team, perhaps within your communications or marketing department but it needs to be owned by somebody that is technologically aware. How will you leverage social media if you don’t know what it is? The supporting technology should then be maintained by the IT department who work closely with the plan holders to deliver the defined objectives. Web developers make lousy business people just as business people make lousy web developers. Both sides need to learn where their limitations lie and work together.
In future articles I’ll expand on the diagram above.