28 February 2018

Launching a Site: Are You Ready for a Relationship?

by Stephanie Lummis

Launching a website is a big deal.

It’s a substantial, expensive project that takes time and resources away from other things. And maybe it takes you out of your comfort zone, if you aren’t too familiar with digital. You’re announcing your organization to the world in a new way. Even if in reality it’s pretty similar to the old way.

Going live with a new site is like starting to date after being ‘out of the market’ for a long time. There is a nervous energy and you cross your fingers that things will go well, no matter how much you’ve planned. And you’re paranoid that no one will like you, or you’ll meet a dud, or say the wrong thing, or walk out of the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to your shoe. And if any of those things is true, you need to be prepared to stay out there.

Your website is often someone’s first point of contact with your organization. In a few seconds they will decide whether or not to pursue a relationship with you. Will your site be ready for that kind of commitment?

There are a lot of things that need to go right. And you might not know what they all are so it’s kinda scary. Hopefully you’re working with a digital team who you trust, and that does know all the things that need to go right (recognizing there are always known unknowns).

Beware the creepers

During the design and development process you’ll be bombarded with ideas of cool ways to present content, interactive widgets, data you could hook into, slick screen transitions, and more. And let’s not forget the content requests that keep coming like ants at a picnic.

“Make sure the COO’s keynote gets on the homepage.”
“I think people want to know the weather right now.”
“3 events is not enough. Let’s show 6.”

Scope creep is a real thing. If you’re not guarding against it and get wooed by the shiny objects, you’ll commit to too much. Your eyes are bigger than your stomach and that scope is bigger than your budget and the time to do it in.

What happens when scope starts creeping? You take your eye off the finish line and things get disorganized and behind schedule. You adopt a ‘just get it done’ attitude, when you should have kept your ‘let’s do this well’ attitude.

How to avoid going live before you’re ready

Launching a site that’s been rushed to the finish line and isn’t quite ready is never a good idea. Just like dating too soon, you could get hurt. Remember, your website is an invitation for people to enter into a relationship with you. You’re ‘puttin yourself out there’ and first impressions matter. These are some hard learned lessons from 20+ years involved in website launches.

Know who you want to attract

Why is it when dating we’re very clear on who we don’t want to date, but on our websites we’ll put ourselves out there for anybody who comes along? Make sure you have a good understanding of who you want to attract. What are their expectations, needs and motivations for starting a relationship with you? Create content and services for these people. Only these people.

Start small

A good first date is at a coffee shop or lunch – low pressure and shorter time commitment. On your website it is far better to do a few things really well, than a half-assed job at many. You’ll feel more comfortable and in control.

What are the core features that your audience needs to see in you to consider a relationship? Table stakes. One way to define what is core is to use the MoSCoW Method. List all your content and features and bucket everything as Must have, Should have, Could have and Wish to have or Won’t have. Remember: these are your audience’s “musts”, “shoulds”, etc. that move them through the decision-making process – not yours.

Don’t do this exercise in a vacuum. Involve a cross-section of stakeholders and gain consensus. Also don’t rely only on qualitative research. Look at the analytics for your current site. Is there quantitative evidence to support your decisions? Next, look at your budget and timeline, and identify only what can be built well. Be realistic and ruthless. You should feel comfortable with the minimum viable product (MVP) that’s been scoped out.

Adopt a phased approach

First, don’t think of phases as big and hairy. They don’t have to be like software releases. After defining your MVP, you have some shoulds, coulds and wishes left over. Allocate these into bite-sized groups and schedule their release at regular intervals. It could be as simple as defining that – 1 week after launch, these 4 supplementary pages will be published. Or email newsletter sign up will roll out 1 month after launch. Keep them manageable, but keep going.

The benefit of this rolling phased approach: there is always fresh content and updates on your site. Return visitors and Google will appreciate it. Most importantly, it gets you into a cycle and attitude of continuous improvement. Relationships take work.

Stay connected with your audience

Throughout the whole process, gather feedback. Run ideas past your audience. There is no rule that says customers can only see the finished product. See if they can break it. The feedback you get can inform subsequent phases. The scope for future phases is not set in stone, but remember: if you add something, take something of equivalent scope away. Don’t let the creepers back in!

Be disciplined

This one is the hardest. You need to say no, not now, later, never, go ask your mother – to all the requests that don’t hold water. Put your audience feedback and analytics to work for you so you’ve got a case for saying no. The phased approach works to your advantage; it gives you the ability to defer someone instead of an outright no. Push back on them to give you a solid evidence-backed user story.

Relationships take work

‘Launch’ is a misnomer because it implies a certain ‘doneness’. Your website is never done, because it is there to serve your customers. They are steering the relationship, so if they suddenly change what they need to make a decision, you need to be a good listener and keep up. Or they’ll look elsewhere.

Do you need help getting your relationship back on track? Contact me for a user experience consultation.