Getting a website built or redesigned takes a lot of effort. Even if you are lucky enough to have a budget to hire some people to do the heavy lifting for you, designers, developers, SEO experts and perhaps even content writers - there is still work that you the client has to do. All those experts don't create something from nothing and he more you give them, be it guidelines or full blown specifications of what you want the better a job they can do.
But this blog post isn't about that - this post is about afterwards. When your site is looking absolutely slick and ready to face the world and it's launched. Now the really hard work begins.
Keeping a web site going is very, very hard. They're like small children really, they need constant care and attention. If they are neglected, left at the state they were on that gloriously sunny day when the site was launched pretty soon what once looked shiny and new will look old, dated, tired.
How many sites have you seen that have outdated information, or a big photograph of happy smiling people that must be using some sort of über strong Vaseline because they've been holding those smiles for over a year now. Worse still are the obvious quick and dirty updates that creep in 6 months, 1 year, 2 years after launch. A big red sentence yelling out the latest most important info - because the boss wanted something up on the site pronto and no one was sure where to put it.
I think that the reason for this is that web sites once launched begin to be forgotten. Everyone in the organisation that owns the web site has other things to do -- their regular jobs. The website has not been integrated into the business, no one has responsibility for it so it doesn't get maintained.
I'm not suggesting that people in the organisation should be chastised because they didn't take on the extra job of maintaining the web site. That strategy is doomed to failure.
Instead the web site should from the start be designed to fit in with the existing responsibilities of those in the organisation. Web sites are a tool to communicate with the public and others outside your organisation. You already communicate with these 'outside stakeholders' - otherwise the organisation would have failed long ago as no one operates in a bubble.
The web site should be designed so that it is a useful tool to make business communication easier. This way the web site is not neglected -- instead it becomes part of the family... a valuable part of the family.
- Stop making newsletters in a time consuming DTP package... and sending them out to your mailing list. Instead put that content on the web site as soon as it becomes available. If you still need to do a newsletter to a demographic that aren't online (eg older people who donate to your charity) then make a newsletter up from the web content you have already published -- and mention in the newsletter that this is available online (in fact there is probably more online, for example you could fit 2 or three photos of an event in a newsletter whereas you could have limitless pics online).
- Always put new information (event, product statements, or any announcements) on the web site. Initially as your audience makes the transition to using your web site they will still need to be informed the old way... But! Don't give them the information using the old method of an email to suppliers, or fax to other departments. Instead the old method of communication should only inform your audience that they can find the latest info on the web site. Train people to use your web site and eventually the old method can be scrapped.
- Can some of your internal communications also be made public? If something isn't sensitive then let it out into the open -- getting members of your own organisation using your own web site as an information source means that you have an army of people who are keeping an eye on the site and keeping it alive...Plus this demonstration of internal activity makes your web site more interesting to the outsider.
So ok I lied, there is still a lot of work to do after your web site is launched - even if you are smart about it and make a web site that integrates well with your existing communications. However over time you will be able to manage the transition and you will have a better, more efficient communication system -- and an up to date web site that looks as fresh as the day it was launched.
Published 20 February, 2010