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Where content meets technology

Jun 13, 2013

The Website is Launched, the Journey Begins

We have all been there. We launch a new website and, interspersed with general praise and appreciation, there are some hysterical complaints about trivial things like a word-wrap or a punctuation mark. The tone on these emails is similar to someone who just received their huge wedding invitation order and saw that their name was misspelled. They are mad and want immediate resolution to avoid mortal embarrassment on their special day. Ironically, it doesn't seem to matter that the old website was a total disaster. This site is new. It should be perfect.

If you are on the receiving end of one of these complaints, you know how easy the issue is to fix. You know it is nothing like re-printing 500 wedding invitations with gold leaf on expensive paper. You just edit the content in your CMS and republish. In fact, you fixed the problem in the two minutes that elapsed between receiving the urgent-flagged email and the frantic follow-up call. You also know that the content that is the target of the complaint has a shelf life of only a couple of days. In fact, you consider the entire website to be dynamic and constantly evolving. What you launched was not a bunch of static pages but new layouts, branding, and infrastructure to support your dynamic digital marketing program.

In retrospect, it is easy to see where the disconnect started. The internal audience for the site had not seen anything since they fell in love with the mockups. And the mockups were perfect — artificially perfect. The designer put in just enough text to make the layout look full, but not crowded. The PDFs that were distributed didn't depend on a specific screen resolution or browser. The audience was expecting to see those polished PDFs sitting in their browser on launch day; but what they got wasn't exactly the same. Add that to the fact that the web team appeared to vanish after the last site was launched and their anxiety is understandable.

How do we correct this? The number one thing you need to do is keep up the pace. You can't take a break after the new site is launched because that leaves the impression that the site is "complete." You know that launch day marks the beginning of a new phase of your digital marketing program, but if you act like you think your are done, you are bound to get into discussions with people trying to prove to you that you are not. The conversation invariably focuses on the site being "defective" rather than what it really is: a work in progress. Keep the site changing and be transparent with your road map. Regularly communicate with people who have ideas and update them on your progress.

Also, justify your decisions with data. When you relaunch a site, people will often look for their old content to make sure it is still there. If you removed it or re-organized their content, be prepared to explain why. The traffic was low, the content was redundant, the page was competing with more important pages on search results… these are all good reasons to retire a page. The fact that you can respond in this way shows that you are still engaged and moving forward in a thoughtful way. This will further re-enforce the idea that this is a journey and you are a competent and attentive driver.

Depending on your organization's culture and history, breaking out of a "print-final website" mindset might be easy or hard. Generally, the more web savvy your internal audience is, the easier it will be to change people's minds. The older guard will be more difficult to convince. Your line of reasoning should go like this:

Remember how perfect the last website seemed at launch? Well, it only seemed perfect because it was rigid. The designers got it just right and then locked it down through QA. But it was also brittle and it started to crumble from the moment we started to change content. New browser versions and platforms only hastened its decay. This new website is part of a program that involves continuous improvement. It will improve, rather than degrade, over time.

The key is to sell internal stakeholders on the idea that your website is a constantly evolving asset that will never be perfect but will be always be good (or even great). The site will adapt to changing organizational goals and audience expectations. Like the original meaning of the term "launch," putting up a new website should be considered the beginning of a journey, not the end of a project.

Related: Your Website is not a Project.