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An Agile Approach to Keeping Your Website Relevant

An Agile Approach to Keeping Your Website Relevant
March 20, 2017

After launching a year-long, six-figure website redesign project, you're feeling pretty good. But what happens next?

You’ve invested significant resources into a fantastic, modern website that’s aligned with your organization’s strategy, attuned to your target audiences and envied by your peers or competitors. The fruits of your labor are recognized by senior leadership, your key digital metrics are moving in the right direction, and maybe you win an award or two for the innovative design and user experience you created.

This scenario is common after a successful redesign effort, but what’s the situation six months or a year later? Often, that pristine website is bloated with too much content, the navigation and information architecture have become convoluted as day-to-day website updates and organizational politics upend the digital masterpiece you launched. Too often, the website begins to degrade shortly after it launches.

Line chart shows cyclical decrease in effectiveness over time after a website redesign project
Immediately after a redesign, your website is at peak effectiveness. But over time, effectiveness decreases until you are forced to do another redesign.

It continues to degrade until enough internal or external stakeholders complain, then the next redesign project is launched, which leads to the vicious circle of the traditional website lifecycle:

Infographic shows cycles for weekly and bi-weekly to monthly strategies.

Read a full description here

So why does this happen? Why the slow (sometimes rapid) decline into obsolescence?
 

  • Lack of governance. We find that the biggest contributor to a website’s decline is failure to plan for its maintenance. To be successful, you must create an effective plan for the ongoing governance of the site. Develop guidelines for how frequently content gets posted, who manages key sections, and how often certain content is updated. Ask questions like: Who can post content? Who needs to review before it goes live? Have content authors been trained to write for the web, how to properly crop images, and how to ensure content meets SEO best practices and accessibility guidelines?
     
  • Clutter. This issue is related to governance as well, but it tends to get overlooked, even with good planning. There may be policies and procedures in place for who can create and update content and who needs to review and approve, but rarely do we see the same level of attention given to pruning content that’s no longer relevant or accurate. For example, that three-year-old press release about the VP you hired (who has since moved on) is still probably on your website, not to mention the dozens or hundreds of PDFs that nobody needs any longer. That lack of pruning quickly leads to website bloat – your 2,000-page website quickly becomes a 10,000-page website and you’re hearing complaints about findability of relevant content because your users must filter through lots of irrelevant or dated junk to find what they’re really seeking.
     
  • Under-appreciation for resources required. When you redesigned the website, you likely had a dream team of experienced project managers, digital strategists, UX architects, visual designers, content strategists and web developers to support that effort. These individuals are generally consultants or an agency brought in to complete, or assist with, the project. Once the project is complete, those resources are gone and a much smaller team is left to manage the website’s ongoing operations. Often, senior leadership doesn’t appreciate the resources needed to effectively operate a website, the thought process being that the hard work is done and the site is now largely on auto-pilot. Nine times out of ten, having a webmaster as a caretaker and a small web team—who are supporting multiple marketing and technology efforts—is not enough.
     
  • Incorrect skill sets. Just as resources tend to be under-appreciated, having the required skill sets in place to successfully manage the site tends to be an issue. For example, we commonly find that web teams are lacking members experienced in content writing/strategy, web development and UX/design. It's very difficult to ensure effective, consistent messaging, or the ability to respond to changing business needs without these skill sets available.
     
  • Budget constraints. The website redesign tends to get the big budget dollars, but the need to invest is often forgotten after the site goes live. The opinion tends to be “…we don’t need to spend until the next redesign in a few years.” That mindset just accelerates the site’s obsolescence.
Line chart shows cyclical decrease in resources and costs in between redesign projects.
Resources are often dedicated to redesign projects, but this investment tends to decrease over time until the next redesign project.

Why do organizations do it this way?

Lack of overarching strategy. A lack of insight from senior leadership into the website’s inherent value and impact on marketing and overall business goals can lead to failure to conduct detailed planning for how the website needs to continuously support the organization and evolve with the organization’s needs.

Operational needs not well understood. Senior leadership, and those controlling the budget, don't always understand the ongoing operational needs for the website. As a marketing and/or IT function, the site can be seen as more of a cost center than value generator, thus limiting investment.

Under-appreciation for velocity of change. The pace of change is ever-increasing—we’re long past the idea that a website only needs a revamp every three to four years, with it running on auto-pilot in between redesigns. The technology environment, our audience’s preferences and industry trends evolve constantly, but organizations are often slow to respond to these changes.

Limited appreciation for the site’s value…until “pain” is experienced. The old saying the squeaky wheel gets the grease applies here. The website doesn’t get the focus or budget needed until the complaining gets loud enough. But by that point, the website has likely degraded so far, it’s no longer creating value for the organization, it’s become a liability.

The end results:

  • Website does not provide consistent value to the organization. It’s relatively easy to track ROI with website analytics or conversion metrics. Those numbers tend to look great after launching a redesign, then slide as time goes on.
  • Major, sometimes lengthy, expensive and painful projects every couple of years to revamp the site. When it's time for the next redesign, the existing site is in such bad shape, it tends to be a labor-intensive “rip and replace” effort.
  • Site quality and effectiveness tends to vary widely between redesigns, hence the site’s ability to support marketing and business needs varies widely as well.

Is there a better way? Of course there is!

Rather than putting your website on auto-pilot, continuously improve and enhance your website.

The goal is to enable your digital presence to continuously adapt to changes, including:

  • Changes in business strategy or product offerings
  • Changes in your audience or their needs
  • Evolution of technology or online trends that impact your audience’s expectations
  • Changes in branding or visual identity
  • Leveraging newly available tools or technologies to improve the site visitor experience

First, you need to start with a solid foundation, so it’s most efficient to begin this process after a redesign, when content, information architecture and design are in good shape. Your digital strategy should provide that foundation, a blueprint for basic elements such as:

  • Overall website governance
  • Search engine optimization
  • Social media strategy
  • Website accessibility
  • Content governance and a content calendar

Once this blueprint is in place, you’ll want to develop a plan for operationalizing your continuous improvement efforts. Here’s an overview:

Infographic shows a three-step process.

Read a full description here

The following graphic is an example of what that process could look like at a tactical level. You’ll want to use your overall digital strategy to guide this effort to ensure you have a clear view of your website’s goals and audiences. Then, on a regular basis, typically weekly, review any immediate and short-term tweaks that need to be made to the site. By short term, I mean anything than can be completed within a week or two. Beyond that, on a broader schedule, perhaps monthly, consider more significant changes, and get those into your workflow process. These types of changes would require several weeks to several months of effort. This approach allows for an agile means to efficiently respond to change.

The key here is that your website needs to continuously respond to a changing business environment, so what I’m suggesting is not a project with a defined beginning and end, but an ongoing operational process to ensure that your site always stays aligned with your business strategy, audience needs and technology environment.

Outcomes of this approach

As a result of this approach, the website’s effectiveness and value to the organization remain more consistent over time. So, as you adapt the site to changing needs and demands, the website doesn’t have an opportunity to fall into obsolescence, hence minimizing or eliminating the need for rip-and-replace redesigns. 

Line chart shows the decrease in effectiveness after a redesign, comparing a relatively small dip in an agile approach to the much larger decrease for a waterfall approach
An agile approach means a much smaller dip in effectiveness following a redesign project, compared to the traditional redesign and coast approach.

You’ll also end up with a more predictable resource/cost allocation. Instead of throwing a few hundred thousand dollars at a website redesign every few years, investing over time allows a more predictable means of funding the maintenance of your site and ensuring a continuous high level of quality. While you’ll spend more on the day-to-day maintenance of the site, you’ll get much more value out of it and minimize the need for large-scale, expensive redesigns. While this agile approach doesn’t completely eliminate the need for periodic redesigns, it can certainly make those projects more streamlined and frankly, less painful.

Line chart shows a more level allocation of resources between redesign projects for agile compared to the highs and lows of a waterfall approach
An agile approach leads to a more level allocation of resources between redesign projects, compared to the highs and lows of a traditional approach.

Making it happen

A key factor in adopting an agile approach to evolving your website is having the appropriate resources in place. You can’t expect one webmaster or a small marketing team to be experts in project management, digital strategy, user experience, content strategy, visual design and web development. Although you do need to have access to the appropriate skills and resources, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need a large in-house web team. 

For organizations that do not have the resources to maintain these skill-sets in-house, a feasible option is to partner with a digital agency who can effectively become an extension of your team. That way, you get access to a wide range of skills –from strategy to development to everything in between—for less than the cost of one full-time employee who would typically only have a subset of those capabilities.

Want to learn more about consulting services as an extension of your web team? Get in touch with SAI Digital today!

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