Audit Before You Redesign

  |  January 28, 2005   |  Comments

Creating a list of prioritized projects for your Web site? Before you do, audit it!

The word "audit" usually scares people. In the context of Web development and interactive marketing, however, an audit helps you understand where the biggest return on investment (ROI) potential is. As it's still the first quarter and everyone's prioritizing their projects for the rest of the year, now's a good time to talk about what to do before that prioritized project list is finished.

An audit (usually qualified as a "site audit," an "email marketing audit," etc.) is a nonbiased look at your company's Web site, email marketing, loyalty program, or any other part of your business that needs improvement. You know the better you design and plan a project, the easier that project will be to execute. That same logic holds true here.

Instead of jumping into a project because it's been on the backburner or is relentlessly internally championed, you must set priorities based on their anticipated lift to the business. Many companies spend millions of dollars based on the whims of executive management or on projects IT thought were "cool," though the projects' actual value was questionable.

In a nutshell, an audit should inventory what's good and bad with your current marketing efforts and Web site. Depending on the expertise involved, an audit should list problems with current initiatives and suggest solutions.

We once audited a large electronics store's site. Its higher-end product line wasn't selling very well. The site had a lot of problems, but most were symptoms of a larger one: lack of differentiation. This store carried at least four different products per line, each with a different price point. The products' textual descriptions all sounded the same (unless you were a tech geek and understood the differences between technical components). The product photography was also bland and undifferentiated. Every computer looked like a grey box. Why would an uninformed user choose the expensive one when all looked and sounded alike?

A good audit identifies the problem and suggests high-level solutions. In this case, the solution wasn't just to have better descriptions or photos. The company had to realize that to an uneducated computer buyer, computers are all the same. The difference is in how people use them. The differentiation, then, should be in how the computers are positioned. The low-end "everyday" computer might be positioned for a person who uses the computer mainly for writing papers and checking email. The "gamer's" computer has the best video speeds, and the "programmer's" computer has the best number-crunching capabilities for compiling code. Looking at the product line like this changed the landscape from "How much money do you want to spend on a grey box?" to "We'll guide you toward the right solution based on your needs."

The difference between doing this kind of upfront strategy in an audit and doing it during the project's development is huge. The audit not only suggests a high-level solution, it also prioritizes the problems based on how important the solution will be to the bottom line. The audit should be both a problem identifier and a mini strategy paper. Whereas a normal development list is based on individual problems, an audit has the advantage of being able to identify symptoms of an overarching problem, then prioritizing the problem as a whole, not just its underlying symptoms.

In the example above, the company's project list included "get better photography" and "make our descriptions easier to read." Those definitely were problems, but solving each one individually wouldn't have improved ROI or the bottom line. Both were part of a larger, unidentified issue: the people buying their products didn't understand the fine print, and no amount of clarity around technical components would help. They needed to be sold to differently. The company had to think about user needs more and be less product-centric.

Plan Before You Build; Audit Before You Prioritize

As you prioritize your projects this year, take a closer look before you start development. More than likely, many of the projects are really symptoms of larger problems. Hopefully, you aren't too close to your business to see them. Whether you do it internally or externally, an audit of your current email marketing campaigns and Web site usability is essential to understanding (and solving) the real problems effecting your bottom line this year.

Until next time...


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Jack Aaronson

Jack Aaronson, CEO of The Aaronson Group and corporate lecturer, is a sought-after expert on enhanced user experiences, customer conversion, retention, and loyalty. If only a small percentage of people who arrive at your home page transact with your company (and even fewer return to transact again), Jack and his company can help. He also publishes a newsletter about multichannel marketing, personalization, user experience, and other related issues. He has keynoted most major marketing conferences around the world and regularly speaks at and other major industry shows. You can learn more about Jack through his LinkedIn profile.

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