Companies are taking a hard look at their Internet initiatives. Many have decided it’s redesign time as soon as the busy holiday season is over.
I applaud the initiative, but I’m skeptical about execution. If we applied the same logic to traditional architecture most people use for redesigning Web sites, we’d hire a handyman. A coat of paint, new plumbing fixtures, minor wiring — a few cosmetic touchups. All fine, provided there are no underlying foundation problems. The right paint job can make a room look bigger, but square footage doesn’t increase. Do you want your site to merely look better or also to persuade more effectively?
Foundation problems are frequent when sites are constructed by committees or when no single decision maker has responsibility for measurable results. Objectives that are less than crystal clear and no defined goals for the site make answering the critical question for any project impossible: How will you measure success? If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
Answering that question is the purpose of “uncovery,” the initial phase of the Minerva Architectural Process (MAP) used in persuasive architecture. Any site that needs to persuade or sell must define clear objectives. Your conversion rate is a measure of your ability to persuade prospects to take the action you want them to take. It’s a reflection of your marketing and sales effectiveness and your customers’ satisfaction. To achieve your objectives, your prospects must first achieve their own.
Objectives are the whats (not the whys or hows) we want people to do. They are quantifiable within a given time frame (e.g., I want 34,000 investors to read my annual report online during fiscal year 2003). Objectives must be clearly stated, have a schedule, and be measurable. Otherwise, they’re just wishes.
As with traditional architecture, a great deal occurs before design or implementation. The needs of the building are identified (a hospital or a two-family home?); resources are secured (is financing in place, will the windows be delivered, are builders hired?). Now is the time to get questions answered, so the foundation can support the structure.
The uncovery phase is responsible for:
- Mapping objectives
- Developing strategy
- Understanding the customer’s buying process
- Understanding and refining the sales process
- Researching keywords and key phrases (as in search engine marketing, but with broader application)
- Defining key business metrics
Only people with responsibility for defining objectives are involved in this stage to ensure business objectives won’t succumb to the needs of designers or developers. The most important question isn’t what technology to use or what functions the site will include. The only thing that matters is how the site will satisfy prospects, be profitable, and serve your needs. Uncovery helps a project run smoothly and manages risk effectively.
To ensure the success at this stage, assign an impartial project manager and a person whose own success is tied to the project’s business objectives. People lose objectivity when they have a personal stake in the issues (e.g., their children, their home, their business). The person responsible for results should work with a persuasive architect who can employ active listening and interviewing skills, is unaligned with internal politics, is technologically agnostic, and can manage, record, and transcribe all information gathered at this stage.
This persuasive architect’s role is to make the connection between the big picture and the nitty-gritty. Between intuitive right-brain thinking (business strategy, understanding users, sales process, and design) and the detail-oriented left(categorization, database schema, development, and coding). The persuasive architect leads the next phase, wireframing (which I’ll discuss again in a future column).
Redesigns will be needed. But if you can’t find the time to do it right now, you’re unlikely to find time to fix it later. Effectively planning your site from the beginning ensures the project will be properly executed.
Let me know your plans for a site redesign.
Bryan will speak at ClickZ Email Strategies in San Francisco, November 18-19.