Web Site Parenting 101: Letting Go

Raising kids and watching over the evolution of your web site can be pretty similar at times.

At birth, a web site will often be a reflection of its creators. In their image. The fruit of their neural pathways.

The site reflects the vision and mission of its founders. It’s about them and what they want the site to do.

And like any youngster, a web site may be a little unsteady and unsure of its own identity and purpose. This is particularly true if too many people have been involved in its creation. Committees, sub-committees, focus groups, board members’ cousins. Lots of anxious fingers in the pie.

However, from the moment the site goes live, everything changes. Or at least, it should.

When the site goes live, it goes interactive. As each day passes, it becomes less of a reflection of you and more a reflection of the people who visit and buy.

It’s a little like trying to keep your kids exactly the way you want them. You can make a brave and fruitless attempt when they’re toddlers. But once kids go to school, they go interactive. Being out there among others changes them in many ways. And the parent who tries to maintain absolute control over the development of a child will usually be disappointed.

What’s my point?

What I’m saying is that it’s not really how your site is on day one that will make or break your business. It’s how your site evolves that makes all the difference.

Sure, at the beginning, your site is just a best guess, and it’s pretty much all about you.

But if you want the big bucks, you need to pay attention to how you enable your site to evolve.

A web site is not fixed in time and place. You have to allow it to adapt and move forward. And the best way to help it do that is to watch and listen carefully.

Keep close watch on what visitors actually do. Get some decent software that allows you to monitor the activity of visitors to your site. Which pathways through the site lead to more sales and which lead to fewer?

And listen like crazy. Go visit the person who takes inbound customer support calls and reads the inbound emails. If it isn’t you, give that person a raise the day the site goes live and impress on him or her how important it is to record and analyze all feedback, good or bad.

And keep your ear to the ground. What are your competitors doing? How are they responding to the shifting landscape of customer opinion? What are the newcomers in your category saying? What are they saying to your customers?

The purpose of all this? To make sure that your site evolves toward the needs and expectations of your customers. To make the site theirs and not yours.

If you try to hold that site as your own, in your image, it will never mature and be truly appealing to its customers.

But if you relinquish “ownership” of the site to its users and customers, they’ll help you create a much more effective, appealing and successful site.

This may sound like a no-brainer to you. “Pretty obvious stuff, Nick.”

Well, it’s not.

There are web sites aplenty out there that stubbornly remain what their creators want them to be with no apparent thought as to what their visitors might want or respond to.

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