Why Bad Web Sites Happen To Good CEOs

Here’s some food for thought.

Jupiter Communications reports that only 24 percent of CEOs view their web initiatives as an integrated part of their core business. What’s more, 62 percent of those same CEOs measure web success by visitor rates.

And here’s a little something to wash it down.

According to Software Success, publishers of news and benchmark data for the software industry, nearly a third of the CEOs they surveyed in late 1998 say the web gave the worst return on their marketing dollars.

If I were presiding over a web site that I viewed as ancillary to my business, and whose primary measure of success was the number of spins of the virtual turnstile… I’d be unhappy, too.

Not all executives hate their web sites, though. What neither of the above studies addressed was why other CEOs like their web sites. But if you’ll give me a minute, I’ll tell you why the CEOs and other Internet-responsible executives I know, do business with, and read about, like their sites.

The Web Is Not A Marketing Thing . . .

The fact that the web was considered part of the marketing budget is a good place to start.

CEOs who like their sites take a different approach to allocating web site expenses within the organization. They removed the web as a marketing function and made it a core business infrastructural function. They elevated its importance — sometimes creating a department for it, and always using it to benefit their business across the board.

It may very well be time for all of us to start creating Chief Web Officer slots — and separate P&L entities for those executives to run. That’s the perspective that will let you implement the web as, to paraphrase Jupiter, an integrated part of your core business.

. . . It’s A Business Thing

CEOs get cranky when they don’t have a clear understanding of the business value of a move they’re asked to make. Especially when it costs money — and web sites cost a whole lot of money.

CEOs who like their sites began implementation by searching for answers to fundamental business questions, like:

1. What is the web going to do for my company?

No matter what goals you set for your site, make sure they advance your business cause in a palpable way. If your site is not showing a profit or directly decreasing costs, it’s not working. In other words, don’t apply marketing-value standards to the site (you know, branding, share of mind, and the other usual suspects). Apply fundamental shareholder-value standards to it. Before you approve construction, make sure you know where and how the site will increase that shareholder value — and how you’ll measure that increase.

2. Which areas of your business is it going to support — and how?

The web is not a marketing tool. The web is a business process. As you look at your web strategy — near and long term — you need to know to which departments the web is going to be applied, and in what ways. And you need to look at the effectiveness of your web site for each of these areas — separately and together.

3. How will the site be evaluated?

There are dozens of data points to look at when evaluating the success of your site. Let’s face it, user session counts aren’t anywhere near the top of the list. You don’t need to know how many people visited your site. You need to know what each visit cost you, and what you got for your money (yes, hit rates are a variable in that formula). You need to begin to measure your sites with spreadsheets, not log analysis reports.

There’s No Going Back

Way too many sites put the cart before the horse — spiff before strategy. No matter how good the intentions are — no matter how often the mantra “this is just phase one” is repeated — the truth of the matter is you simply don’t build something first and then figure out what you’re going to do with it later.

CEOs who like their sites didn’t decide that getting the site up and looking good was the first priority, and defining the strategy was part of some amorphous “phase two.” Phase two never comes.

They gave critical, day-one priority status — and commensurate budget approval — for the strategic process behind their web site. And that meant line items in the budget for things like search engine optimization, affinity program development, usability design and testing, customer satisfaction, maximized internal site usage, functionality specification, and site evaluation and adjustment over time.

You just can’t retrofit tactics with strategy, anymore than you can put aerosol spray back in the can.

Return On Investment

The bottom line is: The bottom line. The greatest failure in the eyes of CEOs is that web site results don’t show an ROI for the business.

CEOs who like their sites insisted on establishing metrics and methods for determining demonstrable, positive return on the web investment. But they were realistic: You can’t always predict the return on your web investment the way you predict the return on a new stainless steel pickle packer — sometimes there are just too many assumptions. But even when that can’t be done (and I’d love to hear from any of you about your working ROI analysis methodologies), it’s still possible to put into place the process and measures that you’ll use to evaluate the site as it evolves.

Satisfied CEOs measure Expenses and Opportunity Costs against Revenues and Savings on a regular basis, and mandate adjustments based on the results.

In No Hurry

The web is not a project, it’s a process.

CEOs who like their web sites aren’t in a hurry to move on to something else once the site is uploaded and live. They mandate that the site be continually monitored against predefined goals and expectations… goals and expectations that are in support of the business. They measure and adjust on a continual basis until that site is working the way they want it to — for everyone it supports across their organization.

The web doesn’t belong to any department… it’s not a marketing expense any more than it’s a sales expense, an IT expense, or a human relations expense. It is an entity unto itself, with the capability of providing fundamental business value for most — if not all — of the corporation. And those CEOs and other corporate officers who approach it that way are very web satisfied indeed.

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