A review of your online presence can do a lot more than identify ways to improve your website. It can also reveal underlying organisational issues.
Don’t judge people by their appearance. That is what our parents taught us. But it is rubbish. You can learn a lot about a person by how they hold themselves and what they wear. The same is true for a website. A website gives many insights into the organisation behind it.
I spend a lot of time reviewing websites and social media channels. Over all that time I have learnt something. Rarely are the failures of an organisations online presence due to shortcomings in their digital team.
You can have the best digital team in the world. But if the organisations culture is incompatible with digital there will be problems. These organisational failures are plain to see on your website.
Let me share with you some examples of what I mean.
The secrets your information architecture reveal
One of the most telling parts of your website is your information architecture. Many websites have an information architecture built around organisational thinking rather than user needs.
This shows a complete indifference to their customers. But if you look deeper it reveals something else as well. It shows an organisation trapped in departmental silos unable to collaborate. Unless this is overcome, even the best digital team will struggle to create a user centric site structure.
Reading between the lines of your content
I encounter many websites with terrible content. It is either poorly written or out of date. At times it is even contradictory.
There is almost always a single reason behind these problems; a distributed content model. In other words people across the organisation have permission to publish content to the website. In some cases this is thousands of people!
This is indicative of a decentralised organisation. An organisation lacking editorial oversight or strong digital leadership.
What your silence says on social media
It is not just your website that is revealing a lot. Your behaviour on social media is too. One of the most common failures I see on social media is a lack of engagement. Organisations update their social media channels with news stories, blog posts and press releases. But that is it. There is little in the way of conversation or more casual updates.
This screams of a marketing department stuck in the past. Trapped in a world of mass media and broadcast marketing. Unfortunately consumers now have little tolerance for this kind of traditional marketing. They want organisations that talk with them and not at them.
The story behind an unresponsive website
Having a site that works well on mobile is becoming ever more critical. This is especially true in the light of the upcoming changes that Google are introducing. But when I see an unresponsive site I am not just concerned about the impact on mobile users. I am also concerned about why the site is not responsive.
Often this is symptomatic of an even more serious issue, periodic investment in the website. If a site isn’t responsive it means nobody has worked on the technical architecture of the website for many years. It is indicative of a company stuck in an endless cycle of redesigns every few years. Instead organisations need to commit to ongoing incremental improvement.
The hidden danger of a fragmented user interface
When I review larger websites I encounter the same thing time and again. A fragmented user interface consisting of many sub-sites. Sites for departments, sites for campaigns, sites for products. Everything has its own sub-site with its own user interface.
This is an obvious concern from a user experience perspective. But it rings warning bells for another reason too. It shows a lack of digital leadership. There is nobody with the authority and control to rein in this kind of excess. If nobody can stop this, what other areas are suffering from a lack of digital leadership?
Why a lack of visual hierarchy is a cause for concern
Finally there is the lack of visual hierarchy that exists on many websites. Long lists of links, too many navigational items and pages with little structure. A related issue is a lack of strong calls to action.
All these things matter from a usability stand point. But they are also emblematic of a much more worrying problem; a lack of priorities. When there is little visual hierarchy and poor calls to action it is because there is no clear vision for the role of the site.
This in itself is a symptom of an even deeper problem; senior management aren’t engaged with digital. It is the role of senior management to set direction and decide on priorities. If a website lacks these priorities it is often a sign. A sign that management aren’t engaged with the website, don’t think its important or don’t understand it. Whatever the case, that is cause for serious concern.
Dig a little deeper
The issues listed here are just some examples of deeper problems that need addressing. There are many others. For example the existence of CAPTCHA on a site is often a sign of an overworked digital team. A team forced to ignore user needs to produce something quick and dirty. Or how unnecessary form fields are a sign of an overly powerful sales and marketing department.
My point here is that a good review should dig a little deeper. It shouldn’t just highlight the symptoms but search for underlying causes. It shouldn’t just be about listing the problems. It should be about asking why those problems exist.