Your web strategy is worthless!

Paul Boag

Many of the so called strategies are less than useless at guiding the reality of running a web team. But what exactly should a digital strategy contain?

Over the years I have read my fair share of web strategy documents and a substantial proportion of them are not worth the paper they are written on.

Too often they contain wooly goals like increase engagement, improve conversion or (my personal favourite) communicate brand values. What exactly do any of these things mean and how am I meant to act on them? What kind of conversion and engagement do they want to see? What are the brand values and how should they be communicated?

To my mind these are goals, not a web strategy. They normally consist of long rambling lists of broad and abstract objectives. They lack focus and specific actions that need to be taken.

The kernel of a good strategy

Personally I am a fan of Richard Rumelt’s attitude towards creating a good strategy. In his book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy he talks about a kernel of good strategy. This consists of three parts…

  • An accurate diagnosis – Richard argues that a good strategy should start by solving real world problems. These might be to overcome a threat or weakness in the company, or to find a way to capitalise on an opportunity or success. The point is that by focusing on real world problems you prevent the strategy from being too vague.
  • Guiding principles – A strategy should have some principles within which the company can operate. These are the most similar to the goals that normally make up the strategy, but should be more like a set of standards against which you measure what you do.
  • Coherent actions – This is where a strategy should get practical. It should identify specific steps that the company should make to move towards its ultimate objective. This part of a strategy identifies specifically how the diagnosis is going to be addressed and should conform to the principles you have laid out.

It’s a difficult balancing act. On one hand you don’t want a web strategy to be too tactical. It needs to look at the bigger picture and not attempt to micro-manage. The web is just too fast moving for a long term roadmap like that. However, on the other hand it can just as easily become so vague that it is useless.

Tackling these competing tensions makes up a large proportion of my upcoming book Digital Adaptation. However, right now I am more interested in your opinions about what makes a good strategy.

What do you need to know?

The chances are if you are reading this you are the one who is expected to either write a digital strategy or implement one. So my question for you is what makes a good digital strategy? If you are a part of an internal web team, what kind of information would you like from senior management to help you shape the future direction of your site? Put another way, what guidance are you lacking that a good strategy should contain? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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