Understand the when and why of change
Basic site administration, such as updating phone numbers and contacts or posting press releases, requires little or no strategic consideration, but almost every other site change calls for evaluating why you need the change and then mapping it back to original business goals. The beginning of any solid e-business initiative is rooted in a marriage of business goals and user needs, and any change must meet those same criteria.
Answering the question of why any change is necessary demands an understanding of user behavior, new corporate priorities, and/or how current business initiatives can be better served, and how they relate to overall objectives.
RECOMMENDATION: Here’s a simple method for evaluating change requests. If you can’t identify whom the audience is that will benefit/use the changed information, how it will benefit them, and how it will relate to other information on the site, then don’t make the change.
Consider the platinum partner program example. Marketing and sales want to use the program as a way to reward the most productive channel partners and give them a sense of importance that helps build a loyal relationship with the company. But is the partners’ experience with the company enhanced by making partners go through extra steps when entering the Web site? Is it worth making navigation more difficult for them by bringing them to a specific page as soon as they log on? In the best of all worlds, creating more targeted approaches to the site offers more convenience and rewards, helping users conduct business more efficiently. Unless these changes, however, are held up against realistic user scenarios to ensure that ultimate goals are met, then change is happening merely for the sake of change.
Judge how much is too much
REALITY CHECK: Web sites aren’t ad campaigns. They don’t need fresh approaches to keep them attractive to target audiences. Actually, constant changes to navigation and graphical elements can frustrate users who expect to find specific content in the same place. The amount of effort to locate information dictates a site’s overall ease-of-use and customer satisfaction. Users quickly and intuitively weigh the benefits of the information they expect to find against the effort needed to find it. “Freshening” content makes a site more useful by keeping information current and offering constant value to target audiences. Make sure when content is replaced, users can easily search and locate the original information, and that organizationally, the new content placement makes sense.
It’s easy to see how stores such as The Gap promote brand and customer comfort through consistency. You know jeans are always against the back wall, new styles are up front, and accessories are near the cash register. The store colors are neutral and the lighting is bright. It certainly isn’t a static environment: The clothes change all the time and new product lines crop up each year. But knowing your experience is the same every time you walk into The Gap is one of the store’s biggest selling points.
A user’s comfort level with site design and navigation takes precedence over what might seem cool. Most sites change daily, if not weekly but keeping content dynamic is different than overhauling pieces of the site every six months. That’s where usability troubles take root and spin out of control. If you’re redesigning every six, nine, or even 12 months, then either your original e-business planning missed the mark, or your organization isn’t evaluating proposed changes based on their merits as paths to furthering defined business goals.
Don’t be afraid to trash it
One of the biggest challenges in content management is pure volume. As the amount of site content grows, you must make decisions on what stays and what goes. Otherwise, usability suffers.
TOP STRATEGY: Archiving is an invaluable approach to keeping sites current and “clean.” Determine the shelf life for your site content based on date published and how much it’s accessed. Your content management system must keep track of dates and user logs, and for site “owners,” it should help constantly evaluate whether particular content is still valuable to target audiences. By moving content to archives, you keep it accessible via archive searches, but purge it from the current site.
Content isn’t the only thing that might need trashing, or at least rethinking. Once a site has been up for six to 12 months, evaluate the processes behind the scenes. Where do bottlenecks occur? Do you need to change approval processes or redistribute content responsibilities? Are there new target users that require new people to get involved in managing certain areas of the site, or specific types of content? Just as site content is dynamic, so too are the processes and people that drive its creation.
Easier, faster, better
Evolution in the Web world is propelled by new abilities to deliver information easier and faster. Higher bandwidth and new technologies facilitate change, but users ultimately dictate which changes are for the better.
The methodology and technical approach to strategic content management simplifies content publishing and maintenance across an organization. Content management helps e-businesses learn how to quickly improve and enhance their Web site content to address users’ needs as they evolve.
REMEMBER: Content successfully drives commerce when it’s valuable and actionable. As users become more Web savvy and demand better information delivery, organizations must rise to the challenge by:
1. Considering users’ needs from day one of the planning process.
2. Implementing enterprise infrastructures that support e-business evolution.
3. Constantly evaluating how well sites meet both the company’s and users’ goals.
4. Making changes that advance the governing principles of company and user goals.
Is it possible to constantly evolve your Web content and strategy?
* Consider constant change as a given when laying out your e-business plan
* Empower users with content management responsibilities to reduce IT bottlenecks
* Set clear business goals to lay the foundation for a solid method to evaluate change requests
* Be prepared from the start to change almost anything (not just content), such as approval processes, user roles, etc.
* User empowerment without easy tools and well-defined processes will fail
* Avoid radical changes to navigation, which confuses site visitors and hampers usability