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Do you remember why we originally thought websites would be a good idea for our businesses?
When someone had a question to ask your company before the internet, what did they do? They found you in the Yellow Pages, they dialled the number and when someone answered the phone - they asked them. We hoped that person spoke professionally and clearly, represented the company’s brand and values and was knowledgeable or at least helpful.
Now we have websites, they speak professionally and clearly on that employee's behalf; they don’t take lunch breaks, they don’t get grumpy or disillusioned and they don’t go home at 5pm. They can answer the majority of questions people ask, they present information in an engaging manner, they can take orders, even earn money - the ultimate employee!
But there’s a cost, a tailored business website is comparable to someone’s annual salary. But in the second and third year, that wage bill doesn’t have to be paid so the savings add up. On top of that, we don’t have to worry about any of time-costly HR, a website doesn’t get sick, doesn’t need holiday, doesn’t need formal reviews or 1-1s and doesn’t have peaks and troughs in performance.
Is that actually true? I don’t think it is.
Well, it kind of does. When we first launch our website employee, they are young, fit and full of health. Then the website is used, content is added and removed, data is collected and archived, errors happen, logs are filled. It’s ability to handle this is like your diet. A good diet will keep you healthy in the same way that a good data architecture will keep a website performing well.
But like with diet, even with best intentions, it doesn’t always work out and if you have an intolerance or allergy, your diet will need to be carefully monitored against your individual requirements.
The same is true of websites, one simple oversight and before you know it, there’s a database table or a file on the server that’s out of control and making the site sick.
There are external factors too; we’re affected by where we live, where we work and whether our desk chair provides lumbar support. A website’s environment is the technology that surrounds it. It was built to live in a world where people used particular devices, browsers and operating systems but that was 2 years ago and now they are old and forgotten. Our fit, young, healthy employee over time succumbs to the free radicals known as software updates with the inevitable conclusion that it will eventually fail to serve the needs of our customers.
Well no, but a holiday doesn’t just provide respite, it is an opportunity to take a step back and reflect. Consider these points:
Does your website have objectives, are they up-to-date and are they still even valid?
Since the website was built, has the business grown substantially?
Have you developed your products or services to reach different markets or a different segment of the market?
Are the reasons your users visited your website before the same as they are now?
Why do we do reviews and 1-1s with employees? Very rarely does a new recruit develop into an experienced, motivated, high performing key employee without some sort of support. Whether that’s hands on training, maintaining a great company culture or providing an environment to learn from mistakes - you’ll have done something for them.
Your website employee gets none of this extra love - employees come with a basic prerequisite of being able to learn but for most people the idea that a website can learn and adapt to its users is considered a luxury. Why?
An employee can be encouraged to raise their game for a big event, an important pitch or just a tough day at the office.
An employee can be given additional training to respond to a new requirement.
An employee can figure out that they should speak to a disgruntled customer differently to a happy one and differently again between a curious customer and a busy one.
Can your website do any of these things?
First it would help if we change our mindset that what you actually need from your website is a lot more like a person than the lift in your office building which has a simple job that at best needs periodic maintenance. In contrast, your website is actually having conversations with your customers and all their wonderful individualisms.
We recently had a leadership and management training day at Adido with Chris Croft (which was very insightful, thanks Chris!) and in that training we covered how to manage and motivate employees. Among other ideas, he pulled out the old classic Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
It occurred to me today that if your website is in fact an employee then it too should have its own needs in order to perform.
Let’s explore that a little...
The most basic human need is physiological - can you survive? For us that includes basic resources like food, water and shelter, but what does a website need to survive, to not die?
To a website, its resources largely come from the server. Does it have enough CPU, memory, disk space to allow the website to function. What happens when there is a lot of competition for resources, how many users can the website handle before it runs out of resource and dies? Let’s be honest... have you even tested that?
For us this is having a home, an income, feeling protected, law and order.
How does a website feel safe? In the same way that home is a shelter but shelter is not a home, there’s a big difference between a website hosted on a server that can cope with a normal day’s load and one that can cope with serious threats of attack.
Is your server protected from DoS attacks and viruses? Is your code protected from SQL injection etc?
Maybe your site was built on a common open source platform such as Wordpress - fine if it was, but what is it on the latest version? Has it been upgraded since? Did you know the security flaws in old versions are published? If you haven’t kept up to date, that’s a manual for anyone with a motive to compromise your site and its data.
Like humans, your website wants to be loved. You could build a beautiful website with the most engaging content but if your marketing strategy is flawed, maybe nobody will even see it.
Equally, you could have an excellent strategy that gets your site lots of attention but you didn’t think about what your users actually wanted so people come, make no connections with your brand and leave having given your website no love at all.
This is about our need to achieve, to be good at something, be independent or have the respect of others.
In real life, we often measure ourselves by how popular we are, who we are friends with, what qualifications or what job we have and how much money we make. Occasionally we also measure ourselves on how ethical, kind, helpful and generous we are to others.
Websites have goals too - it says so in Google Analytics. Most of the time we measure on transactional metrics like number of enquiries, how many orders, total revenue etc. We measure popularity via social and SEO metrics and how many awards we can pick up.
OK but how ethical, kind, helpful and generous is your website? In other words, how much value do they offer your customers? All too often websites are shallow, artificial and short term in their approach and only manage weak bonds with their friends (your customers) that easily break down.
We have all heard of someone who has jacked in their job of 20 years to completely change career, someone who had 4 out of 5 needs covered but threw away Esteem, took a risk on Social and even threatened Security because they just decided that what they really wanted was to help people. I think websites want the same.
I’m curious to know what would happen to the millions of websites out there that have been poorly researched, designed, built, or run if they had a moment of clarity and realised they were ineffective in their job working for a company that didn’t understand their customer needs.
They might take a course of action for the greater good of everyone else, quitting its job, shutting itself down, leaving one less website grabbing the attention it didn’t deserve and freeing its customers to find a competitor who would take their needs more seriously.
You probably didn’t set out to achieve all five levels of Maslow’s hierarchy but subconsciously, you’ve probably been doing it anyway. If you have that sneaky feeling that you could be doing better with your life, exploring each level in detail genuinely helps figure out where the problem may lie.
You’ve probably been doing this all along with your website too but until now, you believed your site was just a machine - take a little time with this new paradigm in mind and maybe you’ll spot where things could be improved.
Who knows, if you treat your website like a member of your team and ensure its bringing value to others - it could become your star employee.
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