Desktop Web Publishing:
The Ugly Facts
By Stephen D. Poe, EDPP
Remember the early days of desktop publishing? End users suddenly had the ability to design, create, and print their own newsletters, forms, and other documents that had been exclusive domain of the Forms Design Department. No more listening to silly, arbitrary restrictions like the number of fonts per page, font readability, or editing for content (and grammar!). Remember the atrocities that went out until end users finally realized there was more to this document thing than a WYSIWYG editor and a laser printer? Ignoring your Web site won't make it go away. It will just get uglier and uglier and become more entrenched in the corporate framework.
We're back there now. I'm speaking of Web site design and implementation. Does your company's Web site resemble those early attempts by users experimenting with the new desktop publishing packages? All glitz and no substance? A carbon copy of your marketing brochures? Great graphics that take days to download? The newest, hottest Java applets only 5 percent of your customers can view (with the other 95 percent getting error messages)? Too many times a day I encounter sites with these problems. Why? There are a variety of reasons.
Purpose-Without clear purpose, Web sites can be confusing, boring, annoying to potential clients. Determine the purpose of your company's Web site. Does it exist because everyone else (including your competitor) has one? It is important to set formal business goals for the Web site that are blessed by senior management.
Design- Did a single group (e.g., MIS, DP, or Creative) design and implement your Website? Would you let any other project out the door if only a single group had input? Everyone must be involved in development. Ignore the turf fights over who gets what pieces of the design and implementation.
Content- A web site should offer more content than your marketing brochures. If it doesn't, why would anyone visit? Another requirement is regular updating, which is necessary in order to attract repeat visitors. Would you buy a newspaper every day if the contents never change?
Marketing- "If you build it, they will not necessarily come." Consider this my best advice about Web sites. A successful Web site requires as much time for planning and implementing site marketing as it does for site creation. This applies to marketing both on and off the Web.
For off-Web marketing, be sure every piece of printed material going out of your doors, including correspondence and business cards, has your URL on it.
For on-Web marketing, know which directories, newsgroups, and other Internet resources your target audience frequents and ensure that the HTML codes and meta tags optimized for the search engines are most appropriate for that audience.
Management- Management of the Web process is difficult. It's a new, very rapidly changing technology (or environment, depending on your point of view). The few experts are hideously expressive (and already taken), and your own staff is already overworked. But it's a new way of communicating with your customers and potential customers.
Treat it like any other new project. Use the same processes and controls you use on other projects. The procedure is manageable regardless of what your programmers and graphic artists claim!
What to Do
Ignoring your Web site won't make it go away. It will just get uglier and uglier and become more entrenched in the corporate framework. Here's how to turn it around.
1. Find a champion. It takes senior-level management support to make it work. If you don't have a champion in senior management the chances are slim.
2. Decide what you want to accomplish. Senior management must decide what the web site should do. Is it a new retail distribution channel? A sales lead generator? A demographic information source for marketing? It can be all of these things and more, but you must decide which to implement. Usable results off a Web site take time, money, and labor. Decide what can be accomplished within your budget. Sure you can create a Web site in a week for $1,000. One of your programmers can also hack a program over a weekend. That doesn't make it a usable, saleable product. What are the Web site's goals and deliverables? $100K sales in the first 18 months? Twenty qualified leads per week? Background on your changing customer base? Set realistic, measurable goals. Avoid technical metrics, for example. "10,000 hits per week." These are internal milestones, not management goals.
3. Put together a team to do it. Be sure that you include all the departments necessary, with well-defined responsibilities, and delegate someone to settle turf fights. For example, is page design a Creative (it's visual, and the customer will see it), Forms Design (it's HTML code), or MIS (it's CGI code) responsibility? It should be all three jointly. This is an excellent chance for all these departments to work together as a team. Good luck.
4. Train the team. You're going to have to train your people. None has the right skill set. It's a matter of constantly learning new concepts, ideas, and tools-and not just in programming. Web design and Web marketing are both evolving at a tremendous rate. Your design and marketing staffs require as much training time as your programming staff. Budget at least 10 percent of the salary load for training. Budget another 10 percent for new tools.
To meet the deadlines, you'll probably require consultants. Be as careful as you would in other areas. Too many businesses take great care to get management or programming consultant but accept anyone with "Internet" or "Web" on their business card. Remember, the ultimate question is: What Web sites have you created yourself or advised clients on?
Stephen D. Poe, EDPP