posted 30 May 2007 in Volume 10 Issue 8
The Website Manager’s Handbook
Author: Shane Diffily
The best-run websites clearly are managed very well – Amazon, other big-name e-commerce operators and major newspaper and media groups all have very strong web offerings that are clearly underpinned by sound management practices.
Some, such as Argos (www.argos.co.uk) nicely tie the online and offline worlds with the ability to, for example, interrogate the availability of stock in nearby stores and even to reserve items for collection. But there are many more instances of poor website management – websites stuck in the past like a bad perm, or Potemkin villages that look good until a user clicks a (dead) link.
The organisations behind such web atrocities may have their reasons – maybe the corporate strategy has changed – but very often it’s simply down to incompetence. So how can an organisation’s web efforts be maximised?
A key theme of Diffily’s philosophy is website governance – the structure and rules that should underpin the orderly running of any website. The internet, after all, has come a long way since every website had a ‘webmaster’.
The lack of a governance model is clearly exhibited by a number of characteristics. These include:
- Wide disparities in design on different sections or even between web pages
This is especially evident on intranets;
- A lack of focus in content
“The homepage of a site with good governance usually contains a small amount of highly focused content.” More often, an organisational homepage will betray its internal rivalries, with different factions fighting for space. The result is almost always an overloaded mess;
- The use of the latest, but not necessarily greatest, technologies
These invariably irritate rather than ‘wow’. “The essential problem on such sites is that no one is appointed to oversee development at the highest levels. Furthermore, no mechanics are in place for ensuring standards are adhered to.”
The ‘W’ team
The first step is to establish a website-management team responsible for setting the site’s high-level goals and ensuring that they are achieved. It has three main roles:
- Directing strategic development;
- Organising and resourcing the development teams behind the website;
- Creating and policing adherence to standards.
To achieve this it must be properly constituted and vested with appropriate powers – a collection of middle managers will achieve little.
This team needs to meet on a regular basis, depending on the site it is managing – at least every month for a busy transaction site to, maybe, twice a year for a ‘brochureware’ site.
At the heart of website governance is the website standard. This is a multi-disciplinary document that dictates how a site is to be managed, in view of the environment in which it will operate, as well as its goals, and target audience.
Of course, website ‘governors’ will also have to take into account such crucial factors as privacy and data protection, libel and other laws, too, but Diffily is unable to provide specific information for particular legal and cultural jurisdictions – you’re on your own there.
Nevertheless, he does provide a sound, all-round framework that will help many organisations, either to benchmark their own website-management systems, or to establish a better management structure, regardless of the strategic use that they make of the web.
Review by Graeme Burton