Seven steps to lower-cost content
By David Walker (Google profile)
You knew this day would come, of course, and now it has. The managing director sent you a memo two days ago, pointing out that one of the sites she'd consider a key rival is suddenly out of money and out of business. And now that same managing director has popped her head around the door and asked you to explain to the next executive meeting how you're going to reduce costs - or at least slow the growth of costs - at your organisation's Web site.
You knew this day would come, and you prepared for it. You wrote a detailed note on the strategies you'd adopt when the dot-com boom went bust and the organisation quit stuffing money into the Web site's collective pockets. So you just need to open the drawer and get out that briefing note and ... damn! Where'd it go to?
Well, if you don't find your note in time, you can use this article. It won't be as comprehensive as your note was, but it may serve to jog your memory:
- You've spent a heap on hardware and software over the past three years. Now you need to make sure all that stuff is actually doing what you want it to do. So you'll spend more time and effort asking what your users actually need - which site features they're using, what they'd like to use but can't easily find. Sure, you'll spend a little money to put in place systems to track page use more accurately - you know that data from the server logs is just junk-quality business data - and to study how users are using the site. But once you can measure what's happening, you'll manage it better.
- You might just need to do some homework on what those site goals were, and how they could be refined. (You do have stated site goals, don't you ...) Make sure you know just what service it is that your Web site must deliver better than anyone else, and how that service ties in with everything else your organisation does. Then you'll be able to show that the site is saving your organisation money. You'll be able to quote figures for, say, the number of customers assisted at the Web site and the dollars in face-to-face and phone time saved by dealing with them online.
- You won't spend up on that giant e-commerce/content management solution you've been evaluating. Trying to integrate new tools into your existing processes probably doesn't make sense right now. And most of the packages seem to deliver little of use that a good in-house team couldn't develop more cheaply using better-known technologies and sometimes even open-source code. (You can quote that report on Inside.com suggesting that big newspaper sites are moving away from packaged proprietary content systems.) High-expense, low-return technologies like personalisation may be the centrepiece of vendor presentations, but they're right off your agenda.
- You'll put more of your budget into cost-effective fixes such as better site copy, making use of outside Web copywriting firms if necessary. And you'll ask for detailed cost-justification of elaborate, expensive multimedia presentations that use technologies like Flash and streaming video.
- You won't act like a newspaper or television station, offering up-to-the-minute news and endlessly changing content. You' ll create a smaller, better-specified, better-written and cheaper roster of "durable" Web material that can stay on your site for a year or more with minor changes and regular updates. (Chances are that the users who come six months from now will have the same needs as today's arrivals.)
- You will experiment with low-cost user-created content.
- Actually, you were always astonished at the way in which the mad dot-com boom rewarded bad management practices and stupid spending on Web site creation and promotion. You're relieved that sanity has returned to the Web industry. You're delighted that the focus has switched to meeting the needs of the organisation and its customers/visitors/users. Aren't you?