What would you get if you
ordered your food the same way you commissioned your
When it comes to commissioning a
website, finding a web developer is just the start. If you
want a brilliant website, you're going to have to put some
serious thought into it yourself.
I had arrived early at my new client's
office. I was meeting with the managing director of the
company and his assistant asked me if I'd mind waiting as he
was still in a meeting. "He's talking to a web developer
about a new company website," she said. "Very exciting."
The door to his office was slightly
open and I couldn't help but overhear the end of the
conversation taking place inside: "That sounds excellent and
I like the price. When can you start?" asked the MD.
"Next week - what do you want in the
website?" came the reply. "You're the expert, you tell me,
whatever is the best, now go and build me a website!" said
the MD. "I have another meeting now so we are out of time
The developer - a smart young man in a
suit - left the office thanking the assistant as he passed.
I was ushered into the MD's office and as it was close to
lunchtime, I suggested that we had our meeting over lunch at
a small French restaurant around the corner.
After settling into our seats we
ordered a couple of glasses of wine and were left to study
the menus. I made a point of not looking at mine; my
companion appeared to notice this but did not comment.
Presently, the waiter returned and turning to me, said,
"What would you like to order?"
I immediately responded in an
enthusiastic but slightly indignant tone, "Bring us food!"
The waiter looked a little perplexed, "Um, what food would
you like?" he said. "You're the expert, bring us food,
whatever is the best food that you have," I asserted. A
rather confused waiter left the table and returned to the
How not to order a meal - or a
"This should be an interesting meal," I
commented to my companion, who while remaining polite, was
looking more than a little bemused to say the least.
Shortly the waiter returned with a
platter of the finest seafood. It looked fantastic and was
no doubt the best they had. The table was prepared and the
waiter left us to enjoy our meal. However, after a short
while of picking on his bread roll the MD - who looked a
little embarrassed - announced that he was allergic to
seafood and could not eat anything on the plate.
It was then that I took the opportunity
to point out that my instructions to the waiter were the
same as that which he had given to the web developer in his
office not an hour earlier. I repeated what he had said:
"You're the expert, build me a website."
I posed the question to him, "What sort
of website can you expect to get from a person who knows
nothing about your business or its customers?" The MD
immediately realised what he had done.
The waiter was called back and another
meal was ordered for the MD. We proceeded to discuss the new
website project; he was very interested in what I had to say
and said that he was going to call the web developer for
another meeting the moment he returned to his office.
Too many web development projects start
with "We need a website", and then quickly move on to
contracting a web developer and instructing them to build
the site - all without any research, setting of business
objectives or consideration for customers.
Run of the mill websites
The result of this is seen everywhere.
So many business websites consist of the usual run of the
mill pages, commonly consisting of: a home page; about us
page; products and services page; contact us page; and a few
other pages thrown into the mix. The site gets built by the
developer and is eventually published on the internet.
To the inexperienced eye of the
commissioning client, the site looks good and the company
happily signs off and pays the invoice. A few months down
the line they may start to notice that the site is not
performing as they expected.
This often results in a second stage of
web development: search engine optimisation, banner or other
paid advertising; email marketing campaigns and so on, are
all employed to drive new visitors to the site.
The visitors come to the website but
the website is still not built for the customers, so they do
not stay long, nobody contacts the company, nobody places an
order. Finally when all that has failed they call someone
like me as a last resort.
Focusing on the customer
A review of the website quickly reveals
that it is focused on the business and not the user. All the
online paid promotion in the world will not be effective in
generating sales or enquiries because the site does not
engage the visitor. Their experience of the site is poor, it
may be confusing to use or they cannot find what they are
So they quickly leave and go elsewhere
-¬ often straight to a competitor who has paid more
consideration to them in the process of developing their
website and consequently produces better experiences for the
user and therefore better results for that company.
So if you want your website to work for
your business, while it is in the process of development you
cannot abdicate responsibility. You may be relying on a
website expert to build the site but you are the expert on
your business so you need to be heavily involved in the
development of your website.
Your website represents your company to
anyone who looks at it. Above all, remember who the website
is for: not you or your company, but your customers.
First published by The
Telegraph Business Club September 2009