You know the drill: three years or so have passed since your organization last redesigned its website. Everyone had an opinion once it launched (where were they during the planning phases?) and there was much excitement, maybe a few tense discussions, and a few Monday morning quarterback ideas. Then, about 30-45 days after it launched, most of the company went back to their “day jobs” since planning a website really just got added to their workload since it only happens every few years.
Meanwhile, a few individuals in Marketing and IT were left as stewards to keep this new behemoth up to date while everyone went back to their daily business and all of a sudden 12, 24, 36 months go by, and the organization finds itself with a site that is no longer has relevant content, and doesn’t perform as needed.
Additionally, with a tradition of only making major updates to the website once every several years, there is not a clear plan to continually optimize the new website. Aside from security updates and a few functional enhancements every so often, the website does not have the same treatment as other marketing efforts, such as social media or advertising, which have gotten a lot more agile in nature, due to real-time access to data, artificial intelligence allowing quick or automated decisions, and other tools. Instead, your website may be the least agile marketing channel available.
In this article, we’re going to talk about why this might be, as well as what you can do to adopt a more agile approach to your website maintenance, and take full advantage of this important marketing channel.
How We Got Here
If the above describes your situation, you are not alone. We have all inherited a method of marketing and designing websites that was born from a different era that had much different constraints than the one we’re living in.
The traditional software development lifecycle (SDLC) is an outcome of the Modern idea of efficiency, scalability, and a belief in the infallibility of logic and structure. It is a product of the culture that spawned the assembly line and mass production, of the advent of the skyscraper and mankind’s travels to space, in that a single unwavering plan can be created at the beginning of a process and have little or no alterations made while a project that takes many months or years unfolds based on that plan.
Keep in mind that as recently as the 1970s, paper punch cards were being used while developing software, meaning that the entire process of writing code required measuring and planning that was timely and costly to perform. Computers were scarce, and the punch card process was not forgiving. For instance, there was no “undo” button. Any mistakes or errors required starting over.
The website design and development process is based strongly on the fundamentals of the software development lifecycle (SDLC). It uses what is referred to as a “waterfall” methodology which requires one step to be performed before the next is started. This ensures that dependencies are thought through and that all the moving pieces are planned one by one.
The downside to this, however, is that this process doesn’t take kindly to any new information, findings or observations a team might have once they are partway through the process. Any changes to scope are costly and can greatly increase the timeline.
In response to this, the agile approach to software was developed which started with some rapid application development methodologies in the 1990s and was finally solidified in the 2000s. With this agile approach, instead of all the planning done in the beginning of the project, the actual work is done in “sprints” of individual features or areas that allow problems to be tackled in more direct and meaningful ways. Several of these sprints make up a full project. This allows product owners to spend more focused energy solving specific problems, and allows learning from one sprint to inform another.
Traditional web maintenance
Traditionally, web maintenance has focused more solely on security updates, and ensure that the website is functioning correctly. But there are many other enhancements and ways to improve your website other than purely technical ones.
While this more traditional form of web maintenance is important, make sure that you are working with a team that can look at your site from a more holistic view. Once you and your team begin to treat website “performance” as a sum of marketing, functionality, security, and data integrity you will truly see the full picture.
Rethinking how you maintain your website
An agile web design and development approach is a continuation of a thought process that is informing many other industries and types of work all around us. The marketing world is switching to a more agile approach that keeps them nimble, hence “agile marketing” becoming a buzzword in recent years. Necessitated by a constantly changing landscape, marketers have been forced to adjust their plans as social networks rise and fall, new technologies come into existence, and preferences shift.
A shift to an “agile web” approach means websites are not simply built, used and scrapped. They are a continually measured and optimized marketing tool that evolves, but rarely, if ever, undergoes a complete redesign. Instead, small changes over time keep it fresh, performing well, and provides a consistent yet always improving experience for customers. This means that the current method of creating and maintaining websites needs to shift.
How you can make the switch to agile
Ready to get started? Here are a few ways you can start to make the switch to an agile marketing approach to your website and web maintenance:
Continual Measurement and Improvement
An agile approach means that you are able to constantly improve the performance of your site, versus making changes in stops and starts, or worse yet, waiting months (or years) to make optimizations. In having the opportunity to continually improve your website, problems that arise can be immediately addressed and resolved. Ensure you have regular reporting available and be clear about the measures of success.
Get Scientific With Your Testing
You should be continually performing some type of testing on your site. Whether you have more sophisticated tools and platforms (anything from Acquia Lift, to Adobe Test & Target to Optimizely) or want to get started using a free platform like Google Optimize, you should always be performing tests to determine how to make your pages and process perform better.
Rethink how you approach budgeting
While every organization is different in their website budgeting approach, in order to be performing a continual program of marketing optimization on your site, you may need to rethink how you approach your website marketing budget. Traditionally, large budgets were given every few years (anywhere from 2-6 depending on the organization) to do a redesign, but if larger incremental updates are being made in between larger website refreshes, you may need to think about modifying that approach to “even out” the budget more. The benefit to doing this is that your website will stay much more current in between major refreshes, and may not require as complete an overhaul when that redesign timeframe rolls around. You can learn more about our thoughts on that by reading our ebook, “The Agile Web.”
We have evolved from programming with paper punch cards to an always-connected, big data, software as a service, cloud-based world. An agile approach to websites means the end of website maintenance and the website redesign as we know it. No more clean slate drawing board, but instead a continual state of listening, evaluating and optimizing. This also means a more consistent Web presence that helps provide continuity for customers, your other marketing efforts, and even internal staff. As marketing becomes an increasingly agile practice, transitioning your approach to a more agile web design is a natural progression and one that parallels the evolution to continually measuring, analyzing, and optimizing marketing efforts. The agile approach is a win-win for everyone.