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Systems Alliance Blog

Opinion, advice and commentary on IT and business issues from SAI
Keyword: website

The conventional wisdom has been that a website should be updated or redesigned every three years or so. That timeline has continued to shrink over the years to a redesign every 2-3 years, to a redesign every 1.5-2 years depending on who you happen to listen to, and your industry. Given the effort and cost typically involved in a major site redesign, investing in that effort every two years is not feasible for most organizations. So the question then is how can you keep a site fresh, incorporating new features and technologies, without a significant redesign project?...Read More

To begin evaluating your redesign, you'll need objective and subjective measures for a 360-degree view of performance. For objective metrics consider starting with the following widely used Web stats:

  • Growth in traffic to key sections of your Website
  • Visitor navigation patterns – are visitors actually going to the pages you want them to, and how are they getting there
  • Change in abandonment rate on key pages
  • Referrer statistics – where is the traffic coming from
  • Growth in conversions – however defined for your particular business, e.g. sales leads, online transactions completed, customer inquiries, etc.
  • Pay-per-click advertising activity (if applicable) – growth in click-through rate and more importantly, conversions.
  • Number of pages updated or created on a monthly basis (fresh/relevant content is critical)

Drilling In

Going a step further, consider which specific metrics make sense for your site and business. Your answer will depend on industry and organization, so consider these examples:

  • Retail – growth in number and value of online transactions, basket composition (cross-selling effectiveness), reduction in phone/email customer service inquiries, growth in customer feedback on products/transactions (engagement)
  • Higher Education – Growth in number of applications for admission and requests for information, growth in giving/donations, increase in yield (shows engagement with prospective/accepted students).
  • Healthcare – Increased number of appointments via online channels, growth in online transactions and services (increasing operational efficiency), improved customer/patient satisfaction.
  • Associations – Membership growth and renewals, product/service sales to members, reduction in phone/email customer service inquiries.

Subjective Metrics
Beyond objective metrics, it is useful to understand how site performance impacts internal and external stakeholders. In terms of internal stakeholders, interviews can be used to understand what, if any, impact your Web transformation had on those aspects of the business that are most directly affected by your Web presence. For external stakeholders (your Website visitors) you can accomplish the same thing with an online survey. Yes, surveys can be hit or miss, but they’re still effective if properly implemented.

The Bottom Line
Your Web transformation project can have a significant impact on your organization’s success. Simply going through the motions, e.g., improving the UI, does not guarantee your site will end up performing any better. And, sometimes, even well-planned projects miss the mark – thought this is a far from tragic outcome if you know how and why.

The intent here is to understand the impact of our efforts – if all positive, then an opportunity to demonstrate in a reasonably objective way, the transformation’s impact on our business and view into the return on investment of our efforts. If our analysis indicates our efforts have not been as successful as we would like – no need to panic, since we should have the information we need to make appropriate course corrections. Either way, this measurement activity provides us with actionable information to help us optimize our Web management efforts – and this is in reality a never ending – and rewarding – process.

So, you’ve just spent several months, a significant slice of budget dollars and plenty of staff hours on a major Website redesign or transformation effort. The site looks great, the project team gets well-deserved kudos and the executives are pleased. But, how do you know if your effort was successful? And then how successful? Do the benefits of the redesign offset the investment of time and money? How do you know?

In many cases we find there is too little emphasis placed on measuring the success of a Web transformation effort. It tends to be a substantial investment of resources, yet many organizations have no sense of the return on that investment – whether that return is even positive. Why is this important? 

The days of the “about us” brochure Website are long gone. Your site is a strategic sales, marketing and operational resource. It supports key business objectives, or at least it should. While the specific objectives will vary by organization and industry, at a high level, your public-facing Website should drive revenue, decrease costs (usually by optimizing or automating operational processes)  and / or increase customer satisfaction or engagement. Ideally you want to measure the effectiveness of any change to sales/marketing efforts or operational processes. If the change yields positive results, then great! If not, figure out why and make adjustments. Of course it’s difficult to make adjustments if you don’t know whether or not you’ve made a positive change, and why.

So, how do you measure the effectiveness of a Web transformation effort? It’s much more than “we’re getting more visitor traffic” or “the site looks better now than it did before.” This brings to mind the infamous “putting lipstick on a pig” analogy.  If the site looks good or attracts more visitors, that’s nice, but is that really having a positive impact on your key performance indicators (KPIs)?

The goal is to determine if the Website is doing a better job of achieving those key business objectives after the transformation effort. To do this, we first need to define appropriate KPIs. You’ll want to do this before the transformation so you can establish a baseline for comparing before and after results.

Ideally this measurement process should be an ongoing activity, part of the overall Website management process which enables continuous incremental improvement. After all, your site is not static, hence there’s an ongoing need to evaluate objectives and adjust course accordingly. At minimum you should review metrics before and after the transformation and then once a month, looking at year-over-year and month-over-month comparisons to factor out seasonal trends.

In my next post we'll look at three ways you can measure success.

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