Building a Website Series: 2. Defining outcomes

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the work I’m doing on a website rebuild, and promised to use the work as a case study which could provide some insight to the way I carry out website builds. The last article in the series covered my work around auditing content, how I was carrying out the audit and some of the criteria I was looking to see within the website. Since my last article, two months has passed, and I can now update you on the work I’ve been carrying out before I start the bulk of the writing which is due to start next week.

As I set about defining the criteria against which existing material was to be judged, I realised that little consideration had been put into what the client wanted to achieve with the website. Twenty years ago, most companies didn’t have a website, and the few that did have one owned extremely basic constructions that were little more complex than a ‘digital book’.

Fast forward twenty years and websites have become considerably more complex, with the thinking behind them more mature – as with any developing service. My client has started with a list of things they thought should be on a website. Things like;

  • Homepage
  • Case Studies
  • ‘Contact Us’ page
  • Services
  • ‘About Us’ page

For the sake of brevity, I won’t detail the entire list – my point is that these pages are all things which you would expect to see on a modern website. What my client had initially missed, however, was that the modern website is designed to move you between multiple pages and towards a specific outcome. Or at least, good websites are.

Bringing current thinking to the project

When I raised this with my client, they didn’t immediately engage with what I was trying to explain. Their current website was barely used, generated few leads and they had little experience within the business to implement and execute the strategies needed to keep up to date with best practice in this area.

It took me multiple sessions of planning and explaining to get the team to move away from a presentational website and towards and outcome-based website, but eventually, I started to make progress. A key hurdle I met with arose from trying to explain the following;

  • The website needed to have objectives (winning new customers, for example).
  • To achieve these objectives, certain actions needed to occur. To continue with my example of ‘winning a customer’, a ‘customer’ needs to be defined, we need to understand what they are buying from us, why they’d buy it and how they’d even have heard about us in the first place.
  • If we recognised that a customer could be buying one of 20 different services from us, then why would we risk wasting time presenting them with the information they weren’t interested in. If you were trying to buy a car and the salesman kept talking about his selection of motorbikes, you’d soon lose interest and walk away.
  • What if the customer wasn’t trying to buy anything at all and instead was browsing? We’d want to be remembered next time they wanted to buy what we’re selling and to keep in touch with them, ensuring that when they were ready to buy, we’d be halfway there to convincing them to buy from us.
  • Two customers could have totally separate concerns and motives for making a purchase. One might want to buy a car with a large boot, the other might want a car that looked ‘cool’. We couldn’t attract them and convert them both to the same message, so risked out on losing one sale by delivering the message needed to attract the other.

Once I’d demonstrated that this was going to be a little more complicated than just ‘throwing a bit of text up’, we set about defining key objectives which were measurable (and achievable through something a website could do!) and then mapping out ‘user journeys’.

The ’User Journey’

I must admit, I’m not a terrific fan of the term ‘user journey’ – mainly because I think many people misunderstand the meaning. Many companies seem to overcomplicate the thinking behind it, but to my mind, it’s quite simple. If you were at the pub, talking to a friend, and it turned out they might want to buy from you, what would the conversation look like?

  • Hi, how are you doing, what’s going on with you at the moment?
  • That sounds really interesting, did you know I work for a company that can solve your problem?
  • They’ve been in business for many years, and they’ve done fantastic things here, here and here.
  • I think it might be worth you looking at our services tomorrow – you might be interested in Service X – if you’d like to find out more, give me a call.

Admittedly, I’ve abstracted this conversation, but the point remains; you don’t simply start trying too hard sell your friend when you have no idea if they’re even interested (or at least, if you did, they’d probably tell you to shut up pretty quickly).

Trying to embed this into the website totally changed the focus from ‘We need a Case Studies page’, and instead moved it towards how to carry out the kind of conversations seen above. Whilst the website had the potential to deliver this sort of messaging, it wasn’t likely to without some serious work on mapping out how those conversations would go.

Once we’d defined those and the outcomes intended to be achieved, I finally felt prepared to set out on the writing, which is due to start in a few days’ time. The hardest part was moving thinking away from focusing on the content people wanted and towards the outcomes people wanted to achieve. ‘Follow on LinkedIn’ and ‘Phone Sales Rep’ were listed on a sheet which ran to nearly 30 outcomes – all of which help to keep the project on track and provide a focus for the writing which is yet to come.

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