The nature of the Web is not neat and tidy. A website is not a project but rather a process of continuous improvement. Traditional content always has an end in mind. The objective is a brochure, a report, a book, a video. Steps are put in place to get the brochure designed, printed and distributed. There is always an end point; a point at which you can move on to another project.
Before the Web, the life of the marketing executive was so much easier. They could plan an advertising campaign with the ad agency, pay the money, and the ads went up. Like clockwork. Neat and tidy.
Now, there is the curse of Google AdWords. It's all about testing multiple variants of the ad to see which is most effective. Instead of one big neat and tidy campaign, web advertising has become a process of continuous improvement.
Organizations like projects. They are neat and tidy. You can allocate financing and people to projects and expect something delivered; for example, an intranet application to allow staff to claim expenses. The application is launched, the project delivered. Time to move on. Neat and tidy.
You're probably not going to believe this. When a claim expenses application is launched on an intranet, there are rarely any checks to see if it has achieved the efficiency that was predicted. That's because there is no reason to. The application plan got the budget for a project, not a process of continuous improvement. Once an application was launched, it's onto the next project. Neat and tidy.
Do you remember airline flight booking websites seven years ago? They were very clunky, weren't they? They have now improved an awful lot because airlines have realized that if you make it hard for customers to book a flight, you lose them.
You're not going to believe this: Most organizations don't believe that making an application or website easier to use is strategically important. They believe it's a 'nice-to-have'. Wrong. On the website easier to find and easier to use are must-haves.
Google, Amazon, eBay-all top websites-strive to make things easier to find and easier to use. They are constantly testing, constantly observing, constantly refining. They test words, graphics and features. If something works, they do more of it. If it doesn't, they stop.
After many years, JK Rowling wrote the last page in Harry Potter, but there is no last page on your website. The Web is just not a neat and tidy world. Stop thinking about success in terms of tasks and projects you complete. (We've launched a new website/brochure.) Start thinking about the Web in terms of tasks your customers can quickly complete.
The Web is messy. Your website is a constant beta. You can't just publish a webpage or launch an application and think that's it. That's only the very beginning. Every page and application you launch is the beginning of a journey of continuous improvement.
If you don't have the time to ensure that this continuous improvement occurs, then you are asking your customers to spend more of their time on your website. Are you sure that your customers will be willing to spend that time?
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.