As web managers struggle to improve their websites, it's increasingly clear that standard tools and practices are failing the cause. Here are 3 important guidelines that will pay dividends -- re-shaping how you approach web optimization.

Over the last couple of years, we have seen more organizations in commerce, education and government struggle with the problems of managing websites -- intranets as well as public websites. Senior managers are increasingly aware of the strategic role of websites. They have recognized that websites and intranets are vital business assets.

As a result, many have become more concerned with measuring the performance of websites from a strategic perspective. But most existing web analytics measures are technically-oriented and detailed, rather than strategic and global. So how do senior managers get the strategic evidence they need to focus their organization's resources and the efforts of their staff?

1. Manage Tasks, Not Technology

Some organizations have already started to realize the benefits of a task-based management approach. Instead of focusing on projects, technology and silos, they focus on tasks -- the most important web interactions of their customers, potential customers and staff. They are measuring progress based on how well users can perform top tasks. They are getting task-performance indicators to people who have responsibility, authority, or control over top tasks. Task-performance is becoming a guiding management metric.

Based on these measures, they focus roles and responsibilities of web stakeholders in IT, HR and Marketing & Communications around ensuring their users' top tasks can be performed quickly and efficiently. They treat websites as service delivery vehicles, measuring service quality on a regular basis: they know that service quality, if ignored, decays rapidly.

Like democracy, great service quality requires vigilance.

Ultimately, websites exist to support users' tasks within the business model of the organization. It is essential that these tasks be effective and efficient. Website service quality therefore is measured in terms of users' task performance: successful completion rates, time to complete the task, errors or disasters, effectiveness of paths taken, search quality, content quality, and satisfaction.

Website performance is NOT measured by hits, page views, length of time on page, or other common web metrics.

2. Fix the Basics

In the quest for providing great customer service, we have seen some web management teams trying one technological solution after another. It might be a new content management system (CMS) that will rescue the website this week, or a new search engine, or perhaps it's social media.

Yes, these can be important, even necessary, but first we need to make sure we've got the basics right. Users need to perform tasks. Every website has a small number of top tasks. Managing them well benefits a large number of users and thereby supports the strategic role of the web. Losing focus on these top tasks detracts from the user experience and diffuses resources and strategic focus.

Task-based organizations identify the top tasks of their customers (on public websites) and their staff (on intranets), and ensure that these top tasks are being performed effectively and efficiently, delivering a satisfying and successful user experience.

Websites are where some of the most important customer and employee interactions and activities now take place, yet the quality and efficiency of these interactions is rarely measured or measured well. Once these basics of efficient top task performance are being well-managed as an ongoing activity, then the team can turn its attention to more exciting projects. Fix the basics first.

3. Focus on Facts, Not Opinions

Task-based management fosters decision-making that is based on facts rather than personal opinions and debate. But website management is such a new discipline, it still doesn't come easy to most organizations. Management meetings and decision-making can be dogged by internal turf-wars, driven by whoever has the biggest budget, who owns the technology or the staff, or even the HIPPO -- the Highest-Paid Person's Opinion!

"WWW" might almost mean Wild West Web: the web is still pioneer territory, waiting to be claimed by the adventurous and the clever (and you have to be both). Companies like Google, eBay and Amazon have sprung up almost overnight to dominate our stock markets and commerce, but the web end-game is still nowhere in sight.

In this wild new territory unsupported opinion is dangerous to our business strategies; opinion based on preconceptions and old experience doubly so. In measuring top task performance on websites, you have to go back to basic data. Examine customer or staff behavior in its raw form. And don't rely on just asking them about their behavior -- you have to observe it to understand it well. People are generally quite poor at predicting or remembering their actual behavior.

Take timings and measure errors, how many pages a task takes, how many mouse-clicks, how much reading has to take place, how many decisions about where to look and to click. Understand why people lose their way in your navigation, what words they have in their heads when they come to your website to carry out a task, whether and where those words are on your web pages and how well search supports the users' tasks. New techniques, like the Customer Carewords suite of tools, aim to provide quantitative data quickly and with minimum effort, on audience, customer and/or staff behavior.

Facts Will Change the Way You Work

Make this task performance data available to stakeholders. Use these data to make rational decisions in the boardroom, and to override opinion. Task data usually cuts across organizational boundaries: this, and the focus on customers and their behavior, often helps defuse territorial and political wars.

When managers and content authors can monitor their own progress against task performance targets on web content they publish, they can do their jobs differently. When management can see that a task-error rate is high, they can prioritize what to fix.

For example, we've seen universities, recognizing that potential students are their lifeblood, work to improve tasks such as 'Find a course that's suitable for me'. This involves bringing together content authors and managers from different departments and faculties to work together in ways they've never done before.

Successful Task-based Management in Practice

The many companies that have successfully applied a task-based management approach to their intranets and public websites include Cisco, Microsoft, The U.S. Inland Revenue Service and Tetra Pak.

Gabriel Olsson, e-Communications Director of Tetra-Pak has said "Following the Task Based strategy has been the foundation of our work to successfully develop our intranet. We have used Gerry's [McGovern's] (@gerrymcgovern) real customer-centric approach to improve the ability of our employees to solve frequently performed tasks -- in one area more than 50% improvement was achieved."

Following is Olsson's 6-minute video summary of Tetra Pak's task-based management approach:

To continue drilling down on this topic, you can check out Gerry McGovern's latest book The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online and review my slides from the J Boye Conference in May of this year.