Web Optimization: Web Management Requires Minimalism

3 minute read
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The most important decisions in web management are what you don't do, what you take away from your website rather than put up on it.

Recently, while I was in Norway, I met Dag Wigum, the CIO of Schibsted, a Scandinavian media group with a highly successful web presence, particularly in the area of buying and selling. He told me that when the founder came in to work every morning he asked the same questions: What are we going to take away? How are we going to make it simpler?

"What makes Steve's methodology different from everyone else's is that he always believed the most important decisions you make are not the things you do -- but the things that you decide not to do. He's a minimalist." Former Apple CEO John Sculley told this to Leander Kahney, editor of Cult of Mac. Sculley described Jobs as man who was focused on "constantly reducing things to their simplest level. It's not simplistic. It's simplified. Steve is a systems designer. He simplifies complexity."

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, states that minimalism is one of his key interests. "When Sergey Brin and Larry Page were raising funds for their startup, the biggest challenge was convincing venture capitalists that Google could actually make money serving up minimalist, fast-loading, text-only ads," Josh McHugh wrote for Wired in 2003. "It was 1998, after all, the heyday of elaborate splash pages and animated, brand-touting banners that danced at the top of every portal."

Taking away is really, really hard for two reasons. First, there are always some customers who want more stuff. When they get home and try to actually use the complicated product they may suffer buyer's remorse but in the shop they are excited by all those extra features. The customers who want simplicity are the silent majority.

Second, if you remove something you create an enemy within the organization. If you take away a feature from a product you're going to annoy the person who created that feature. If you remove content from a website you're going to annoy the person or department who created that content.

Learning Opportunities

Modern organizations are organized for complexity. Take intranets, for example. Most intranet content is badly written and hard to find because simplifying it takes a lot of effort and testing. That costs money and intranet measurement is not focused on saving employee time but rather on saving departmental time.

It goes like this: the HR department quickly puts all policies on the intranet. That saves the HR department time because now they can tell the employee: it's on the intranet, go look for it yourself. So, what departments are doing is shifting time and effort from their budget line and spreading them across the employee base. It's a bit like the sub-prime mortgages philosophy: if you spread something out enough it a kind of dissolves and disappears. Except it doesn't.

Simplicity requires a lot of effort. Most organizations do not measure the benefits that are delivered as a result of this effort. That's why we have complexity.

Additional Reading:
Web Engagement: Text is More Important than Images on the Web

About the author

Gerry McGovern

Gerry McGovern is the founder and CEO of Customer Carewords. He is widely regarded as the worldwide authority on increasing web satisfaction by managing customer tasks.