Can we learn something from the village idiot?

Most aspects of marketing are in a state of “continuous improvement”, a technique which comes from my own background in production engineering and which has been applied more widely over the years. If you advertise in the same magazine every month, the chances are that you continually review the advert, and make small changes whenever it’s practical. However, with your company website, you’ve been given a complex piece of machinery to look after, which has arcane workings that encourage an approach of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. This, I believe, is a mistake.

What tends to happen with most company websites is that after they’re built, there’s a very short flurry of improvement as any problems in practice are ironed out, but then there’s a gradual slide downhill over the next few years as the design of the site is left unchanged and it gradually becomes less fit for purpose. At a certain point, you then have to find £10,000 or £100,000 (and several months of your life) to completely rebuild the thing. The problem with this is that the site is, quite simply, rubbish for the last year or two of its life, and the cost of a poor website is only just beginning to sink in for most businesses.

The story of “Trigger’s Broom” has made it into Wikipedia, as a modern-day version of the “Ship of Theseus Paradox“. In an episode of Only Fools And Horses, the scene-stealing character of Trigger, the street cleaner, wins an award for owning the same broom for 20 years. He points out that it has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles, but insists it is still the same broom. A great gag; but surely that’s also a better way of running a website? Having a new broom is very nice, but it doesn’t make up for having a useless one while you organise for a completely new replacement.

I have been involved with several website redesigns where we knew no work had been done on the site over the years because the site owners didn’t even know who originally designed their existing site! Maybe your website is already in such a state of decay that it’ll need to be rebuilt soon. But this time, schedule regular, permanent discussions with the designers about the site’s appearance and functionality, and you (or your successors) may never need to rebuild it again.

Discussion

  1. Chris Browne

    I completely agree with this. However, could I make a polite comment? Sometimes it is good to highlight a positive example to explain a point, as in a role model. Not all b2b industrial marketing departments are archaic and ineffective, but I get the impression you believe this to be the case. We are in the process of developing the next generation of our website. The existing site has been continuously updated, performs very well, generates results, but has fundamental flaws and limitations that only a full redesign will fix. I read and agree with 99% of your posts, but sometimes I wish to be inspired, rather than browbeaten. Yours, very respectfully.

  2. Tricia Mathieson (Bardwyck)

    Good points, Chris and Chris. But this is a bit of a conundrum. In my business, are constantly battling with the temptation to put across a message that other people then see as negative. The idea of helping businesses solve problems seems to go down like a lead balloon – even though it’s a lot of what we do. It’s evidently because people don’t want to admit they have problems. Yet it also sounds quite hackneyed these days to say we help people enhance already sound practices. The same, I guess, applies to the way you put across thoughts about website design. So how best to communicate a message without sounding either negative or kitsch?

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