Monday Musings: November 18, 2013

With all the bad press floating around about the (extraordinarily) bad website built for the artist known as ObamaCare, my sensitivity to bad sites has reached a peak. My musings this day then have ranged to sites operated by for profit firms, and have led me to one inescapable conclusion; despite massive computational power and a glut of trained site-builders/coders, nobody seems to be able to build a site that works.

There is a reason, of course, why so many commercial sites are so bad, and that reason is monetization. This is a fancy way of saying things are screwed up, digitally-speaking, because the firms are trying to squeeze money out of their sites rather than operating them to specs that support their stated goal. When you opened The Rational Middle, the elements that took the longest to load were the banner ads that appear at the bottom of the first two to three posts. That I have yet to make enough on ads to pay myself minimum wage for any one article written is besides the point; I have monetized my site, therefore I am. But outside of the occasional donation, my ads are the only opportunity for remuneration; for businesses that operate their own sites, this is not the case.

The last time I opened up the site of my favorite airline, it took no time to get to the homepage. But try to actually book a flight, and the ads and sponsored banners crowding the page bogged the works down so poorly that it took several attempts and far more patience than I usually muster to get the job done. And the only reason I persisted was because I was visiting family…were I planning a vacation that airline would have lost my ticket sale in the pursuit of a few pennies worth of per click advertising.

One of the fundamental teachings of business, and a point hammered home by any consultant worth his or her salt, is to understand what line of business you are in and plan accordingly. Anything that is ancillary to the mission must be eliminated if it compromises that mission in any way. An airline in the 21st Century must use its website as its primary channel of service; to compromise that channel in the pursuit of advertising revenues is a business sin.

But no less sinful than my other least favorite web application…the various efforts of the NFL. The NFL compromises its customer service every season by denying potential customers the ability to buy access to their product if those customers prefer cable to satellite. The willingness to lose customers (lost sales being difficult to quantify and easy to understate) in favor of short term contract revenues is an artifact of being too big for one’s britches. But the website for the NFL goes above and beyond the call of business stupidity. NFL.com is the slowest loading commercial website in the United States, bogged down by automatically loaded videos and banner ads of every conceivable variety. The result; instead of taking the advice of the NFL Network (“If you want the NFL, go to the NFL”), I go to Yahoo Sports or CNN.

These problems in customer service, which are the net results of a bad web design, are always the result of a lack of clear organizational focus. This happens most often in the bureaucracies that are formed by large organizations…be they the world’s wealthiest sports league, a regional air carrier, or the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

But they can also happen in small entities, be they business or not for profit. Whenever you get a “good” idea about your business, or are suggested one by someone else (especially if that someone is an advertiser of any type), ask yourself three questions;

  1. Does this duplicate something I am already doing, and can possibly do better?
  2. Does this fit my mission?
  3. Does this fit my budget?

Any hesitation about these three questions should leave you no hesitation about saying no and moving to the next idea.

 

The Rational Middle is listening…