Professional web design. 1. harsh truths about corporate websites

By Paul Boag

We all make mistakes running our websites. However, the nature of
those mistakes varies depending on the size of your company. As your
organization grows, the mistakes change. This article addresses
common mistakes made by large organizations.

Most of the clients I work with are large organizations: universities,
large charities, public sector institutions and big companies. Over the
last seven years, I have noticed certain recurring misconceptions
among these organizations. This article aims to dispel these illusions
and encourage people to face the harsh reality.

The problem is that if you are reading this, you are probably already
aware of these things. But hopefully this article will be helpful to you
as you convince others within your organization. In any case, here are
some of the harsh truths about websites of large organizations.

You Need A Separate Web Division

In many organizations, the website is managed by either the
marketing or IT department. However, this inevitably leads to a turf
war, with the website becoming the victim of internal politics.
In reality, pursuing a Web strategy is not particularly suited to either
group. IT may be excellent at rolling out complex systems, but it is not
suited to developing a friendly user experience or establishing an
online brand.

Jeffrey Zeldman urges organizations to create a separate Web division.

Marketing, on the other hand, is little better. As Jeffrey Zeldman puts
it in his article Let T here B e Web D ivisions :

The Web is a conversation. Marketing, by contrast, is a
monologue… And then there’s all that messy business
with semantic markup, CSS, unobtrusive scripting,
card-sorting exercises, HTML run-throughs, involving
users in accessibility, and the rest of the skills and
experience that don’t fall under Marketing’s purview.

Instead, the website should be managed by a single unified team.
Again, Zeldman sums it up when he writes:

Put them in a division that recognizes that your
website is not a bastard of your brochures, nor a
natural outgrowth of your group calendar. Let there be
Web divisions.

Managing Your Website Is A Full-Time Job

Not only is the website often split between marketing and IT, it is also
usually under-resourced. Instead of there being a dedicated Web
team, those responsible for the website are often expected to run it
alongside their “day job.” When a Web team is in place, it is often
over-stretched. The vast majority of its time is spent on day-to-day
maintenance rather than on longer-term strategic thinking.

This situation is further aggravated by the fact that the people hired
to “maintain” the website are junior members of the staff. They do not
have the experience or authority to push the website forward. It is
time for organizations to seriously invest in their websites and finally
move their Web strategies forward by hiring full-time senior Web
managers.

Periodic Redesign Is Not Enough

Because corporate websites are under-resourced, they are often
neglected for long periods of time. They slowly become out of date in
their content, design and technology. Eventually, the website becomes
such an embarrassment that management steps in and demands that
it be sorted. This inevitably leads to a complete redesign at
considerable expense. This is a flawed approach. It is a waste of
money, because when the old website is replaced, the investment that
was put into it is lost, too. It is also tough on finances, with a large