We’re Too Obsessed with Websites
When it comes to websites…brands, campaigns, and individuals spend too much time swimming upstream. Too often people work to make their websites destinations for their customers when they should instead be creating content that lives on platforms which users naturally use.
First, let me have a disclaimer: yes, my company builds and designs websites. Websites are a critical part of a properly executed digital effort, but they are often (and increasingly)an overstated public showing of a well-run digital effort. Often months are spent on the perfect design, interactive build, and color schema. The truth is that for most organizations, a single post on their Facebook page will generate more eyeballs and reach than an entire month of website visitor traffic.
The websites we are building today are being built for insiders. On campaigns, they’re often designed for the candidate’s family, with feedback from the campaign staff, and “that one friend that does graphic design.” Websites are often not designed to deliver a central message but instead with a strange need to keep the content “fresh” and “updated in real-time.” But, why? The fact is that the majority of websites have more than 70% of traffic come from first time visitors.
Repeat visitors to a website are already bought into a brand, idea, or campaign. Repeat visitors are ready to help. They often consist of people close to the brand or idea. This stands in contrast to first time visitors or people actually seeking information. These are people ready to make a decision, who have gone to the website to read, engage, and learn. Websites often neglect the first time visitors when they should instead be simplifying messaging on the site FOR these people.
Most organizations are by nature understaffed, yet they often emphasize keeping websites “fresh” with news content and the latest videos. Instead of highlighting the latest piece of content on a website, it should be the most compelling, persuasive, and engaging one. Instead of a focus on updating a website to please insiders checking a box, we should be encouraging precious creative time to be spent on unique content created for sharing across mediums.
Increased mobile traffic has dramatically hurt the time people are spending on websites. These people are often pushed from apps such as Facebook and Twitter to websites, but they aren’t staying long. Mobile users have very short attention spans and we are filling our now “responsive” websites with so much worthless information that bounce rates are rising faster than our national debt.
As story tellers, we need to look at telling our stories in different ways. Last election cycle I was noticing that one of the most visited pages on our client websites was the “About” page which told the biography of the candidates. Normally these pages have a family photo and some filler text. Instead of repeating this schema, we created a new About page that told a story via an interactive timeline, in a much more visual way than normal. The visual approach kept users on the page longer than the normal text pages, even though the timeline approach simplified the client’s life to distinct bullet points.
Websites are important as tools to capture data, tell a story, and certainly to control search engine results. But websites need to be more than digital mail-pieces. They need to have actual utility to them. Instead of spending months on the perfect website, we should focus our time and attention on style, and content. As attention spans decrease, we need to deliver information, even important biographical information, in short, pithy ways. We need to clearly express on the homepage or splash page of our sites exactly what our main message points are. As an incumbent elected official, our websites should express exactly how we’ve delivered for constituents and followed through on promises. As an organization our homepage should express our main goals, central theme, and purpose. Campaign websites should list promises and beliefs front and center.
Let’s be honest with ourselves….it’s hard to compete in a world where websites offer cat gifs, viral videos,and funny memes. When voters have a choice, they often click off at the first shiny object. They’d prefer to watch sports than read about public policy. Websites are here to stay, but they are just one piece in a larger digital puzzle. Centre-right organizations across the world need to get smarter about how we use websites, which shouldn’t get the majority of a digital budget, nor the majority of an organization’s digital time.
Vincent Harris is CEO of Harris Media and Chief Digital Strategist for Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas and has been guest faculty at Baylor University. Previously he ran digital operations for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.