Tel: 905–690–4709 dk@tfwm.com - Darryl Kirkland, Publisher

Ready, Fire, Aim!

Wanda the Web site had been endowed with alluring JAVA routines and FLASH pages, and she had enjoyed a fun launch year attracting lots of hits on the superhighway. Although she was still receiving glowing emails applauding her attributes, Wanda was nagged by bouts of deep isolation. Accolades are nice, but she felt she needed to get professional advice and the time had come to consult a strategist. The exam had been lengthy and explored areas seldom visited. Now, she was nervously awaited the prognosis and as he re-entered the room, Wanda drew a long breath and braced herself. “People mean well,” she said, “They think a glamorous life is all I need, but I’m not building meaningful relationships and everything seems a struggle.” With a heavy exhale she continued, “The kindest thing you can do is give it to me straight, Doc”. Looking at his new patient, he did as she asked and plainly said “Wanda, I’m afraid you have RFA. I can help you but rehabilitation carries only a 30% chance of full recovery.” Wanda’s sharp wail startled the patient in the next exam room. At least the weak knees it gave him stopped his pacing.

OFTEN MISDIAGNOSED

RFA (ready-fire-aim) is a disease of the online process system which leaves visitors with an incomplete experience (such as teaching someone how to fly but not how to land). It generally manifests itself as visitor frustration and low traffic rates. Recovery means facing rehabilitation against unknown outcomes because many critical factors, like recapturing your target audience, may be beyond your control.
Once a Web site has a home page with navigation to contact information, services, and “who are we”, deadlines or business plans often drive RFA to be misdiagnosed as ready-for-action. This results in premature launches that have only stepped through alpha testing. How do you prevent RFA? A good way to prevent RFA is a pre-launch checklist takes the site through solid alpha testing (a dry run of all basic functions) before it heads into wider beta testing (troubleshooting deeper functionality bugs uncovered by mock users):

o Look around your Web site and identify whizz-bangs. Whizz-bangs are good and bad. Good whizz-bangs provide visual excitement without detracting from content. Bad whizz-bangs catapult technology at the cost of content. Five demerits for each bad whizz-bang but ten points for the courage to remove it.

o Think of your Web site as expensive real estate. Look at every element on every page and ask if it is appropriate. If a visitor only needs Windows Media Player on your ‘Fellowship’ page to view the men’s spaghetti dinner, does it make sense to have the WMP-install link on the navigation bar for every page? No. (Find the link that would make you answer “yes,” like a ‘Find Us’ link, and implement it.)

o Does each page offer good information hierarchy? Look at having important information readily identifiable and complete (description, events, times and locations). Do directions only get visitors to your parking lot but don’t say how to find the nursery?

o Do all pages reflect the same developmental effort? Has the launch been harried and let some interior pages look hurried? Or worse, do you have any skeletal pages that only say “under construction?”

o Think about writing style. Is the writing conversational and warm but succinct? Are pages inundated with redundant headers? Does the bolding make sense? Would bullets help identify a list of information? Would a spot font color change, in a particular area, help the reader?

o Do large graphics force visitor patience for long downloads (surprise, visitors have virtually no patience)? Do all graphics provide alternative text (see ‘picture properties’)?

REHABILITATION (Grabbing That 30% Chance)

A Web site only works when it can build the kind of relationships that draw visitors back as a return customers and, eventually, as community citizens. If the online experience doesn’t support these relationships, the Web project is in jeopardy. Early relationships are fragile and difficult to rebuild. Rehabilitation means taking an honest look and committing yourself to reshaping lessons into foresight (and, of course, the up side of treatment is that you’re providing a top experience to new visitors). First, ask how should success be measured:

o Growth in number of active customers
o Growth in customer’s commitments to you
o Customer retention rate (high)
o Customer defections (low)
o Customer referrals
o Customer acquisition costs
o Customer spending/giving patterns

Second, take a look at customer demands that typically change Web businesses and find those that your Web site should embrace:

1. Open and convenient access
2. Real-time information
3. Specialized information
4. Information portability
5. Process transparency
6. The ability to set prices
7. Choice of distribution
8. Control over personal information

Third, now that you have identified your measures for success and customer demands, chart them into an assessment grid (example below). Answering each of these 4 basic questions in 4 strategic areas will reveal whether your Web site is ready-for-action or suffering ready-fire-aim: