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How to avoid the pitfalls of a new website launch

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A Google search for the phrase ‘website disasters’ calls up a long list of website launches that didn’t go to plan. The most common reasons are poor design or serious technical flaws. 

For the companies involved in these botched launches, the ramifications can range from mild embarrassment to a devastating impact on a business’s bottom line. Large companies and governments with almost limited resources have also fallen into the same trap. One only has to look at the loss recently recorded by Marks & Spencer after the relaunch of its website or the chronic problems that plagued the ‘Obamacare’ enrolment site in the US. The fact is that, in most cases, serious problems with a website launch can be avoided by following some simple rules.

The first step is to avoid the ‘tunnel effect’ – this is where the website that is created is far removed from what was originally commissioned and is usually not what the executives of the business wanted or envisioned. In most cases the tunnel effect is the result of a separation between the corporate team and the website developers. Websites can take between six to 18 months to move from the initial idea to the final launch. In this time, the core aims of the website can become forgotten as the construction of the website becomes the sole responsibility of developers. 

Ensuring that the tunnel effect doesn’t happen is relatively easy – make sure the corporate and development teams work hand in glove. By having regular inter-team meetings and a sign off process at each stage of a site’s development, businesses can ensure that everything stays on track and there are no nasty surprises on launch day.

The next common problem is a failure to catch flaws early in the development process. By adopting a routine of testing the site at each stage of development the business team can actually see the site as it evolves and catch any problems early on. New technology is becoming available in the form of enterprise app stores (Gartner predicts to be the main vehicle to manage corporate-sanctioned apps by 2017) that allows developers to work with business users to deliver results quickly. By tackling problems as they occur, rather than after the site is completed, the chances of launching a website beset with technical problems is vastly reduced.

Failure to do proper research is one of the most inexcusable causes of a botched website launch. The choice of designer, CMS and other service providers is usually driven by price, rather than functionality or track record. After all, a disastrous website launch isn’t always down to flaws on the site – an equally damaging issue can be that the site looks dated as soon as it launches or does not have the same level of integration or services as competing websites. By researching all the available options and being fully informed of what technology is available a business can ensure it partners with the best companies to create the best possible website.

One of the best ways to ensure a site lives up to expectations is to treat is as an app. The days of treating a website as ‘static’ are long gone. Now, a site needs to be linked to the CRM, marketing automation systems and sometimes the business management software within the organisation, thus becoming itself a full-fledged application. Consequently, websites needs to be closely monitored for glitches and upgrades need to be anticipated. Ensuring that responsibility is taken for these tasks and a clear strategy is laid out prior to launch is key.

Of course, the secret to avoiding a failed website launch is not to launch a new site at all. By thinking of a website as a living organism and building it using a platform that has modules, templates and apps that can be updated separately, a site can become dynamic. This all but removes the need to undertake a risky or costly complete update to the site every few years as technology improves.

If every business took heed of the tips laid out above a Google search for ‘website disasters’ would turn out far fewer results. Most website launch problems are preventable if enough attention is paid to the development process. For the best results, businesses need to look at their website as an intrinsic part of their company and allocate resources accordingly.

Emmanuel Garcin is chief operating officer at open source CMS provider Jahia.

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