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Websites Matter More Than Ever. So Why Do Many Still Fall Short?

Three reasons digital experiences aren't living up to customer expectations.

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I recently bought a plane ticket to attend my sister's wedding in India. After two Covid delays (and just before Omicron resulted in heightened restrictions), she decided to go ahead with her event and we had to book our tickets fast. Unfortunately, my experience purchasing tickets on the airline's website was somewhat of a disaster.

It took so long for me to figure out what flights were available and when that I almost gave up. And I couldn't help wondering: how is this possible in 2022? How can a major airline's digital customer experience possibly be so bad?

The whole ordeal made me realize how glaringly obvious it is now when a company is not focused on their customer experience. The gap between good and bad digital experience is widening. And, the consequences for being on the wrong side of the divide are becoming more dire: not only annoyed customers, but also loss of revenue, customer loyalty and advocacy.

For those of us who are online all the time — and let's face it, since the pandemic hit that's most of us — the constant digital exposure has resulted in skyrocketing expectations. And many websites still simply aren't living up.

There are simple but critical reasons so many companies are still on the wrong path. Here are three of the most common pitfalls.

Fail 1: A lack of alignment on the website's purpose

A website's downfall typically starts at the top. While internal business units argue over their vision for the site, customer experience — and the fact that websites are ultimately about revenue — is often overlooked.

With e-commerce sales expected to grow from $4.8 trillion in 2021 to $6.4 trillion in 2024, the stakes here are enormous. Studies have shown that 40 percent of visitors will leave a website that takes more than three seconds to load and 88 percent of visitors are unlikely to return after a bad user experience. Bad UX is a trillion dollar problem for e-commerce sites; 35 percent of consumer dollars are left on the table because user experience doesn't live up to expectations.

Without customer understanding or a drive to convert website visitors, websites become a mess of competing goals and messaging that ultimately serve no one. Businesses that succeed online not only understand the website's core purpose — to build empathy with the customer, to share the brand story and to generate revenue — they internalize it and map it on their website.

They know their number one job is to make the customer journey as frictionless as possible.

Related: How the Customer Experience Affects Your Bottom Line

Fail 2: Forever trapped in the dysfunction of relaunch mentality

If your company hasn't aligned on its website's purpose, the resulting digital mess will undoubtedly lead to internal frustration — and the grievances will pile up. At that point it may seem easier to simply wipe the slate clean and relaunch the whole site rather than tackle the issues one by one.

But relaunching isn't an optimal solution here. It's slow, costly and just as likely to result in another bad website. Especially if the stakeholders are still duking it out for their piece of the proverbial pie. It's time to proclaim death to the relaunch, and reframe how websites are created and updated. Forget the complete redesigns. Lose the lengthy list of requirements. Speed and iteration is the new name of the game.

I've worked with thousands of organizations. What I've seen over and over again is that in order to succeed, web teams need to internalize the website's core purpose and their customer journey. And then be nimble enough to make frequent, incremental changes in response to market and user needs.

That's how Harvard reinvisioned its website and rolled out a living homepage that supports constant, seamless updates. Reimagining one of the most prestigious and high-profile university websites in the world required a deep understanding of its multiple audiences' needs and goals. By surveying user groups, the team learned of the desire for simplicity and engagement. This enabled the team to focus on clarifying complex user paths and creating a sense of universal — and timely — appeal.

Treating your website like a living, breathing marketing asset that requires constant care starts with a mindset shift and then a process shift. And finally, requires having tools that put the power in the marketing team's hands to respond to changing customer demands in real-time.

Related: 5 Key Principles for a Company's Website Redesign

Fail 3: IT gets all the blame

For so many businesses, attempting to fix a flawed website unfolds like this: marketing files a ticket to IT to make a change. They wait ... and nothing happens. Eventually, they send an executive over to IT to find out what's going on. It's a long and painful process, and it probably isn't enough to make the website great again anyway.

While the success of a brand's website must start at the top, ongoing changes are often shackled to the IT department, even though customer-centric experiences fall squarely in marketing's camp. But a multi-stakeholder approach that empowers frontline marketing teams with web ops tools, rather than siloing this function inside IT, can solve this problem as well.

Tableau, for example, dedicated a small team to the timely evolution of its site by way of daily, weekly and monthly sprints. They were able to make steady and consistent progress without relying on IT. The result? Upwards of 95 percent of Tableau's revenue now comes through its website by way of 7,000 customized landing pages attracting upwards of 50,000 leads per month.

Think of all the channels that drive traffic back to the website — social media, email and digital ads. They only pay off if the website delivers. Leaving it to languish is a straight path to digital demise. With customer expectations soaring and digital campaigns driving conversions, it's time to treat company websites like the powerhouses they were meant to be.

Related: 4 Ways to Make Your Business Website More User-Friendly

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