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"Shane is extremely knowledgeable. His ability to communicate clearly made working with him a no-brainer."
CEO Siteimprove USA
"A lot of practical depth. I think that someone managing a large site would find it genuinely useful." (book review)
Web Content Strategist
"In case you ever wonder, one of my colleagues says 'I love that Diffily guy. He's so practical!'"
Web Director, CFA
The purpose of Web Governance is to allow a site to be managed in a controlled and orderly way.
The principal benefit is that it can deliver the stability you need to focus on more important things, like your online goals.
In conceptual terms, Web Governance is composed of 4 Resources that support 4 Activities. These are...
The 4 Primary Activities of Governance
- Leadership: This includes setting goals, budgets, formalising structures & measuring performance.
- Development: This encompasses the tasks of making a website, incl. design, content, code, testing, etc.
- Maintenance: This encompasses the tasks of running a website day-to-day, e.g. publishing, QA, feedback, etc.
- Infrastructure: This is chiefly concerned with ensuring a stable and secure technical environment.
The 4 Pillar Resources of Governance
- People: This includes the number of staff you employ, their specialist skills & how you structure them into teams & allocate roles.
- Processes: This describes all the approved systems & documentation by which activity take places.
- Tools: This includes all the tools (software & hardware) needed to expedite operations.
- Budget: This covers all the funding needed to support operations.
As we know, some of these elements are highly sensitive and demand constant attention. Indeed, any distraction can have an almost immediate effect on site quality.
For example, should you assign an important activity like Maintenance to a staffer with low grade skills or fail to give them the tools or budget they need, before long you'll see an increase in broken links, downtime, lost data, etc.
But while it is relatively easy to track the impact of poor decisions for things like design using web analytics, the same cannot be said of poor web management.
For instance, can you really claim to know the impact of substandard production methods on your site's engagement and conversions? Do you know which staff are most frequently the source of issues like broken links, mispellings, etc? Do you know if the root cause of such issues is a lack of tools, pressure of volumes, undocumented procedures - or just bone-laziness?
I thought so!
For many teams, it is as much as they can do to merely isolate and correct such errors; never mind record and investigate trends about them.
But this is changing...
One impact of the ongoing arms race in web technology is the diversity of tools now available to assist with online management.
This includes dumb systems like CMS and newer smart systems that can both automate operations and act as decision aids.
For instance, some popular product categories include:
- Quality assurance
- Technical monitoring
- Customer relationship management (CRM)
- Project management
- Web analytics
- Content management (CMS)
- Editorial & SEO checkers
- Functional & security testing
- Bug tracking
- And lots, lots more...
Not only do these tools save time & effort by diverting staff away from mundane manual activity, they also collect reams of data that can be analysed for new competitive advantage.
The real benefit of such systems lies not in how individually useful they are, but in how they can be cross-referenced to reveal ever more detailed insights about Web Governance.
For example, imagine a scenario in which you hire two contractors (at roughly the same cost) to produce large volumes of content for your site.
In the absence of good tools, it would be extremely difficult to establish which delivers the best value (in terms of conversions vs. errors) relative to the contracted price.
There are simply too many pages to manually check everything for adherence to required standards, minimum levels of quality and other rules.
However, the growth in automation means that information from many disparate systems can now be triangulated to establish with certainty which is best.
For example, aggregating data from several sources could reveal that the content produced by Contractor A is...
- Consistently poorly spelled
- Has many broken links
- Has poor readability
- Is badly marked up semantically
- Has substandard SEO
- Gets low volumes of traffic
- Gets low levels of engagement
- Has low user ratings
- And ultimately generates few conversions
In contrast, Contractor B may produce consistently excellent copy, that has...
- Few errors
- Is correctly marked up
- Has high readability and good SEO
- Attracts high levels of traffic and engagement
- Is highly rated by readers
- And attains many conversions
This analysis reveals that the decision to spend your limited budget on Contractor A was a mistake - and needs to be revoked.
So we see that by mixing and matching data in clever ways, we can investigate online management with greater precision than ever before.
But, it is still early days.
There are as yet few vendors who share the open APIs needed to support such wide-ranging integration. A lot of the truly clever analysis still has to be done 'solo', perhaps by importing figures into Excel.
Nevertheless, some nascent developments are afoot.
For example, CMS vendor TerminalFour recently demoed a feature whereby insight from web analytics and other sources can be triangulated with page-level objects in its own system.
This represents a first step towards the type of analytics that will one day be commonplace for Web Governance.
It also suggests that we need to start thinking about exactly what sorts of information to collect.
What to measure in Web Governance
With so many tools now generating useful data about online management, unless we know what we want, there is a danger that the signal could end up lost amongst the noise.
Our first action then is to select indicators that are most strongly connected with Web Governance - and link them to the right data sources.
For example, we have already seen how many web management problems are revealed via issues in the online experience, e.g. broken links, extended downtime, mispellings. etc.
Many of these can be readily tracked using QA checkers, site availability monitors and more.
But is not all about the front end.
For example, it is entirely possible for a Web Governance system to deliver an excellent user experience, at the same time as creating huge problems in other parts of a business - such as fractured internal relations, high costs, risky practices, stressed staff, etc.
These too are important symptoms of dysfunctional Web Governance and need to be measured. (Though, admittedly, fewer tools are available to help and you are likely to depend on manual intervention for some needs.)
In any event, the indicators I propose for the Analytics of Web Governance fall into 3 groups. These are:
- Online Indicators: Does your system of Web Governance deliver a minimum level of quality for site users?
- Operational Indicators: Does your system of Web Governance deliver a basic level of service to customers of your Web Team (i.e. other internal departments)?
- Organisational Indicators: Does your system of Web Governance deliver on online goals at an acceptable level of investment & risk?
As may be seen below, each indicator includes both quantitative & qualitative measures of the type that are sensitive to online management.
How to audit Web Governance
Of course, even if a red-flag does go up, it does not necessarily mean that governance is to blame.
For example, a bad online experience may be due to an honest but mistaken decision about design or content. Or negative feedback about your team may be down to the customer delivering fuzzy requirements. Or unhappy staff might be due to badly designed offices - something beyond your control!
To validate whether Web Governance is genuinely at fault you need to dig a little deeper. To that end, I recommend the following steps to flush out the true source of problems...
1. Did the issue arise as the result of a governance activity being ignored, or not carried out to the right level of granularity?
For example, if content goes live with many misspellings, is it because the task of Quality Assurance (QA) is not occurring, or is only being done on a cursory level?
2. If not 1, is it because a process is not being followed, or the process itself is not up to scratch?
For example, perhaps QA is occurring but the staff member is ignoring the documented process. Or perhaps the process itself is not detailed enough and is missing key steps.
3. If not 2, is it because of some issue of inadequate manpower, or inappropriate allocation of manpower?
For example, perhaps the staff member responsible knows that she needs to do QA - but does not have enough time. Alternatively, perhaps no-one has been formally assigned to QA by the Web Manager.
4. If not 3, is it because of some issue of poor staff expertise, or poor application of skills?
For example, perhaps the responsible staff member does not have the right skills to carry out all the checks required. Or perhaps the Web Manager has nominated someone who is inappropriate to the role, e.g. asking a Developer to grammar check written content.
5. If not 4, is it because of some issue of missing tools, or misuse of tools?
For example, perhaps the staff member does not have the right tools for the job or is using the tools in the wrong way.
6. If not 5, is it because of some issue of insufficient budget, or misuse of budget?
As with manpower (3) above ? perhaps there is not enough budget for this activity. Perhaps so much funding goes into creating new content that there little is left over for on-going maintenance.
7. If none of the above, is it due to some other dysfunction in Web Governance, e.g. communication among teams, lack of direction, lack of authority
As often stated, one of the hardest parts of governance to control - and one that can have a huge impact on operations - is people.
A team with poor management, lots of infighting or low morale will often deliver poor work even if it is well resourced.
Indeed, people are so fundamental to operations that no amount of cash might fix your dysfunctional team. More radical surgery may be required.
Web Governance as competitive advantage
So we see that by collecting and analysing data for the indicators above, you can determine whether your system of Web Governance is performing as expected - or whether something is wrong.
In the future, those who are best at online will be those who can interpret and use the Analytics of Web Governance.
The reason is that as other disciplines like design and content are exhausted as differentiators, Web Governance itself will emerge as an important factor of competitive advantage.
So, start measuring today to give yourself a head start.