by Gerry McGovern

February 2006

Prove the value of your web content with numbers

Getting senior management’s attention is about showing how costs can be reduced and/or value created. Your website needs to show how it will reduce costs by X percent and increase productivity by Z percent.
Content management has been a fuzzy, poorly respected discipline within many organizations. Many managers don’t regard content management as something they need to spend much time on. They tend to see it as something that IT should deal with. That view is about to change.
Organizations create vast quantities of content, whether they are emails, reports, presentations, or webpages. This represents a substantial and increasing part of the time spent by staff on a daily basis. Surely, management should be concerned with how staff are spending their time?
You won’t solve your content management challenge by buying content management software. In fact, without a clear strategy, you are likely to make things worse, as you allow more people who lack professional publishing skills and processes to publish.
IT nearly always misses the point when it comes to content management. Traditional IT sees the challenge from a storage perspective. It doesn’t see content as an asset that if properly managed can make staff more productive. It doesn’t see content as something that can make the sale, deliver the service, and build the brand. IT sees content as a commodity that needs to be stored as cheaply as possible.
Most IT departments do simply not have the skills to address the most important challenges of content management. These challenges should be addressed by the communications department when it comes to the intranet, and by the marketing department when it comes to the public website.
Content is becoming strategic. It is a hidden asset. However, content and communications are often seen as peripheral and non-strategic. Content is a cost to most senior managers. It is seen as not key to achieving results. It does not affect growth, profitability, or productivity, nor does it impact the value of the brand.
People are spending an increasing part of their day searching for content. Search, particularly for intranets, is generally poor. You would think that there is a business case to prove to senior management that, if you reduce the time spent searching, you are making the organization more effective. It doesn’t work. To most senior managers, it’s too vague.
Can you show a reduction in the average time it takes to support a customer as a result of better search? Can you show that, by improving the content quality on your website, sales leads increase? Can you show that a poor quality web experience leads to a negative impression of your department with the public?
There are quantifiable benefits that a quality public website or intranet can deliver. There are quantifiable drawbacks to giving your staff or customers a poor web experience. You must identify them and you must prove them with hard numbers. You must show that content can deliver quantifiable value.
I worked with a large organization recently that changed three words on its homepage and increased sales leads by 30 percent. I know of an organization that changed one word in a website heading and trebled the click-through rate. I know of another organization that rid its website of brochure-ware content and replaced it with sharp, customer-focused web content, and increased sales by over 100 percent.
Content means business. Quality content delivers. However, you need to clearly articulate the value your content delivers. Too many web managers try to do too much with their websites. They have so much content to manage they hardly even have time for metrics.
How accurate and credible are your metrics? Are you educating your senior management about what the really important metrics are? I heard a senior manager from a large organization recently give a speech about its website. He kept going on about how many “hits” the website has. It was embarrassing.
Obviously, nobody in his web team had told him that hits are a totally useless measure of success. The only reason they are quoted is because they are the largest number in the web metrics report. (Everyone loves big numbers.) Sooner or later, this senior manager will be informed that he is making a fool of himself talking about hits, and he won’t be very happy.
Why are hits a useless measure? A webpage is made up of a number of files. The text is a file, and each image is a file. A typical webpage could have anything from 10-30 files used in its layout. Each file is counted as a hit, so when one page is viewed you might get 20 hits.
A better measure would be page views or impressions, which measure when an actual page is viewed. So, 20 page views tells you that the page in question was viewed 20 times. However, this another volume-based approach to web metrics, and is thus still suspect. Just because there are lots of pages being viewed on your website doesn’t mean your website is delivering value. People might be viewing lots of pages because they can’t find the one they want.
I know of one organization that has lots of people visiting its website. However, many of them are going to the support section. Why are they going to the support section? Because they have problems with the organization’s products. If there were less problems with the products, there would be less people visiting the website. That would be a good thing, wouldn’t it?
Senior management loves good numbers. The more useful numbers you can feed them that illustrate the value the website is creating, the better. But get away from volume of visitors; that’s so crude. Instead, talk about a five percent reduction in time per support call, a ten percent increase in sales leads, or a two percent increase in customer satisfaction.