Web Manager: You Can’t Serve Everybody

    September 6, 2005

Every time you serve someone, you make someone else wait. Every time you publish a piece of content you make other content less findable.

A myth has grown up around the Web that it is an extremely cheap publishing environment. This is simply not true. Publishing is much more than simply physically publishing content on a website, newspaper, magazine, etc.

There’s promotion and distribution. There’s the time of the reader. Remember, every time someone comes to your website, you charge them their time and attention. Time today is more precious than oil. Long after we have found a replacement for oil, we will still be facing 24-hour days.

Saying that distribution is cheap on the Web misunderstands a core principle of distribution. Sometimes when I’m stopped at traffic lights, there are people selling the local paper. Why? Surely, the publisher should know by now that if they published their newspaper on the Web they would save so much money on distribution. Sure they would, but their sales would plummet.

In an information-overloaded world, distribution is a form of advertising and promotion. Promotion will become an increasingly significant cost in a world burdened by choice. Hollywood spends almost as much promoting its films as it does making them. On the Web, you may have close to zero distribution costs, but you also have close to zero visibility.

Organizations are now spending more and more on getting people to their websites. However, just because someone visits your website doesn’t mean you have reached them. Your website may be too cluttered, with too many messages to too many audiences.

Every time you target a particular audience, you make another audience less visible and important. If you are trying to talk to 10 audiences on your homepage, you might as well be talking to none. As readers quickly scan your page, they see lots of messages that are not for them. Impatient scan readers like to be made feel special. Otherwise, they hit the Back button.

Every time you add a piece of content you make it more difficult for another piece of content to be easily found. Sure, you only make it a little more difficult. However, as you keep adding content, the navigation becomes less intuitive, and the search less effective. (Most people will not go to the second page of search results.)

It is a noble objective to try and answer everyone’s questions when they come to your website. However, it is neither practical nor achievable. Some will use Amazon as an example of a website that offers a huge range of products. Yes, that’s true. Amazon has spent over a billon dollars on its web operations. Amazon did not have to invent a classification for books and music, as sophisticated and well established classifications already existed.

Amazon creates very little of its own content; music and book publishers do, authors and reviewers do. Amazon has reduced overhead in other areas by getting publishers to do a lot of the work in classifying and describing the books and music available.

If you have all these advantages, then, sure, build a huge website. Otherwise, live within your means. Focus on your most important customers and make sure your website excels in meeting their needs. That’s how you create value.

For your web content management solution, contact Gerry McGovern http://www.gerrymcgovern.com

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