Websites are a work in progress. They are launched with the hope that they will work properly, but problems inevitably arise, ranging from the minor "this is an annoyance" variety to an all-hands-on-deck, "red-alert!" crisis.
The way to move beyond any of those problems is, of course, to solve them. But many online marketers lack the requisite skills—or, in some cases, direct control of the site—to make website fixes themselves.
So what should marketers do when they encounter a website problem?
1. I'm afraid I'll ruffle feathers by presenting problems I've found
Your developer, Web team, manager, or contractor is responsible for your site, and—as defensive as some of them may be when a problem arises—many appreciate knowing when something is wrong. However, the effort required to come up with a creative fix to a problem can often be more taxing than actually coding the fix.
Therefore, always offer a potential solution. Drawing attention to problems without offering suggestions for correcting them could come off as nitpickiness. On the other hand, presenting a fresh idea moves problem-solving one step forward and takes pressure off the person tasked with implementing the fix.
Even if your idea does not ultimately solve the problem, voicing it can help spur creativity to identify an approach that does work.
2. But I don't know what the solution should be!
Often, a problem has no single solution. Design is a creative endeavor, not a mathematical equation. When something doesn't look right on your website, there must be a reason.
Some fixes are obvious (e.g., a misspelling, a broken link, a broken image, wonky layout). Simply showing someone certain problems can produce a self-evident solution, and many of those minor "tweaks" can be made in a matter of minutes.
But other website issues can be more subtle. If you aren't sure how to fix a problem, consider where you've seen a successful (non-problematic) version of the design. Competitor websites (or, really, any other website) can be fantastic sources of information about effective design.
For years, designers kept checklists of websites with great examples of design, code, or both. These days, beautiful Web design is curated socially; it's just one Pinterest search query away.
Ultimately, by including a few Web links that illustrate your idea, you'll both validate that the current issue can be corrected and offer different approaches toward solving your problem.
3. I know what kind of change I want, but I don't know HTML (or CSS, or any other type of code)
You don't need a coding background to understand whether something works on a website.
Let's say you sell a product on your homepage. The product information—the name, the price, etc.—is there, but something is not quite right with the call to action button. You're just not sure whether the problem is with the colors, the placement, or the label.
With a little research, however, you can offer a helpful idea or two about how your site's buttons—or any other part of its interface—can benefit from your own online experience. For example, design websites such as Smashing Magazine offer entire collections of examples to learn from.
Though you may have never created a button or put one on a Web page, you have probably seen thousands in your Web-browsing experience. A different perspective is sometimes all it takes to find a solution.
4. I know what it should look like, but I don't know how to use Photshop (or any other graphics-editing program)
Things look good to the human eye on a Web page for many reasons. Complementary colors, effective contrast, ample white space, and accessibility all play a role in the effectiveness of design. But you don't need to be a Photoshop Jedi to know that.
If you need to create something visual to get your point across, you have a choice of Web-based tools that enable you to display and share your ideas. Mockingbird, for example, enables users to create wireframes and mockups of websites and apps via an easy click-and-drag interface.
When all else fails, however, you always have traditional creative tools to work with. A white board, pencil and paper, and your smartphone can be quite effective. Sketch a rough image on your board or paper, then snap a picture and email it to your developer. Maybe looking at something new is all she needs to figure out a fix. In the end, any suggestion is better than no suggestion.
5. OK, I've done everything you've suggested, but the website still isn't fixed
Be patient. Many development cycles include a specific schedule for website updates throughout the month or year. Unless your website problem is a serious one, your fix will likely be part of the next scheduled update.
You can contact your developer to find out for sure; but, if you'd like to see something happen sooner, offer to help. You don't necessarily have to code or design the fix yourself, but offer to look at any mockup designs or test potential fixes before they go live. That can sometimes provide your Web team with helpful direction and resources.
If you offer to help test the changes, you will be able to clarify the context of the issue and further explain why that aspect of the site didn't work in the first place. That puts you in a better position to assess, from the user perspective, whether the proposed solution is a good one. Plus, you can determine just how soon the update will go live.
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All too often, we focus on a problem without considering a solution. If you care about the usability of your website, be proactive and don't be afraid to help when you see an opportunity.
Offering support is the easiest way to make progress toward any goal, including a website fix.