Web sites change the way an organization communicates with its staff, customers, investors and the general public. A change in communication is a major shift for the organization. To effectively implement such a change will take time. You need a five-year plan for your Web site.

Let's dispel a big myth—that the Internet is changing so fast, it is impossible to plan for.

That is absolute rubbish. Just how exactly has the Internet changed over the last eight years? Sure, it's much bigger. But how has it changed structurally? Is the Web site of 1997 radically different from the Web site of 2003?

We're still using HTML. We're still using hyperlinks. We're still using text and simple images. If anything, the Web has become more homogenous.

Have a look around. A great many Web sites now use the three-column layout. Black text on a white background dominates.

Where is all the multimedia? I saw more Web sites offering video in 1999 than I do today.

Why? Because it didn't work. Do you really think an investment analyst is going to watch a tiny, choppy video of a CEO discussing quarterly results? They'll scan the transcript, read the press release, ring someone up—it's much quicker.

We live in a world where a manager can order more stock on his wireless device as he sits in the bathroom. But the same manager is so busy acting tactically that he has no time to plan for the long term. And then the lights go out.

A tree falls on a power line in Switzerland. The lights go out in Italy. Should the citizens of the digital age buy candles with their broadband? Why is such a basic utility as electricity going out all over the world? Lack of long-term planning and investment is the reason.

All that fancy content management software, all those portals delivering jazzy personalization; forget that they're going to give you a great Web site. You've got core issues that only long-term planning can address:

  • Too many of your senior managers still don't understand the Web. They use it only occasionally and thus lack practical experience. This often results in their caring more about what color a button is than what the content is communicating. They need winning over, and that takes time.

  • Your staff is not being trained to create quality Web content. Writing for the Web is different from writing for print. It is hard, but not impossible, to get people to think Web instead of print. It takes time and training.

  • There is very little recognition for people who create quality Web content. It's not written into their job profiles. They don't get part of their bonus because of it. If you want quality content, you must motivate and reward people to create it.

  • Before you can give rewards, you need to measure the cost and value of your content. It will take a lot of time and effort to implement comprehensive return on investment models for content.

  • You can have the best intranet in the world. But that doesn't mean that staff will flock to it. You may have a wonderful online bill paying process. That doesn't mean your customers will automatically use it. Habits take time to change.

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image of Gerry McGovern
Gerry McGovern (gerry@gerrymcgovern.com) is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.