When something is new, we need to approach it in an exploratory manner. We need to experiment and try things out.

And so it has been with the Web. That period is now over. We need to move from seeing our Web sites as a series of projects to managing them as a well-planned process.

The quality of search on many Web sites is awful. Most organizations would simply not countenance having their reception area in the mess that their search engine is in. Yet far more people pass through their search engine every day than through their reception.

One of the reasons that organizations manage search so poorly is that they see search as a project. Someone decides a search engine is needed. A specification is prepared and software is bought and installed. Then, the team moves on to the next project.

In all likelihood, the search engine has not been properly optimized. It is certainly not being optimized on an ongoing basis, based on observed search behavior. Nor are people trained to write quality metadata when they publish content. Nor is the quality of this metadata monitored. So the quality of search gets worse and worse.

I've done workshops all over the world. Everywhere I go I ask people what the killer application for the company intranet is. “The staff directory,” comes the reply almost every time.

And what is the problem with the staff directory? “It's out of date!” is the chorus.

Again, getting a staff directory was treated as a project. The software was bought and installed. Nobody, however, thought about how it was going to be kept up to date. It was like the staff directory was seen as some marble statue that, once installed, would remain fixed forever.

I sometimes come across organizations that every couple of years decide to redo the graphic design of their Web sites. They know that their Web sites aren't working very well. Deep down, they know that it's not because of the graphics… that it's because content is badly organized and badly written.

However, creating a new graphic design is so much easier because it can be treated like a project with a nicely defined budget and timeframe. The manager can say he or she has delivered something, and everyone can be happy for a while.

Seeing your Web site as a process creates a lot more challenges. Yet it is the only way to go if you want to deliver quality results.

Who's going to update the staff directory? Will it be left up to each member of staff? What happens if a member of staff doesn't bother to update? Who's going to ensure that metadata is of a high quality? Who's going to ensure that content is well written?

Approaching your Web site as a process requires a lot more planning and management. However, the results are much better.

The objective of having a search engine is to help people find what they need as quickly as possible. A bad search engine wastes time and leads to dissatisfaction. You're better off having no search engine than a bad one.

In fact, most Web sites would be better off having a lot less projects and a lot more process. Give people what they want, which is easy-to-find, accurate, up-to-date, well-written content.

That requires a process, not a project.

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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.