Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Web Performance: Your Teenage Web site

It's critical to your business. It affects revenue. It's how people who can't come to you perceive you.

It's your Web site.

Its complex. Abstract. Lots of conflicting ideas and forces are involved. Everyone says they now the best thing for it. Finger-pointing. Door slamming. Screaming.

Am I describing your Web site and the team that supports it? Or your teenager?

If you think of your Web site as a teenager, you begin to realize the problems that your facing. Like a teenager, it has grown physically and mentally, and, as a result, thinks its an experienced adult, ready to take on the world. However, let's think of your site as a teenager, and think back to how we, as teenagers (yeah, I'm old), saw the world.

MOM! This doesn't fit anymore!

Your Web site has grown as all of your marketing and customer service programs bear fruit. Traffic is increasing. Revenue is up. Everyone is smiling.

Then you wake up and realize that your Web site is too small for your business. This could mean that the infrastructure is overloaded, the network is tapped out, your connectivity is maxed, and your sysadmins, designers, and network teams are spending most of your day just firefighting.

Now, how can you grow a successful business, or be the hip kid in school, when your clothes don't fit anymore?

But, you can't buy an entire wardrobe every six months, so plan, consider your goals and destinations, and shop smart.

DAD! Everyone has one! I need to have one to be cool!


It's a word that has been around for a long time, and was revived (with new meaning) by Firefly. It means reflective, bright, and new. It's what attracts people to gold, mirrors, and highly polished vintage cars. In the context of Web sites, it's the eye-candy that you encounter in your browsing, and go "Our site needs that".

Now step back and ask yourself what purpose this new eye-candy will serve.

And this is where Web designers and marketing people laugh, because it's all about being new and improved.

But can you be new and improved, when your site is old and broken?

Get your Web performance in order with what you, then add the stuff that makes your site pop.

But those aren't the cool kids. I don't hang with them.

Everyone is attracted to the gleam of the cool new Web sites out there that offer to do the same old thing as your site. The promise of new approaches to old problems, lower cost, and greater efficiencies in our daily lives are what prompt many of us to switch.

As a parent, we may scoff, realizing that maybe the cool kids never amounted to much outside of High School. But, sometimes you have to step back and wonder what makes a cool kid cool.

You have to step back and say, why are they attracting so much attention and we're seen as the old-guard? What can we learn from the cool kids? Is your way the very best way? And says who?

And once you ask these questions, maybe you agree that some of what the cool kids do is, in fact, cool.

Can I borrow the car?

Trust is a powerful thing to someone, or to a group. Your instinctive response depends on who you are, and what your experiences with others have been like in the past.

Trust is something often found lacking when it comes to a Web site. Not between your organization and your customers, but between the various factions within your organization who are trying to interfere or create or revamp or manage the site.

Not everyone has the same goals. But sometimes asking a few questions of other people and listening to their reasons for doing something will lead to a discussion that will improve the Web site in a way that improves the business in the long run.

Sometimes asking why a teenager wants to borrow the car will help you see things from their perspective for a little while. You may not agree, but at least now it's not a yes/no answer.

YOU: How was school today? - THEM: Ok.

Within growing organizations, open and clear communication tends to gradually shrivel and degenerate. Communications become more formal, with what is not said being as important as what is. Trying to find out what another department is doing becomes a lot like determining the state of the Soviet Union's leadership based on who attends parades in Red Square.

Abstract communication is one of the things that separates humans from a large portion of the rest of the animal kingdom. There is nothing more abstract than a Web site, where physical devices and programming code produce an output that can only be seen and heard.

The need for communication is critical in order to understand what is happening in another department. And sometimes that means pushing harder, making the other person or team answer hard questions that they think you're not interested in, or that you is non of your business.

If you are in the same company, it's everyone's business. So push for an answer, because working to create an abstract deliverable that determines the success or failure of the entire firm can't be based on a grunt and a nod.


There are no easy answers to Web performance. But if you consider your Web site and your teams as a teenager, you will be able to see that the problems that we all deal with in our daily interactions with teens crop up over an over when dealing with Web design, content, infrastructure, networks and performance.

Managing all the components of a Web site and getting best performance out of it often requires you to have the patience of Job. But it is also good to carry a small pinch of faith in these same teams, faith  that everyone, whether they say it or not, wants to have the best Web site possible.

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