Website Optimization: Why the Marketing-IT relationship is critical and 7 tips to make yours stronger
What would happen if you planned a sumptuous banquet for hundreds of guests, devoted months to designing invitations and decor, boasted about the fabulous wine and cuisine, but only hired a caterer the day before?
Chances are, you likely wouldn’t be able to deliver what guests were expecting.
The same is true for marketing departments that spend months designing their website optimization strategies, but don’t involve, or communicate with, their information technology (IT) departments until the end of the planning. If you do this, you have two likely outcomes:
- At best, IT will not consider the project a priority, and will make it challenging to move forward. After all, wouldn’t they have been involved earlier if it was that important?
- At worst, you’ll discover that your carefully laid plans are impossible to execute because you lack the data or the technology to support them. You’ll have wasted enormous amounts of time, money and resources.
That’s the word from people who know:
- Meghan Lockwood, MarketingSherpa Senior Research Analyst and lead author of the upcoming 2012 Website Optimization Handbook
- Jessica McGraw, Senior Technical Manager, MECLABS, the parent company of MarketingExperiments; she is immersed in website optimization for both MECLABS and its Research Partners every day
- Spencer Whiting, Senior Research Manager, who leads optimization projects for MECLABS Research Partners
Lockwood, Whiting and McGraw will present the bonus session, “Crossing the Technology Divide: How to diagnose and troubleshoot your IT-Marketing relationship” at next week’s Optimization Summit in Denver.
They agree that efficient, effective website optimization happens when marketers optimize their relationship with their IT department, and they offer these tips to move your optimization projects forward:
1. Involve IT immediately
“Even tech-savvy marketers may not know where all the development minefields are. Depending on your website backend, huge issues can arise with changing even the simplest component of a website,” warns Lockwood. “A seemingly harmless change could be the string that unravels the entire sweater.”
Involving IT early will help sidestep these costly misjudgments.
It will also help IT coordinate project load. Because most IT departments have the operations of the entire organization on their shoulders, they require longer deadlines.
“Adhere to their project management process,” advises Whiting. “Remember, just because your hair’s on fire doesn’t mean they have to drop everything and put it out.”
2. Be very clear about what’s in it for them
“If IT doesn’t know the back story of why you’re doing this, they’ll fill in the holes themselves,” says McGraw. “Explain why you’re doing website optimization and why it’s good for the company.”
This argument can be very powerful when rewards like year-end bonuses ride on company profits, notes Lockwood. “Your project will very likely become a higher priority, since website optimization directly affects revenues.”
Websites as a revenue source is an idea that IT must embrace to work successfully with Marketing, insists Whiting.
“For the past 40 years, IT has been focused on creating the best business applications, databases and processes at minimal cost,” he explains. “However, websites have evolved from being a cost center to a revenue producer. Helping optimize a website presents IT an incredible opportunity to demonstrate its value in a new way.”
The fact that websites make or break inbound marketing, and the revenues that come with it, is why Whiting thinks websites would be better served under the aegis of CMOs.
“Any company that’s serious about maximizing the results of their website will give the CMO full responsibility to make sure it’s always a priority,” he says. “Companies that share responsibility between CIOs and CMOs will be torn between the two different viewpoints: websites as expense and website as revenue.”
3. Don’t outsource without them
In some cases, IT may be too overwhelmed to handle your project. If you have to outsource, IT must be part of the selection process, insists McGraw.
“They are most qualified to identify which organizations have the expertise to handle the project,” she explains. “It’s scary to be told by Marketing, ‘Here’s the company we hired; we already signed the contract. You get to work with them. Good luck.’”
4. Respect IT’s knowledge
“IT can see the nuances of a website, they know the technology and code better than a marketer could possibly imagine,” says Lockwood. “Consequently, they often can come up with a clean, elegant solution to optimization challenges that are beyond the realm of anything a marketer could conceive.”
5. Be very detailed and specific in your requests
McGraw illustrates this with a request she received to set up a shopping cart.
“Don’t simply go to IT and say, ‘Set this up,’” she says.
Instead, provide as many details as you can:
- Will there be discounts?
- Can customers order one or multiple products?
- Do you want them to add products easily after they reach the shopping cart, or do they have to go through the process again?
- Do you want to set up a customer portal where they can come back later and see orders they’ve placed before?
“If you aren’t very specific, busy IT professionals will guess or have to constantly come back to you for more information. Both waste time,” she warns.
It also helps avoid any surprises later on.
“Do your best to make sure IT doesn’t brush over the request quickly and say, ‘Yeah, we can do that,’ without proper due diligence. Otherwise, when it comes time to move forward, IT may be shocked that they agreed to something that took much longer and cost much more than they anticipated,” advises Whiting.
6. Change your mind thoughtfully
Or at least know that any changes will extend the timeline for when IT can complete the project, says McGraw.
“Try to do enough planning to minimize the changes IT has to deal with,” she says. “Really think it through so one change doesn’t result in yet another.”
7. Make IT a part of your team.
“Let IT know you’re interested in their input and ideas and share your results. Make them a part of your team. I promise, you’ll optimize your website optimization: You’ll get better results in less time and with less money,” says Lockwood.