How to Keep Your Website Designs From Becoming Hot (Visual) Messes

Your CMS should support your website design by allowing content editors the control they need without unfettered access to the site’s look and feel.

Put 10 graphic designers in a room and they’ll have 50 stories about beautiful website designs they launched that looked just awful six months or a year later.

That’s the double-edged sword of modern content management systems. A CMS gives content managers a tremendous amount of control. Used wisely, that control can help make a website even more effective as a marketing tool over time.,

Without forethought and planning, though, marketing effectiveness plummets as brand identity is lost and the site’s message is muddied by design inconsistencies and outright errors. Here are some ideas on ways to short-circuit that decay.

Plan for Distributed Control

It won’t always be you and your development team with tight control of the site and its content. In most organizations, a broader team is going to be invited to participate. And even on smaller teams, staff turnover is nearly always inevitable. New faces can mean new priorities.

To keep those new faces from wreaking havoc, even accidentally, coordinate between the coding team and the design team during discovery to define what content elements should be automatically styled and laid out on the front end.

For example, your team page is likely to see a fair amount of change as team members come and go or are promoted. If you create automatically styled fields for name, title, credentials and bio/personal statement, you won’t find a mish-mash of colors and fonts, as people neglect to refer to your style guide or website user’s guide.

Don’t forget to define parameters for headshots, either. A formal headshot will look out of place on a grid of more casual shots and vice versa. An incorrectly sized photo can wreck the grid layout entirely.

Plan for Exceptions

Narrowing the possibilities for errors due to inattention to lack of knowledge also means introducing some measure of inflexibility. That can create problems, if the site is made too difficult to use and incapable of adapting to changing circumstances.

For example, on the team page example above, you may have a type of employee who has professional credentials, as well as titles. A checkbox could allow content editors to activate the “Credentials” field when necessary. The positive action required to use the field makes it less likely that it be used inappropriately than if the field is always available.

Make sure the marketing team is part of the planning conversation so they can identify likely exceptions to the rules you’re creating and options can be built in.

Automate Styling

Assumed in the work above is that the fields you create for different pieces of content are styled automatically. Do not give content editors control of WYSIWYG or code-based editors except for long-form content where they will likely need control over bold, italics, bullet points, etc. Otherwise, any edits they make will override the styling you’ve set site-wide and result in that mish-mash we want to avoid.

Make Staying on Message Easy

This isn’t just about fonts and colors. Anyone who has access to your website’s administrative dashboard should also have access to and be familiar with your branding guidelines and the website user guide.

The branding guidelines will help keep everyone on the same track in those areas of the site where more flexibility is needed. Don’t forget to include guidelines on stock image usage. That’s an area that is often not addressed and one where many content editors may lack experience.

The user guide will provide information on how the site is intended to be used and how they can best prepare new content to work within the system you’ve designed.

Plan for Evolving Needs

Understand that the site you build today will not be the site you need tomorrow. That’s not a knock against websites or digital marketing or technology more broadly. That’s just the nature of business (and marketing) in a fast-paced world.

Budget for quarterly reviews of the site and yearly updates. Or, adopt a message-driven approach and budget for incremental updates on an ongoing basis. That can be easier to do from a budget standpoint and can make your marketing even more effective. You’re effectively shortening the cycle between updates.

Most importantly, let people know this matters. Someone will always choose expedience over effort, at some point; but if you make the process easier, your systems will win more often.

And that’s important, because this is not just about skin-deep beauty. It’s about keeping your site’s marketing effectiveness high.

website designs secondary

How Marketing Operations Chooses Wisely Between Bright, Shiny Objects

This month we make a right turn on the journey and finally discuss marketing operations and technology. This is the 15th blog in the Revenue Marketing journey series, and we finally get to a discussion on technology. Hopefully that tells you something about how important people, process, data and content are, in that they all preceded this post.

Last month on our Revenue Marketing journey, we discussed how to formulate your 2018 content marketing strategy. This month we make a right turn on the journey and finally discuss marketing operations and technology. This is the 15th blog in the Revenue Marketing journey series, and we finally get to a discussion on technology. Hopefully that tells you something about how important people, process, data and content are, in that they all preceded this post.

Gartner recently released their CMO Spend Survey 2017 to 2018. In 2018 the survey suggests that marketing spending on technology will drop to 22 percent of the total budget. In addition, the technology landscape as plotted by Scott Brinker and team at Chiefmartec.com exceeded 5000 logos in 2017. So great, marketing operations has all this budget to spend on technology and more choices than we can possibly evaluate. What are we to do? Let’s start with the end in mind.

What Outcomes Do You Expect From the Technology?

We deploy technology largely because it fulfills one or more of the following criteria:

  1. To gather, analyze and disseminate information to make better business decisions
  2. To automate some previously labor-intensive processes to gain efficiencies and increase profits
  3. To enable innovation in the products and services we provide to win market share

So, the question becomes, where in 2018 will you get the highest ROI from technology investments? If you are early in your Revenue Marketing journey, you may opt to invest in a customer relationship management (CRM), a content management system (CMS) and a marketing automation platform (MAP) as these tend to be technology hubs at the center of a typical martech stack as shown below:

Revenue Marketing Architecture for Marketing Operations
Revenue Marketing Architecture

As an example, a MAP enables you to gather and analyze behavior data about your prospects and customers so you can make better decisions about how to engage with them to optimize the customer experience. A MAP can also automate responses to prospects when they perform certain actions, thereby reducing the need for human intervention. And a MAP can be configured to move individuals from one campaign to another depending on where they are in their customer journey, adapting the nature of the outreach to match the circumstances of the prospect. An example might be opting new customers into welcome campaigns automatically. So the MAP could meet all three of the criteria listed above for justifying a new technology acquisition.

Keep Calm and Social On: When a Mistake Doesn’t Mean the End

No one wants to make a mistake, much less a highly visual mistake on social media. But it happens, and it happened to Ad Age last week. Guess what? No one was fired, angry readers and Twitter followers didn’t surround Ad Age’s office with pitchforks, and surely no one died (well, Michael Delligatti, the inventor of McDonald’s Big Mac did die last week and has gone on to the Golden Arches in the sky … but that’s only slightly related.)

No one wants to make a mistake, much less a highly visual mistake on social media. Those are the kind of snafus that land you on “Worst Tweets of the Year” listicles from subpar media sites who burn through negative coverage just to keep the lights on. But it happens.

Huge tiny mistake Arrested DevelopmentIt happened to Ad Age last week, and guess what? No one was fired, angry readers and Twitter followers didn’t surround Ad Age’s office with pitchforks, and surely no one died (well, Michael Delligatti, the inventor of McDonald’s Big Mac did die last week and has gone on to the Golden Arches in the sky … but that’s only slightly related.)

What am I talking about? Managing Editor Ken Wheaton’s Dec. 5 article, “What You Can Learn From the Social Media Crisis That Wasn’t” and the tweet in question:

Fun fact: The image of the Big Mac went with Ad Age’s story about Delligatti’s passing … the Vagisil story actually had a video attached to it, but clearly did not play well with the system.

So, 11 minutes following the first post, the folks at Ad Age tweeted what I think is a measured, smart response.

The Vagisil story with a Big Mac image tweet was a MISTAKE. Like many media companies, Ad Age’s content management system (CMS) is integrated with a platform to automate social media. Usually it’s all rosy and saves editors time, but there can be snafus, but here the wrong image got pulled and used with the wrong content.

Was it offensive? No.

A little confusing? Maybe.

Do I think this is a fireable offense? Absolutely not.

As Wheaton explained:

I decided not to take it down. Why? One, this is social media. It was already out there and I knew with 100 percent certainty that someone had already grabbed a shot of it. It’s what I would have done. Hiding it would have just fed the beast. “What is Ad Age trying to hide?” … Two, it wasn’t really hurtful or offensive. If anyone looked bad, it was us. Three, again, this is social media. Despite the intensity of tweet storms, despite it feeling like the world is ending, these things pass relatively fast. Four, 2016 has sucked for a lot of people, and it seemed like our faux pas was actually bringing some sort of joy into the world.

Did the folks at Ad Age learn a lesson regarding how their content gets automated for social? Absolutely. But the bigger lesson, and what I REALLY appreciate Wheaton for sharing, was that Ad Age let the mole hill be the mole hill. There weren’t even flames to fan, and I think if they had made a bigger deal out of the mistake, it would have been like replacing a fan with a blowtorch set on high.

Bravo Ad Age for realizing that making a harmless, slightly embarrassing (and kinda funny) mistake is not the end of the world. We all screw up sometimes, but if we learn something from the situation, then it’s worth it. And kudos to Ken Wheaton for writing about it so candidly. It’s one thing to leave the tweet up and acknowledge the “oopsie!” and it’s another thing to let us in, and let us learn from a mistake so perhaps we can avoid making a similar one.

And with that, let me leave you with Wheaton’s apt, closing words:

Words do matter, sure. But getting outraged over every little thing is not only exhausting, it’s childish and lessens the impact of actual outrage. If we’re all outraged all the time, when something is truly outrageous, no one cares. It’s the equivalent of crying wolf.

And a last word of advice for marketers. Don’t do anything offensive or hurtful. Don’t say anything offensive or hurtful on social media. And if you do do something stupid, especially if it’s an accident, sit tight and give it a chance to blow over.