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Paul Boag: give web teams more authority

Large sites hampered by the wrong people being in charge

Headscape co-founder Paul Boag has written on his blog about the need for web teams to have real authority. Within, he asked what would happen if subscriptions and advertising people of national newspapers overruled those creating content, and concluded: "We would quickly find most newspapers completely overwhelmed with advertising." Although a seemingly extreme scenario, Boag added that this is very much the case for many websites and web teams, with those working on sites often seen as "nothing more than technicians who implement the ideas of others", lacking authority and ultimately fashioning experiences that communicate mixed messages.

We asked Boag why the web has so often gone in this direction, with marketing people calling the shots, wrecking sites with masses of advertising. "To answer that, you need to look at the history of most large organisational websites," he replied. "They began life as part of IT. IT is all about implementation, not communication. Over time, this became apparent and so those who ran the company website were moved across into marketing. However, they were still seen as implementors who would implement the dictates of their bosses in marketing.

"Even as more experienced individuals were brought in to work on the website, that culture remained," Boag continued, adding that the situation is worsened by sites being more than just a marketing tool. "A site affects every part of the business. This means more and more stakeholders are making demands on the site, with nobody to make editorial decisions. Marketing is not set up for this kind of role, but most organisations don't have an editorial team."

As with recent demands to push more iteration in web design, this issue appears to stem from entrenched working methods, and so we wondered if there was a way of breaking out of this line of thinking. "The change has to be driven from within the organisations involved," thought Boag. "In most cases, the website has been seen as part of the marketing strategy, but this cannot continue. Organisations need to establish a separate web strategy that defines who owns the website, how it will be operated and how editorial decisions are made."

Boag added that most organisations really need a web team that sits outside of the existing departmental structure, ensuring they are not beholden to marketing nor IT, but he said this remains a 'tough sell': "Chances are, the only people who think this way are in the web team. It's a tough sell for them to say they need more independence and power over the site. The website is often a political hot potato, and this kind of position just looks power-hungry."

One possible solution, argued Boag, is for more companies to work with outside consultants, who are viewed as impartial regarding a corporation's politics and yet expert in the web. "This is where agencies and web designers can play their part. We should be recommending this structure to clients and helping them put in place policies to make it happen," he said. "But for a long time, we did just that – recommended this approach – and although clients would nod in agreement, nothing changed. We've learned we can't just suggest the idea, but we also have to help them implement it. This might not seem core to the job of web design, but creating successful websites is not just about HTML and CSS – it's also about helping bring about cultural change to allow better management of sites."

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