Everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock has heard about the disastrous roll out of healthcare.gov. Being a website developer, I am especially amazed at how poorly this project was launched, tested and handled. I won’t get into the politics about all of this, but business owners can learn a few lessons from watching this and apply it to their next website project. Before going into a website redesign or launching a new site, here are a few things to do:
1. Know What You Want. We are hearing now about a “tech surge” to fix the healthcare.gov website, which means the government is now spending more money to hire additional companies to fix the issue instead of making sure they had the right team in advance. You have a multitude of design, functionality and content options for a website. Before starting, be very clear what you want and your budget. Research a wide variety of websites and take note of what you like in terms of design, website functions, size of site, and navigation. Do you need search engine optimization? What are your marketing goals for the site? Do you need a responsive website that will look good on a wide variety of devices (most do…)? Do you want to maintain the site yourself after it is done? Website developers have a lot of different backgrounds – some excel in the programming area, some are strong marketers, and others are primarily graphic designers and don’t have a database programming or search engine optimization background. Your budget and goals will determine who you hire. Communicate your marketing message, brand, and options to your website developer so they can build a site that matches what you need. The better you know and communicate, the more happy you will be in the end.
2. Carve Out Time. Two and a half years was PLENTY OF TIME to create, test and launch the healthcare.gov website. It took less time to develop Facebook.com. The problem wasn’t time or traffic loads…it was the management of the time, contractors and resources. If you are starting a website project, understand you are the ultimate owner. Many projects delay and take longer because the owner is not taking the time to review the design, functionality and content throughout the project. Some owners don’t engage in the website until the end when they find things they don’t like. They delegate the project to staff or worse yet just assume the website designer/developer knows what they want. Instead, set aside adequate time to review each step (Design, Sitemap, Content, Goals, etc…) along the way. Even a simple website takes more time than you realize. A good website developer knows how long things take and give you “rounds” of changes and steps along the way. Don’t blow off those steps. Take the time to review each step and ask questions.
3. Understand that Last-Minute Changes Are Costly. According to some reports, the government changed the process flow of the healthcare.gov website ONE MONTH BEFORE LAUNCH. They changed that visitors would have to fill out a form before shopping for health plans. This may sound simple, but it affects how the database transfers information and requires more programming and testing. If you are going to add in functionality, pages or design options at the tail end of a project, recognize it will most likely delay the launch of the site and cost you more money. It is harder to go back and re-program or re-design something at the end of a project than building it right from the beginning.
4. Realize the Importance of a Website. To minimize the political fallout, the Administration and some members of Congress are trying to say that the website is a small piece of the overall program. However, they don’t seem to understand that healthcare.gov IS the program for millions of Americans. People gain an impression of your company, project and organization from your website. It is the hub of your marketing. If it doesn’t work right, looks bad, or has errors, then people think your company or project is unprofessional, unreliable and they won’t buy your product or service. Many people don’t research or listen to the “press” about your program or company…they first go to your website to see if they should research more. Your website should instill confidence about your business. Furthermore, it can make it easy to shop and increase sales or difficult and cost you clients.
As a owner, you are busy building your business and working with your customers. Whether it is a fear of technology or a lack of time, many owners want to delegate their website project or worse yet, think it is “beneath them”. However, if you don’t take responsibility for the project in the beginning, middle, and end, you may end up hurting your business or project. Instead engage, learn and get something that can generate more sales and profits. Furthermore, hire website developers that will educate you along the way and empower you.