Do we really care about business objectives?

A manager recently told me that his employees do not seem to care about helping him meet his business objectives. He went on to say they only care about their KPIs. I asked him if they even knew what they were. Did he share them, or better yet factor them into the contributions of the staff?

No, I am not talking about employees not caring about shareholder value, as stated by Panera’s CEO. It is the broader company and executive-level objectives. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s worth spending hours and hours setting these objectives because, during many projects, they seem to go out the window. I’ll give you a couple of examples.

Recently, a company approached me to help them ensure they did not lose organic search traffic from their international websites for a site rebuild. They believed the new site would help with conversions, aesthetics, etc. One requirement was a 20% increase in sales, which meant they could not lose any current search marketing performance after the rebuild.

However, when I examined their plans, I found a total disconnect. Many changes, such as layout alterations, had no connection to conversion but no changes to the product configurator or the information provided. They were significantly reducing the amount of information available. Many pages that were currently driving sales were to be removed or consolidated.

The conversion pathway improvements weren’t even in the mock-ups. It consisted of a home page, an overview page, a category page, and a product page. No mechanics about increasing basket size were included, and the brief lacked any information about what was converting or where they planned to get the lift. It seemed like someone just pulled that number out of thin air.

They also wanted to improve their SEO without negatively affecting it. However, the agency brief and guidelines didn’t include any requirements for even the most fundamental search best practices, such as presenting titles, headlines, and content. The new menu used a scripting methodology that might challenge Google’s indexing.

On top of this, there was a plan to consolidate content. My first recommendation was to understand the impact of that content consolidation, as it might be driving traffic. The creative person dismissed this concern, claiming the new design would be more effective. This mindset sets up a framework that automatically leads to failure, as there’s no mandate to preserve well-performing content or minimize potential negative impacts.

To guarantee SEO best practices remain integrated into the site, I recommended capturing all the data of what’s performing today. We can use that as a guide for every URL. Every page needs to be redirected, and we need a method to track that this happens. I can guarantee you, 100% of the time, things don’t get redirected when there’s a big change like this. At the last minute, people don’t care. In the timeline, there was no line item. The irony is that two criteria were: traffic needs to increase, which would do by 20%, and it cannot negatively impact SEO. Nowhere in the timeline was there a check for either of those.

I told them they needed to put those checks in and extend the dates, but it was not possible. We couldn’t edit any of the creative pieces in the timeline, so I refused the project and told them I wasn’t interested. Sure enough, a month later, traffic decreased significantly, and they wanted to know how to get it back. My recommendation was to roll back to the previous site and start over. That wasn’t an option.

When we unpacked this, we found that about 60%-80% of the pages that were driving conversions previously were either removed or not redirected to the new page. All of the new content was starting from zero. These new pages needed to be found, scored, and presented in the search results. Since they didn’t integrate any of the SEO best practices into the process, because creativity was too important, they weren’t going to rank well anyway. This is just one more example where people will beat the drum of KPIs and performance but not do anything to ensure the things driving performance today are integrated. We see this across the board.

People make changes for one thing, independent of any other activity, without concern for the bigger picture. Web teams need to think of it as an ecosystem and the impact of each element on the others. When introducing international elements, consider how this impacts you globally. Can your template accommodate extending and shrinking content? Can it accommodate a market for more or less information? All these things need to be considered, and I think it’s often because there’s not a champion.

Nearly 20 years ago, I was the SEO for a joint project between several universities and book publishers. They wanted to create the ultimate learning site before online learning became popular. At the very first meeting, the CMO laid out the revenue goals. In phase one, the revenue would primarily be ads due to the lack of brand recognition or a customer base.

They would do a whole host of activities to drive traffic to increase banner ad revenue and clicks with a lot of inventory coming from the universities and publishers. In addition to the press and marketing, we were banking on SEO traffic. So, we needed to understand all these topics to leverage encyclopedia-like content to attract people, introduce them to the concept, drive them into the books, and drive them into the courses.

In phase two, a secondary goal was leads. As they ramped up the program and content, they wanted to reach out to people and inform them about new courses and content. Capturing leads was essential. In phase three, they had awareness, and people would pay for the courses, books, and other associated learning information. At that point, they would start weaning off ads because they felt they would be intrusive.

The staging site was ready for review, and we sat in a meeting where the agency would do the reveal. Everyone was clapping; it looked beautiful and was the most cutting-edge website imaginable. It was a compelling design, but I was noticeably frustrated. The CMO asked for my thoughts, and I requested a review of the three phases of revenue. When she mentioned phase one being ads, she realized the issue. Phase one was organic traffic to drive ads, then generating leads. The ad block was missing due to getting the creative look and feel right.

The creative team felt that the ad block had to be left out as it detracted from the aesthetics. The number one way to make money and pay back the investors who paid for the website’s construction was missing. Additionally, the valuable and necessary content I needed to help rank well would be in images to control the font. I argued it was worthless since it cannot be indexed, ranked, or drive traffic if it’s in an image. The power of the creative team was unbelievable and they argued that aesthetics were critical. Fortunately, the CFO and a few investors agreed that the site needed to look professional to engage people, but not when they cannibalize how you will generate money.

In both of these cases individual team objectives and actions were perceived as more important than those of the organization. This is all too common today, where UX, creative, or development teams have a stronger influence over the website, debilitating the performance of other teams. Web teams must focus on the overall ecosystem and how all of the elements come together, and while their contribution is important, it must also help others be successful. Too many times, individuals and teams forget what they’re doing and what the goal is, and if they’re not reminded and somebody reinforcing the mission, you’re going to fail.