Skip to main content

I’m motivated to harp on one of my favorite topics again – the need to help businesses and institutions grasp that just because THEY are BIG doesn’t mean that their websites need to be. In fact the evolving web of 2015 generally rewards thinking the other way: if you are BIG then your (main) website should be simple and flexible. You should SIMPLESIZE it.

What am I talking about? Let me give you an example. Just this weekend I was thinking of visiting a large┬ámuseum that I am fond of. I went to the website to look at the hours and noticed that the site was woefully out of date – the same site they have had for about a decade, basically. There’s nothing “wrong” with it – the information is right – but it’s a little narrow thing that doesn’t work responsively on your phone so there is a lot of pinching and poking to get to what you need. No biggie, but for a cutting-edge organization, a little bit embarassing (and likely impacting their bottom line in measurable ways…). I’m friends with the Director of Marketing there and dropped him a note about the site and mentioned that I imagined that he was mired in a 12-month, committee-led site redevelopment project that had gone off the rails. He wrote me back to the effect that it hadn’t been 12 months but more like 24, and still no end in site.

I went for a hike (it was Sunday) and when I got back I sat down at my desk and built a new site for the museum in a couple of hours, just for fun. I cut and pasted over the core elements that any good museum site has to have. A home page, a visit page with hours and directions, an about page, a contact page, and a browsable section of current exhibitions and an event calendar. I worked within wordpress with a theme that we use on a number of sites and in a short time had a lovely site with full screen video, responsive columns, interactive gesture elements, big, wide screen images throughout, etc….

I sent it off to my friend. He tells me it caused a certain ruckus over there Monday.

Now I’m not likely going to get a chance to actually build a site for this museum – they have too much invested in the product that they are pouring heart and time into. The exercise was worth it for me to prove a point to myself (and maybe to you, reader). The point is this – build the website you need today, as quickly as possible. If you need a lot more content and complexity (or believe you do) – don’t hobble the site that you actually NEED with the one that you WANT.

Here’s why this is true. We manage a lot of websites – 300+ at last count. All of these sites have google analytics running. If you look across all these sites you will see something consistent. Without exception the mean average time for users on site is 2:10 (minutes:seconds) and they visit on average around 2.5 pages. That’s it. If you look at the half-dozen museum sites I run consistently the most visited page after the home page is hours/admissions, followed by directions, followed by Exhibits and Events. Then traffic falls off dramatically from there. The site may have hundreds of rich, deep pages diving into curatorial analysis, blogs, collections, etc – but at the end of the day 90% of the traffic is mostly interested in “are you open, where are you, what can I see.”

SIMPLESIZE it means this – simplify your site by reducing its size. Focus on the user and what they want and want to do. Strategically, build multiple sites so that the large, complex database-driven site for your collections doesn’t inhibit your main visitor-focused site. Stop thinking about the website as a piece of institutional architecture requiring massive foundations and structure – think instead of the site as a nimble marketing channel. With today’s web development tools you can have multiple home pages in a minute. Perhaps you just opened an exciting new exhibit – put up a new, temporary home page with a great big image or video or call to action about that exhibit – and that’s it – for a week or so. Use the website as a channel for excitement and some sizzle. Don’t let complexity get in your way – if it does it creates friction and friction inhibits change. Offload the complexity somewhere else.

This strategy is challenging – it requires thinking ahead and dynamically and getting moribund committees and institutional leadership to grasp the concept. One way to move the needle is to demonstrate the possibilities. Build more websites – single page sites, 3-4 page sites, sites designed primarily for mobile first – be nimble, exciting and colorful. Put this in front of the committee. Move the needle. SIMPLESIZE your life.

Case in point – have you been on Google’s home page lately. One of the world’s largest corporations and they have gotten away with a single page “home” website since they launched. Think about it.