I’ve been following the Healthcare.gov story with great interest as a marketer. The situation has provided daily tips and insights into what to do – and what to never do – when building or launching a website. It also offers valuable lessons in how to handle – and how not to handle – the inevitable problems that will accompany a site launch.
Of course, the entire story is also infused with politics about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. These political distractions have at times overshadowed the gist of the issue:
The Healthcare.gov site failed to perform out of the gate. The problems are “miserably frustrating,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in her apology.
So while a site failure at your organization is unlikely to generate the headlines of Healthcare.gov, you still want to do everything you can to ensure a successful launch.
Here are five strategies that will help.
1. Overestimate traffic volume to avoid crashes.
The Healthcare.gov site was said to have crashed due to excessive volume multiple times during its first days. The last thing you want is for your visitors to lose the opportunity to see the great content you’ve created or to be hindered in their ability to engage with the site. Make sure to build an infrastructure that can handle a surge in traffic when you make an announcement or run a campaign.
2. Consider your visitor’s user experience (UX).
I recently wrote about the importance of creating buyer personas as part of your marketing efforts. These personas are critical when you are designing and building a new site or revamping an existing one. At Healthcare.gov, many visitors reportedly found it challenging to navigate the site, so one of the first changes made was to add an option to the home page to Apply by Phone. Present the information on your site in a way that is consistent with how your target visitors will behave and how they’ll want to engage with you. Keep it as simple as possible for visitors to find what they want and to travel through the sales funnel.
3. Check and double check your information for accuracy.
There has been a lot of back and forth on the presence of inaccurate information on Healthcare.gov, and this is an area where politics has played a role. But the debate does highlight how much credibility an organization loses when its site includes inaccuracies.
4. Be thoughtful about asking for your visitors’ information.
Some of the backlash surrounding Healthcare.gov involved the requirement for visitors to submit personal information just to see pricing and plan options. Critics called for more transparency, while the site owners defended the process as a way of making sure people were presented with the most appropriate information. Regardless of where you fall on that debate, it underscores the importance of thinking carefully about when you will ask visitors for information, how much you will ask for, etc. The goal is always to make things as easy and as comfortable as possible for your buyers.
5. Test, test and test again. Did I say test?
In all of the back and forth about this website, nearly everyone agrees that the site did not undergo enough testing before it went live. Website projects are monster undertakings that often involve strict deadlines – as the Healthcare.gov site did. These endeavors are also known to be filled with changing specifications, scope creep and many cooks in the kitchen. But none of these challenges can prevent the process of testing before going live. It is better to delay a launch so you can do it right than to deliver a substandard product.
And finally, when something does go wrong – which it will – what should you do?
1. Own it.
No one cares whose fault it is, how many experts were on your team or how unforeseen circumstances caused issues. Acknowledge errors and take ownership with your audience. They will respect you for it.
2. Fix it.
No one cares about the code, about the change orders, about the inner workings. They care that your site works. So just fix it.
3. Move on.
Your website will never be “done.” There will always be things you want to add, delete and enhance. But you have to start somewhere. So launch well and keep your punch list of next steps so you can make it even better as you go.