LearnWebsite Owner's Manual Review

Treehouse
writes on December 10, 2009

Ed: You can learn more about how to run a successful web app business at Future of Web Apps Miami in February 2010 – buy your ticket online today!

Recently I received a copy of  “Website Owner’s Manual” by Paul Boag. Unlike other books that deal with the technical aspects of web sites this one is aimed at those who project manage, run and maintain web sites on a daily basis.

Paul is the host of the popular web design podcast Boagworld and is also one of the founders of Headscape, a web design agency based in the UK. He’s passionate about helping those involved in websites, be they designers or “owners”, communicate better with their clients and stakeholders and this shines through in the book.

In each chapter Paul offers “website owners”, i.e. those responsible for the running of the site, proven strategies, crafted from his ten years in the industry, for dealing with the web site process from start to finish.

Much of the book focuses on the non technical aspects of owning sites and covers issues such as how to tackle “design by committee”, creating persona’s for your users, community and dealing with feedback effectively. For me this is one of it’s main strengths and a welcome change to the more technical books I usually read.

One nice touch is the way in which each chapter concludes with “next actions”. For example at the end of the chapter “Ensuring access for all” Paul advocates the following three actions:

  1. Get your team on board – The first and most important step is to ensure that your developers and content providers understand the importance of standards and accessibility
  2. Create an accessibility policy – Begin by writing a rough draft yourself. Don’t worry too much about specifics at this stage, but concentrate on creating a skeleton for discussion
  3. Finish what you start – After you’ve completed these actions, consider your long-term strategy for ensuring accessibility

If all you do is read these pages, you should obviously read more, then you will be left with a solid strategy for your next web project.

What’s covered?

The book is broken down into 12 manageable chapters which take you through the journey of starting your web site right through to testing, promotion, user engagement and beyond.

  1. Secrets to a successful website (Download chapter as PDF)
  2. Stress-free planning
  3. The perfect team
  4. Differences over design
  5. Creating killer content
  6. User centric design
  7. Ensuring access for all
  8. Taking control
  9. Decoding technobabble
  10. Driving traffic
  11. Engaging your visitors
  12. Planning for the future

Is it for you?

If you are involved in any aspect of the web design process then you will learn some valuable lessons by reading “Website Owner’s Manual”. It never hurts to understand more about the process from a non technical aspect and there are a lot of ideas and strategies that will improve how you create your web sites.

It’s definitely the kind of book I wish I had been able to leave on my managers desk when I worked on web projects in a large public sector organisation a few years ago.

Win a copy

We have 6 copies of Paul’s book to giveaway. To be in with a chance of winning a copy all you have to do is leave your best “website owner’s tip” as a comment. Paul has kindly agreed to pick his top six.

Any entry up to 6pm GMT Monday 14th December 2009 will be entered.

Readers offer – 30% off

Thanks to the lovely people at Manning Publications Think Vitamin readers can get 30% off any version (print or ebook) of Website Owner’s Manual.

Simply use the checkout code “tv30” at www.manning.com/boag to redeem your offer. Offer valid until December 31, 2009

Ed: Paul has spoken at a number of industry events including our own Future of Web Design New York. Here’s a video of his presentation “Getting client’s to say yes”. A full transcript is available.

0 Responses to “Website Owner's Manual Review”

  1. Very insightful. I just ordered my copy. Look forward to reading and hopefully I can increase my presence. Thank you.

  2. My tip: Listen.

    Yup, so you’re right… your client IS wrong – but if you’re good, their idea can be actualized without you telling them how awful it was before you took the good from it and enhanced their website. Rather, LISTEN to their idea and use all you know about the web to have successfully applied their concept while utilizing best practices.

  3. Thnx this great post

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  5. Step out of your skin and always look through the eyes of the websites public, and a whole new world will open.
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  6. My number one tip may be one of the few here that is probably not covered in the book:

    The website owner, when evaluating a freelance developer or team of developers, should ask to see some sample code, and then have the code evaluated by a senior in-house programmer, or, if not applicable or none is available, an objective outside programmer. In either case, the chosen evaluator should be fluent in the applicable language, and should be instructed to focus on such qualities in the code as modularity, maintainability, etc.

  7. My number one tip? Write good headlines, and copy that matches reader expectations.

    This post is titled a “review”, and not being able to preview the book in my local bookstore I wanted to know what another experienced web designer made of it and what they disagreed with (or criticised).

    The “Is it for you?” section was vaguely helpful, but having expected a comprehensive book review I left feeling dissatisfied, which means in future I’ll be less inclined to visit this site or click through from Google Reader to read other content.

    My number one tip restated? Manage expectations.

  8. My number one tip is to engage with your readers and pose questions for them. Although this can be kind of depressing when you are starting off, giving the reader something to think about normally leaves them with sometime to take away from your website. When you engage in your community, it shows that you care and value their input as well. This is VITAL for the success of web sites.

  9. wohoo! i can spam here 😀

  10. Cool, looking forward to checking out this book.

    My best website owner’s tip is to have a rock solid vision that your team can clearly work towards. Making sure everyone is on the same page is invaluable.

  11. Website Owner Tip # 408: Avoid people who claim to be social media gurus, especially those who randomly follow you on Twitter. This also applies to other self-proclaimed gurus. I mean can you get a real title?

  12. Two words: Source Control

    There are many options. My absolute favorite is Subversion. It has saved my butt more times than I can count.

  13. Content is definitely very important, but it has to be the right kind of content. It has to be fresh and useful to users. Design, user experience, seo, etc. is very important, but in most cases secondary…

    The Paul Boad video was awesome! It deals with something every designer has gone through: clients from hell…

  14. My tip: From the start, think about how you are going to maintain the site, and how best to do that. People focus a lot on the visuals, accessibility, IA, and that’s all very important, but also oriented towards Launch Day. But what will the site need to look like on Launch Day + six months? What content will need to be added or updated in that time? Where will that content come from? How will the updates be done? I’d guess the main reason many sites don’t get updated adequately is not because the owners don’t have new information to publish, but because it’s too cumbersome or time consuming to do the work.

  15. This is one of Paul’s tips (are there any tips he hasn’t covered?) which I always have at the back of my mind.

    “Don’t make your problems your users problems”

  16. My number one tip is not to get bogged down with watching and over-analysing your statistics.

    R!

  17. My best tip is: you will never get it right the first time, get over it.

    Many designers think they can craft a perfectly “user centered”, or Conversion oriented interface in one go. They also tend to get their ego involved. This could lead to some very harsh situations, when it later appears that the initial approach wasn’t the right one.

    The key is: Release early and iterate. See how your users use your interface. Based on those observations, adjust and tweak.

  18. My tip is about website content. In my experience, one of the hardest things I face running our website is getting copy written and maintained. I find that one of the most effective ways of getting it written is to have a copy writing away day. It doesn’t necessarily have to be away from your organisation, just find a new setting, away from your desks (and normal distractions) and spend a day writing and reviewing the content of your site. If you can provide the tea, coffee, biscuits and lunch (food is always a motivator) even better. You can get a lot done and bounce ideas around which not only gets the job done quicker but breeds enthusiasm too.

  19. My number one tip for website owners is: make friends with your designers and developers. Often times, and in particular I feel, with small freelancers, there is a severe ‘them and us’ attitude. The client is wary of getting screwed within a process they don’t understand, and the designer is wary of getting screwed on price / feature creep of the project.

    Relax everyone! We’re all in this together … make friends with your web team – nobody wants to get upset, we all want the best for the project. Let’s work together and we’ll get there. Start with a strong agreement on project scope (be it fixed at the start or allowing for incremental change), and don’t feel like you’re always in a battle!

  20. Ah, this is going to be obvious to everyone here I hope!
    “Flash intros? No. Just say no, no no!” 😉

  21. Have a way to communicate with the users of your website. Getting feedback and being responsive to suggestions is a must for any developing website. This is not to say that you have to take every little bit of feedback, but its good to know what your members want and their thoughts about your website.

  22. Just because all the ‘bells and whistles’ are available to use (eg. social media and life stream feeds) on your website, it doesn’t mean you have to use all of them, less is more!

  23. Greg Owen on December 10, 2009 at 9:21 pm said:

    Manage client expectations. Make them aware of the different phases a project will go through. An informed client is often a happier one and they’ll feel part of the process if you keep them in the loop with any progress or problems along the way.

  24. Basic but important: For god sake Back Up!

  25. My tip: Know both that a website is never perfect or completed. We know you want your website to be the best in the field, but coming up with a new idea every week to make it better only delays the launch of a functional website. It is better to get it out there and as you see how it is being used start to make changes, they may or may not be the changes you thought you wanted. Love the Lillington joke to end the podcast.

  26. My tip would be to never assume that once the site or a feature goes live it’s done. Your site will require regular attention like a garden. Every feature launched on the site is like a seed and without nurturing, it will die. And sometimes you’ll need to pull out things that are just wasting space.

  27. Code the pages on your site using current web standards. Then you do not have to worry about which browsers your users are using.

  28. A very nice break down 🙂

    If it had to give a tip to a website owner it would be:

    Learn how to get t he full use out of your web designer – Be it from right at the start in the initial ideas or actual consultancy. We are the experts after all, our opinion should greatly matter the the client/website owner.

  29. my tip is in regards to pictures. If you are going to have pictures on your site, make sure they are amazing pictures. (like for products, etc) If you have to, bite the bullet and pay for professional pictures.

  30. Christelle on December 10, 2009 at 7:48 pm said:

    Keep your site updated. Some sites are so neglected that the visitor wonders if the company is still in business. It’s a good idea to have some signs of life. Make sure hours of operation, contact info, menus, etc. are all up to date.

  31. Learn to say NO. Sometimes a no is the best way to show you’re a professional, specially when the client starts to transgress into your expertise field. One example is this comic that was rolling around some days ago:

    http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell

    I’ve added this book to my amazon wishlist, althoug the 30% off sounds good in case I don’t win this giveaway

  32. My top tip: get your mum, dad or better yet gran, to use your website while you watch. In my experience you get a usability tester who pulls no punches!

  33. My tip: Proofread. And then get someone else to proofread.

    Pay attention to basic grammar rules (especially apostrophes) and common mistakes (your/you’re, there/they’re/their, etc.). It seems obvious and basic (and it is), but overlooking things like this can hurt your credibility. I would recommend a book like Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves. And don’t put all of your trust into Word’s Spelling & Grammar tools.

  34. Mike Holley on December 10, 2009 at 6:46 pm said:

    Time is money. Get your company in public as soon as possible. Find out what others think, make changes. repeat. Increase your chance of success by meeting your customer’s needs.

  35. My #1 tip for being a website owner is to set goals in the beginning of each project. Defining the goal of your website in the very beginning will help give you direction and take to your site to where you want it be in the end. I find that using Peter Drucker’s SMART method helps me evaluate my goals. Keep your goals, SPECIFIC, MEASURABLE, ATTAINABLE, REALISTIC and TIME-BOUND.

  36. Keep your content fresh and informative; also add new useful features as often as possible.

  37. My tip is to always respond to emails, even if it’s a simple I’ve received your email and will respond in a few days. No one likes to think they’re being ignored!

  38. Always make regular backups of your site and site database!

    The book sounds like a great read.

  39. Most of the website owners (especially new ones) I run into don’t understand how important their website is. And it is.

    I’m not saying website owners are stupid, they’re not! I’m saying they are misinformed many times by the people they hire (us), the media (their thoughts on social media), and their own preconceptions about the web.

    My tip? Well… actually, it would be to see a consultant, read a book (Paul’s maybe), and get informed!

    Its time website owners started taking the web serious (and they are beginning to). They need to spend time developing a strategy (like the ones they founded their business on). They need a business plan for their website, with a budget that makes since!

    If we all bought cars like we buy websites most of us would be driving the Model-T (there is a reason we don’t buy these anymore you know).

  40. My number one tip is to always reflect what helped your site to perform good or bad in the past and what will help to do so in the future. Your site will change a lot in time and so do your visitors. Examine the key factors to your success (and failures), evaluate them and use this experience.

  41. Greg Wolkins on December 10, 2009 at 6:10 pm said:

    My #1 tip is *Be Responsive*. Be eager to engage with your readers/customers/viewers. If someone leaves a comment, starts a discussion, has a question, etc, be sure to respond quickly. Let them know that you are paying attention and are receptive to their input. Even if it’s just to say “I don’t know, let me look into that and get back to you”. A site that appears to be abandoned will quickly be forgotten.

  42. I’d advise using a version control like subversion so you can revert to previously saved versions easily. It helps a lot when you want to modify parts of the site.

    With that, I’d also recommend a staging server if you haven’t got one already to test changes. This could easily be a subdirectory within the site for simpler ones.

  43. My Tip is always keep the goal and the purpose of your website in mind, especially when adding features. If you keep your content good, and your site simple and easy to use people will come back again and again.

  44. My number one tip is to listen to Boagworld’s podcast =)

  45. While maybe a bit more technical than would be ideal for this book, my tip:

    Back it up. Your data, that is. Backup weekly. Backup daily if you’re digitally clumsy. The moment will come when some 13-year old from the Netherlands finally figures out how to search Google for “admin” and, lo and behold, there is your site’s admin login page in all its should-be-hidden glory. His gain becomes your pain. Unless, of course, you back it up.

  46. My tip is – sometimes it’s OK to ignore tips 🙂 But first, you have to do your research and know what you want to accomplish and who you are doing it for. Otherwise you won’t know which tips to ignore and which to follow in your particular project.

  47. Steve Robillard on December 10, 2009 at 5:27 pm said:

    My number one tip is to not overlook accessibility, but plan for it from the start; It may even win you some business. Nothing feels worse than having to say no it isn’t accessible, remember that for every one who takes the time to point it out several more silently went elsewhere.

  48. Props Paul/Keir/Carsonified. Thanks for filming, so good points raised esp. the Marketeering part near the end. Very true I think.

  49. My number one tip for website owners is that you can never do enough testing (QA). When you think you’re done testing, test again. If at all possible, a break within the testing cycle can often help refresh your perspective on how to test. I found resuming testing after a break can help uncover other angles to consider, angles you would have otherwise overlooked if you did not have the chance to step back for a moment.

  50. My number one tip for website owners is don’t over complicate your site. Spend time at the start planning your content and functionality. Then sit back, read through, and strip out anything which isn’t absolutely necessary.

    Once the site is launched keep reviewing your analytics, if features aren’t being used either investigate why and adjust your architecture (if business critical feature) or strip it out.

    😀

  51. My tip would be to understand and define why you have a website. Don’t just have one because everyone has one. It should be a part of your overall marketing strategy and be treated with the same respect as an ad, brochure, event or commercial.

  52. Justin LaClair on December 10, 2009 at 4:58 pm said:

    My number one website owners’ tip: you must recognize your target audience. In building a site, this includes designing accordingly and usability testing accordingly.

  53. My number one tip for website owners is to make sure that visual effects don’t get in the way of usability and accessibility.

  54. My number one tip for a website owner would probably be don’t take a good design for granted. If your website’s design is aesthetically pleasing, and your user finds it easy to use – doesn’t mean your website will be a success. The website needs constant love, improvements, hard-work, dedication, engaging content and a reason for users to keep coming back for more.

  55. My number one tip, and its the old cliche of enjoying what your doing. Take pride in what you do, talk about everywhere online & offline (bore your mates in the pub with it is my personal favourite) and get people as enthusiastic as you are. If you can’t do that, why should somebody else want to visit your site?

  56. My tip:
    Step out of your skin and always look through the eyes of the websites public, and a whole new world will open.

    Ps. Great 1st chapter!

  57. My number one tip for web site owners is to have a content strategy. Oftentimes, content gets the short stick in lieu of design, when it should really be the other way around. Web site owners should know their audiences, know what they want to read, and know how to present it to them. Without some kind of upfront discussion about content, the web site becomes a place for pretty pictures and not an effective tool for building brands and building businesses.

  58. typo in the title

  59. Ryan Lombardo on December 10, 2009 at 4:34 pm said:

    My number one tip for website owners is to really learn how to use Google Analytics. More importantly learn how to use the data that it provides to improve your website and your business. The amount you can learn about your users is invaluable!

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