Last week I had this short Twitter conversation with Tracy Playle about whether valuable and important are equivalent when it comes to websites.
I do not think that they are. Of course most organizations know it is important to have a website. But I've come across very few who find their website truly valuable.
Let's start by looking at the definition of the two words, then we'll go into how I see the difference and ways websites can become more valuable to the organizations they serve.
important adj. marked by or indicative of significant worth or consequence.
valuable adj. 1. having monetary value. 2. of great use or service.
Technically, yes, they could by synonyms. But the thesaurus I consulted does not list them as such. The difference is subtle, but significant (which is a synonym for important).
Websites are important
The internet has become vital to operating a business. Most of our customers now go straight to something online for information, directions, recommendations, and entertainment. Often that something is a website. And increasingly, people start at Google to find what they are looking for. If you do not have a website, it's like you don't exist.
This isn't new. It's been over a decade that websites have been considered essential to running a business or organization of any type. One of the first things most businesses or non-profits do is create a website. That makes websites important. A website puts you on the digital map. There is a consequence of not having a website.
Because of the importance of having a presence on the world wide web, websites get an annual budget. Someone is hired (as a consultant or an employee) to run the website. All the staff know that the things they produce need to get put on the website. Lots of time, energy, and money go into the creation and maintenance and redesign of a website (or websites, as is often the case). All because they are important.
Is your website valuable?
However, things change when you ask a CEO or Executive Director, "What is the monetary value of your website?" Not how much does it cost, but how much is it worth? You'll get less certain and more varied answers, if you get one at all.
Ask how the website is of service to the business and you'll get even vaguer answers.
A website should be valuable. It should be worth something. So valuable that every CEO should know what it's worth is, and if that worth is more than the cost. And what would happen to the balance sheet if it were to go down or disappear? Therefore, every person who is responsible for the website should be able to furnish these numbers. And those numbers need to be tied to business goals. Yes, website owners need to learn a bit about corporate finance. The website should not be just a cost center. It should have some sort of return on investment.
Traffic, page views, and bounce rates are just vanity metrics. We need to figure out what the website is worth. What the website doing to grow the business. Google Analytics is capable of telling you how much a visit earns or costs if set up right. It's not all that hard with the right measurements in hand. When web professionals know how much the website is worth, they can make a better case for user research, content audits, improved design, a new CMS, or additional staff. Show, don't tell.
Make your website important AND valuable
Shouldn't websites be important and valuable? If it is just important, web professionals will be seen as necessary. But if it is important and valuable – and everyone knows its worth – web professionals will become invaluable.
If everyone in an organization knows what the website is worth to them – yes, it has different worth to different groups – then the web team is the group that helps them meet their goals. The website stops being the place to "put stuff up." It becomes a place where goals are realized. The website can contribute better to achieving business goals is if proper user research is done so it can deliver the things customers want in a usable manner. If design is part of the culture rather than seen as making something pretty ("design thinking," anyone?), the website will be deliberate and useful.
The most successful businesses and non-profits value their web presence. They take a strategic approach, publish useful content, and give support and respect to the team that makes it all happen.
If you don't know the value of your website, let's talk about how you put a price tag on it. Already know the value of your website? Share in the comments about how that came to be.