Web Strategy: A Definition

Despite the simplicity and some would say obviousness of the concept of “Web Strategy,” it is a definition that I’ve struggled with for many years. Frequently, when organizations and individuals talk about Web Strategy they are talking about the organization’s approach to creating the outward facing Web site-- that with which the general public or the employee (in the case of intranets) interacts. However, I’ve come to understand that in order to be effective, a Web strategy should address not just how an organization will address the wants and needs of its customer or user base, but also how the organization will make that user experience happen operationally.

The Business Case for Web Strategy

From a management perspective, most organizations grew their Web sites in a bottom-up manner.  Somewhere in your organization during the mid 90s, someone purchased a domain name and put up the first Web page. Most likely, no one from the “C-Suite” was involved.  Now, 15 years later, except for the Amazons and EBays of the world (organizations that wouldn’t even exist without the Web), most organizations continue to manage their Web sites tactically, from the bottom up.  This trend is reflected in the results of research which focuses on the Web Management profession: the strategic leadership of most organizations continues to be disengaged from Web management.  Many organizations are beginning to wake up to the reality that the Web needs strategic management. But, this awareness is usually at the mid-level management tier, not at the senior-most levels of the organization.

While the disengagement of CEOs and their C-Suite colleagues from tactical Web matters (like technology implementation and Web design) is appropriate, it is a risk for these leaders to be strategically disengaged.  The high-level quality and operational drivers are best given by those who hold the long-term strategic vision for the organization. As the Web becomes more and more the primary communications and transactional vehicle for organizations, it is crucial for strategic senior leaders to set the strategic agenda for the Web. Without this leadership, mid-level Web Managers and subject matter experts are in the position of making uninformed decisions about the direction of the organization’s primary communications, sales, marketing and transactional vehicle.


What is Web Strategy?

Web Strategy is the translation of organizational objectives and values into high-level management directives for the Web. Enacting a Web Strategy involves two activities:

  • the establishment of a set of Guiding Principles for the Web presence;
  • and, the Formalization of Authority for the Web in the organization.

Enabled by formal Web Governance, a properly-managed Web execution division, and appropriate measurement tactics, Web Strategy is the “first cause” for a high-quality mission-centered, low-risk organizational Web presence. Web Strategy ensures that the tactics of Web site development align with overall organizational mission.


What Web Strategy Means for the Organization

Having clarity by way of Web Strategy from the senior leadership provides needed guidance for those who develop and manage the organizational Web presence. This means that Web stakeholders don’t have to guess or argue about which are the right initiatives for the Web--there would be organizational goals against which to measure the value of new technologies or other Web presence enhancement.  In the last 10 years, anecdotally, we have seen a no-win trend developing in organizations without a Web Strategy. Web teams are driven by an ongoing power struggle between a slow-but-steady, traditional IT-focused team and a fast, knee-jerk, reactionary, “do it now” Communications focused team. The result is an un-even, low-quality Web presence driven by an organizational debate instead of customer and organizational needs.

When there is a Web Strategy in place, this “push-me-pull-you” dynamic is diminished through the establishment of a relevant agenda to guide Web development and the empowerment of the teams appointed to execute that agenda. The adoption of this approach to Web Strategy points to the development of a relevant, more effective and higher-quality organizational Web presence.


Web Guiding Principles

Web Guiding Principles describe how the organization will use the Web to support core organizational values and business objectives. In general, they can:

  • ensure that the organizational mission and values are reflected in all Web properties;
  • articulate high-level business objectives for Web properties;
  • and, establish basic compliance parameters for the organizational Web Presence.

Web Guiding Principles are not standards or policies. They are expressed in order to ensure that the Web team is implementing in line with the longer term, though perhaps not obvious, objectives of the organization.

Here are two examples of Web Guiding Principles—one from the UC Berkeley Library Web site and one from the US Department of Health and Human services.


What Web Guiding Principles mean for the organization

When an organization has a set of Web Guiding principles, those who work on the site understand exactly what the senior leadership expects to achieve with the Web presence. When mid-level management translates these principles into a set of key success indicators, the organization can be sure that all Web initiatives are grounded in the reality of business objectives. The principles act as a guide for those making tactical decisions about Web development and can help the Web team determine where the forward-looking research and development efforts should be placed and when and where the organization ought to invest in deep technology infrastructure enhancements.


The Formalization of Authority for the Web

Formalization of Authority is the emplacement of high-level authority for Web Governance and Web Execution, and the expression of the key success indicators against which to measure Web performance.  In order to have power, it is an action that is best performed from a very senior level of the organization.


What Formalization of Authority means for the organization

When someone from the C-Suite or other senior leader says, “make it so,” it generally tends to get done. Clear delegation of authority can put to rest the battle between program offices, communications and IT regarding “ownership” of the Web. The Web presence is “owned” by the organization and the decision regarding who is responsible for managing the presence is a strategic, operational decision. Likewise, the decision regarding who will “govern” the Web through the creation of Web policy and Web standards, can be clearly articulated and therefore allowing Web experts to spend less time in internal power struggles and more time directing their efforts towards improving Web quality. Lastly, success indicators help keep those who work with the Web accountable for their implementation choices and allows the organization to measure effectiveness in order to better leverage the Web channel in the future.

An effective Web Strategy provides the required guidance and implementation authority required to create and maintain a high-quality Web presence. It also emplaces accountability mechanisms to ensure that Web teams take a mature approach to developing and managing the organization’s most powerful communications and transactional tool.

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Thank you. This is one of the clearest articulations of an issue I've been struggling with within my own organization for some time now. I'm forwarding this to my boss immediately.

Hi Dan. I'm glad this could be of some practical use.

Take care.


Thanks for article. Great articulation

Excellent !
Thank you Lisa.

You're welcome!

I've been leaning toward this idea because our corporate site somewhat disorganized. We are just beginning a redesign and the way its going, its not going to get much better. You have articulated the idea beautifully. A really well written, concise article. Thank you

Thanks Henry. I'm glad you found it helpful.



Fantastic. When I read this line: "Web teams are driven by an ongoing power struggle between a slow-but-steady, traditional IT-focused team and a fast, knee-jerk, reactionary, “do it now” Communications focused team." I almost yelled out loud, "YES! YES!"

Yeah, this is an old blog post but it's still mostly true. Although, I have noticed this year that there is a trend (at least in my client base) towards real collaboration and an understanding that it's not IT OR Communications but a combination of both that's going to get the job done. I sometimes call it non-dual development.

Now, if we can just get writers, developers and user experience people all working in the same group...

Thanks for the comment.

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