Stand-Alone Web Development is Dead
Web Development in the Age of Digital Transformation
The evolution of digital business often has three clear stages that lead from inception to maturity; they are:
1. Digital Presence: typically, a Web site that supports the business’s identity. Pure Web development begins and ends here.
2. Digital Marketing: using digital channels (SEO, SEM, campaign management, etc.) to drive traffic to a site optimized to capture eyeballs, and use of CRM and marketing automation to manage the lead and sales pipeline
3. Digital Business: using Web and mobile properties to enable and optimize customer interactions; this requires further sophistication in areas of enterprise data management, systems integration and security, etc.
Here’s why I say that Web development is dead: most companies already have some level of Web presence, and when they want to update such “brochure sites,” there is a plethora of self-service tools (Squarespace, WordPress, Wix) that provide templates and guidance to enable a lay person or a designer with no coding skills to produce fairly high-quality Web sites. These platforms even provide basic content management capabilities.
This means that the real reason someone would engage (and pay) Web developers is to compete aggressively in the market using Digital Marketing and Digital Business differentiators, develop a highly distinctive look and feel to enhance brand penetration, or to publish a large volume of ever-changing content using robust content management and editorial workflows which, perhaps, are syndicate across multiple online properties.
The focus of Web development has shifted away from pure technical mastery of front-end coding and toward consultative skills
To work with these more sophisticated clients, being an HTML / CSS wiz just won’t cut it anymore. You have to understand the steps of Digital Transformation, have real back office technology chops, understand end-users and their needs, and be able to add value to your clients’ Digital go to market strategies.
Information-Driven Web Design
While larger brands have been doing user research, competitive analysis, and usability testing for a decade, and using the output of those exercises to keep improving the effectiveness of their online spend, this type of “information-driven” web design is now required at the mid-market level as well.
This means that, as a Web designer or developer, you must be familiar with (and be able to conduct) user journey analysis, service design, audience analysis and persona development, and so on. And if your business clients do not fully understand these concepts, you must educate them and exert pressure on them to engage in these information-gathering exercises, and then to use the resulting data to guide design choices.
Value-Added Web Development
The way you add value as a developer is by understanding the business objectives of your client, and aligning design and technology choices to serve that purpose.
This means that if the objective (for example) is to convert visitors to customers and to drive repeat online purchases, then you will need to create a responsive, high-performance e-Commerce solution with addictive / viral qualities, and which has an easy on-ramp for new users. Given all of the above, you have to:
- Understand how front-end design and API structure interrelate in driving performance
- Be able to re-architect and re-code the API if necessary for performance
- Understand behavior-driven design and gamefication
- Understand user personae and be able to design for both new and experienced users
Notice that none of this has much to do with old-fashioned Web development skills.
In addition, you will need to follow SEO guidance, add analytics tags, and perform other tasks dictated by marketing requirements.
If you want to be on the forefront of Web development today, you will engage deeply with your client’s business objectives, and test all client requests and your own ideas against how well they serve the business objectives.
Here is how to convert an old-style Web development conversation into a modern Digital one:
- The client states they want a Web site. In the old world, you would ask what features they want, estimate the effort to design and build, and present that estimate to the client for decision. Instead...
- As them why they want a new Web site. Dig deeper and deeper until you get to money. For example, it may turn out that they want to improve revenue by retaining existing customers and that’s really the highest priority. New customer acquisition may turn out to be important but secondary because it is already happening “well enough.”
- Challenge the client about their level of understanding of the target customers. In this example, does the client really know what Digital services will be valued by their existing customers? How do they know? Are they guessing? Did they ask? Should direct user research be performed?
- Once you have solid information about business objectives and the customers, test all concepts against these criteria. So, for example:
► Improving level of detail in “account history” section of the site passes the bar (if the customers told us that lack of detail is a pain point for them)
► Adding more “Free Shipping” balloons to attract new customers does not address the key business drivers.
The ground has shifted under our feet. The challenge of Web development is no longer seen to be technical, but more focused on solving business challenges, and whether clients articulate this or not, clients mostly need help solving multi-disciplinary challenges on the mid- to high end of the complexity continuum. Therefore, the focus of Web development has shifted away from pure technical mastery of front-end coding and toward consultative skills which combine user experience, technology and business considerations. Hone these skills, and you will be the agent of Digital transformation everyone is looking for!