The cure for Specialist Disease

In last month’s Biznology newsletter, we looked at Specialist Disease, a condition where the experts who run your Web site sometimes get so wrapped up in their special expertise that they don’t always see what’s best for your customers. In our August newsletter we look at the Cure for Specialist Disease.

“Specialist Disease” is that creeping condition that results in Web sites where one or more of your specialists has overrun common sense. You are looking at Specialist Disease when Web team members make recommendations to you that are entirely in concert with their training and background but without any critical thinking, and with no understanding that there are other specialties in the world also.

It doesn’t need to be that way. This month, let’s look at several prescriptions for specialist disease that can help your teams to compromise and make better overall decisions.

Capitalize on Good Intentions

As we saw last month, each of these specialists are convinced that they are doing the right thing. And that is one of the keys to curing specialist disease. Recognize that your specialists want the best for your site. When they go overboard with their specialty, it is out of a good heart, not malice or laziness. So that is the first place to start, by helping specialists to see that there is a wider world out there. Allow your specialists to mingle with each other. (OK, force them to mingle.) Arguments will erupt, but they will be forced to confront the trade-offs that warring specialities demand. And that will help them put their specialty into perspective.

When your authors have a standard that demands that your company name be the first part of every title, the search marketing specialists will scream bloody murder—they want your critical search keywords first. But instead of having to referee this dispute, let them work it out together. Make sure that both sides understand that we are all professionals and that we have reasons for what we do, but sometimes those reasons come into conflict with each other and we need to make compromises.

Your authors need to defend their practice, so the search marketers need to hear them out. Perhaps they say that it is important to have a common style for each title for usability. If so, bring in the usability specialists to see what they say. Or maybe the authors believe that having the name of the company first will help visitors to find sites they bookmark, and that will increase return visits—bring in the metrics experts to see if that is so. If you don’t have a team so large as to have these other specialists, then challenge the authors to back up what they say with studies or expert opinion that they can find. Whatever you do, have a conversation where the issues get aired.

Think Business

Sometimes warring factions won’t come together just by having a calm discussion. Two specialities collide, and neither is particularly adept at listening or at compromise.

Make sure that all specialists know that the path to success involves more than just their specialties. Successful specialists must be able to think and speak in business terms. They all work in a business, and a business approach provides a common language and a common goal (making a profit) that every specialist needs to agree on.

If the authors and the search marketers can’t agree on how to standardize titles after their discussion, encourage them to think in business terms. Can the authors describe the business value of their existing company name standard? Can the search marketers explain how removing the standard would improve sales? Once the search marketers explain how important it is to have critical search keywords in the first few words of each page’s title, the authors might relent, because they understand the business value of higher search rankings to the sales of their Web site.

Break Ties

But even when people talk in terms of business value, they can’t settle all disputes. Perhaps the metrics people really have data that shows increased bookmark visits when the company name begins the title, and maybe the search marketing people can’t prove that the increased search referrals would make up for the lost bookmark visitors. What do you do then?

You make sure you have an agreed-to process for ending the standoff. One person (or a committee, perhaps) should have the final word. Don’t let these decisions fester and cause lack of harmony on the team. Make them and move on.

But how you make the decision and how you follow up on the decision is just as important as the decision itself. First, listen to both sides publicly and make your reasoning public. If you decide to change the title standard so that company names are no longer first, but are still included as the last part of the title, explain why. Tell people that you believe the search marketing arguments but that you believe that your company name has value to continue to appear somewhere in the title. By doing so, you teach each side the rationale you use in applying business value to the question, which will develop their abilities to handle such questions without resorting to tie breakers in the future. The better the specialists understand the business approach for your Web site, the fewer impasses you will have.

You also should follow up on the decision. Challenge the search marketers to show the results of the change. Ask them to project what the improvement will be and make sure they report back to the team to show what happened. If the results were disappointing, you might reconsider the decision in the future.

Web sites are complex and specialists are crucial to their proper functioning. Train your specialists in other specialties, in business, and in conflict resolution and see the difference it makes in their decisions.

Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top Back to top