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What the Healthcare.gov Disaster Means for Your Website

Putting politics aside, the launch of the Healthcare.gov website has been a train wreck. I’ve been building and marketing websites for a dozen years, and I have never seen a launch go so spectacularly, publicly wrong. This is partly due to the highly visible and contentious nature of the Affordable Care Act. But more interestingly, this marks the first time in my memory that there was an implicit assumption that a big, complex program and a website were essentially the same thing.

If:             Healthcare.gov = Affordable Care Act

Then:    Healthcare.gov is broken = Affordable Care Act is broken

This logic is fundamentally flawed, but that doesn’t stop it from being the dominant perception in the marketplace.  In fact, if you look at the relative popularity of these terms on social media, “healthcare.gov” gets 2.6 times as many tweets per day as the name of the program itself, “affordable care act”, and Google Trends shows the terms neck-and-neck in popularity:

Topsy Analytics for healthcare.gov and affordable care act

Google Trends data for healthcare.gov and affordable care act

What this marks is a shift in the mindset of the American public – your website is not a part of your business, it is your business.  If your website doesn’t represent your company well, or even worse, doesn’t function smoothly, the bad smell doesn’t just hover over your website, but over your business as a whole.

But that knowledge comes with a huge upside.  As a website owner, you are in a uniquely powerful position – no one in the world knows your customers better than you do.  You will have some or all of the following ingredients at your disposal:

  • Customer knowledge
    • Direct customer experience and feedback
    • Your sales and support staff who talk with customers every day
  • Keyword data
    • Years of search keyword data specific to your audience finding your website
    • Social media keyword data
    • Keyword data from publicly available tools
  • Content performance
    • Engagement and conversion metrics of content you’ve published over the years
    • Analysis of competitors’ content marketing and social media campaigns
  • Conversion path knowledge
    • Knowledge of the specific steps involved in your customers’ journey
    • Knowledge of the common stumbling blocks your customers encounter
    • The ability to proactively present solutions to problems that customers may experience

These ingredients should be combined and recombined with user personas to continually refine the kinds of content and services that you offer to address changing audience needs.  If a piece of content does not directly satisfying one of the primary needs of your core audience, you should question whether it deserves to be prioritized.

Create content that solves user needs as its first priority, and then rigorously QA and analyze conversion bottlenecks to ensure that customers aren’t encountering barriers along the conversion path.

Granted, if your website fails at providing a good user experience, and the efficient delivery of its primary value to your customers, you’re not likely to have your failure broadcast on The Daily Show.

People will just quietly click the Back button, and find your competitors.

Daily Show tweet about healthcare.gov issues

This is a re-post of my Forbes article.

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