Who Owns the Website, and Why

Getting the Most Out of This Post: print out every single page of your website and tape it all up on a huge wall in your office or lay it out on the floor. Bring together key stakeholders from every department in your company and give them post-it notes. Ask them to place a post it on every page that drives a business outcome they feel/are responsible for.


In most startups, he who writes code makes the rules.

Historically, engineers have owned the company’s website and everything on it. Other teams like marketing, sales and customer support could produce content, but software developers were the gateway through which all content eventually had to pass.

More often than not, animosity would grow between engineers tweaking marketing content that had hundreds of hours of thought put into it, and marketing constantly creating more work for engineering with a rapid succession of iterative changes.

Both acts, while taken poorly by the opposing team, were well meant. Engineers who were hands-on building the product, had contributions to make and saw this as the only place in the workflow where they could interject their suggestions. Marketers (and other content producers) who were closely in touch with customers needs and wants tried to be responsive to the feedback they received.

Design Leads the Way

In the past few years I’ve seen a wonderful trend of collapsing together design and front-end web development into a single role. This allows designers to take back the reins, no longer accepting “I just can’t do that in HTML” or an endless litany of unqualified feedback as excuse for poor implementation of beautiful Photoshop mocks.

By chopping their own assets and checking in their own HTML/CSS design has reclaimed the implementation of their work, allowing it to make it to production intact.

Designers at many companies have become a go-between: technical enough to be respected by engineering and crucial enough to the marketing team to be included in every meeting and understand the why behind decisions on both sides.

New Paradigms Breed New Processes

While the original goal was to get design work out the door without interference, another fascinating change has taken place in the design and engineering relationship.

Engineers have developed a vocabulary that enables them to be part of the design conversation in a way that is welcome, and many engineers are actually crossing over into design as designers cross over to coding.

With processes like Scrum and Kanban requiring more cross-team coordination of projects, engineering is getting a chance to weigh in on design much earlier when their feedback can be considered and not tossed aside as an 11th hour insight.

Own Outcomes, Not Ideas

With the rise of distribution hacking I expect their will be similar trend with content producers in the marketing, sales, and customer service organizations campaigning to reclaim ownership of the content (via Wordpress and other CMS tools), conversion funnel (via Salesforce, Adwords, etc.), and many other aspects of the company’s website. There are already massive tools like Eloqua, Marketo and (my favorite) Pardot which strive to produce a suite of tools.

Distribution hackers, who often are a powerful mix of coder and marketer, will hold the keys to the castle because they can both check in code and sit in the weekly sales meeting. You’ll hear me say this over and over again: with great freedom comes great responsibility to deliver results.

It’s easy to forget that success isn’t about control, it’s about results.

Control is about making sure the design you submitted is picked above all the others, instead of picking the design that has the best impact on the conversion funnel.

Control is about making sure the product management tracking tool you prefer is used, instead of picking the tool that the most people on the team will engage with every day.

Control is about getting caught up on the process at the expense of the goal and there are thousands of ways to do it.

Its so easy to do by accident, so you have to be vigilant or you might find yourself wasting time spending time fighting over what tools to use instead of what results to measure and what goals are worth achieving.

My greatest fear in writing about tactics of distribution hacking is that this new movement will breed a culture of tools elitists who say things like, “I refuse to join any company that isn’t on Wordpress”… or Salesforce, or Trello, or Ruby on Rails for that matter.

Some of the best distribution hacking is the result of constraints, and some of the companies with distribution most worth hacking are old, staid, struggling to be modern. The distribution hacker can embrace this and make it work anyway. They are the kings of workarounds, and then when the results roll in they speak for themselves and can provide the leverage needed to make a big change (like having a content management system for example).

So Who Owns the Website?

No one.

Each functional group owns outcomes, and the website is a tool for achieving those goals. It is an important tool, but not the only one.

Any part of the company that thinks it can use the website as a tool to deliver results against the goals of the business should have access to it.

The role of the distribution hacker in this context is a conduit for communication across teams, coordinating and prioritizing goals to avoid a tragedy of the commons on the website. Not all business goals are created equal, and the distribution hacker is often able to see a broader view of the company and its needs than a lot of other roles. They are likely to have relationship and respect for engineering and sales, for marketing and HR, for business development and support.

Often these cross functional coordinator types have gone by the title of Product Manager in the past, and if you are a bigger company trying to attract the right kind of hire you might find that Product Manager or Product Marketing Manager are HR-approved titles that will get you the right kind of people.

Get Out of the Way

There are probably several people in your company right now who feel they deliver results despite your website. Find out who they are, what they want, and try to make it right. Distribution hacking isn’t always looking out at the world for answers from customers, data, and analyst reports or stats. Sometimes its about looking inward, assessing the speed bumps facing other people on the team, and getting out of the way. What’s the worst that could happen?

 
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