4 Oct, 2019

Oates’ Website Hierarchy of Needs

Hopefully, you’ll be well aware of the concept’s presented in Abraham Maslow’s paper ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’; particularly his ideas on the ‘Hierarchy of Needs’.
Maslow theorises that human motivation can be summed up in 5 states and that, unless you achieve the lower states you cannot progress to the top states; without getting the foundations right there’s no point pursuing the top element of ‘Self-actualisation’.

Now, don’t worry, this blog isn’t going to be a sociology lecture but I want to take this idea and interpolate into a digital world and a website’s success (or failure).

So, lets first start with 5 states or elements I believe, broadly, make up a website;

  1. Conversion rate optimisation – working with a site to continually test, change, upgrade & improve performance based on real world feedback and key metrics
  2. Digital marketing – be it SEO, email, social or PPC, it’s all about getting people to your site
  3. Design & creative – user journey, brand interpretation, UX features and responsiveness
  4. Function & coding – how it works, how quick it loads, is it cross-browser compatible
  5. Hosting, security and foundations – is it reliable?, is it secure?, are core goals outlined from the beginning?

All too often, many agencies creds and presentations focus on points 1, 2 & 3. Which is all well and good until you start thinking of the bottom up hierarchy. Glossing over points 4 & 5 might seem like it should just be part of the project no questions asked, but it’s often not. Enterprise level sites built on bespoke proprietary CMSs hosted on a £4.99 a year server in Timbuktu are a car crash waiting to happen.

But why? To explain my thinking on this, lets run top to bottom to see why it won’t work.

  1. You want to start on CRO, you open up analytics to find out in the past quarter you received 12 visitors… you can’t analyse a journey, there’s not enough traffic to A/B test and if Hotjar has captured a journey there’s not enough date to hang your hat on…
  2. So, we need to look at digital marketing to get those visitors in. But your site’s not responsive, the text is the same colour as the background, your navigation is the thing of nightmares and none of the site matches the brand you’re pushing offline. Result? Low quality score and user metrics (resulting in higher cost PPC and poor ability to SEO), no trust in the site and we cant find anything of use (so all your paid for visitors just leave straight away).
  3. Time to go back to the drawing board on design and creativity. Sort out that UX, make it responsive, get the brand up to date. We’re on a flyer now! No wait… it takes 10 seconds to load the homepage as the code’s not optimised, the nav doesn’t work (and never has) in Internet Explorer (I know, I know it’s IE, but still), if I click on any link I get a weird error. Off again go your visitors, your trust, your ROI and ultimately your investment.
  4. Finally… we’ve built it right. It’s scoring 95+ on PageSpeed, slick as a dream, the UI is so intuitive it knows what I want before I even do, it works in NetScape and there are zero bugs. We’ve done it! Oh wait… we didn’t run it over SSL (so Chrome’s putting a big ‘Not Secure’ message to every visitor), its uptime is around 60% (and it’s never up during the day) and because we didn’t look at the security its now being hacked and directing all my traffic to a betting company in China.
Yes, there’s an argument that you could run the same process in the opposite route – but I hope the my argument has come across clear enough. A site can make money with just points 3, 4  & 5 (it might not be a lot, but it will work). You can’t sell online with just points 1 & 2 as you have nowhere to send them.

But am I saying points 4 & 5 are more important than the rest? In short, no. They’re all as equally important as each other – but you can’t skip one, they have to all be thought about in equal measure and in the right order as any one step wrong could bugger up the success of your project. Don’t dismiss the hosting and function as just a fall out of doing a project and they should work as standard, you need to dig… Where do you host? What’s the testing process? How do you manage releases and security? Then dig on design & creative just as much and all the way up to CRO.

Every agency worth their salt should be able to advise on the whole hierarchy and not just gloss over to the more often celebrated bits in the hope of wowing you with % uplifts and ROIs. By God they’re important, but if your site hosting is down 50% I can guarantee what your ROI will be.