The Perfection Trap: Why Most Website Projects Get Bogged Down and Fail to Deliver

You can't get wet from the word water

It's a dichotomy. Every organization wants to protect their brand image by having a great website, but staying on the drawing board until their objet d'art is perfect both loses an opportunity and costs a lot of money.

The purpose of a website for a small company is to generate leads, and the sooner search engines see your content, the sooner they can send traffic to it. No traffic, no leads. That's why every moment you delay making your content public is costing you money. You must find a way to publish your website, yet limit any brand image damage you think you might experience by arriving on the Internet half-baked, as it were. In reality, it is likely that almost no one visits your website as things currently stand, which gives you time to take advantage of the 80-20 rule.

The 80-20 Rule

You can deliver 80% of what you need on your website in 20% of the time. So, instead of aiming for perfection and taking ten months to publish it, you can get 80% of the way there in less than two months. In fact, you may get 95% of the way in 5% of the time.

That's not to say your website will look like it's missing 20% (or 5%) of what it needs. It just means after the first iteration, it might look a bit incomplete here and there, but following a second 80% sweep, it will be much closer to looking perfect and behaving perfectly, and it will take a fraction of the time to get to that point than if you insist the first iteration reaches for perfection.

The Perfection Trap

It's natural to want your target market to see only a picture perfect website, complete with all spelling mistakes corrected, links fixed, fonts all consistent and everything working perfectly. The problem is, it's hard to visualize exactly what you want if you can't see it working first. Once you see it working, rough as it might be, it's much easier to decide what you want to keep and what you want to throw away. And search engines don't know what's on your website unless they can see it.

So, you have a choice:

  1. Choose from a selection of existing website templates where you can examine each in a test website environment. You pick the one you like, and don't mess with it after that. Publish your website quickly.
  2. Choose a template that is close to what you need, using it as a basis for further adjustments. Publish your website quickly, and make your design adjustments later. For every adjustment, you do it roughly first, then refine it when you know you want to keep the change.

The Perfection Trap is when a website owner waits until their site is perfect — or a section of the site is perfect — before publishing it. Instead of publishing the 80% within a month or two, and attacking 80% of the remaining 20% over another month or two, they strive for an almost perfect website that takes forever.

Waiting is expensive

Putting it another way, you can let your early website visitors see some of your early imperfections, or you can leave your visitors wondering if you can ever show them a website. The longer you wait before publishing, the more likely the project will fail. You have to peddle before you can steer.

As your development team, designers, and management team all strive to make the unpublished website perfect, the return on effort falls off sharply. In the first half dozen weeks, you will likely get 80% of the way to your destination, but progress drops off because you're making refinements in a vacuum. For that reason, a lot of what you do will be re-done.

It's much better to get the 80% published, and come after what's left incrementally. You'll be visible to search engines early, and you'll learn a lot about how your new web presence is being perceived by the outside world.

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