The night is burned into my memory.
It was March 1999, Sunday night around 9:30pm. The web development team at Lawrence & Schiller was ready to launch the new version of KELOLAND.com. This was the first time L&S had designed and programmed a site for the market-leading, CBS-affiliate TV station in Sioux Falls, SD. Months of pitching, planning and programming led to this moment.
Brad, our lead programmer, popped his head into my office to proudly announce, “It’s live!”. As we cheered, I glanced out my window into the dark parking lot. “Hey, look at that,” I said. “It’s snowing.”
And that’s when it hit the fan.
KELO-TV has been dominating the ratings since the day it became the first station to broadcast in South Dakota. It still crushes the competition. But in 1999, websites didn’t have much of a track record. We didn’t realize how many people not only watched the weather on TV but also online. Loading and reloading the radar map at the first hint, or flake, of bad weather.
The hours that followed were a white-knuckle drive through new territory for us, a place where exploding visitor demand far exceeded the thin thread of available bandwidth. We jumped from one point-of-weakness to another. As soon as one problem was fixed, another surfaced. It was “wash, rinse, repeat” until the server was stable and traffic was flowing smoothly.
The memory of that night came rushing back a few days ago as the Lawrence & Schiller Digital team launched the latest version of KELOLAND.com. Made me smile to watch more than 1,500 concurrent users click through 60+ MB/sec of bandwidth (more than 20 times our total network capacity back in 1999). Made me realize how technology has changed and how much our digital knowledge has grown. Made me think about the digital development lessons we’ve learned during our time working with KELOLAND TV.
Five Digital Development Lessons
1. Give your audience what it wants.
Thanks to analytic platforms, we can see the sections of a site that attract the most visitors, spark the greatest engagement and lead to the highest conversion rates. Armed with this information, you can either try redirecting visitors to the areas you think are important or you can make it really easy for visitors to find and use what they want.
Years ago, we identified what drives visitors in droves to KELOLAND.com. From that day forward, every update has been focused on giving KELO’s visitors more of what they want. The station’s digital audience continues to trend up and to the right. Do the same for your customers and your key performance indicators will also climb.
2. Brand reputation matters.
Google, YouTube, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterst have ruined realistic expectations. Each one seemingly jumped from obscurity to a gazillion users in a month.
Unfortunately, that’s not the world in which you and I live. For us, a strong off-line brand reputation is usually a requirement for online success. The size of your virtual presence will almost always mirror your company’s physical footprint. KELOLAND.com was big from day one because KELOLAND TV already had a dominant market share. Big names have a big advantage.
3. Get really good at finding, and fixing, problems.
It isn’t a question of “if” you’ll have problems but “when” will they happen. And “how” do you respond to them. Be ready to triage problems. Designate problem solvers. Don’t point fingers at other partners or providers. Lead the charge. Be fast. Find the problem, fix it and figure out how to prevent it from ever happening again. Clients, and online visitors, are more forgiving when problems are short lived.
4. Plan for Easter Sunday.
Church leaders joke about “ChrEasters” — the people who only attend services on Christmas and Easter. ChrEasters may make a sanctuary uncomfortable crowded but churches can’t afford bigger builders to accommodate people who only put something in the offering plate twice a year.
KELOLAND.com has shown us the opposite is true online. You don’t know how big your digital audience can become until your platform is robust enough to handle sudden spikes in traffic. Every time we’ve added bandwidth or made code more efficient or offered access on new devices, KELO’s traffic has jumped up in response. Huge traffic isn’t a given. You have to go earn it. But never let a bottleneck, anywhere in your digital environment, chock off growth.
5. Embrace agile development.
KELOLAND TV is a great client because the team there is always looking for ways to innovate and grow. They refuse to sit back and enjoy their success.
As a result, each new year brings a new list of updates, improvements and fixes. Many go live in a series of small releases. Month by month, KELOLAND.com changes – giving visitors a better experience and our development team a clearer vision of what works well and what doesn’t, which leads to what could or should be initiated next. We build on successes and learn from failures. It’s the ideal method to launch and grow your digital properties.
It’s been nearly 14 years since our first bumpy launch of KELOLAND.com. The world has changed dramatically in the years that followed but the lessons we started learning that snowy night continue to make sense today.