When I was in Stockholm, I visited a very cool museum dedicated to the Vasa ship, a huge Swedish warship launched in the 1620s. The ship was on display for all to see, with lots of explanations about the way it was built, what life was like back then, and many other interesting facts. But this is not your standard museum of history. Because the story of the Vasa has huge implications on the way we operate in business today, even the way we launch websites.

You see, the Vasa had a rather short life. It was launched to great fanfare with a beautiful ceremony and sank 20 minutes later. Yeah, that was no typo.

So, the question is, how could this colossal failure have happened?

There was an investigation that followed, but no one was ever punished. You can read the whole story from the Wikipedia link above, but I have my own theory on why no one was punished. The king knew that it was his fault.

Sweden was in the midst of a brutal war and they were doing anything they could to get the Vasa and other warships built and launched as rapidly as possible. The Vasa had a different design that hadn't been tested and when it was run through some stabilization tests before launch, the results weren't very good, but they were ignored because the king was adamant that the ship be sent into battle NOW.

Instead, it went to the bottom of the Stockholm harbor as rapidly as possible.

So, what are the lessons of the Vasa ship when it comes to our websites (or any digital marketing)?

  • It is OK to experiment, but keep them small. Don't "take a shot" with a complete web redesign without testing.
  • You need a culture that listens when people say "stop." If people are afraid to call a showstopper or those calls are ignored by executives, disasters might occur.
  • Don't bet your results on a big change. Instead of a "Hail Mary" pass to save your business results, you are better off doing dozens of small changes that can each be individually undone, rather than one sweeping change from which there is no retreat.

If your idea of improving your website is to wait for the next redesign, you might find that your site sinks into the harbor. Instead, aim for small improvements each day that are low-risk and easy to undo. That's how you Do It Wrong Quickly. Otherwise, you are just doing it wrong.

Originally posted on Biznology.

May 15, 2014

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


This is interesting.

You're suggesting incremental changes to a website might be better than a complete overhaul. If you are the type of company that makes regular changes and updates to your site, this makes total sense. Basically we make a change, using metrics determine the success. Then we move forward as the results relay.

However, many companies let their site languish for very long periods of time. In some cases years. In this case, your site will need a complete 'do over' to bring the site up to current technology, standards, and strategies. Remember, we are not really reinventing the wheel here. There are many, many fundamentals to building an effective website. I'm not suggesting radical changes with untested technology, but a complete redo with better and proven strategies.

Hi Annie,

I am actually suggesting it for any website. I guess it is possible that you could show me a site so awful that a complete overall would have to be better. But I have had too many clients call me in a panic after a full redesign where their sales dropped precipitously. We're really quick to redesign and then let the site languish again for three more years. Small changes let you test what works and then keep going in the right direction.

These are some great points.

Making incremental changes in layers is key for ongoing website success. I have to say that some sites need to be overhauled, especially in the case where they make zero leads or there is some sort of outdated/proprietary CMS.

That being said the small changes followed by A/B testing is a great way of doing things. It's unfortunate to see that so few people take this approach. Yes, some things will fail, but, you should expect it of some ideas. Its the only way to get to the great ideas.

Great article Mike.

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