10 Reasons Portals Fail

A lot of portals (and other websites) fail to live up to their full potential. Some completely fail to survive after the initial loss of focus that happens when the project ends and the site or portal goes live. At Base22, we focus on making portals that are alive and successful long after their first birthday. That means thinking not just about what works – but also what doesn’t and why. Here are ten reasons portals fail.

Obviously, it starts with bad content:

1. Not Telling the Full Story / Missing Context

Often, people know how to tell the story, provide context, and are brilliant at explaining it face to face, but are afraid that people will not read it or appreciate it if it is not overly designed as an infographic or sexy, multipart tool with hover overs and colored squares.

Cure: Tell the story in words first. Graphics should be used as a retelling, never the primary tool.

2. Alphabet Soup / Hyper Branding

The feeling that we need to name our initiative to differentiate it from the previous failed branded system. In the end, nothing is called what it really is. It’s no longer “Paycheck” – its “AlphaAdvantagePlus 2.0”

Cure: Call it what it is, not what it’s called. The backend system or program name is just part of the story.

3. Email Reliance / Context Hoarding

Most communication goes out in email or in meetings. When the thought to post something online occurs, the context does not go with it. An email will be sent out telling people about a program, what is it, what will it do, who is involved, next steps and an attached poster you can put up. But all that gets put online is the poster – with no context.

Cure: Post the full context online first then email a summary with a link to the living source of truth.

4. File Dumping and Link Farming

Large collections of files or links to the system are added with no context and no information about who, what, when, why, or how. All you tell people is where a system is or file is. It’s as useful as a library without the card catalog.

Cure: Each file and every link needs its own page of context – it is going to be online for 5-15 years. It needs complete context or it doesn’t belong in the portal.

5. Redundancy / Fragmentation / Siloing

Each team builds its own lists of useful tools. Some have context, others do not. Some get abandoned and none are the official source of truth. The end result is that a search for a common tool results in 100s of identical but all sub par pages. An inability to work together on a single source of reusable truth.

Cure: Ensure that the organization commits to the single source of truth methodology.

6. Curse of Expertise

The people most qualified are the least able to explain it to new people. They assume everyone has the same background knowledge. Even people who do training well in person, feel the need to show expertise by using jargon when the audience might include their peers.

Cure: Get the newest person on the team to create or update pages and have experts review them. You teach best what you most need to learn.

7. Fear of Specificity

Without a clear audience, people are afraid of saying anything relevant or useful and fall back on phrases like “talk to your manager”.

Cure: Even without complex personalization, you can address different audiences just using sections of the page.

8. Social Anxiety / Contributor Collapse

Fear of turning on comments or letting anyone who is not an expert add content to the page or even make small corrections.

Cure: Get over it. Your content NEEDS a community to feel like they own it. Tap into the energy and enthusiasm of your audience and reward their contributions (but still check them for accuracy). A thorough workflow can help here.

9. Content and Site Abandonment

People get the (accurate) feeling that the portal is overwhelmingly out of date because of many of the above factors, as well as the fact that people change jobs. Since there is no community of people who are even allowed to feel ownership of the page and communication about change is sent through email and not first on the web this feelings are amplified and intensified.

Cure: Content two-step – every time you want to communicate on a topic via email, clean up the portal and add your message there THEN send the email.

10. Lack of shared vision

It is not enough that vision exists with leadership or the primary stakeholders. It has to be internalized by everyone involved. Authors and even users must hold each other accountable to a vision. A vision of quality, consistency, and value. A portal can tolerate a certain amount of trash as long as the spotlight is kept on high-quality items and 90% of the experience is good. If bad, duplicate, and out of date information becomes the rule rather than the exception everyone stops trying. The portal has then effectively become a dump rather than a museum or library.

Cure: Ensure good examples are promoted, and work to maintain high quality.

If you want to learn more about our rules for websites and portals, get in touch with us here. We would love the chance to improve you user, customer, or employee experience.

475 316 Ben Shoemate
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