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How to Develop Success Criteria for Your Site

Running a website is can be a seemingly pointless and unfulfilling venture if you don’t take the proper steps to ensure advancement.

Today we’ll take a brutally honest look at how you should measure success and develop goals that actually lead to productivity.

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Great Ideas Pale in Comparison to Execution

Too many entrepreneurs lack even a basic knowledge of the fundamentals of business theory. While there is no recipe that guarantees success, there is a large body of research noting trends of successful businesses.

There are many businesses such as Twitter that explode seemingly overnight without even so much as a profit plan in place, but remember that these are the exceptions and are far from the norm. If you’re starting a website or online business, you can much more realistically expect to have to fight your way up with more than a good idea.

Measuring Success

One of the key ideas for advancement discussed in business schools all over the world is developing a clear image of where you want your business to go. Rather than launching your site and sitting back wondering how much traffic is enough, you should establish clear criteria to measure and evaluate your success (or lack thereof).

This exercise may seem like busy work, but it gives purpose and direction to the vague process of progressing your site forward after the initial launch. Until this point your goal was simply to survive until launch, to overcome the mountain of work, defy all odds and actually get your site live.

After this point, or better yet before this happens, you should have goals in place for what happens next.

Setting Goals

There is a vast amount of literature surrounding the process of settings goals. Let me add to this canon by stating that it’s not as complicated as many of these writers would have you to believe. You don’t need to read 800 pages of aphorisms to discover the keys to setting quality goals, instead, opt for a lot of common sense and a little experience.

Let’s take a look at a few things to keep in mind while setting goals for your site.

Challenging But Attainable

The most obvious observation here is that overly simple goals are pointless. You might get a temporary high for meeting them but it will ultimately lead you nowhere.

More insightful is the knowledge that goals too high in difficulty are equally useless. Setting yourself up for continual failure is not a trend that you want to jump on. Instead, think of some easily attainable goals and then raise the bar until they become difficult while remaining reachable.

This will help you avoid spinning your wheels and instead push you towards advancement. Just make sure that the goal is clear enough that you can easily decide whether or not it has been met. Goals like being “the best you can be” are just useless fluff to make you feel good, find something measurable instead.

Creating Time Tables

Another principle that most professional goal setters will point to 100% of the time is that goals should be time-bound. Setting a goal of 10,000 users per day is meaningless if the “when” part of the equation isn’t factored in.

Without setting a deadline, the curse of “someday” kicks in. You can spend years convincing yourself that you’re on track to meet your goals, but you’re ultimately just rationalizing failure.

Also be wary of setting goals too far in the future. Everyone will tell you that you need a five year plan, but as a small business you can’t reasonably predict where you’ll be in five years. In fact, there are solid arguments for resisting long-term goals altogether.

37Signals discusses this idea in their excellent book Rework. They discuss how being small is labeled a weakness but is in fact a strength. While huge corporations seek to carry out their restrictive and concrete long-term plans, small business can stay flexible in a rapidly changing business environment.

You should therefore opt instead for short-term goals that can have a measurable effect on your bottom line in the near future. And when something happens that makes you think your goals might not be as on target as they once were, change them! Don’t get stuck in a rut because of something you wrote on a whiteboard six months ago, take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Contingencies

Self-help books will drivel on about staying positive and not discussing failure, but this will only leave you unprepared in the event that you fail to meet a goal. Your goals should be structured like your JavaScript: “if x, then y, else z.” Set a plan of action for attaining your goals. If it works, pat yourself on the back and set new goals, if not change your strategy and/or your goal and try again.

Screw the Status Quo

If you run a website and/or small business, unsolicited advice will rain down on you without end. Everyone has an opinion or axiom to offer regarding how successful businesses are defined, but it’s all bull.

Here’s a secret: If you’re running a business, you get to decide what success means! Common knowledge tells you that you need so many users, so much revenue, etc. but that doesn’t have to be your goal at all.

Avoid measuring success in arbitrary criteria established by someone else. This is perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when establishing goals. Create goals that you actually have a desire to meet. Ask yourself what you want out of the site. Don’t feel like you have to try to be the next Facebook when what you really want is to build a small community of users that simply love your product.

As an example, take a look at Dribbble. They’ve built a site that doesn’t make sense to anyone but designers, opened it initially to very few people so they could tightly control the content, and even now very selectively issue invites.

As a result, they don’t spend their time clamoring for users. Instead, the half the design world is begging to be invited to the exclusive club.

The point is, blaze your own trail. If you want to start a site to make a billion bucks, go for it, and if you just want to build something free and fun that only a few people will ever use, that’s every bit as valid.

Stats

A big part of leaving the status quo behind is remembering that stats are just one measure of the success of a site. Strangely enough, you can have a million users, half of which are completely unsatisfied. There are enough websites out there shooting for quantity over quality. Consider joining the select few that actually care about what their users think and want.

If you don’t know what your user base wants, here’s a crazy idea: ask them. You can also simply observe their activity and spot trends. Twitter created a dead simple, barebones product that has evolved slowly over time. The company seems to have a knack for letting their users create new features. For instance, ReTweeting was something that the Twitter community came up with all on their own as a way to maintain integrity while sharing content. Twitter noticed its popularity and has now built an official RT system to facilitate an existing trend.

If your users love the site enough, they’ll stick around long-term and become volunteer evangelists for your product. As Apple can attest to, there’s no better advertising than a community of people that love your product so much that they constantly want to tell others about it.

How Do You Measure Success?

Leave a comment below and let us know what you think of the arguments above. Tell us about your sites, how you establish goals and how you decide the criteria for success.