We're very excited to kick-off our new podcast called On the Air with Palantir, and welcome you to listen to our first episode with Andy Gradel and Christine Fagan from Main Line Health System (new site not yet launched).
In this episode, our resident podcast veteran Allison Manley discusses the project, the importance of analytics data and developing a sound strategy, user-tested decisions, design, platform challenges, and much more with our stellar client stakeholders.
Look for this interview-style format monthly on the second Thursday of the month, with accompanying short form installments that provide tips, resources, and other quick information via our Secret Sauce podcast every Tuesday.
Allison Manley [AM]: Welcome to On the Air with Palantir, a podcast from Palantir.net where we go in-depth on topics related to web design and development. This is our premier episode of this podcast. It’s a new thing we’re doing for 2016, so thank you for joining us as we grow this podcast over time. I’m Allison Manley, an account manager here at Palantir, and today my guests are Andy Gradel and Christine Fagan from Main Line Health, which is a health care system based just outside of Philadelphia. They’re going to share with us their recent experience from redoing the website for Main Line Health, from soup to nuts. It’s quite a large project that is still underway, with a launch date expected later this spring. So let’s get on with the interview!
AM: I’m here with Andy Gradel, the director of digital marketing, and Christine Fagan, who is the web content manager. How are you guys doing today?
Christine Fagan [CF]: Great, thank you.
Andy Gradel [AG]: So far, so good. Thanks for having us.
AM: Well, thank you, guys, for agreeing to be the guinea pig for our first episode of our podcast! We’re really excited about this. We’ve loved working with you on this project, and we wanted to get your input about the recent project for Main Line Health. You contracted Palantir to do Phase 1, which was the Discovery, Strategy, and Design portion of the new mainlinehealth.org, while development would be Phase 2 and would follow at a later time and with a separate budget altogether. So, Andy, would you be able to provide us with a quick overview of the project?
AG: So here we are and we’re basically at the halfway point in the project, where we just wrapped up Phase 1 which was design and research. It’s a great project because here we have an organization whose website launched – I believe it went live in the late 90s or maybe 2001. It went through an initial redesign a couple of years ago when the organization rebranded – but it was all on the surface. The organization’s website really has grown organically over the years, and it’s a reflection of the organizational structure as opposed to how people actually look for health care and clinical content. And it’s a very complicated structure. The whole website has grown into this hospital-by-hospital siloed architecture that is requiring people to go, before they find what service they’re looking for – we’re kind of asking them to pre-select a location. And that would be great if each of our locations offered the same services, but they don’t. So it’s just a Pandora’s box of content that this project is going to unravel. And there’s so many benefits. We’ve got the content structure, we’ve got the mobile traffic which has totally increased over the last couple of years, so there’s the need to offer them something that’s a little more friendly to their screen size and the platforms they’re viewing on.
CF: And obviously the website is like a bit of a garden that’s grown out of control. So it needs to be brought back in and to cut down the weeds. And we are making it very difficult for patients and visitors to easily understand how to navigate our system. So that’s one of the biggest challenges that we’ve had with design, and also just letting people know who Main Line Health is – when we talk about the content and what we offer and what we want our personality to be.
AG: The analogy I use is, we’re really good at sodding but we’re really bad at watering [laughs]. We have 15,000-ish pages of content out there, and we’ve been adding, adding, adding, but it takes real discipline and structure to be able to go and water that grass, and to make sure you’re pulling it back when you really should be.
AM: I wanted to mention one thing Christine said, real quick. You said you wanted to let people know what Main Line Health is. So why don’t you actually tell us, what is Main Line Health? Because I know there’s a couple of answers to that question.
CF: We are a health system, and we are made up of hospitals and offices and building locations and that sort of thing. But at least for the content piece, knowing all these services that are close to your home and that you don’t have to travel downtown to get – from the content perspective, we want people to know that we are friendly, easy to work with, easy to navigate. And that’s something that our website really wasn’t showing potential patients.
AG: And that’s really the guiding light, I guess, for this project. We’re in an insanely competitive health market. In Philadelphia, within 15, 20 miles of where we’re located – we’re in the western suburbs – you have 13 scary big health systems. And that’s not individual offices. In our market we have some of the biggest academic medical centers in the country, we have tons of strong community health systems, all competing for the same pie. And Philly is one of the least consolidated health care markets in the country. It may or may not happen - we’ve seen some consolidations start to occur over the last couple of months – but until it does, it’s probably one of the most competitive health care markets. And if we want to survive, if we want to be here five, 10, 20 years down the road, we really have to become the easiest health care system to deal with. So if people are going to choose us over some of the large academic medical centers – we can offer the same level of care, but there’s that perception that going to an AMC is a different level of care. So we have to make sure that we can position ourselves as, we can offer quality care and we can get you in the door in three clicks, maybe four clicks. Because on the high end we have the AMCs, and then on the other side of the business we have the minute clinics and the CVSs, the Walgreens, the Wal-Marts, all these other retail-focused providers entering the market. So we have to figure out our space in the middle, and that’s really what this website project’s all about. How can we get people to what they need quickly and easily?
AM: Those are some great goals, obviously - get everyone there quickly and easily, three clicks or less. What were the obstacles to get there? You’ve got a variety of audiences. You’ve got patients and caregivers first and foremost, but you also have doctors. You have media who are looking for experts, because the best way to get the name out there is for the media to contact you instead of some of those academic medical experts for various things. And you have the general public because you do offer a fair amount of classes – if someone wants to learn how to install a car seat, for example. If they’re a new mom, you want them to take a class at Main Line Health. So what were some of the obstacles you faced in getting all of that information consolidated in an easy way?
AG: Well, there’s really two buckets there. We have the internal audience and the external audience. And in some ways the external audience is really the easier one to understand, because we have the data. We can let the data lead us to where we need to go. The vast majority of our visitors are patients, and the patients are driving our business, so that was easy to craft the navigation and the major home page calls to action around what really makes up at least 70% of our traffic. And then from there, the challenge is how do you focus on that 70% and still allow for the remaining 30% of your traffic – your job seekers, your researchers, your health care professionals. How do you still give them access to that content? And knock on wood, but we think we have a good UX planned and we’ll be set with that.
I think the tougher sell in some ways was the internal audience. Because here you had 15 years of history with this website that was very hospital-centric. And even though we’re all part of the same health system, each hospital had their own beds to fill. So we were going out to the internal stakeholders and trying to sell them on this concept of, if we make it easier for people to find what they need on our website, everyone will do well. And it’s not about promoting Hospital A over Hospital B, it’s about getting the user to what they need, and then allowing them to determine which hospital is right for them. That’s really the big challenge, because no amount of data can overcome your internal biases or some of that history or the power struggles. And we’ve been very lucky up to this point. We went around with everyone from Palantir and spoke to about 125 stakeholders over a couple of days, really giving the same presentation over and over [laughs]. We got very good at it by the end, really selling this concept. And here we are about eight to nine months into this project, and everyone’s bought into this. The question is, during our preview period in a couple of months, when we allow everyone internally to play with the new website for a couple of weeks, will we be able to keep that momentum going and will everyone be happy with the end result?
CF: And I would add that Palantir’s work on the strategy and design piece is very helpful in getting people to buy into the concept. It’s very difficult to get people on board – we’re taking a system approach, and that approach to content with a really solid strategy and design. It just reinforces what you’re trying to tell them, and they’ll buy into it and believe that you’re really going to deliver a product, and that’s good. And I think people overall are just visual people regardless.
AM: So speaking to that, you mentioned the analytics earlier and trying to get buy-in internally. I think the analytics are key in getting that to happen. There were some really fantastic data and metrics that really proved to the internal stakeholders that this is how users are looking for items on the website, and this is where they’re getting stuck or lost, and this is how they’re circumventing the system, if you will. And I thought one of the most interesting ones on my end was the difference between organic search vs. paid search. As you’ve mentioned to me before, Andy, there were certain areas in the marketplace where you know you’re not going to be on page one of Google, just because of a number of factors. So you wanted to be more strategic about how you spent that money internally. Can you speak to that a little bit?
AG: I love, by the way, that you will call our stats that really aren’t up to snuff ‘fantastic analytics’ [laughs]. But it’s good to have that starting point, and you know what you’re shooting for. We’ve got a decade of analytics to work from, and just looking through those key metrics, one of the ones for me was that 59% of our traffic is organic. Along my career path, I’ve been lucky to be in a couple of hospitals, so that’s insight into their data. And the last two hospitals I’ve been at, more than 70% of their traffic was organic. So right there, boom, that’s an easy win for us. But then there’s other things, like bounce rate – 60% coming to our site and then just leaving after one page. That just boggles my mind. We’ve got 2.5 million unique visitors a year, which is this insane number. I remember the first hospital website I was working on in the early 2000s, and we had about 4000 visitors a month. And now we’re talking 2.5 million unique visitors. The organization’s been really lucky in that we have this built-in audience so we’ve been able to overcome some of these poor metrics. But at the same time, you look at them and go wow, if we can just improve that bounce rate by 10% or 5%, the gains we’re going to be able to show – it’s just off the charts, it really is. And that’s the great part about the external audience, having all of that data to really drive the project.
CF: Another thing that’s really important is Andy has been very focused at looking at organic searches as the main driver of traffic to the website, and capitalizing on opportunities. In the past, we hadn’t really used keyword search and those things to guide the content. We had marketing people developing marketing brochures, and everyone wanted to go live. It’s been a journey to get people to understand the message that we actually have information about what people are looking for, and we can show them that to get further buy-in on the content and how it’s being written. And it makes us develop content in a much smarter way, to try to capitalize on those opportunities.
AG: And that really does put an internal web team like us in a great position, especially if it’s an organization like ours that is so traditionally marketing-focused. We have a decent marketing budget, but the vast majority still goes towards traditional media: newspaper, radio, TV, outdoor, all that stuff. And this is true for many health care systems. Most are spending less than 10% of their marketing budgets on digital media at this point, and that includes search marketing. So the digital team’s just been picking up the scraps. But the awesome thing is, of everything that everyone is doing, we’re one of the few mediums that actually has stats. So we can track this stuff, and that’s what we’re really excited about with the next iteration of the website – just creating more opportunity for us to track these things, through Google Analytics, and click-to-call on the mobile side, that’s a great thing. 39% of our traffic right now is coming from mobile sites, so that means almost four out of 10 people can just click a phone number right on a page.
For years we’ve talked about how people would use our website as a showcasing process, where they would go, they would spend a couple of minutes finding a doctor, and then they’d pick up the phone and call. And we’re praying that the person in the call center says, oh, how did you hear about us today? And the person on the phone says, oh, I was on your website. That’s a real leap of faith. But in a couple of months, once we go live with the new responsive site, I’m looking forward to having actual data saying that more people are clicking-to-call from physician profiles and specialty pages, or this blog post drove that many calls, and things like that. And not to speak disparagingly of traditional media, but I just think digital makes the pie bigger – it doesn’t need to take from everyone else necessarily. But the great thing is that everything else we’re doing out there is still going to drive people to one central phone number, for branding purposes. And we'll be in the position to track each and every interaction, which is awesome.
AM: One of my favorite statistics, and I think this is because of the way Andy frames it, is that of the top 20 pages visited on the Main Line Health site, 52% of traffic goes to just those 20 pages. However, the entire Main Line Health site is 15,000 pages. So more than half of your traffic is only going to 20 pages out of 15,000.
AG: We’ve joked about how we could actually remove half of the website one morning, and no one would notice for a month. It’s funny, it’s sad, but how many organizations out there are like that? My last two hospitals, each of those sites, they were 15,000 or 20,000 pages. But that’s the problem. Everyone wants content on the website. And the biggest challenge after launch – and God bless you, Christine, because this is going to be rough – we’re going to have to tell people “no”. We’re going to have to be the gatekeepers of that content. And as much as we like to sod, we have to be sure that people aren’t just laying grass needlessly.
CF: And I think that especially in health care organizations, a lot of people find that they have a lot of duplicate content, which is our biggest problem. Like we mentioned, we have four hospitals, so we had four sets of content that may or may not be exactly the same, and then one more system-level page. So even just breaking down the duplicate-level content on the site helps to weed that and to improve your SEO. That was something we really needed to get the organization to focus on and to drill into. I’m sure other people have that struggle as well.
AM: I think it’s a constant struggle. With all of our clients, one of the first questions out of their mouths is, I’ve got all this content, how do I deal with it? Because, frankly, we can design fantastic architecture, a back end, a front end, visual look, but the reason people go to your website is because of the content. So it’s a challenge for any client – how best to write it, how best to surface it, repurpose it, make it work for your organization, but also to know when to delete it so that it’s not diluting all the other content that you’re trying to surface on purpose. It takes a lot of restraint and organization to know how to use your content.
So you do have a very solid but small content team here at Main Line Health. Can you talk a little bit about how you’re dealing with the content, how you’re making the choices to archive or delete things that aren’t working, how you’re approaching writing new content, and what your new governance looks like?
CF: Well, as far as adding or deleting content, one of the telling things about our website is just looking at all the content in a content worksheet that literally has the last updated date. And we have pages that haven’t been updated in 10 years. So if nobody cares for this and nobody cares about it, and if we look at the analytics and nobody’s visiting it, those are pretty easy choices, so you delete those. From there, getting rid of the duplicate content was a very big thing. When you have content replicated five times, you can cut out the other four and keep the good one. We’re looking at, what’s the traffic like there? Is it duplicated? Has it been updated? And is this important to the organization?
As far as content development, and how we’re deciding what to keep or rewrite or start fresh on, we’ve developed a process. One of the most important things, and that I would recommend to anyone, especially in health care, is to go to one source of truth to get your answer. With four hospitals, people at each are interested in their piece of the pie, but if you can call upon one person who can tell you the whole story, it cuts down on the whole amount of weigh-in just having one person to go to rather than five. So what we’ve tried to do here in in the health-care space is use system chiefs or chairs of departments, because we’re absent real system-level marketing people who can answer these questions for us. We’ve gone out to them saying, this is what we think the story is, can you verify that these are all the offerings at Main Line Health, is this how a patient should navigate the system for your service-line area, these are all the things we think are important. From a clinical perspective, we’re researching treatments and conditions, and we’re using SEO to develop that content, and we’re sharing that research with them. It makes the conversation much easier when you can go in with a spreadsheet and show actual numbers, and say, this is what we think we should write about, rather than sitting down and saying, hey, what should we write about for your service line today? That’s another tip that I would recommend.
And then we’re going out to the marketing people to get them to buy into this whole process, to say, can you tell us what you thinks the benefits and features are from a system level? And that’s how we’re using what they know, their knowledge, to incorporate it into the content. We’re covering the clinical and the marketing people in that way, using solid research. We’re looking at analytics, Google keywords. And the most important thing will be, once the site launches, on the other side, to really track those things, to show there’s improvement – time on page decreasing, bounce rate, those sorts of things. We’ve been very lucky, but we are a small team. We have one web writer and then one other web production person. So it’s been challenging, but it can be done with a small team.
AG: It’s definitely tough too from a health-care perspective. There’s almost no other vertical, if you think about it. Amazon has millions of products that they have to write descriptions for and keep track of, but for the most part their products don’t talk and think and have opinions. Our entire product line is doctors. And that’s the tough part. We’re coming up with this product strategy and we’re trying to get this whole work flow in place, and at the end of the day your products all have an opinion about how they’re marketed. That is the challenge, setting those clear boundaries as to who’s making those decisions. Because that can easily derail a project like this. All of a sudden, everyone in the organization’s a webmaster. Having those defined boundaries and processes in place really keeps one doctor or one person from calling up and asking for something that is just totally off the rails. And we’re going to be in a great place where we’re going to be able to say no. And it’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to make us the most popular people in class, but then as long we have these set processes and an approach, the stats are going to follow.
AM: And then in addition to the analytics and all the additional stats that we looked at, that you’ve been collecting for 10 years at this point, we also did three rounds of usability testing throughout the process, to back up the decisions that were made during the design process – the foundation of which were those initial Google Analytics. We knew that people were getting lost in certain areas – they were having trouble making an appointment, for example, because they really abandoned the appointment form in your Google Analytics.
AG: We did have nearly a 30% success rate there, but yes, that was a nearly 70% failure rate [laughs]. But if we even get an extra 5% of people to complete that form, those little wins are going to mean so much.
AM: They really add up. And that was one of the sticking points – how do we get people to make an appointment? How do we get them to finish the form? So we did do three rounds of usability testing, one of which was on the information architecture, to make sure that we had made the paths easy. And prior to that we had actually done an email survey to your 30,000 subscribers, from your current email list, to get their feedback on your current site. What they liked about it, what they didn’t like about it. And then the last test was a test of the actual prototype and the designs, to make sure that people could find information now that it was put into a visual placeholder. So how critical for you was the usability testing that was done, to get those touchpoints along the way and back up the data?
AG: I think it was great. Plus we also did the in-person focus group. If there’s anyone listening who hasn’t tried that yet, it’s definitely not easy to get a bunch of people together in one room, and it might be out of the comfort zone a little bit – because as computer people we’re used to staring at screens and not actually talking to people. But getting 10, 15, 20 of your users in a room, all staring at the same thing on a screen – it really opened up my eyes when they were looking at our current home page and we said, where would you go to find an appointment. For anyone listening who hasn’t seen our site, the ‘find an appointment’ is in the right column in a big blue button on the home page. It’s probably the second biggest thing next to the hero image. So we have 15 people in a room, we’re asking them, what would you click. Not one person saw the big blue button. It was the hardest thing not to just jump out of my seat and point at it on the screen [laughs]. But it really starts to open your eyes as to your design that you’re living with every single day – you know where everything is, but these other people who interact with you one or two times a year, it’s a different world for them. The old adage that people are reading screens in Fs hold true. Our primary calls to action are currently in the right column, which is the place where no one is looking. That’s the kind of stuff you just don’t know until you get people in a room. But also, the other great thing is the other testing, the click tests and the sorting tests. And we were talking about the internal politics – a lot of this kind of reaffirmed things we already knew, but without that data you’re not winning those battles. And when you start to say to people, we’re going from 12 primary navigation items to four, without that data you’re probably either looking for a new job or you’re going back to 12 navigation items.
CF: The great thing about the in-person focus group is that you get a lot more context than you would if you were just seeing the results. It’s much more interesting in person to see someone get frustrated or aggravated because they really can’t find something. To be able to see that in person really just brings it more to life, about what the actual experience is like for the person on the website.
AM: There were a couple of people who would say ‘why is that there? What is the purpose of that?’
AG: And then the uncomfortable silence that followed.
AM: And we’d say ‘I don’t really know the answer to that’ [laughs]. At the start of this project you were choosing between having the site built on Sitecore or Drupal. Ultimately, Sitecore was chosen, but why were those options the most appealing for Main Line Health’s needs, right from the beginning?
AG: Adobe was in the mix as well. Really, we were looking at the three top-rated CMS’s according to Gartner. Early on we ended up narrowing it down to Sitecore and Drupal, and each has pros and cons. Personally I’m a big fan of Drupal, and I love it because there’s an insane amount of flexibility. And I really think for a small team like ours, in an organization that is budgeting that amount of money for this project – health care isn’t spending seven figures every single year on web redesigns and development. And the way that this goes a lot of times is that an organization will put a lot of money into a project like this, and then in the next couple of years, you’re fighting for scraps to develop. So that’s where I looked at something like Drupal and said, you know what, this is where the money to make it happen – we can spend the money once and do it right, and then if the money’s still there in year 2, 3, 4, we’re in awesome shape. If it’s not there, we then still have the flexibility to use the module contributions from the community to continue moving the site forward. I think it’s a great strategy especially for any hospital out there where development money could be an issue later on down the road.
Our brethren in IT were leaning more toward the Sitecore option. Obviously if you’re immersed in an IT Microsoft-centric world, and if your entire day revolves around network security, if your entire day is all about not necessarily innovation and pushing the web development envelope, but just trying to keep everything safe - Sitecore became a very attractive option for the IT group. I’ve described Sitecore to Allison as basically a more expensive, slightly less friendly Drupal [laughs]. I mean, it really does do a lot of the same things in the same ways, but you have the additional licensing costs and you are developing a lot more custom code, because instead of thousands of modules to choose from, you have a library of a couple hundred. So it really comes down to whether the organization is open to open-source and comfortable with open-source, or if they aren’t comfortable, do they have the financial means to take on that extra development and licensing. I’m not going to lie, it definitely added extra costs to the project, about an extra 30% over what we would have been in a Drupal world. But the great thing is that either option really would get us to that end point. And right now we’re operating on technology that’s probably about 10 years old. And there’s no inter-relational taxonomies, there’s very little dynamic content on our current website. Believe me, the person I’m probably nicest to in the office every day, sorry, Christine [laughs], is our web producer Sherilyn, because she’s going in and editing these pages. The US News badges needed to be updated, and that wasn’t changing one badge in one place and having it propagated out to 60 pages. That was 60 pages she went into and inserted an image manually. So be nice to your web producer, because if he or she is working in older CMS, they’re doing a lot more work than they need to. No matter whether we went open source or proprietary, just getting modern technology really is going to be such a leap forward for us.
AM: Right there is a great business case for redoing the site at all, because there’s some money you have to spend when you have someone going into 60 different pages instead of being able to update it once and propagate out. That’s a lot of hours burned.
AG: And it’s also one of those things where people in the organization are extremely excited and supportive of the project, but sometimes when you talk about the cost, they go, well, that’s a lot of money for X or for Y. But the organization’s spending that money no matter what. It’s lost hours and salary that you just don’t feel because it’s ‘just’ salary, it’s not a cheque that you’re writing out of your budget directly. And then just also having a bad design. Our 60% bounce rate, that’s something that people walking down our halls don’t see, so they’re not feeling it. Now if we were Target and 60% of people walked in the front door, turned around, and walked out – just imagine that image. On Black Friday, you have the mob of people, they all rush in, and 60% of people, before they even get a cart, leave [laughs]. If you could see the loss, then you would definitely appreciate it a lot more.
AM: And then another financial loss is where you’re spending your money on paid search, not being able to be more strategic about where you’re applying those dollars for certain content. There’s a lot of business cases there for redoing a site, but it’s tough to find them and convince stakeholders at times.
AG: What I’ve been saying a lot lately is, all the things we’d be doing if we weren’t doing the things we’re doing. It’s all that time we’re spending manually updating pages, we could be doing much more fun stuff. At the end of the day, we want to do neat stuff, but we can’t do neat stuff if you’re spending all your time doing the nuts-and-bolts menial stuff.
CF: And I would say to someone who is looking to build a business case for things to redo, and to get buy-in and get approval to do it, if someone looked off-the-cuff at numbers and saw, oh, traffic is increasing, great, online appointments are increasing, great – you have to dig a little bit deeper into the statistics to build the case. So just because you’re looking at the top level, the surface, and everything looks okay, if you need to build the case, dig a little bit deeper to frame that conversation.
AG: We’ve all been really lucky that there’s top level numbers that keep going up. And not to make my LinkedIn page and the stats on it less valuable [laughs], but it’s been easy to increase traffic over the past ten years. Everyone’s been buying phones, everyone’s been getting laptops and tablets. It sounds impressive to go from 5,000 visitors a year at Cooper University Hospital in 2001 to 2.5 million – it looks like we all know what we’re doing, but in a way that’s just kind of how things have happened. And now this is the tough part. How do you get them coming back? I’m under no illusion that the 2.5 million is going to become three million. We may be plateauing, and now we have to optimize.
AM: So you’ve only been with the Sitecore team for a couple of weeks. Can you speak to how that’s going, or is it too early at this stage?
AM: It’s pretty early. We haven’t installed our development server yet – it’s all just discovery and initial architecting. We’ll be able to speak to that in a couple of months, but there’s some exciting stuff we’ve got planned for the site in the next couple of months, including a new location, and personalization, and all the things that surprisingly not a lot of health care systems have embraced. There’s 5,000-ish hospitals in the country, and between us we can probably name the 50 to 100 hospitals that are really pushing the envelope and embraced digital marketing. Of those hospitals, though, very few are offering implicitly personalized experiences on their website. Or if they are, they’re doing it so well that I haven’t actually noticed because it’s been so implicit.
It’s kind of a touchy subject, because unlike Amazon, where I’m okay with the fact that it shows me kids’ toys and romance novels and the latest hair band CDs all on the home page, because that’s the things my wife and kids and I have looked for over the past couple of weeks – doing that in health care could be a little weird. You don’t want someone to go to a breast cancer web page on your site and then all of a sudden they return to the home page and it’s breast cancer central. It has the potential to be a slippery slope for an organization, if they don’t do it correctly and if they don’t do it with the intent that every decision they make has to benefit the customer. And that’s tough when you’re in a marketing department that’s all about driving business – we’re going to have to hold that line as well, where we say, no, we’re not going to personalize this because it’s not going to enhance the patient experience. A lot of organizations have dipped their toe in that water, but they’re not going to full-on personalized experiences. So we’ll see if that’s a lesson that everyone else has learned, that we’re about to learn, or if we’re really pushing the boundaries.
CF: In the in-person focus groups, there was a lot of feedback from the group of, why am I seeing X content, this has nothing to do with me. So that just reinforces that it has to be done in a very sensitive way, the fact that people do want to see things that they’re interested in, rather than the messages that we want to put out to them.
AM: Andy, you’ve mentioned that you’ve done this sort of project before, because you’ve done the redesign and relaunch of a website for your previous employer, which was also health care. What lessons did you learn from the previous project that you were able to apply to this one?
AG: The biggest thing, and this took me a long time to figure out – basically how websites in these organizations have grown in importance over the years. My first and second redesign were at Cooper University Hospital, where it was just the web team. And we just decided one day, eh, we’re bored, let’s redesign the website. And we went off and we redesigned, and we went through our boss about a week before we launched, and our boss at the time was saying, oh, great job, launch it. And we launched it, and that was it. And then we kind of went on with the rest of our lives. And that was from 2003 to about 2009 or 2010, the website was there but people weren’t paying that much attention to it. At Jefferson University Hospital the website was a much larger part of the hospital’s marketing initiatives, and that’s where I really started to learn just how you had to get stakeholder buy-in, and you really had to work with a lot of people throughout the organization, and you couldn’t just steamroll a design through. And there we actually had a five-month turnaround from design to launch when the organization was rebranding. So it was actually a very easy process in a way, because the CEO was basically the biggest stakeholder at the time, and if he said yea or nay we were good to go. But I kind of took that here at Main Line Health as, we now have 125 stakeholders in a way. That was the number of people we talked to and interacted with internally over the course of a couple of days, and there was the importance of getting everyone on the same page. Because if you don’t, the whole website will either be perceived as a failure, no matter what you do. We’ve talked about how if we can bat .700 or .800 with this project, it’s a huge win. There’s things we’re not going to be able to get right out of the gate, and if you don’t have everyone buying into the ultimate vision, those couple of things you don’t get right out of the gate will just dog you the rest of the way. That’s probably the biggest lesson, is just trying to figure out how to navigate the political waters and get it done right. I guess the other thing would be just trying to get a sense of your audience’s needs. Years ago we were all just happy to have websites, but now part of optimizing the experience is just putting yourself in the audience’s shoes, and trying to figure out what is it they need versus what you’re trying to tell them, that they probably don’t need. So it’s finding that balance, which is tough.
AM: Would you say, then, that the stakeholder buy-in was the biggest part of the project? Or was there something else that was larger, like managing expectations or dealing with the content or scheduling conference rooms, which I know has been an issue here? [laughs]
AG: I’m going to say all of that. Because, really, with a small web team like this – we’ve got four people that are doing this full-time – there’s a lot of risk there, because there’s so many moving parts. I remember years ago listening to someone from MD Anderson talking about how they re-architected their website, they rewrote all the content, they redesigned and re-platformed all at once. And the website was beautiful. This was around 2010 when they relaunched. But I remember how tired the person looked, and he said, ‘I will never do that again. Pick one thing and do it. And then follow that with something else, and something else.’ Well – we’re doing it all at once. And that’s a risk. Our boss really wanted this entire project to be a nine-month engagement, from research to strategy to design to implementation to content. Thank God it became an 18-month project, but even that, to redo all these pages with four people is tough. So that is probably the biggest risk of the project, that if we fall behind there’s not much room to play catch-up. Without us spending Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s here.
AM: Well, I would actually push back and say you’re not doing everything all at once. Because there are some integrations that are separate projects altogether that you’re hoping to dovetail into this project – some billing center items and some items from your call center that you’re hoping to eventually assimilate like the Borg into this project [laughs] so that they all work really beautifully.
AG: Thankfully, that’s years down the road. And that’s one of the biggest things that came out during the initial discovery. The original vision for our new website was to create this seamless interface for patients, so they’d be able to log in and, in one place, access patient portals, register for classes, schedule an appointment directly – you know, the open table of physician scheduling. And it became evident that most organizations like ours have decades of IT infrastructure and systems that don’t play nicely with each other. So thankfully everyone was on the same page and realized that the website was just Step One toward solving those issues, and that you can’t solve every one of the organization’s ills with one web redesign. This is a project where we’re talking about Phase One and Phase Two with the design and implementation, but really, Phase Three, Phase Four, Phase Five, that takes us out another three years, probably.
AM: So what then would you say was the easiest part of this project?
CF: I would say, thankfully, getting approval to do the project. Which might speak to the problems that our website had, because when we went to all the stakeholders to say, we want to get this approved and we need X amount of dollars, there was a resounding ‘yes, here you go, take it’ and not a lot of pushback on it. I think that speaks to the fact of how bad the redesign of the current website was needed.
AG: And I think, too – and just to let you know, this is not an infomercial, but I think the prototyping phase of the project went insanely well. It took us a couple of weeks to figure out what’s our design direction and what’s the navigation going to look like, and this, that and the other. But once we got through a couple of the initial mockups – I really hadn’t prototyped websites before. I’d designed and had layered files, and then a front-end developer was taking all that and slicing and dicing. But actually having prototyping as part of the design phase gave us a great product that we could show people internally, that they could see how things were going to work, how the responsive design was going to look. And that was another part of that stakeholder buy-in. It wasn’t just, here’s a static JPEG and just imagine this on your phone. People were actually able to play with it. So the prototyping was probably the biggest surprise as well as the easiest part of the project.
AM: And our prototypes, we do them in code, so it’s actually in the browser where it lives, and you can play with it and see how things roll over and how they condense down to tablet and mobile size and how they scroll and interact. So it takes it a whole leap forward by not just having things static and having to explain to people how it works.
AG: And now, going into implementation, that’s another resource that the implementation partner has to work with. There’s no question about how that interaction should be on page X or Y. And that’s something I’ve run into on past projects, where we’ve had these great mock-ups and then you go to implementation, and it’s, ah, that’s off by a couple of pixels, or, oh, that drop-down doesn’t look like we think it should. And I was a little worried because – I swear, I had an external project manager that quit after working with me on a project, because I kept going back to her after implementation and going, no, that’s off, that’s not lining up. With a project this size, I think you have to be pretty demanding about the end product, because you’re writing big checks for this stuff. The great thing is with the prototypes, I don’t think that’s going to be an issue. They’re not going to call me One-Pixel Andy during implementation [laughs].
CF: One of the great things has been, from the design standpoint, with the designs we’ve gotten, we have people working on the project who just get it. It’s come together really well when you explain something. I had fear because with other design agencies, you talk about all this and you come back and you’re like, that’s not like anything we were talking about and it’s not accomplishing what we want to do, and you just know it. But in this project it’s just been great. People get it, and stay true to the intention and what we want to do to the website, and that’s been carried through to the design, and it’s great.
AM: Well, good, I’m glad you guys feel that way. So I’m out of questions, but Andy, you yourself as a former DJ, I would love some sort of amazing classic public service announcement of your biggest tip for someone moving forward on their huge web redesign. What can you offer them?
AG: While I’m trying to think of that advice, I’m thinking of the best advice that one of my program directors ever gave me. So if anyone’s thinking of getting into podcasting, or if they never want to move out of their parents’ house and work in radio – I still remember that one of my program directors told me that even though you’re talking to hundreds of thousands of people at a time that could be listening, you’re still talking to each individual person in their cars. You’re having this one-on-one conversation with 100,000 or 200,000 people at once. So if you ever want to get into podcasting or radio, just have a normal conversation like we’re having – and in this case if you’re listening it’s like you’re eavesdropping on a conversation we’re having. But if you’re doing a one-on-one podcast or a solo podcast, you’re talking to each individual listener. Which is kind of like the web experience in a way. You’re looking at stats in aggregate, but at the end of the day, each one of those stats is a visit from someone.
I joke about Google Analytics real time, I call it stat porn. If you haven’t played with it, it’s in Google Analytics and it shows you what’s happening on your website right now. Who’s there, how many visitors, what they’re looking at, right now. It’s a great way to waste a half-hour, and I’m sure there’s probably some really good use for it. But at the end of the day it reinforces the fact that right now, as we’re talking, there’s probably 100 people on our website looking for something. And making sure as you’re redesigning that you’re not just thinking about those huge numbers, and thinking about those small numbers that pass through your content. And then at the same time stepping back and looking at Google real time and enjoying the stat porn for what it is. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s a great thing to watch while you’re eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at your desk.
AM: Well, thank you both so much, Andy and Christine, for letting me come talk to you. We can’t wait until the site launches in the spring. I’m sure you can’t wait either at this point [laughs]. It’s been so long that you’ve been working toward this. Congratulations, and we look forward to seeing it in 2016.
AG: Thanks for having us, and we’d love to come back and talk about the site when it launches, and share some stats a year from now.
AM: Absolutely, that’d be great.
AM: I hope you enjoyed this first episode of On the Air with Palantir. To hear future episodes, be sure to subscribe at our website at palantir.net. You can also follow along with us on Twitter; we are @palantir. Or read our blog at palantir.net as well. Thanks for listening!