Web Development: Throw Out the Cookbook, It’s Jenga Time!

It’s 2011 and it’s time to throw it out. What is it?

It is your old approaches. It is how you work on everything — from your website implementation to your site SEO. It is the cookbook, A-Z approach to website success.

It’s time to throw it out and learn how to play Jenga!

What is a Cookbook Approach?

The cookbook approach is when you do the work on your website components by segmenting out each part as its own work item, then apply standard principles to that work item, upload to your server, and wait for Googly Bingable success.

So for instance if you were going to do website search engine optimization (SEO) from the cookbook approach, you might add X links and do X pages of content optimization because that’s what you always do. And just stop there.

Why not? It has worked in the past, it will work today.

Well, not so fast. While it may land you the rankings you want, will it be stable? Will it survive the many updates and changes as we watch the web world continually spun on its head? Probably not, because the cookbook approach just won’t do it anymore.

But I Like to Cook

While in the past you could use a recipe approach to websites recent changes in Google and the addition of social media as an indicator in site authority (and who knows what’s next) means the cookbook approach will no longer be your most effective strategy.

So if the cookbook approach isn’t going to work anymore, what will? Well, one of the best approaches is to throw it down, Jenga style.

Doing it Jenga Style

Yes, Jenga style. Have you ever played the Jenga puzzle game, where each piece is part of a larger whole and if you aren’t careful when removing pieces the whole tower can collapse?

Each piece supports the tower, creating the Jenga puzzle that stands good and strong before you. While you’ll inevitably bring it down, it takes removing quite a few pieces to do so. Just like that tower, your website is no longer a good stew; it is indeed, a Jenga puzzle.

My Website Is A Jenga Puzzle?

No longer can someone hire a website developer or SEO who can simply apply a set of standard principles and get you the best results. I see it time and time again from clients with puzzled looks and empty pockets.

“Why aren’t we getting what we expected? Why isn’t our site performing for X or Y metric?” Well because now gaping holes in your website strategies are not just holes that you can overlook, they are holes that affect the strength of your entire site.

What you need now is an approach where you look at every aspect of your website and understand how it affects the other parts. For example, how does your site architecture affect your site rankings? Or how does your site design affect both your site development and your customer experience? And how does all this affect your SEO or local results?

Because all of it is now interrelated, a big heaping pile of intertwined supports that rely on each other.

If you fail to pay attention to one piece of the Jenga, at worst the rest will eventually falter or fail. At best you’ll never get the full return on your investment.

Jenga Blocks

So what are the parts of the Jenga and what do they affect? While it would be too extensive a list (for this article) to show how every item on a website affects every other, the image below shows you just how your Jenga puzzle might work.

Web Development Jenga
click to enlarge
(Blue rectangles denote possible blocks in your Jenga Puzzle)

The list becomes a muddied water of informed by and will inform with some doing both in a very circular way. This is because there’s no such thing as cookbook website development anymore. It’s one big support structure.

Your Jenga Checklist

The Jenga checklist starts with the following:

  • Technologies (what will be used): Never forsake easy and simple for cool and edgy. Users want their information. They don’t want to work for it however. This will work in tandem with your site architecture and content outline as technologies, used properly, can enhance your users pathing experience.
  • Browser support: You must know what browsers you’re supporting, so you know what technologies you’re using.
    • Note: Except in rare cases, there’s no need for a separate mobile site. If you follow the principles of the W3C for your HTML and CSS development, use it in a semantically correct way, and follow the WCAG AA standard for accessibility you will have created a site based on universal design and adapting it is simple at that point.
  • SEO strategies: These should be known before any work on the site begins and then it will inform your entire process. If it doesn’t, you’re thinking backwards. SEO is never a tacked on enterprise unless it has to be. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to add it from the start of a site design, redesign, or section addition, do it!
  • Site architecture: How your site is constructed.
  • Site navigation: Once constructed, how you (and the search engines) will find your way around.
  • Content outline: Never start writing any content before you’ve done your keyword research and have an SEO plan in place.
    • Note: There will be a circular back and forth between content outline and architecture until you settle on how everything will layout. This is a normal, but painful process as it brings every aspect of your business into focus. If it isn’t difficult and your site is larger than 20-25 pages, you should revisit, because it should be.
  • Content development: Living organism with site architecture — will change as the site develops.
  • Site design: Never start your site design until you’ve outlined your business goals and content outline and architecture are in place. How will you know how to path your users through your site if you have no idea what your path looks like?
  • Page design: Once inside your site, your wrapper (look and feel) isn’t enough. Your pages should be designed throughout the site to encourage pathing, usability, and conversions.
  • Linking structures (URL structure): This is important to your users and your SEO. Check and recheck. Are your links linking properly and are your structures simple and not causing duplicate content issues?
  • Social media plan: With the ever increasing integration of social media into every facet of the web, you must know how this will integrate into your site. What will you use, what are the goals, how will you interact with your users, how will it display on your site? And that’s just for starters. Like SEO, social media isn’t an afterthought.
  • Multimedia plan: What is your multimedia plan? Do you have one? Is there a need for one? For some there is no need to address this, but for others, how will you integrate your media into your site plan?
  • More: There are many elements to the Jenga puzzle not listed here including other considerations such as how to handle:
    • Google Local
    • Subdomains (yes? no? when?)
    • Blogs
    • User generated content (UCG) — forums, comments, posts, etc.
    • Link building
    • The list is as endless as your site is large or complex…

What This Mean For You

You can no longer build a site without thinking about the Jenga puzzle. You can no longer start designing without knowing your SEO plan and you can’t write content until you know your business goals.

You can no longer have a designer who doesn’t know anything about site architecture and a content creator who doesn’t understand at least the basics of SEO, or a team that has no idea how this will integrate with your social media plan.

Your site isn’t a segmented set of isolated parts. The environment where your website will be planted demands an integrated approach if it is to grow to its full potential.

This also means you can’t hire people who don’t know how the Jenga puzzle integrates either. If your SEO has no concept of the elements and how they affect each other, if your lead developer says poo on standards or your marketing team wants a cool design over a functional one, you’re starting out with a handicap and will have to play catch-up later.

So We Miss the Mark a Little… Meh, What’s the Big Deal?

A year ago, maybe even six months ago, you could miss the mark by a little or a whole lot and if you weren’t in a competitive to highly competitive market you could convince yourself that it wasn’t a big deal. Not today.

With the changes in Google and the new strength of Bing, all in just the last quarter of 2010, your market just became competitive, whether you knew it or not. Unless you’re really so niche as to not have been affected by the changes in Google places, Google Instant, SERP page layout, the comparison engine, references, or just simply the decreasing number of organic spaces in the first page of Google, you probably already know this.

So, No More Meh, Eh?

In 2011, you can’t take the “meh” approach anymore. So throw out the cookbook and embrace the Jenga puzzle.

The good news: once you do, your site is much stronger and able to withstand changes in the algorithm and upheavals in search because you will have hit many, many more points in the algos.

However, if you don’t then beware because if you think 2010 was a bumpy ride, I shudder to think what is coming oh right about… now! (Or at least very soon.)

So shore up that structure folks. It’s time to get Jengy with it! (Insert groans at bad Will Smith references here.)

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