Stop trying to win the Feature Race

Stop trying to win the Feature Race

We live in an age where we think that computers can do anything.  In some ways that’s not too far off.  We’ve begun to outsource much of our lives and internal processing power to computers that keep track of where we are, who’s important to us, and even what we should do to stay healthy.

Just because computers can do so much, doesn’t mean they should.  In fact, this is one of the most common problems I come across as a consultant.  My clients will often come up with an idea for a “feature” for their website and without much thought about the value that feature adds they’re ready to go gangbusters to get it done.

The types of features I’m talking about include integrating weather and time, or building a social network or creating an iPhone app.  All of these features can be great, if they are a fit.  When they aren’t a fit then you can end up with big distraction on your website that consumes your resources and potentially distracts users from the goal you have for your site.

Web developers (the “web guy”) also typically love this type of chatter (or they start it themselves).  They get so excited about what technology can do that they’re desperate to find a problem to try their new solution against, rather than letting real business problems drive their search for appropriate solutions.

How to decide if a feature is worthwhile

If you or your web developer think you have a good idea for a new feature, there are some questions you can ask yourself.  They all center around the guideline that each page should have a single job. You also want to make sure that new features fit properly in with your established priorities.  Here are some questions to ask about a new feature:

  • Does it reduce the number of steps for a visitor to accomplish a specific task
  • Does it reduce the guess work for a visitor to complete a specific task
  • Does it add value for the visitor that completes a specific task
  • Does it increase the visitor’s engagement with your site or brand

Poor uses of features often include those that seem cool or that you see somewhere else but they don’t really move your site visitors any closer to completing an action or they even drain resources unnecessarily.  A feature may fall into this category if it:

  • Distracts visitors from completing a task
  • Has the primary purpose of entertaining (an exception might be youtube)
  • Adds marginal value or value not directly related to the purpose of the site or task
  • ANY feature that isn’t split tested to verify that it improves conversions

New feature triggers

There are two triggers that usually start someone down the road of adding a new (potentially useless) feature to their website.  The first impetus is from the ‘web guy’.  I discussed that earlier.  Remember to always ask yourself what the specific task is for the feature and where it fits in with your priorities.  The second is much more dangerous.

Many new feature ideas arise because you see a feature on your competitors website and assume that they tested it and it’s making them more money.  I would say that in most cases it’s safer to assume that they haven’t tested it.  Before you go to the trouble and expense of adding a feature to your website that you see on a competitors website, do one or more of the following things.

  • Ask your competitor how well that’s working for them.  Don’t laugh.  If you don’t have an open dialogue with your competition, maybe it’s time you did.
  • Send the link of your competitor’s site to some of your trusted clients and ask them if they would like a feature like that on your site.  You might be surprised when they say “no, but I would love XYZ”.  Take their lead.  After all, they pay you.
  • Run a split test and measure whether or not it actually increases the number of visitors that take a specific action before you roll it out permanently.

Keep your eye on the prize

In short, stop trying to win the feature race.  You don’t have to keep up with crazy ideas that you see on competitor’s websites and you don’t have to make your site cool or entertaining.  The more you give your visitors what they want  and the less that you get in their way when they try to do it, the better.  Features for features sake will almost always cost you money, time and even reduce conversions.

If you would like me to help you identify the right features for your next internet project, use the button below and request a quote.

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One Response to “Stop trying to win the Feature Race”

  1. Catalin- Pagine-Blu August 28, 2010 at 2:47 am #

    Hey Daniel
    Thanks for your insights, they gave me some pointers.
    I’m also a programmer for more than 10 years now, and I recognized myself in what you were saying.
    I guess there’s a point in a Programmers’s life when s/he goes from “doing it for fun” to maturing and “doing it for efficiency” or for “business”. Fun can always be involved, but as you were saying, many times we waste hundreads of precious hours trying to get that class to work, or that code, or to create OUR OWN version of a software…. in other words reinventing the wheel. And that’s another aspect that maybe is important in relation to this article.
    As a programmer: don’t Reinvent the Wheel. Most features have been implemented, find them done and just integrate with your site.
    Thanks again,
    //Cata

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