Last week, I flew back into Houston via George Bush Intercontinental airport (IAH)—the city’s primary hub, which handles over 40 million passengers annually.
Like all major transportation hubs, IAH must work to constantly maintain, replace, and improve its facilities to keep up with traveler expectations and technological change.
The airport is currently undergoing a $1.3 billion terminal redevelopment program, which will consolidate two existing terminals into one and significantly expand and improve its international passenger handling capacity.
Unfortunately, the parts of terminals D and E that are being systematically demolished and rebuilt lie in the heart of the IAH complex. Everything from passenger drop-off and pick-up zones to car parks is affected.
The result is congestion, frustration, and confusion.
It took me longer to drive from the car park barrier to the airport exit than it did to walk from the gate to baggage claim and pick up my bags from the carousel.
Vehicles collecting arriving passengers—many of them ride shares and shuttles—had to traverse two lanes right-to-left, while those of us trying to get out had to cross the same lanes from left-to-right. The area was basically gridlocked.
Having flown into the airport hundreds of times, I knew which lane I wanted and was able to weave my way across before the confluence of traffic became impenetrable. Others were not so fortunate.
What could IAH do to improve the situation?
They might start by rethinking the traffic flow—although there’s not much room to work with in between the terminal buildings and while some of the lanes are closed.
They could definitely improve the signage, of which there’s precious little.
Deploying traffic control officers further away from the terminals might help organize the crossflow and inhibit some of the excessive driver aggression.
They might even close some of the on-airport parking to force more people onto busses and out of cars.
The experience reminded me of the struggles companies go through when implementing a new content marketing strategy.
During the half-built phase, it is easy to leave your audience confused, lost, and frustrated.
Unlike most airline passengers, who don’t have much say in which airport they use, those visitors might choose not to come back to your company’s digital properties.
Let’s extend the analogy and consider seven things you can do to minimize the impact of an ongoing content construction project.
The best time to manage the impact of a construction project is while it’s still being planned.
Think about the audience experience and strategize ways to help them find relevant information
Think about the audience experience—especially, but not exclusively, their website visits—and strategize ways to help them find relevant information.
Simply putting up an “excuse our dust – under construction” banner isn’t enough. You need to take them where they want to go, regardless.
Since filling out your content library will likely take months (assuming you are faced with typical content production constraints), break the project into phases. Put the basics in place first and then work systematically to fill in the gaps.
A content audit and gap analysis can help you prioritize the most important content.
Remember to update signs and navigation as you build, so that visitors know where to find things (especially things that get moved) and can easily see what’s new.
There is a bare minimum that makes a website or social media channel worth visiting.
Make sure your properties have at least that level of content and functionality.
Wherever information is missing, provide opportunities for the audience to connect with your team. This won’t be a visitor’s first choice, but it’s better than nothing.
Basic things like broken links, missing or incorrect information, and counter-intuitive navigation are an immediate turn-off and will cost you prospects and customers.
Much like the airport traffic debacle, a lack of signposts can lead to intense visitor frustration.
And, while I was stuck in the traffic with no option but to wait, electronic visitors will only hang around for a few seconds before they bounce.
It should be easy for them to see what content is present and to discover whether you’ve shared information that’s relevant to their situation.
If they find useful content but not quite what they’re looking for, it should be obvious how to contact you for additional answers.
Show visitors how to reach relevant content and guide them to a human when content is missing.
Extra navigation is frustrating, whether changing lanes or clicking between pages, especially when it seems unnecessary or counterintuitive.
I escaped IAH several minutes faster than other drivers because I knew which lane to take and made the move in a timely manner.
Had I waited, it would have been an even more arduous and frustrating challenge.
The situation is always worse when you don’t know where you’re going
The situation is always worse when you don’t know where you’re going.
So, assume that your visitors are first timers who don’t know how to get around. Is the navigation and layout of your website (or social media page) intuitive?
I can hear the design purists grumbling about us cluttering up their beautiful user interfaces with excessive signs and explanations, just as I imagine IAH project managers grumble about paying for temporary signposts and having them get in the way of construction.
Things go awry when website performance is measured in terms of the design aesthetic rather than user satisfaction (or airport construction in terms of building progress rather than passenger satisfaction).
Go out of your way to help your audience find content, even if it means adding more instructions and pointers than initially seems necessary.
I suspect IAH monitors traffic flow around the airport 24x7, using cameras and other sensors, which means they know when there’s congestion.
I also suspect they know where and why it occurs.
And, since the number of passengers passing through the airport changes significantly throughout the day, I suspect they’ve made a conscious decision to put up with the issue at peak hours rather than do more to alleviate it.
As I mentioned earlier, airports can get away with hundreds of pissed-off travelers because most of them will still come back whenever their travel plans so dictate.
You can’t afford to treat prospective customers the same way.
When your website or social media analytics indicate that visitors are bouncing from your site, or when their feedback expresses frustration or dissatisfaction, don’t just shrug your shoulders; do something about it.
Figure out where the confusion and bottlenecks are occurring and look for ways to alleviate them.
This might mean changing the page layout, improving the navigation, adding more helpful signage, prioritizing certain pieces of missing content, and so on.
I knew to expect delays at IAH because the airline had said as much in a pre-trip email.
However, “expect delays” is basically useless.
Had they been more specific about what to expect and where, I might have chosen to park at a different terminal or use an off-airport parking service (although that turned into a fiasco the last time I tried it, but that’s a story for another day).
The more helpful your explanations, the more likely a visitor is to either find what they’re looking for or to not waste time searching in vain.
In either case, they’re more likely to come back in the future than if they depart frustrated and confused.
If you’re planning to publish information on a particular theme or topic in the weeks ahead, advertise the fact and offer to email new content to those who sign up.
If there’s a subject you simply can’t cover in the near future, but suspect visitors will want to find, call out the gap and offer to set up a discussion with your team.
Pretending your site is complete, when it’s not, is a recipe for disaster—one that will quickly unravel when a prospect pokes around for a while.
At risk of belaboring the point, you should invest in temporary solutions while permanent facilities are under construction.
Whether you’re an airport operator or a digital marketer, people will remember the experience you have created for them.
It’s readily apparent when the operator has gone out of their way to minimize inconvenience
There’s no escaping the inconvenience of traveling through a half-built airport, any more than finding incomplete information on a website, but it’s readily apparent when the operator has gone out of their way to minimize the inconvenience.
Put some extra thought and effort into creating the best impression you can, and those visitors might come back, even if they leave without finding what they came for.
This might sound counterintuitive when the reason your content library is taking so long to complete is a lack of resources—the same resources that must be expended to implement temporary fixes.
Why not just live with the clunky, half-built situation and get it finished as quickly as you can?
Just like an airport, you don’t control when people are going to visit.
Unlike an airport, you might not get a second chance at creating a connection with those prospects and winning their business.
When your company embarks on a content marketing strategy, there will be an extensive phase during which the content available on your digital properties—website, social media pages, etc.—is incomplete.
Much like a transportation facility, your digital properties must continue to function while they are under construction. This can lead to visitor confusion and frustration.
This can be minimized by taking time to plan ahead, providing helpful signs and explanations, assuming visitors don’t necessarily know what they’re looking for or where they’re going, and paying attention to metrics and feedback so that you can address bottlenecks when they arise.
Above all, invest extra effort to optimize the visitor experience while things are still under construction, even if this places even greater constraints on the resources you need for content production.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock