Guest Post: Web Product Management 101 for “Offline” Managers

NOTE: The following is a guest post from Thomas Fuchs-Martin. If you feel inspired to write a guest post of your own, click here to find out how to submit it to us.


You are an experienced software product manager and you are thinking about developing your first web product?

Great! This blog post is written especially for you!

Be aware: The fact that you are about to manage a web site really changes a lot in your product strategy and the management processes that you know from “offline” products. I have prepared a crash course for you – defining terms and phrases that you will need to understand as part of your web product management role:

CPC, PPC etc.
Due to the fact that there are many different kinds of business models that exist in the web world, a lot of abbreviations have become very common (I am not really sure if that is a good thing…), particularly when it comes to advertising!

Most common is PPC (Pay per Click) which describes a model where the advertiser is charged only when a user clicks on their ad. Google Adwords is the most well known example of this. The payment amount or CPC (Cost per Click) defines the price paid by the advertiser for each click.

Even if your business model will not be advertising-based, the day will come that you either want to advertise your product on other sites or that you want to implement some advertising model on your site. You will need to understand the common models to avoid (expensive) mistakes.

Emergency Deployment
A website has to be up and running all the time, and there can be numerous backend servers and database needed to do this. You’ll need to schedule regular maintenance time to handle patches and upgrades. But, if you encounter a large bug on your production site or the site is not working at all, you might need to interrupt the usual release cycle and schedule an emergency deploy to fix urgent problems. In the worst case you will have to adjust the timings of your product plan because of these events.

In “offline” product management you basically have to think about how to create a great user experience. In web product management you have to think about search engines, too. Unfortunately users and crawler bots don´t always have the same needs which makes SEO (search engine optimization) quite interesting. SEO is the process of improving traffic to your site from search engines.

Important: Do not get the idea that you can completely outsource this! The majority of modern internet business models are based on good SEO, and your product planning will be affected by SEO requirements right from the start!

Private Beta / Public Beta
That is possibly one of the biggest luxuries that you will have as a web product manager. You can launch your product while it is still in beta-state. You just put a “beta” label beside your logo and a feedback-button somewhere prominently on your page and see what happens – this is called “public beta”. If that is too crazy for you then you can password-protect your site and only share it with selected users – that is a “private beta”.

Very important: Get the idea out of your head that your product needs to be perfect before you can launch it! There are many minimalistic and half-backed products out there that are pretty successful. Early release beats perfectionism and the minimum viable product beats the over-featured product. Remember the early days of Twitter?

Well this has nothing to do with food! In the web a cookie is just a piece of data that will be saved at the client computer. A bunch of very common features rely on cookies such as online-shopping or login-sessions etc.  It’s important for you to know that features that rely on cookies can be very painful to test because the features can behave differently depending on the client´s configuration of browsers etc.

“See you at 2 am!”
Well, in theory you can release a new version of your web product at any time you want. But maybe you don´t want to risk downtime during the peak periods of the website. So for bigger releases and maintenance operations, the early morning might be the only time-frame of the day with low traffic …and you and your team are working hard while everybody else is sleeping! If your website has a huge amount of traffic you might even consider to launch at the weekends, because usually the traffic is lower during those times.

Browser Issues
Creating a useful user interface for websites is a hard job. In the offline world you “only” have to think about which operating system and screen resolutions your target customers have. In the web you also have to worry about different browser versions, browser security & privacy settings, pop-up blockers etc. It is almost impossible to create a complex website that will work with all browsers.

My recommendation: Focus on the most popular browsers and be minimalistic with the product features. The best way to figure out which browser your web product needs to support is to take a look in your web analytics. The diversity of browsers can vary significantly depending on the target group or target-country of your website. At minimum, your site should support Firefox, Internet Explorer (even the old IE 6 is still a common browser) and Chrome.

Web Analytics
You will have lots of information about the users of your product – for free! Google Analytics is the most common free web analytics tool that will provide interesting information about your users. For example: number of visits, pageviews, average time on page, country, browser version, screen resolution, bounce rate, top landing pages and much more. Get familiar with these analytics tools and identify the strong and weak points of your product!

Website Speed
Even in the age of high-speed internet connections you need to have a fast website! Not only do users like fast websites, search engines love them as well! Listen to what Matt Cutts from Google says about this:

I hope this crash course will be helpful for you to kick-start your web product manager career!

Thomas Fuchs-Martin is web product manager & SEO at the Spanish internet start-up – More articles about web product management can be found at his blog:

8 thoughts on “Guest Post: Web Product Management 101 for “Offline” Managers”

  1. Nice post, Thomas. Much of what you mention gets a bit into the weeds. If you look at the overlap in the product management from a legacy software PM to a Web-based PM, there is plenty at a higher level in terms of requirements, user stories, PLM, etc. that are very similar.

    But I agree with many of these and would say to those PMs transitioning to an online Web world that Thomas’ treatment of Web Analytics is just a jumping-off point. Dig into this more because it is not quite the same as you may be accustomed to in terms of analytics from CRM or PLM.

    Clickstream is different, agent-based and more realtime. You also do not typically get the same demographics or psychographics that you have become accustomed to in traditional product models.

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