Please take a seat, our website will be right with you. Make yourself comfortable as you join 250 thousand angry Americans in the waiting area. Nothing to look at, nothing to do, and we may or may not get to you today. You’re here because you have to be. We’re your only option. Deal with it.

On October 1st, 2013, the official Obamacare registration website (Healthcare.gov) went live and then abruptly died. This is the same website proudly promoted by our government as a convenient, one-stop enrollment site for health insurance (which, I hope you already know, is mandatory in America now).

What went wrong with Obamacare?

Whoa! Sit back down, I mean the Obamacare website, not the political public health agenda.

Poor website design, insecure encryption, bad coding, and poor communication are the most obvious issues with Healthcare.gov.

As swampland.time.com puts it: “The basic architecture of the site, built by federal contractors overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services, was flawed in design, poorly tested and ultimately not functional.”

And from Bloomberg Businessweek: “The White House has yet to release its own explanation of what happened. So we don’t know what went wrong; we don’t know how it was built…”

The good news is, you can learn from this website failure, so your own website doesn’t suffer a similar fate. Let’s look a little closer at 3 website failures you should avoid.

Failure One –Not Available

Websites can go offline for a variety of reasons, and sometimes it’s genuinely unexpected. But, you better show a valid attempt to be available if you expect your public to understand. The Obamacare website failed to properly plan and test service capacity before launch.

The audience (all of America) was told they could login, yet Healthcare.gov was only capable of 1100 simultaneous connections. The problem was; 250K Americans attempted to login at the same time.

Takeaway: Plan, test and be available to serve your customers.

Failure Two – Not Helpful

When a visitor tries to visit a non-existing page on your website, they see an error screen (known as a 404 page). We try to prevent errors, but in a worst case scenario, we should plan for them to happen. What did visitors see when the Obamacare website crashed?

A completely unhelpful error page. Rather than lead visitors to alternate resources (on functional websites), Healthcare.gov displayed a useless search box unable to display results.

For some states, such as Washington and Oregon, Healthcare.gov isn’t even the primary health care website. Even when the site is functional, residents are re-directed to alternate sites to complete the health care registration process. Why weren’t these links on the 404 screen?

Takeaway: Show your customers you care, even when you fail.

Failure Three – Not Sociable

Americans are social animals. We are willing and able, especially in situations beyond our control, to spread viral criticism to friends and family. Politics are already a hot topic on social media; it’s a poor choice to ignore your captive (literally) audience. Sadly, that’s what happened when the Obamacare website crashed (even with 199 comments on the official blog post).

We weren’t ignored completely, but response was delayed long enough for social media to buzz loudly with irate citizens. Blaming “computer issues,” isn’t enough to put out the fire, not when people are personally and emotionally involved.

Who (or what) we choose to blame becomes a symbol for who we are and what we represent. The government blaming computers leaves us detached and isolated, not a good symbol when the topic is health care.

Takeaway: Build your brand with a personal core and an authentic social layer.

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