Some things are better done by hand. Some aren’t. Handmade bread is better than automatically made sliced bread by several orders of magnitude, but few people would prefer a hand-sawn board to one sawn with power tools — especially if they had to wield the saw.
When it comes to your website, what should you automate? Here are the questions to ask yourself when you consider automating something:
- Is it against the rules? I recently told a client that some bit of strategy he had in mind was against the rules, and all three of the guys in the meeting broke out laughing. “We didn’t get where we are today,” they crowed, almost in stereo, “by paying attention to the rules!” But sometimes breaking the rules defeats your purpose. For example, automatic blog comments with links to your website are against the rules, and will quickly be deleted from any blog you’d want a link from. There’s no point in wasting the effort. Same for automated linkbuilding.
- Does it make a difference in quality? Facebook no longer allows automatic posting of blog posts. They want you to go to Facebook and interact and be involved. So I now go there and post blogs I write for clients by hand. Through extensive experience with both processes, I can tell you confidently that there is no difference in the quality of the user experience. On the other hand, auto-generated content is so bad that it is an insult to your readers to post it.
- Does it improve your visitors’ experience? If you receive so many web queries that you don’t have time to respond to them, it’s better to have automatic responses than to ignore them. Automatically finding broken links is so much faster than doing it by hand that it’s the only way to go — but you’ve got to update those links by hand, since auto-correcting will just leave text that should link to somewhere and doesn’t. As with all your website decisions, walk yourself through the user experience or test it, and determine whether automation is in your visitors’ best interests or not.
- Can people tell? Even if the user experience is not inferior, people may be offended if they get the feeling that you’re sending a robot to do things they thought were coming from you personally. Automatic follow backs or “Thanks for the shout-out!” at Twitter are a good example. Even though your warm personal, “Thanks for following!” is not a substantially different experience from your autobot “Thanks for following!” your recipient may still be offended if he or she gets the impression that you didn’t make the effort to communicate in person. Automate behind the scenes.
If you can automate some repetitive task and thereby improve your visitors’ experience and make your work more efficient and cost-effective, go for it. Just make sure you’re not using it in counterproductive ways.