Web Reliability

The Book

Table of Contents


  • HealthCare.gov: Even The President of the United States Cares About Reliable Websites

    On October 1, 2013, the much-anticipated new HealthCare.gov website was launched. This website was the technology hub of President Barack Obama's signature domestic policy achievement known now as Obamacare. Millions of Americans would come to the HealthCare.gov website, in some cases to get health insurance where they had none before.


You're responsible for a revenue-generating website. There are hundreds of experts giving you advice and pulling you in different directions. Wouldn't it be nice to have a way to just step back and understand the big picture?

Web Reliability is an overarching structure for thinking about a web property. It serves as an organizing principle and a roadmap, a meaningful tool to help owners of web properties keep track of how well they are – or aren’t - delivering on promises to their customers. At its essence, Web Reliability is a checklist of must-haves, the website essentials needed to ensure customers get their needs met. Web Reliability as defined here is a comprehensive guide, but it is not intended to be exhaustive. It is a work in progress and will continue to evolve over time.

  • 1. Overview

    You're responsible for a revenue-generating website. There are hundreds of experts giving you advice and pulling you in different directions. Wouldn't it be nice to have a way to just step back and understand the big picture?

  • 2. Who benefits from Web Reliability?

    Your website exists to serve your customer. You earn and keep your customer's loyalty when they can flow smoothly through your well-designed web system to get what they need, every time.

  • 3. What’s in the way of customer success, and how does the Web Reliability Framework help?

    What is preventing a website customer from getting what they seek? You! And who can fix that? You!

  • 4. What is a revenue-generating website?

    Think about it. In reality, every website is a revenue-generating website. But some are better at making money than others. Why is that?

  • 5. What does reliability mean?

    Healthy websites are reliable in the same way airplanes are reliable. Millions of precision parts work reliably together in unison to keep the thing from crashing.

  • 6. Why reliable revenue matters

    Money is like water. It flows. Hopefully through your website. And your customer should be able to do the same thing. Because it's their nature to flow too. If you let them!

  • 7. What about growth?

    Go! Go! Go! Grow! Grow! Grow! Hey wait, what happened? How come we're going out of business now?

  • 8. Flow as a first principle

    As air flows over the wing of an airplane, it creates lift. The more reliable the airflow, the more reliably the plane stays in the air. Consistent flow means consistent success. Websites work in exactly the same way.

  • 9. What is it that's flowing?

    Water molecules flow through a pipe. Electrons flow through a circuit. Customers flow through a website. It’s all about the flow.

  • 10. What is the Web Reliability Framework?

    Customer flow is the single most important indicator of website reliability. How does it work? We've deconstructed Web Reliability into a 3 x 3 matrix that spells out the 9 components of a well-run revenue-generating website.

  • 11. How do I use it?

    The Web Reliability Framework can be used as a planning tool as well as a problem-solving tool. The framework helps you plan your website, optimizing customer flow for reliability. The framework can also help you troubleshoot a site where reliability is failing.

  • 12. Who the hell are you?

    The Web Reliability Framework is a synthesis of what my team, my colleagues, and myself have learned over 20 years of web development.

  • 13. A note on structure

    This book presents ideas about Web Reliability in a different format than the conversations, tweets, and blog posts that I’ve shared over time. Of course, it's longer, but it’s also more detailed and opinionated.

  • 14. Acknowledgements

    I would like to first thank the Solspace team who has shown tremendous patience and steadfastness over a long period of time. They were the folks who actually generated this thought leadership, through their daily diligence, professionalism, and love of service.

Reliable Team

The guiding principle when seeking web reliability is flow. Wherever you find dependable flow you will also find an engaged and effective web team. They are the heartbeat of any reliably running web property.

It’s possible to devise all sorts of systems and processes for reliably running a revenue-generating web property, but it’s impossible to do it successfully without a healthy team. A well-functioning team with an understanding of flow can manage to be effective even without clearly defined processes and systems. Of course, those things support the team in achieving efficiency as well as excellence, but in a worst-case scenario, a healthy team can overcome almost any failure of planning, execution, or support.

A healthy team has what we call “team flow.” This can be broken into three aspects, the three keywords used in talking about Web Reliability: motivation, resistance, and management. In the context of the team, motivation refers to the motivating ‘why’ for working together and remaining committed to the team’s mission. In the context of a team, resistance refers to the behaviors, attitudes, and leadership methods that reduce and remove blocks to flow. In the context of the team, management means appropriate accountability and supervision - ongoing validation and improvement of healthy team flow.

Reliable Plan

A web property that reliably generates revenue embraces the importance of planning that in turn embraces the concept of flow. Good flow addresses three components: motivation, resistance, and management.

In the context of planning, motivation is like pressure and corresponds to the methods whereby customers in need are targeted and guided into a web property's sales pipeline and in what volume. Resistance in the planning context corresponds to keeping the web sales pipeline clean and flowing, allowing a customer to easily move from first contact to conversion with minimal difficulty or delay. Management at the strategic level refers to validating strategic choices prior to taking action through analysis, testing, and historical experience.

Reliable Action

At the execution level, a reliable web property generates revenue and embraces flow. How is flow embraced? Impetus, created by the customer’s motivation to obtain a solution to their problem, is given a clear path to follow and maintained through the session. Friction that arises along the customer ’s path must be minimized from the time they enter the site to the moment they exit. And a system for monitoring the customer and their movement through the site must be implemented and maintained.

Each one of the disciplines and areas of expertise in the discussion that follows is vast on its own. For example, there is an entire industry dedicated to SEO. Another multi-billion dollar industry is dedicated to paid search. These conversations about the Web Reliability System seek to survey the landscape from on high however, and maintain an overview of the whole ecosystem of the website rather than to describe or explore any one aspect in depth.

Even while keeping the big picture in mind, a consistently strong focus on reducing friction remains essential. Minimal friction produces steady system flow. It also produces customer happiness as the customer’s impetus of desire flows steadily through the circuitry of your low-friction system. Below is a point of view about the shape of the circuitry through which your customer's desire moves.