Whether building a completely new website or redesigning a previous site, there are countless items to consider. The research firm Clutch recently interviewed our own Marty Vernon on the various choices that accompany the build of a website. Marty discussed several topics regarding what businesses should think about before designing and developing a website.
As a company that values building a site to meet clear goals and objectives, you can imagine that Marty had a lot of insights on the topic.
Building off of Marty’s tips from the interview, we put together a round up list of important objectives to consider before initiating the build of a website.
- Define Business/Organizational Goals
- Understand Why Our Website Exists
- Think About Our Website Content Needs
- Specify Any Technical Requirements
- Ask What Ongoing Support Entails
What are your goals for the website?
“It is really important that we get the clients to think about their organizational goals, about where it’s at in the present, and where they might be in the next one to three or even five years. Whether that means possibly getting acquired, or launching new products/services/programs next season.”
Or maybe you are changing the structure of your organization. Regardless the case, if we don't consider your unique business needs, this new website could become outdated rather quickly and may need to be redesigned within only a year or two. If you had to redesign a website every couple this would be costly from a monetary and productivity perspective.
Building a website that meets the current goals of the business but, that's adapt, will be problematic when the business makes some changes and attempts to reflect these changes on the website. Clients who have not been challenged to think about their business goals as it relates to their website often present with a common complaint that they feel “their site has been Frankenstein’d”.
Having an idea of future growth can help to build a site that has the potential to scale.
An understanding of both short and long term business goals can help to position a website for success beyond sometimes even the foreseeable future. After all, a website that will be able to accommodate the present and future needs of the business is a much more satisfying investment.
Why does the website exist?
“Do we just want the website to look ‘cool’ and by extension make our company look ‘cool’ too?”
"Are we trying to generate prospective leads to our sales team?"
“Are we more concerned with supporting current customers with a robust backend that features resources and other client specific materials?”
Websites are designed to accommodate many different purposes and functions and when we thoroughly consider our business we can get some serious insight into how our website fits into our overall strategy. However, it can be difficult to satisfy an extensive (and specific) list of things your site has to accomplish. For example, here is a short list of items that trying to accomplish concurrently will be in conflict with one another and make for an instable website:
- Super Custom Look & Feel - Have the most cutting edge design and involve complex animations
- Easy Content Management - Allow for fast updates by non-technical team members
- Dominate Search Engines - We want to generate a lot of organic traffic
- Load lightning fast - Be the fastest loading website online
This is not even an extensive list, but the first two items actually compete with one another. Highly custom and easily edited content do not work in real life or online. Any good web design team will do their best to give you recommendations on how to achieve all the above, but we will need to prioritize and/or possibly make some concessions.
What type of content will the website display?
“If the content is constantly changing or not available/understood at the time of the estimate, that can impact the budget when the content finally is developed. Also, completely new content can impact budget. Requests like creating custom icons to accompany each content block on a website. It is best to have content ready and organized to help avoid incurring surprise charges. Or even to have content needs and expectations defined."
A broad example might be - we have:
- 300 pages of content - only 30 of which are changing and will be edited by our (clients) marketing department.
- 10 different services and we want to develop an icon set that we'll use on the website, but will also be used in other offline printed collateral.
- A featured image on all 300 pages and we'll use stock (or custom) photos.
- A library of 500 videos hosted on youtube (vimeo or our own internal server) and we need to come up with a way to categorize and sort them easily for our visitors.”
Content includes all of the text and images that website will be displaying. It is best to have a plan for what the content will be, how much can be re-purposed, how much will need to be written, who will write it, how it will be organized, how it will be managed, and how it will complement the goals of the site. If we don't know the answers to these questions we'll need to make sure we have a company that can help us audit and make sense of our content needs.
What are the technical specifications?
Technical requirements are very important and more and more organizations are requiring ways that their website integrate with their business. However,
“The more of these new technical items that pop up after the initial plan the more likely we are to start bumping up against the budget.”
Do we need the site to integrate with another 3rd party software, a custom module or plugin engineered from scratch or some other custom function built? By planning out what technical aspects are needed and defining any specifics, can help to ensure that our site will function as desired in the end.
If we fail to define these details before hand, costs can rise immensely as new items come up. A website is a coherent unit and when there are new technical requests (even if they have been done before and/or there is a module for that) the whole website might need to be altered or the hosting environment changed, the code edited, involve additional testing and troubleshooting to ensure this new feature works.
A detailed plan beforehand can reduce the possibility of surprises and keep the budget in sight.
How much guidance is required throughout the process?
How much guidance will be needed throughout the build of the website and furthermore after the launch?
Someone that has had a previous website will be more familiar with the process and the technical considerations than someone who will be a first time website owner.
For example, those who are unfamiliar with Drupal will need guidance and training to be able to properly run their site post launch.
“Drupal actually comes with a robust new vocabulary, so we try to start introducing those terms early on.”
We have found that clients we’ve worked with really appreciate the guidance and support we provide during the project.
“To me, EDUCO was great about translating the confusing IT language and everything that goes with it into plain English. I was able to understand everything, and I'm not a technical person. All my needs were met. I was never made to feel like anything was over my head. To me, that is unique to be able to meet the business needs and support it with really great IT.” – Current Educo Client
So, if more guidance will be needed it is important to find a company that is willing to provide this. A design company that helps their client understand how the site is built and how to use it after launch will prove to be more than helpful.
Take Things Slow
We know we said 5 Considerations, but if you've read this far we'd like to give you a treat. This was not in Marty's original interview, but he wanted us to pass this on. He believes that building a website is a lot like getting married and having a baby - all in a 2-4 month time period. It's a lot of pressure to put on any relationship.
“I think the best value, which I have done myself (when in a position of hiring for a large project) and would love to see more clients consider, is the option of digital discovery. For a flat fee it’s possible to hire a web design team to come in, and get started planning the website. It’s a two to four week long session and results in a clear plan or blueprint for what we need to build."
Most people want to interview a few web design teams and select the one that presents themselves attractively and has a proposal with favorable pricing.
Not many people get excited at the thought of a long drawn out more costly interview process and spending a little bit of money with someone to see the value that they get, but in Marty's experience this creates an ideal scenario where clients can get a first hand experience of what it is actually going to be like working with this web design company indefinitely. And not just for the next 2-4 months of the client's work life, but quite possibly for the next 3-5 years of the website's life and whenever the client needs support. This approach can also answer questions like:
- Do they have a high staff turn over rate?
- Is this web design company ethical/responsible/dependable?
- How's their communication in general and also as it relates to misunderstandings?
- Now that the honeymoon is over and we're working together has their tone changed?
There are numerous choices to make when deciding how to build a website and the more clarity we can bring to the unknowns the better and the easier it will be to stay on track to build a great website.
For more insights from Marty, the full interview can be found on Clutch along with an article on the options for building a website.