Over the years, We’ve worked with many marketing and technology teams to plan, design and develop new websites, ranging from enterprise behemoths to simple interactive brochures for small businesses. Website development can be complex at times. We’ve had some smooth transitions and some amazing successes. In some cases, we’ve had what we would call learning opportunities.
Often, the success of a website launch depends on the communication between the website development firm and the client (this could refer to an in-house team as well, and not just an outside website development firm).
It’s also very important that both parties understand each other’s expectations. The term “website” may be nearly as broad as the term “container”. Just like a cargo ship and a Ziploc bag are both containers, a site with millions of pages like Wikipedia and a text-based website with a single page are both websites.
It’s not only the number of pages that determines the scope of your website, but the kind of content on those pages. You’ll need to consider the interactivity of the content, how dynamic the design of that content is, and the bandwidth it takes up to serve the content to the visitors. Furthermore, consider the internal process that needs to take place to successfully assemble all the above into a finished product such as who needs to be involved, how many people will need to review and sign off, and so on.
It’s critical to determine all of these details if you are going to dive into a new website development project, but it can be overwhelming. Perhaps there is a sense of mystery to the process. You may not know what you are getting into. Websites involve creative artistry, ever changing technology, effective marketing communications and strategic thinking. With budgets of all sizes and needs of all varieties, it can be tricky to properly scope the project and find the right team to help you with design and development.
To get you started, We’ll explain some key questions you must address to successfully plan, design, develop and launch a website that will be an asset to your company. Cover each of these areas and you’ll know what to ask your website development team to scope and most of all you’ll be setup for success.
What are the website goals?
The most important question to answer is this: why do you even need to have a website? If you don’t know, you’ve just eliminated the need to do anything. You don’t need to address your website and you don’t even need to read the rest of this article. Otherwise, if you’re like most people, there is a purpose -- it may be driving traffic to your retail brand, supporting sales teams at a professional firm, for demand generation marketing at your enterprise services company, or distributing frequent information to your member organization. Defining this goal will guide you in developing a scope of features, defining content, developing a budget, and measuring success. Start here, and build everything else on these goals.
Is it a technology need or a communications need?
Unfortunately, these call for a very different solution. Often people say they need a website, and when I ask why, I hear “Because our customers don’t fully understand what we do.”. Rarely is this because the logo is too small or the functionality seems dated. It’s more likely that you have a brand communications challenge. A website is a key element to solving this problem, but the problem is with messaging more than it is technology.
If your site goals are focused on providing a self service platform for ordering industrial supplies, you might consider it a technology focused need, in which case you’ll want to put special attention on things like user journeys and page load time. If it is intended to help you deliver information about a complex non-profit social services program, it might be a communications need. In this case you’ll need to focus your attention on clarity of messaging and how content is organized.
How does your website fit into your marketing strategy?
In most cases your website does not stand alone. Websites can be used as the destination for marketing campaigns, or it may be a way to direct people to events. For professional services firms, websites often act as a “digital brochure” which provides validation for clients considering hiring you. It might be a sales enablement tool that optimizes the sales process by featuring case studies, capturing new client inquiries, etc. For product marketers, it might be a centerpiece of the marketing strategy, including landing pages for demand generation campaigns or lead capturing. For ecommerce businesses, it is a storefront, and much like the rent and maintenance of a brick and mortar store, companies should allocate budget to support it and ensure it is effective. It is valuable to consider how your website ties into these other activities.
On a related note, how does your website relate to your brand?
It’s not unusual to want to update your website because it just looks dated. If you update your website with a modern look and feel, how will this affect the appearance of your brand identifiers like logos, typography and color palette? The design of the website will have to take these design elements into consideration. In some cases, a redesign of a website may require a redesign of a brand identity if it is going to be a successful upgrade. Even if a full rebrand is not on the table, be prepared to review all of your marketing collateral to make sure that there is consistency in the aesthetic across your brand touch points.
What is the content plan?
Are you transferring 100% of your old content to the new site, or are you creating it all from scratch? More often than not, it’s somewhere in between. When you develop a new site, your site goals may call for the content map to change significantly from the approach taken with your old site. In this case, content is not simply a word doc to be transferred over, but something that is mapped out with some strategy behind it. This includes a messaging hierarchy, written content, images, videos, links and calls to action. It’s true that in some cases content can be retrofitted to the space offered by your website, but this is not true in all cases. The information architecture of your site is an important part of the process.
Then you have to determine who writes what. It’s important that the content writer understands how the website will be built and how visitors will use it. Depending on the complexity of your site, the person developing the architecture of the site might not be the same person that is writing the brand communications content that is incorporated into the site.
Content does not only mean page headlines and paragraph text. A dynamic website may include photos, videos, infographics, and potentially other forms of content. Generally speaking, content can also be used independently as well. A video on your website may also be used for broadcast advertising. An infographic may be a social media engagement tool. Written content may be a part of marketing brochures or proposals. A website development project does not automatically include these components, so it’s essential to take content needs into consideration as it will impact the budget and timeline – and, ultimately the resulting finished work for your website project.
How will you determine your budget?
There’s always that awkward moment when we have to talk about the budget. You want to make sure you’re getting an affordable price for premium service, and the web development team wants to make sure they can pay their staff a fair wage, and still be profitable.
The good news is that you can find a solution for literally every budget. On the low end, there are services like Squarespace and Wix that offer you self service templates for a very small subscription under two hundred dollars per year. On the high end, you could spend over $500 million much like healthcare.gov before it launched. No matter what your budget is, it is always true that budgets limit what you can include in the scope of your website project.
If you’re like most companies, yours is probably somewhere in the middle of the aforementioned budgets. Here are some things to consider. Most custom sites take about 12-16 weeks to complete if the website team is operating at a non-stop pace without waiting on the client for decisions or approvals. A custom professional website will cost the website development company about $22,500 to $30,000 in hard salary costs before covering overhead and profits. Professional web development depends on the skills of a designer, copywriter, marketing strategist, web developer and a project manager. This cost can be impacted by research, decision-making, the review process, quantity and type of content and other factors that require time from your team or the web development firm. Again, much like a “container” can come in all sizes, websites do as well and all of this changes based on your needs and expectations.
What are your ongoing needs after the site is launched?
An often overlooked part of website planning is what happens after the site is launched. When you consider how you will manage the ongoing upkeep of your website, consider two aspects: (1) content creation, content management, and marketing, and (2) Software updates, backups, and version control.
It may be beneficial to have a managed services agreement with your website developer to cover some of this. For example, if you crash the site by uploading a large image or delete all your content, you have an expert resource to fix the issue or revert back to a prior version of the site. You may also need occasional small design or functional updates to the site that are not related to content accessible within the CMS.
When it comes to general site content updates, you may have the capacity to make updates in-house, or you may need to tap into a creative services team. Having a plan in place in advance can be helpful, and managed services agreement can help make budgeting easier too. With most modern content management systems like Craft CMS, Ghost, or WordPress, many updates can be managed by a non-technical person, but you’ll need to evaluate your in-house skills and capacity for copywriting and design. If you don’t want ongoing creative services fees and prefer to pay by the project, even a managed hosting service with a version control buildout can make all changes to the website easier to implement.