In addition to being the VP of IT for Scranton Gillette communications, Joel is a competitive water skier, family guy, guitar player, and tinkerer. Joel also enjoys photography, comedy, music,...
Launching a new website soon? A lot of companies out there have held off on new website builds through the recession and are now looking at quite a bit of “tech debt” in their old sites. Regardless of what platform you choose and what consulting firm you go with to build your new site, there are plenty of ways to do it wrong. As somebody who’s been around the block a few times with site rebuilds (and has the gray hair to prove it), here are 10 points to think about:
Know Why you’re Rebuilding
Truly determine the exact reason(s) the current site is not suiting your needs. Avoid broad strokes such as the site “just not looking modern” or “needing to work on mobile”. Unless you want to be in the same position with your site again in a couple years or less, you need to get to the root pain points with the site.
Backend is as Important as Frontend
Make the backend efficiencies of the site just as important as the external look and feel. Take a look at how data and content is updated on the site and how painful that currently is. Do the administration screens and procedures make sense, and how much time could be saved if they were different? Do you have the ability to enter content with consistent formatting and solid SEO nuts and bolts, or is content addition and editing the wild west?
Stick with a Platform or CMS that Does Not Tie you to One Vendor
There are plenty of consulting firms out there who use their own home-grown web platform/CMS for their clients. While these platforms may have a bright spot or two, they will tie you to that one vendor for updates, security, and enhancements. This can also be a liability if the firm goes under or has major staffing changes. An open-source CMS like Drupal or WordPress will give you a long-term choices for support and updates will be provided by the community.
Avoid Excessive Bells and Whistles
Avoid unnecessary “feature creep” by thinking through potential features thoroughly. Don’t chase bright and shiny features and ideas “just because” or you’ll end up with stuff that may look cool but doesn’t actually resonate with site visitors. Empty user forums, abandoned blogs, unused social media features, and outdated videos are all symptoms of this. Whenever you’re considering a new feature, think of how it will be used, who will update it, and how often it’ll be updated.
Know the Value of a Website
Understand that web development is not cheap, and those that are good at it offer tremendous value over those that aren’t. For whatever reason, a lot of clients I’ve talked to over the years do not assign the same value to good web development as they do to other high-profile, highly-skilled trades. If your budget is 5,000.00 for your website, you had better re-evaluate the long-term importance of your website to your business. Make sure you pick a consulting firm that asks the right questions and builds the right site for you and make that the #1 priority. This may not be the cheapest firm out there (certainly more expensive than hiring your 14-year-old nephew) but they will ensure your investment lasts years and that the site is done correctly the first time.
Think About How your Data will Migrate to the New Site
Your new site will, in theory, be a nicely organized, correctly structured container for your incoming data. How you decide to map your data from the old site to the new site is critical, and now is the time to break up bulky data fields and mashed up data so that it can be more useful for you on the new site. If your site has some bulky category/taxonomy system, now is the time to re-think that. If the site has no taxonomy structure, then now is the time to add it. Think of this as the time you took the junk drawer in your kitchen and organized it with that nice plastic tray. Each piece of content potentially needs to be looked at this way.
Have a Project Manager to Smooth Out the Process
Ensure you have a project manager on your side as a single point of contact for the site build. Disparate responsibility means disparate results for new site builds, so create a point to the spear and make sure everyone involved in the project knows who that is.
Make Sure your Redirects are in Place on the New Site
Your old site may have hundreds of links that have been crawled, indexed, shared, and backlinked over the years. Your new site may have a totally new link schema so your old links need to redirect to the new links or you’ll be ripping a hole in the Internet with your new site. For example, your old site may have had a page at the path /pages/contact-us.html. On the new site that may have to be redirected to /contact-us.
Bills, Bills, Bills
Think about how the site work will be scoped, bid out, and billed. You could be presented with a fixed-bid contract, an hourly time & materials contract, or a mix of both. Fixed-bid contracts can be wildly inaccurate because they assume full scope has been determined before the contract even begins, and that is rarely the case. You can either pay too much because the site seemed easier than expected to build, or go the other way and be slammed with scope change orders and extra charges. Full hourly/TM contracts actually penalize the consultants for being great and efficient, which isn’t right either. Consider a hybrid, such as a fixed bid requirements scoping phase and a time and materials basis with the project, or the other way around with an hourly charge on the scoping and a fixed bid based on that scoping plan.
Bring Vendors in Before Creating an RFP
You aren’t doing yourself any favors by creating a standard written RFP first and looking for the cheapest bid. Asking to simply “rebuild” the current site isn’t going to give you lasting value, either. Interview potential vendors; get a feel for them and what they offer before you get formal with your bidding process. A race to the bottom on pricing is not what you want, and by bringing firms in first you may learn more about what’s out there and what your options are before you put anything together.