Embarking on a custom website design or redesign project is not to be taken lightly. Both the monetary and time commitments are large. Yet once completed, the impact of a new website design can last for years! The following six steps will help you select the right partner, identify the website goals and track the progress of the design/redesign so that your website is built correctly the first time!
STEP 1: Pick a Partner, Not Just an Agency.
Picking a website development company is never an easy task. The first step in setting yourself up for success is to pick a partner and not just an agency. A partner will have your strategic goals in mind while developing your website and not just the end product. Look for a partner who:
– Can provide you with examples of live websites they completed (Experience in your specific industry is not necessary, but can be beneficial)
– Will market your website post development. (A) Partners who have incentive for post-production work are generally more inclined to take the extra steps to keep your business. (B) Partners without specific Search Engine Optimization or Pay Per Click Advertising experience may not be aware of subtle techniques which will need to be updated for the marketing of your site.
– Website Development is never over. Even once the finished product is live, keep in mind that tweaks and updates are needed. Having a partner who you trust and who knows the back end system of the site will ease and expedite updates.
– Ask for references! When speaking with the references (yes, you should actually call them!), ask them about the process:
How were their interactions with the agency?
How flexible was the agency?
Did the agency propose solutions and suggestions (usability, plug-ins, etc)?
Did the agency develop the site on their own staging/development server?
Did the agency meet timelines?
STEP 2: Identify Your Website’s Goals.
Many of my clients have turned to me and said, “I want a website that wins awards”. While an award winning website is a great ego-stroke, there are no studies relating website awards won and increased conversions. If you cannot identify a goal/conversion metric for your website, consult with your partner. If they cannot help you, pick another partner!
Be sure not to cram all of the information and calls to action above the fold! Your site should have a clean and logically organized design that doesn’t try to be all things to all people. Use your real-estate wisely and never be afraid to test!
Understand what your client’s are looking for – If you are not sure how your customers are currently using your website or even the makeup of your target audience, Pew Internet has some good Data Tools which can help you identify your target audience and design a site which meets your client’s needs while increasing conversions.
STEP 3: Set a Timeline and Major Milestones.
Pick a partner who clearly lays out timelines, steps and major milestones. There are many tasks being complete which you cannot see (Ex: Server set-up). Major milestones should be in place so you can track the development progress. The agency you choose should have a process in place that they follow. Our process includes:
– Functional Specifications Document (FSD)
– Site Architecture
– Design and Usability
– Development, QA, and Launch
– Continuous Optimization
Understand what your partner’s process is and why! It is okay to request modifications to the process or to ask for details on what is included within a process, but understand that you cannot build the highway and then decide if the road goes in the direction you want.
STEP 4: Identify Needed Assets
This may be the first production step within the website development. Your partner should give you a list of items they will need to develop the site. Have you provided their team with everything they will need upfront to complete the website? Putting all required asset information within one email/file will keep everything organized and clean.
Note: If you need to remove an agency/disgruntled former employee/ a-wall developer’s access, save the time and do so first.
STEP 5: Be Flexible
Similar to any building project, issues will arise; it’s inevitable. Often it is your very own request (usually outside of the original project scope) which cause these hiccups. Be firm, yet flexible with your partner. If your partner says “let me look into that” or “I know of a platform that will perform what you are requesting”, be sure to ask the question, “How will this impact our completion date”? If you do not ask, they may not tell you.
STEP 6: TEST TEST TEST!
Every company will tell you that they Quality Assurance test your site, but is that time built into the project timeline? What steps are they taking to test the site? Many often over-looked tests include:
Has your analytics account/software been installed correctly?
Do the forms on your site function correctly?
– Emailing correctly (Format, subject and addresses)?
– Sending out from your server and not just theirs?
– Required fields accepting correct data?
Are you, the client, able to make updates to the site easily?
– Add a page?
– Delete a page?
– Add text to a page?
Can you process test transactions on your website?
– Can you reverse a transaction?
Is your site compatible in all browsers?
– Though only used by 4.4% of the population . IE6 has limitations which prevent some of the amazing functions your site has been built with to work. Agencies may charge you more if this requirement is not tested prior to launch.
If you follow the above suggestions to pick the right web development partner, you will have a successful, converting website that you can both be proud of.