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Mistakes To Avoid in Your Next Web Project

At this stage of the game, most business professionals have been involved in a website project to some degree — some only with a marketing/maintenance role, while others have worked on a site launch from the ground up. As technology evolves and new digital strategies are revealed, most of us will find ourselves tasked with a website build or relaunch at some point. Knowing what problem areas to avoid can help you not only produce a better project, but do so in a way that minimizes frustration and rework along the way.

Goals to consider before beginning a major website project

A common initial problem is people jumping a bit too far into the design and development process without doing enough initial planning and goal identification. A lot of work should be done before design and development starts. Some of the things you should know include:

  • What is the purpose of the project? To increase sales? Online or offline? To increase inquiries? How will these be tracked?
  • What is the core messaging that we’re trying to convey? In other words, what are we trying to say, and who are we saying it to?
  • Who will be using this website? This applies to everything, including the actual website interface.
  • How does this initiative mesh with other corporate priorities, such as rebranding, or the launch of new products or services? How can the website support these priorities?

Technology issues

Technology associated with web development can be pretty intimidating. Not only is there a lot to know, but web technology is constantly changing. Some things people need to be aware of when trying to get their arms around the technology elements of a website project include:

  • Domain name(s) — many times people aren’t even aware where the domain name is registered (because it was done by a previous vendor, a former employee, and so on). Having that login information on-hand is crucial — figure that out as soon as you can.
  • Hosting — What progamming language and content management system (CMS) will be used? These are important considerations when purchasing hosting.
  • Security — Be aware of the possibility your site could be hacked (especially if it’s WordPress, the most popular CMS. Although WordPress is very secure, it is more attractive to hackers because it represents a larger target). Make sure your developer adds the layers of security necessary to minimize the chances of this happening.
  • Privacy — Make sure your site’s users feel comfortable by being clear about how you’ll use any personal information the site may collect, through a contact form or other means.
  • Evaluating whether you should get a template versus a custom site — Templates tend to be inexpensive and fast to implement, while more expensive, custom-built sites are unique to you, and easier to change and adapt in the long-term as your company grows and technology changes.

Launching a site in a timely, cost-efficient manner

When it comes to website projects, often the first question is “How much will this cost?” The second is, “When will the new site be launched?” Here are some ways to keep costs down, and to keep the project moving toward completion and launch.

  • Create a timeline and commit to incremental milestones. Check it regularly to see where you are, and what your next step might be. Getting decision-makers all in one room for a meeting can be challenging, so even one canceled meeting can result in a significant delay.
  • Work on vital stuff, then sweat the tiny things. Getting the big pieces in place first is vitally important — design flourishes and fine-tuning come later.
  • Ensure ongoing support/dedication to the website after the new version is live. Sometimes people don’t think beyond the launch, which is a big mistake. You have to continue to read your content, make sure it’s relevant and updated, and that your focus is still correct.

Project management

Project management is key to the overall success of any project, and websites are no different. When we think about the people charged with managing a major website project, what are some pointers we would have for them?

  • Factor in the “cost” of this person’s time. You can’t just give them this task and expect them to have it done without a significant time investment.
  • Ensure enough resources are allocated to actually focus on the web build.
  • Ensure the scope of the project is properly defined. Are you creating a five-page informational site, or a large e-commerce site?
  • Have regularly scheduled project meetings. Don’t hold off on having weekly meetings to get questions answered that might hold up the project.
  • Don’t be overly optimistic with timelines. Consider what other responsibilities the person in charge of getting this done might have, and potential obstacles to getting the project completed. Expect that it will take longer than you think.

Getting the content together

The entire point of a web project is to publish content, so content generation and acquisition is a major component of any web project. However, in our experience, it’s frequently the single biggest factor for projects getting off schedule and over budget. Here’s how to get a better handle on your content:

  • Get started on composing/collecting the written copy now. It’s never too early.
  • If the project will use existing content, go through it again and ensure it is current with the company’s messaging/attitude/goals. What content do you need that isn’t there? What needs to be rewritten?
  • Carefully evaluate your photography. Sure, you’ve got photos, but where exactly are they? Are they professional shots, or were they taken on a cell phone? Do your photos need to be organized? What images are missing? Are they the appropriate resolution? New websites need much more high-res photography than sites that were built just a couple years ago, so you generally can’t just grab photos off your old site.
  • Don’t be afraid to use stock photos if they are better than what you have. Many times this is a better choice if your existing photography is inadequate.

Website aesthetics

For many, one of the core driving factors of a relaunch is aesthetics — “Our website just looks so dated.” What are some recommended ways to begin thinking about a fresh look?

  • Research what’s already out there. Take a look at other websites, both in your industry and outside of it, to see what they are doing visually and content-wise. What seems to work? What do you like? Write it down, so you can clearly communicate with your web development team.
  • Don’t necessarily trust your competitors to be on the cutting edge of design trends or content delivery. Sometimes, you can set the bar much higher.

Home page

Another common trouble spot is the home page of a website. Frequently, we’ll see a home page cluttered with long paragraphs and lots of tiny photos. Here’s how to make sure your site’s home page represents your company well:

  • Recognize that a home page has a very different job to do than any other page of the website. It’s not your visitor’s responsibility to read everything — you don’t want to drive them away.
  • Identify target audiences and make it as easy as possible for each audience to find what they want.  Direct audiences to appropriate content of interest to them.
  • State value proposition. Make sure it’s clear why they should do business with you instead of a competitor.
  • Clarify the actual service provided. It has to be clear what you’re offering!
  • Provide a specific call to action. Make it easy for your visitor to do whatever it is you hope they’ll do — whether that’s shop, make a reservation, call your office, or whatever.
  • Avoid labeling things “under construction” or coming soon — instead, use the “draft” feature of your CMS. It’s much better to not publish a page, rather than tease your site’s users by directing them to click on a page that’s devoid of content. It’s much better to work on the page by saving it in “draft” mode, and publish it only when it’s truly ready.

Working with a professional web development team

Typically, a business will require a professional web development team to create and launch a new site. We’ve covered a lot of areas related to project management practices already — but here are some ways you can make the most of your relationship with your web development team:

  • Hire a team you can trust, then trust them. Web development is what they do for a living, and they really do have your best interests in mind. After all, when you succeed, your web development team succeeds too.
  • Trust yourself, too. They know their business, but you know yours — ultimately, the website is promoting your business.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your development team is expert in what they do, and they’re more than happy to explain it to you.

Conclusion

We covered this pretty thoroughly when discussing planning and goals, but it’s important to cycle back around to managing expectations for a project of this size. To sum up:

  • Do not underestimate how much effort goes into doing this right (from both the company and the vendor). This is not something you can do in a couple weeks! Websites generally give a great return on investment, but it is a significant investment in time and money.
  • Websites are more marketing than IT. Of course, there’s technology involved, but your website is much more related to sales and marketing — it needs to be more than functional.
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