Yes, that title is a bit dark and gloomy. And for many people, managing the creation and launch of a new website for their company feels like the cold hand of death is reaching out for them.
We’ve been managing web projects for almost 5 years and have been creating new ones for clients with our own staff for six months. And have we got stories to tell that can make your blood run cold. And of course, there are lessons to be learned from other’s mistakes.
Let's start with the stories about why companies (usually the CEO or VP of Sales) decide it is time for a new website. In Family Feud Style…
#1 answer is: Our old site was stale – we wanted to update the look.
#2 – Things have changed at the company and we can’t find developer who did our site last time (so we can’t make the changes).
#3 – SEO isn’t working on our site any more.
#4 – We want to add a blog.
#5 – We want to add social media “stuff.”
Somewhere down the list is “we want to get more leads from our website.” First lesson is here. The only reason to go through the pain and expense of updating your website is to generate more leads from it. Be EXPLICIT about that goal. It's not assumed.
If you don’t start with that goal expressed, then all you are doing is creating a nicer looking online brochure. And that might be okay for your particular business – but it's not for most. So before you start looking at designers and designs, first lay out your conversion plan. When you get someone to your site, how are you going to get them to register their info with you (so that you can continue to market to them)? Then, build backwards from there into the content and insight that will attract those prospects in the first place. (By the way, just about any web designer can make your company info look good. Most will not help you re-craft your differentiation and strategic messaging in a way that has impact.)
On that list above is the fact that many times a company can’t find the original designer/log in/etc and they want to make changes. There are a number of stories here we can tell about companies choosing the wrong content management system or development platform for what they were trying to achieve. There are numerous choices out there – WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, DotNetNuke, HubSpot, Hand-coded HTML. What’s right for you? It depends on what you are trying to achieve and the resources you have in house (or budget to spend on ongoing maintenance).
Whichever one you choose, you want to be sure that there are a large number of folks that you can point to that can change/maintain/rework your site if your current relationship falls apart. In about 65% of the conversations we have with companies about their websites, we hear “we used so-and-so to do our site, we’ll never use them again.”
Why is the divorce rate so high?
- Website projects are tough to manage – you have design, content, technology and search all having to be coordinated at the same time
- Communication is critical – if your web designer speaks one way, and you another – if you don’t come to a common language set that you both understand – you’ll be disappointed
- Timelines are rarely met – there is always a drag that gets a project delayed. Usually it is on the part of the client getting the website because a designer/developer doesn’t want to make decisions without approvals, and clients aren’t sure what approvals are critical and which are incidental (see communication above)
- Many website designers are not as proficient or as deliberate as they should be when launching the new site – critical things get missed
Here are 2 quick stories on that last point. In the first, a company we know well (but not our client) called to say they had launched a new site and they had completely dropped off the search results. They didn’t know why. The guy who developed the site was getting snippy about it claiming he said he wasn’t an SEO expert right at the start. It turns out there were some basic errors made in the files that Google reads to understand the site, and since Google couldn’t read the site, in their robot’s algorithm, it didn’t exist. (we helped them find and fix the issue)
The second story is our own hands-on learning experience. Like many companies, we’ve grown and shifted our hosting, registrars and add-ons over the years. And we didn’t keep a good log of where everything was and where it pointed. So in the process of launching our new site, we:
- Shut down our email for a day
- Broke about 40 links in our site
- Totally forgot to add back visitor tracking code to our header files
… and probably 3 other things we haven’t found yet.
So the takeaway here is
- Understand what your developer really does and doesn’t know about as it relates to what is important to you. There are many, many, under the cover technical details involved in creating and launch a new site that you (hopefully) will never have to know about or manage if you find the right person.
- Before you start the renovation of your online home, be sure the blueprint you are working from is as current as possible (and your developer should be asking you a lot of questions about this).
Building a good, basic website that focuses on generating leads for your business is difficult. Add in eCommerce, customer portals, and other sorts of widgets, and it gets much harder. Just because the firm you are evaluating has good design skills doesn’t mean they can build an effective website for your business. Take the time to really interview and understand the skill set you are buying. And know what your goals are for the new site. And of course, if you are considering a renovation, we’d love the opportunity to talk with you about our approach.