What to Expect when Planning a Website
Over the course of the last few months, we’ve traveled extensively and talked to a lot of clients and potential clients: the Association of Loudspeaker Manufacturing and Acoustics (ALMA) Conference, Consumer Electronics Show and Integrated Systems Europe, as well as several more local events and phone calls. Through these interactions, with companies of all sizes, we hear a recurring theme. What should we do with our website, what will it cost, what should I expect?
These are not easy answers. I’ve worked on many websites as the Marketing Director, and there is a considerable amount of thought and planning needed prior and during the website creation process that you should consider when developing a plan for your website.
The first thing to do is to ask yourself some questions. What do you want out of this site? Who’s going to be maintaining the website? Do you have the bandwidth to consider this project now? Why do you want to do this project now? What created the drive; is it because your competitors’ websites are kicking your butt? Is it outdated? Have you been saving for this endeavor and finally have enough? Document your findings and analyze them so you can communicate your thoughts to the web development team.
Goals and Objectives
Clearly defined goals and the tools you use to meet them is the most important element of keeping your website development on its timeline. What are your goals? Is it all about fundraising? Gathering leads? Added exposure? Don’t just answer these questions, define them. If you have a target in mind—for example, doubling your leads per month—include lead development specialists on your team. Using experts with the latest techniques will help ensure your goals are met.
In addition, look beyond the website for tools that integrate with the site and complement its function to reach these goals. If you need help generating ideas, we can recommend ways other than the website to help accomplish your goals. Marketing Matters has a full array of marketing and public relations tools that can help your company reach your end goals (what we simply call “Getting Results”). The more time that is spent in the initial brainstorm clearly defining what you want out of your website to make it a success, the better we can help you stay on budget, on time and create an impactful overall design to help you reach those goals.
If you begin a project without concrete objectives in mind, chances are you will start changing those objectives and altering your plan on the fly. That’s where projects can quickly derail, exceeding the budget and throwing your schedule out of whack. It’s worth taking the time on the forefront to make sure there’s a good plan in place.
At times, budget and goals do not meet. Look to your team to help you define priorities and move some of the features to a second phase of the development when additional budget is available. Often, even if there is a list put together and you’re debating about aspects, we can help you weed through the necessities. Understanding your analytics and customers will help you, and us, work through the clutter.
At the end of the project, you should be able to look back and say, concretely, whether the project was a success or not. You should be able to say, for example, “Yes, we doubled our leads”, or whatever goal you had set.
Wishes vs. Needs
As with goals and objectives, it’s very important to distinguish between what you need to make the site successful and what you want to add because you like it or have seen it on other sites. Create a list and separate it with needs versus wants. It’s extremely helpful to distinguish these things, as this affects schedule and budget. Anything can be done with unlimited time and money. Marketing companies, us included, want to provide you with all the bells and whistles necessary to increase your chance of success. Being honest with yourself and your colleagues about what’s needed versus what’s wanted will increase that level of success, bring down the budget and keep the schedule on track. Consider that a single wish could drastically increase the budget and increase the schedule by a couple of weeks. Be open to these considerations.
Being conscientious about some of the services you could do without at the initial launch doesn’t mean you have to forego those wants. Instead, we can help you plan for a phase two. Sometimes you will find that items in the phase two really weren’t needed at all. The more you can document your thoughts and prioritize what’s important, not only is this helpful in the planning and proposal stage, you’re going to get a much better final product. On time and on-budget are valuable goals to decision makers.
Collect as much relevant content in advance as possible. We often find that the best prepared clients are the ones that we’re able to serve on the best timeline. Hosting information, Registrar credentials, relevant images, a list of your current dealers, what content you want to address on a page, etc., all pose problems when they are not available for website planning. Even if you do not have all the content needed, allowing a firm like us to take a preliminary look at the data you have allows us to get to work on filling in the holes in the data and minimizing your valued time.
Websites, like cars, come in all shapes, sizes and costs. The cost of a website varies greatly. Do you want a Ford Fiesta type of website, or a Lamborghini type of website?
Budget is the number one concern for most clients, yet very rarely are we given a specific dollar amount to work with. This is likely because clients either don’t have any frame of reference or they may not know exactly what they want. We can help you initially by giving examples of what we’ve done and for how much. However, the websites we create are uniquely catered to each client’s needs, so the more research and planning you do as far as your expectations and needs, the more accurately we can quote a price.
If you ask 10 companies to quote on a website, you’ll likely get 10 different quotes, sometimes drastically different in costs. And you’ll think, “Well are some of these companies crazy or overpriced?” Often this isn’t the case. Marketing firms, Marketing Matters included, want to offer you what we think you need. If no budget amount was given, or if the request for the proposal isn’t well defined, then we have to fill in the holes. Thus making the request for the proposal content extremely important. If the request for the proposal isn’t well defined and the price seems high to you, don’t be afraid to ask for ways to lower it.
Keep in mind that cheaper isn’t always better. Ask for references.
Sit down with your marketing company and be realistic. Everyone wants it yesterday. Look at budget and needs equally. Depending on complexity, website creation can be a lengthy process. It’s important to have a target in mind but it is also important to be flexible with your timeline as you may encounter a response that you’re pushing for an aggressive and potentially unrealistic deadline. If you have a wants and a needs list, it’s easier for us to meet the deadline with your needs, and maybe we just need a little more time after the launch to deliver certain wants. If you encounter a schedule that is too long for the full delivery, consider doing the project in phases.
Make sure that the key decision makers give approval at key points in the project. Marketing Matters identifies critical steps throughout the process that we typically ask for feedback: upon creating the sitemap, after creating the copy, after creating the first design and after programming. Key players need to be shown the site at these critical points to provide feedback. Sometimes we find that after speaking to a principal in the company, the project takes on a completely new direction. It’s important to discover project scope changes as soon as possible to prevent delivery delays and increased development costs.
It’s important to define your internal web development team and have a key decision maker. “Approval by committee” projects create a compromised end result that typically pleases no one.
In summation, it’s very important to begin documenting ways you want to update your site, even if you don’t plan to have a new site anytime soon. When you’re ready, develop defined goals and objectives. Provide a budget, a list of needs versus wants and a desired timeline. Gather as many materials as possible at the outset of the project. Throughout the entire process, think of Marketing Matters as problem solvers, because we’re here to help along the way.