How to make your website project a fairy tale not a horror story

How to make your website project a fairy tale not a horror story image
Have you noticed that everyone seems to have a horror story about the development of a new website?

These projects, more than any other, have a tendency to go off kilter and cause frustration for all involved.  What should be an exciting piece of work for client and agency all too often turns into a grudge match with all the initial enthusiasm a distant memory.

It shouldn’t – and need not – be like this!

At RMS, we have built hundreds of websites and hope this guide helps you avoid some common pitfalls when you next need a new website.

  • 1) Be prepared to sit and discuss your requirements

We are often contacted by people who simply say, “I need a new website. What will it cost?” or (our particular favourite) “My boss has asked me to ring around to find out how much a new website will cost.”

When we try to drill down a little more, many people actually get huffy and can’t seem to understand why we’d like to meet them to discuss their requirements in more detail.

Without a clear understanding of what the website is for – to sell something? To give advice? To raise brand awareness? To launch a new service? – an agency isn’t able to pull together an accurate project plan or budget.

Be prepared to invest time.  By sitting and discussing your requirements, you will be ‘forced’ (in a nice way) to focus on what you really need, while your developer will be able to sound you out about specific details – not just the technical and functional aspects of the project but the design and tone of voice used in the copy, too - all of which will inform the proposal and budget presented to you.

 

ADVICE:  If your web developer starts using jargon and phrases you don’t understand, tell them and ask them to explain in a language you do understand.

 

 

  • 2) Have a budget in mind and share it at the outset

For some strange reason, some clients don’t like giving a budget and even go so far as to say, “Provided I like what you propose, I’ll be happy to pay whatever it takes.”

While on the surface this sounds quite exciting, bitter experience has taught us otherwise.

Like it or not, it will help immensely if you share your budget with your developer at the outset.  When you give an agency ‘free rein’ they will get excited and pull together a proposal that’s all singing, all dancing with all sorts of bells, whistles, knobs and nifty functionality … you will love it, you will want it. 

Then the dreaded moment you ask what all this amazing stuff will cost.   They tell you.  You gulp.  You come clean and say you only have £XYZ to spend. 

Result?  A demoralised agency that’s thrown its heart and soul into your proposal and taken you at your word when you said, “Provided I like what you propose, I’m happy to pay.”

Had you been open from the outset and said you had £XYZ to spend, your agency would know what’s achievable and cut the cloth accordingly.  They’d remain engaged and enthusiastic rather than disappointed!

Most developers, when given a budget to work with, will present an appropriate proposal.  Most will also show you a few extra things that could be achieved with a little extra spend. Don’t dismiss these ideas out of hand as a few extra pounds might make all the difference to the success of your website.

 

ADVICE: Make sure you know exactly what you are getting for the budget presented and ensure your web developer has specified what falls outside the cost – get this detail in writing.

 

 

  • 3) Project planning and communication

Having agreed the brief and budget, your web developer should present you with a plan/timeline that clearly highlights key milestones of the project.  These might include, for example, the date they will send you wire frames or a home page design. 

Conversely, the plan will also specify the date by which you are expected to provide certain things, whether that is approvals, text, images or other assets. 

Don’t worry too much if your developer doesn’t update you on progress as they go along – they will undoubtedly have their headphones on and will be immersed in a world of code, working hard to deliver the work.  That said, communication is essential so insist that your developer/project manager schedules a regular call with you to update you on progress of your project and also sends you updated schedules so you always know the impact of any delays.

Most clients want something delivered ASAP.  Be wary of false promises, given just to win your business.

At RMS, we only provide realistic project timelines.  We’ve actually lost business because of this honesty but believe it really is the best policy as it ensures nobody is left feeling frustrated, disappointed or let down.

 

ADVICE: Agree your responsibilities and make absolutely certain you know exactly what is required of you.   Stick to your commitments and don’t be surprised if the whole project is delayed if you miss your deadlines.

 

 

  • 4) Approval by committee

Ask ten people for a view about something and you’ll get ten different views.

While a website project generally needs buy-in from many different stakeholders, it can be detrimental to the smooth running of the project if feedback and corrections are being given by several people.

Yes, discuss things with your colleagues but elect one person to collate and agree on the feedback being presented to your web developer.  It will save confusion, misunderstanding, time and money.

 

ADVICE: Nominate one person to communicate with your web developer/project manager and ensure they have authority.

 

 

  • 5) Scope creep

Already touched on in 2) above, this really is the one thing that derails web development projects so we’re mentioning it again!

Nobody likes nasty surprises.  Your developer will have specified what you will be getting for what price.  If you subsequently ask for additional enhancements or change your mind about things you’ve previously agreed, don’t be surprised to be charged for the additional time this requires.

A classic area of scope creep is the transference of historic content from an old site to your new site.  Make sure you and your developer know exactly how much content from your old website is going to be transferred to the new site.  This is one of those jobs that can take up a lot of time but doesn’t seem to be valued by clients!

 

ADVICE:  Insist that your developer clearly flags when something is going beyond the original spec and what the extra work will cost.

 

 

The ideal process for a website project

Like most web development agencies, at RMS we have a clearly defined process for delivering web development projects.  Ours is an 11-step process that looks like this:

(insert 11-step process diagram)

If your developer doesn’t clearly set out a similar process, you have every right to be concerned and to ask for one.

And finally … other things to consider

Domain name

Have you already purchased a domain name? If not, is the one you want available? If you’re using an existing domain name, do you have access to it.  Your developer will need this. 

Hosting

Make sure you ask your developer if they will be hosting your website.  If not and it’s to be hosted by a third-party, be aware that should your site ‘go down’ your developer can’t be held responsible.  In our opinion, it’s best to have your website developed and hosted by the same people because should any issues arise, you only need to make one call.

Check with your developer whether back-ups are included in the hosting as this will ensure you don’t lose anything should your website face any issues.

Copywriting

Will you be providing fresh copy for the website? Will you be using text from your existing site?  Will you want your developer to provide copy?  It’ll most likely be a combination of all three but agreeing this at the outset will avoid misunderstanding, frustration and delays.

Maintenance and on-going support

So you’ve got a lovely new website.  Like it or not, things sometimes go wrong – whether due to user-error, cyber-attacks or server issues – it is in your interests to consider taking out a maintenance package with your web developer.

This should give you access to a helpdesk in the event of a crisis but also cover routine maintenance checks on your site to ensure all technical things are working properly.  If your site has any plug-ins, a maintenance agreement will also ensure these are kept up-to-date, which is vital for security.

The world of web is constantly changing so a maintenance package will ensure you’re up-to-date with the latest technology.

Most agencies will offer a number of different maintenance packages – for instance, some might allow for a certain number of alterations to the site over the course of a year – for example, additional pages, changes of imagery, etc. 

Getting your website up the rankings

Too many people expect their website to automatically rocket up the Google rankings the moment it’s launched.  Be warned, this will not happen!

While any developer worth their salt will have ensured your site is built in an SEO friendly manner, this is just a small part of its on-going successful promotion.

To succeed and be found, a website needs to have its content regularly updated and expanded.  Then there’s the creation of dedicated landing pages to support specific campaigns.  And the implementation of PPC campaigns to drive visitors …. In short, simply having a new website is not enough to guarantee it will be visited.

If you don’t have the resources to ‘water your website’ on a regular basis, ask your web developer if they are able to provide a digital marketing service.  Building it is one thing, promoting it is another.

Ideally, you should use a supplier that is able to provide both services which is where agencies have a distinct advantage over freelance developers.  But that’s a whole new topic!

We hope you’ve found this article of interest and practical use.

RMS is a full-service marketing agency based in Altrincham.