Making sure your web project is a success starts before an agency is selected, and ends way after launch (actually, I like to believe a website can constantly get better).
This article aims to help mentally prepare anyone who is planning to redesign their existing website or create a new online presence.
Different moments in the website redesign process, different amounts of time to plan for
At a really high level, there are three moments in your web project's life to plan for:
This article will focus on those three moments: the preparation before signing on an agency.
How much time to put aside before the selection of your web partner
Redesigning your website is a significant achievement. It impacts your entire organisation because at some point every person that interacts with your business is going to visit your website.
Here are a few suggested milestones that need to be planned in your schedule before actually starting the production of your website.
Get people involved
Don't initiate your web project alone. Get people involved - ideally top management needs to buy in so that they can support you and provide the required human ressources and budget.
Getting everyone on the same page, such as setting up a brainstorming meeting, requires time, but is well worth it down the line.
Write down your expectations
Once everyone has bought in, make sure you take the time to write down expectations. A few questions to ask yourself at this step are:
- How does the website fit into my business' objectives?
- What are my competitors doing well that I want to emulate?
- What do I want the website to project?
- What type of advanced functionality should the website offer?
- What are my pet peeves with my current website?
- What feedback/suggestions have I received regarding my website?
- How much money am I willing to invest in my website - is this from the IT and/or Marketing budget?
- Who will be responsible for the website?
- When do you expect the new website to be online? Is this related to a real event or is it approximate?
Once all these expectations are identified, send a copy to colleagues so that they can share their thoughts.
Write a RFP
Now that your expectations are clear, take the time to write a succinct document (5-15 pages) detailing your company, the website's objectives, and the list of features you require from your website. This document is called the "RFP" or "Request for Proposal".
Before sending it out, ask some colleagues/friends to read it to see if all the information is clear and if anything is missing.
Since this is the document that your potential web partners will use to propose offers, you must minimize ambiguity. Otherwise, expectations run the risk of falling into the "grey zone of death" where you and your agency understand two different things for the same feature. Ex: While "homepage slideshow" could mean 5 custom images sliding left to right for your agency, your intention might have been "pictures from my 5 most recent blog posts".
Finally, make sure you specify your approximate budget and launch date* - these are very important factors for agencies that will pitch for your project.
*A realistic timeline should be between 3-6 months.
Identify potential partners
Receiving 25 proposals is too time-consuming to read through and won't help you make a good decision. Ideally, you should ask 3-5 different agencies to prepare a proposal.
The crucial element here is how to pre-select agencies that fit your requirements. A few things to look at are:
- Ask around: has a colleague/friend had a positive experience with an agency?
- Does your web project have specific requirements? A focus on search engine optimization, or be e-commerce friendly? Make sure your selected agency has had experience with this.
- Do you want your website to be built with specific platforms (for example, you might want it to be built with WordPress or Drupal because your current site already is or you heard good things about them)? Best to identify agencies that are specialized in those technologies.
- What size of agency do you want to work with? An agency with 50+ employees doesn't have the same price structure or flexibility as a smaller firm.
Send out the RFP to the selected firms
Set a reasonable deadline for proposals, and expect to promptly answer emails or phone calls from all the agencies you've sent the RFP to.
Set a time to read through all the received proposals
This could be time-consuming if you have a large/complex project. Also, it might be difficult to compare one proposal to the next, so you might want to get some expert help from in-house or external resources. Finally, you might want to plan the time to reach out to previous clients of those agencies to assess their customers' satisfaction.
Set a deadline to select an agency - and stick to it
If this isn't set, and the project doesn't have a specific event as a launch date (a corporate event or trade show for example), it's easy for a web project to constantly be "pushed" to a later date.
This deadline also helps your potential partner get an idea of when you'll get back to him and how to plan out their resources to deliver according to expectations.
It would also be nice to get in touch with the agencies that were not selected just to let them know - they did take the time to build a proposal, after all.
Steps following contract signature
So you've gone through the process of evaluating the different proposals and selecting the best web partner for the job at hand. Great! You're now into "phase 2" of your web project: actually getting it developed. Here are the main moments where you'll need to plan on spending time to move the project forward.
Project kick-off meeting
Once you've signed on, the first step is to get all stakeholders around the table and have a "kick-off" meeting. This meeting is important to make sure everyone is on the same page and that priorities and expectations are clear for all those involved.
You will also need to review the finalized initial project documents after this meeting, which include (but are not limited to):
- The projected timeline,
- the recap of the kick-off meeting,
- detailed project specifications,
- any other documents required for your project.
Time required by client: 3-5 hours
Strategic brainstorms and initial analysis
On some projects, strategic meetings are recommended to clearly define the project’s objectives and priorities in the context of business goals. Complex mandates may also require an initial period of analysis to clarify workflows and specifications.
Once these consultations are completed, the client must also plan to review and provide feedback on the strategy and analysis documents and diagrams provided.
Time required by client: 5-30 hours
The design process is one of the first big milestones of the project; this is when the idea for your web project suddenly becomes a lot more tangible.
Depending on what was signed on, your project might include "wireframes" (basic page layouts that look like drawings of boxes on a page) and could also include more than one "version" of the initial design (Version A and B) that you can compare.
Whatever the approach, it is extremely rare that you won't have any feedback regarding the design you are presented with. This means that there will be several iterations of the design (Ex: Version A1, Version A2, Version A3, Final version).
Depending on how closely the initial design corresponds to your expectations and on how many people you need feedback from to give a final approval, this moment in the process can be quite variable.
Time required by client: 5-15 hours
Recurring steps during development
This is the phase when the approved design comes to life. Web production is now focused on converting the look and feel into an interactive interface with advanced front-end and back-end features.
Weekly meetings with your project manager
Each week, your project manager will ask you to set aside about 15-30 minutes to have a phone call to follow up on the project's progression. Ideally, this should be the same day and time each week. This ritual is important even if there is nothing to say: it creates a regular time where you can address any issues or ideas that might impact your web project.
Time required by client: 30min per week x 12 weeks = 6 hours
Feedback regarding each prototype of the website
A website is usually divided into a series of modules or features. We've found that the best approach is to finalise several modules in "batches" that can be sent to the client for approval on a regular basis.
When you receive a prototype of a part of your website, you must thoroughly test it out to check if it corresponds to the specifications agreed upon and also if you experienced any bugs while you were going through it. Depending on the complexity or the number of interaction scenarios or user types, the time required for this can quickly climb. But this process is essential to making sure that the end product will correspond to your expectations.
Time required by client: 3-7 hours per prototype x 2-5 prototypes = 6 to 35 hours
This is probably the largest "elephant in the room" even though we often mention it to clients throughout their web project. Writing content for your website is time-consuming and often requires several drafts before getting to the right content on every page. And if your website is multilingual, you need to plan time for translations.
Keep in mind that content doesn't just include text, it includes photos that often need to be cropped or adjusted and more often than not videos too.
Obviously, creating new content from scratch is more time-consuming than reworking existing content, and longer pages require more time than shorter ones, but make sure you plan accordingly.
Time required by client: 0.5-3 hours per page (+30min translation)
Approx. time for bilingual 30-page website: 50 hours
Steps before launch
The big moment is approaching: your new website will soon be launched!
Coordinating technical aspects
Small but important to-do’s that must be completed on your part before launch can include :
- coordinating the purchase of hosting and domain name(s),
- validating how emails will be approached (on web server, through an internal Exchange server, other),
- archiving the old website,
Time required by client: 1-3 hours
Final tutorial to learn how to use the website
Your project manager will have helped you learn how to use each module that was created along the way so that you could validate the website incrementally as it was being built. Before launch, however there is a longer "official" tutorial that is a complete overview of the website's administration panel. After this meeting, you will be provided with the complete "website user guide" document that includes step-by-step instructions for the majority of actions you need to perform to update your website's content.
Time required by client: 3 hours
Final test-drive, validation & approvals
Make sure you take the time to go through the entire website to check that all is in place. This milestone might also involve higher management, so make sure they are in the loop to avoid "last-minute feedback surprises" just before launch.
Time required by client: 4-10 hours
Once all your content is ready for the website, you also have to plan on adding it to your website through your content management system (CMS). While at Symetris we recommend WordPress or Drupal, other CMS solutions exist.
All CMS tools include WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) text editors where you must input your content. But keep in mind that websites are not Word documents, and you shouldn't (and often can't) extensively customize the presentation of your content. That's by design: we want each page of your website to have a uniform look and feel, so limiting styling options in you text editor helps standardize the design.
However, this means that content imported from Word might have to be tweaked a bit in the website to appear as you want it. You also need to place it correctly in the menu structure and add invisible "meta tags" to help with search engine optimization. This (among other things) is why you can't plan on just spending 15 seconds copy-pasting each page.
Time required by client: 5-15 minutes per page per language
Approx. time for bilingual 30-page website: 8-10 hours
Internal communications: Inform your internal team about launch
Sharing the web project’s launch date with your colleagues is important, as they probably refer to your website every day. Also, they should plan some time on launch day to just navigate through the site to familiarize themselves with it.
Time required by client: 1-2 hours
Prepare external communications
Once your website is launched, you will need to share the message with the outside world. Check with your public relations and communications teams to coordinate your plan. This can include press releases, social media mentions, a "new website launch event" and more. If your website or extranet has multiple users, you might want to prepare a newsletter to send out to them to inform them of the changes and related benefits.
Time required by client: 2-10 hours
Conclusion: Supervising your web project requires regular time investment throughout the mandate
By adding up the low range of the numbers I've listed, the approximate minimum amount of time you need to invest in your web project as a client adds up to almost 100 hours for a 30-page bilingual website. And that number can double depending on your mandate’s specifics.
This is a number few clients initially anticipate and that might seem intimidating, but if you plan it out in your schedule and invest time early and regularly, the sustained effort will pay off in time and help minimize stress, especially in the weeks before launch.
Steps following your web project’s launch
You website or web application just launched! Congratulations!
But its life doesn’t end there. It’s the birth of your new baby, and now you have to nurture it, help it evolve, and bring it to maturity. Here are the main milestones to prepare for in the weeks after launch.
Spread the word: Send out external communications to your clients and users
If you followed the steps just before launch, you will have your external communications ready. This might include a press release, a newsletter, social media posts, or any other types of ways to notify those who visit and use your website that it has a new look and new functionalities. If you already did your homework as described, all you need to do now is share the good news!
Project review with your web partner (post-mortem)
While we hope bringing your project to fruition was a positive adventure, it’s important to plan a project review after launch with all team members, and if possible most stakeholders. This meeting focuses on the strengths and opportunities for improvement that were identified during the project’s production.
The goal is to identify action items in order to continually improve the process. Since your website’s launch is just the beginning of your online adventure, it’s important to plan how everyone involved can better work together in the future.
A few weeks after the project review meeting, Symetris likes to get in touch with clients to evaluate their experience with our team. This quick questionnaire (about 10 questions) focuses on high-level aspects such as overall quality and rates them on a scale of 1 to 10.
This is especially helpful if certain aspects of the mandate didn’t go as planned: we can address the impact of certain issues and help focus our attention when improving our approach.
While our team will have taken the time to teach key website administrators how to manage their content and users, you might have to schedule tutorial meetings with other people in your team with more limited involvement in the website.
Website user guides are usually divided into chapters by user role, which means that you can easily extract just the pages specific to certain actions.
Collect post-launch feedback to send to the web team
In the few months after launch, Symetris offers a guarantee that covers the correction of bugs that might be only identified once the website gets used “in the wild” (as opposed to the controlled environment before launch).
It’s important to identify and document any issues and send them to your web partner to correct them as soon as possible to make your visitors’ experience the best it can be.
The vast majority of websites are built upon a content management system. This allows clients to update their own website without having to call upon their web partner. And updating your website’s content regularly is an important responsibility. It could be press releases or news items, blog articles, products, staff, events or just maintaining the website’s existing content to keep it fresh. Make sure to plan some time regularly (ie: at least once every two weeks) to update your website’s content.
The same way you need to maintain your car or your home to ensure their durability, it’s important to maintain your website. At Symetris, we offer a “prevention plan” to our clients where we make sure all the website’s modules and features are up to date, and install security updates as well.
Building your website does not automatically guarantee that it will be visited by your ideal clients and users. You need to set up a promotional campaign to get more visitors (search engine optimization, search engine marketing, content strategy, etc.). There are lots of possibilities, and a web marketing firm can definitely help you with this part of the equation.
If you’re building a web application, intranet or extranet for internal use, then marketing the new tool is focused on explaining the new features to the existing users.
Gather feedback & data
While installing a statistics tool like Google Analytics is essential to follow your visits, more advanced interaction logs can be programmed into your new web platform. While this data is really useful to make decisions for future website enhancements or fixes, surveying your users and visitors directly can help you gain insight that is not available by tracking clicks.
Maintain a backlog of interesting suggestions
All kinds of ideas will be suggested regarding your website that will come from many different sources (internal staff, user surveys, your web partner, etc.). You should keep a prioritized backlog of all of these suggestions to set your plan for future enhancements.
Define next steps (phases)
Your initial strategic objective might have been only partly achieved with the first version of your web platform. In this case, you already have a pretty clear idea of what needs to be done next.
Another source of inspiration is your backlog of suggestions (see previous item). By grouping these together by priority, you can define the future phases of your web project to keep it moving forward and relevant to your users.
Plan ahead: Create a 2-3 year plan for your website
You website can become a very important asset to your company’s communications, logistics, staff and workflow. For this reason, it needs to be closely aligned with your organization’s strategic objectives. Future enhancements need to be planned to roll out when they are needed the most. They should also anticipate required functionalities that would help your internal team as much as your clients.
For example, if you’re planning on integrating a new CRM (Client Relationship Management) software, linking it with the website when it’s put into place is important to plan in your calendar. Features like e-commerce will also impact internal staff (such as accounting), and their workflows need to be analyzed and adapted to make sure that an upcoming feature in the website doesn’t become a headache for other members of your team.
It’s a good idea to approach new features as incremental enhancements. The website should be built on a good foundation that is future-friendly, stable, secure and flexible. Instead of creating new mega-features, why not divide them into bite-sized chunks that can be quickly launched.
By launching features progressively, you can gather live data on their usage and feedback on your user’s satisfaction with them. You can then adjust your priorities based on this information instead of building a large feature that goes unused because it doesn’t solve one of your visitors’ needs.
This is an “agile” approach to launching new features: launch fast, then adapt to feedback.
Conclusion: Your website’s launch is just the beginning of a beautiful online adventure!
While there is a lot of work involved in finding a web partner and getting through the process of launching a new website or web application, your website’s life doesn’t end at launch: it’s just the beginning!
Be sure to consider your website’s future and plan to invest time and money in updating, maintaining and enhancing it throughout its life – your users will be thankful you did!