Creating a new website for your business is important. We have discussed in other articles how, for many businesses, their website is a vital shop window. Even if potential customers normally come from Word of Mouth or other referrals, your website is almost always used as a way of checking you out.
Your website should continually be updated to reflect your business as it is today, not when the site was launched. Regular new content particularly News and Blog articles can be dated. They demonstrate that you are active and that your site is being kept current.
Why is it then that so many projects to develop a new website are seen as an Event rather than a Process?
I believe the answer lies in the way most website projects are handled. Let’s have a look at this and then discuss if there might be a better approach…
The 3 stages of website development
Normally a website development project goes through 3 stages:
We all want our new website to look great so it is important to start with a good ‘look’. Effective design is a skill. It always intrigues me how graphic designers can come up with ideas that just look ‘right’. This has always been the case for printed design. The advent of websites added another layer of challenge – creating a design that will work effectively as a website. You don’t need to know how to build a website to achieve this but you do need to understand how a website is built and so what design elements will work – and what won’t!
Once you have a design, this stage is complete. Until you need to change your branding or ‘look’ the work of the designer is done. They can move on to the next project.
Building (coding) a website is a completely different job to designing a layout. It is (normally) done by different people. These days, very few websites (particularly in the SME arena) are built from scratch. They are almost always built on an established website development platform. WordPress (our favourite!) is head and shoulders the leader in this field. Even so, building a website that is easy for visitors to use and navigate (and owners to update) can be technically quite complex.
The site-build stage is a ‘project’. However, as a site is used and the business develops, there is almost inevitably the desire to add and develop new functionality and sophistication.
The ‘biggy’! A website is a business marketing tool. While the initial design/build can run for a few weeks or months, the Use stage will run for a few years. So why is it that most website developments are seen as a project that ends with the site being launched?
Here are my thoughts…
I want my new website to look modern, attractive and creative. The first thing I need to do is engage a designer to develop a ‘Look’ for my site. However, I don’t want the cost of a dedicated graphic designer to create a look that then has to be passed to a specialist web development company to take the design and convert it into web code, functionality and pages. To get around this, many (most?) ‘web-design’ companies tend to combine the design and coding functions under one roof. By using one of these suppliers I can commission a design and build project. I can let them get on with it, approving things on the way as necessary.
This approach looks sensible, combining stages 1 and 2 and then delivering me a website I can use, However, the reality can be quite different.
Web development in the real world
A website is for life, not just for Christmas! – OK, not exactly but you get my point. The issue is that a website can be designed and built without any real focus on ‘Content’. I regularly come across frustrated web design companies who will start a project and get to the point that they go to their client and ask for relevant content for eth new site only to be told:
Can’t you just take the content from the old site?
To a point, yes; but this suggests there has been no real thought about how the shiny new website is going to be used as an ongoing marketing tool for the business.
By combining stages 1 and 2, the website gets launched (maybe with slightly incomplete content?) and the web design company moves on to the next project while the site owner is left to get on with it with stage 3. Because many web design companies are focussed on a ‘project’ approach, making updates and minor changes to existing sites can be seen almost as an irritation. This approach can get expensive for the site owner.
We regularly talk to people who are frustrated with a website that is 6-12 months old. they want to update and make changes but support can be patchy, costly – or both! As a result of cost and/or poor support, too often a site is left and not developed/kept up to date
An alternative approach
I believe these days a better approach is to look at Stage 1 (Design) by itself and combine Stages 2 and 3 (Build and Use)
With this approach, a website can be used with ongoing support from someone who understands the technical structure and functionality. the website becomes a Process, not an Event. Most routine updates can be done in-house with support as/when necessary while site developments and enhancements can be planned and executed alongside the ongoing use of the site to market the business.
But what about the design? A new site needs to look great.
A few years ago, the words ‘website template’ were normally followed by jeers of derision. Website templates all look the same – and you can tell! Not anymore! There are now 1000’s of professionally designed templates available and most offer lots of opportunity to customise so, once you have added your own pictures, words and other content, your site is as bespoke as if you had paid £100s or even £1000s just for the design.
With the Build + Use approach you create a marketing communication platform supported by technical know-how that a business can use and evolve to deliver a current effective ‘shop window’ that stays up to date and of which they can be proud!