Creating a new website for your business is important. However, the normal approach to building a new website can create issues down the line, particularly for owner-managed SMEs who don’t have the necessary technical resources in-house.
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.
Alongside this, the more long-lived content such as the products /services you offer, the sectors you supply and information about the business and staff all needs to be monitored and kept up to date. Think about your business as it is now and how this compares to where you were 12 months ago. My bet is that your business has moved on and evolved. Has your website kept up? Your website should be dynamic-just like your business.
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 their next project.
Building (coding) a website is a completely different job
Another aspect of site-build that often gets sidelined is what you want to show and say – the content. I explore this further later on.
The initial 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 th 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.
Furthermore, strong imagery is increasingly important in website development. Most businesses simply don’t have a library of relevant, high-quality photos. Sometimes it is possible to use photos and graphics from the growing choice of royalty-free image libraries but other times you really do need bespoke photos from your own business. Organising photography takes time – and can be an unbudgeted expense. Not an ideal scenario.
By combining design and build (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 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 be slow and costly 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) in a collaborative way. The site is built so that day to day updates can be handled in house ant little or no cost while support is on hand for the more technical developments which are required every now and again.
With this strategy, a website can be used with ongoing support from the site builder 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 more significant 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 phrase ‘website template’ was 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 opportunities to customise. 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.
Of course, there is nothing to stop you engaging a graphics professional to design a fully bespoke site look fore your
With the combined ‘Build + Use’ approach, you create a dynamic marketing communication platform supported by technical know-how that a business can use and evolve to deliver a current and effective ‘shop window’ that stays up to date and of which they can be proud!