Tool belt

What advice do you wish you’d gotten before starting a web project or redesign?

We asked this essential question to our clients and colleagues to get their take on pitfalls and opportunities of the redesign process from the website owner side.

Since sites support so many key communications strategies and goals, one of the best ways to build a successful site and partnership is for clients and developers to have realistic expectations when diving in.

From timing and budgets to content migration, platforms and project management, here are their spot-on suggestions, caveats, and best practices:

Danielle Baron, Chief Marketing Officer
ABET: Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology

Right off the bat, I would say it is going to take longer and cost more, so plan accordingly. And it won’t be the end all be all either; chances are you will have to make tweaks and compromises along the way.

We went through a complete rebranding in 2015, which included a website relaunch – we changed platforms, rewrote and reorganized content and revamped design. And while it was a huge improvement, there were things we could have done better, had we had more time and collaboration from different departments.

As the saying goes “people support the things they help create.”

Two years later, after collecting feedback and using the website for a while, we are nowaddressing these issues and bringing more people (from different departments) into the project so they can share their ideas and concerns.

It’s been a great lesson and I am sure it won’t take two years until the next website update.

Brian Derr, Senior Executive for Marketing, Communications & Digital Engagement
National League of Cities

I’ve been involved in a few large website projects and my advice is based on the scale of the project. It’s much simpler to start a new site than to take an enormous site, restructure it, and migrate the content.

If you’re restructuring an existing site and migrating thousands of pieces of content to a new CMS, my advice would be:

  • Put together a small team to own the project. Include people who understand your organization’s content and communications goals. Involve them from the beginning, including in evaluating vendors and platforms so they own this massive project with you.
  • Use your analytics to backup decisions about your menu choices and home page content. Everyone wants their program to be on the home page even though most of your traffic probably doesn’t come through the home page. This is an area where your vendor’s expertise as an unbiased specialist can be especially helpful.
  • Don’t commit publicly to a hard delivery date from day one. There is too much uncertainty at this stage of the project. As you and your vendor evaluate the content, build the new design, and plan the migration, you’ll get a better idea of what you’re up against. Focus on the due dates for each phase, and when you get through one, plan the next.
  • Content migration and clean-up will be your biggest challenge. Sales people tell you they will be able to migrate your content, but will the images come over? Will they be formatted correctly in the new design? Will you need to tag content using taxonomy that did not exist in your previous site? Get very clear commitments about content migration from your vendor, and plan to pay some temps to help with some inevitable cleanup.
  • Plan a really great vacation before you get started!

Amy Goldenberg
Editor, EyeWorld

While our team tested the site and got feedback from other staff who hadn’t been involved with the details, I wish I had scheduled in more time for some of the association members to test the site.

Some of the initial suggestions we received after launching had some excellent points that could have easily been taken care of earlier, even within the scope of the project.

David DeLorenzo CAE, Chief Information Officer
DelCor Technology Solutions

The best advice I can give, after learning from many different experiences, is that you need two paths – the selection of a good platform, and the selection of a good partner.

I see far too many organizations get sucked into a platform that one person might be comfortable with from a previous job, but really might not fit the workflow and capacity of the organization.

Because some platforms are very easy to spin up a sight (i.e. WordPress), organizations can dive headfirst into that path without taking care to think about integrations, ongoing security updates, support and maintenance, etc.

I highly recommend getting deep dive demonstrations from product vendors themselves, not just from development firms that use that software. Think about how your organization works, how you want it to work, and what your organizational shortcomings might be and really conduct “day in the life” demos that will showcase all of the powers/limitations of the software, not the partner.

Once you have chosen the platform that truly meets your needs, then it is time to find a partner that you can see building a relationship with over time to support not just this web project, but ongoing work.

Most enterprise product companies have partnership programs and can provide you with local (or not) partners that they can validate have undergone training in their product and met some minimum requirements for being “certified” partners.

Definitely perform your due diligence in this arena to ensure that partner status/certification is not just purchased, but earned through performance and participation. You may or may not need to do a full RFP, but some form of selection criteria laid out at the beginning of the process is highly recommended.

Now you have a solid product, and a solid partner….get to work! And the vacation idea is definitely a great one!

Kay Rosburg, Vice President
Dever Designs

Just a cautionary tale that we have run into several times: be sure you know exactly what you own and can move.

If your vendor uses proprietary engines, platforms, software, templates or code to develop your site, they own those elements and likely won’t let you take them to another vendor.

You may be obligated to use that vendor and their product indefinitely because your site may not work in any other environment. This scenario is especially common in subscription-based models that charge a monthly or annual fee for development and hosting.

Got any great “in-the-trenches” advice to share? Hit us up in the comments!

Layla Masri

About Layla Masri

Layla is a co-founder of Bean Creative. She leverages her ad agency background and 15-plus years as a marketing and web copywriter to maximize interactive impact for strategic planning, usability/accessibility, and digital promotion.
This entry was posted in Associations, CMS, Content Strategy, Digital Best Practices, Redesign Tips, Responsive Design, UI/UX. Bookmark the permalink.

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