I’ve been in the web development and online marketing industry for almost sixteen years; which pretty much makes me a senior citizen in this profession. I’ve been involved in thousands of web projects during my career and they’ve included just about any kind of website that you can think of – e-commerce sites, custom software, social media type sites, startups, “great ideas” and too many “corporate” websites to count.
My experience has taught me that regardless of the type of website that someone is planning to build, there is a 95% chance their project will face at least one of these development challenges during the website building process. My hope is that I can provide you with a roadmap to avoid these common issues by better understanding the process, what’s involved, and what to look out for.
Define Your Goals & Expectations
This may seem the simplest question in the world. Why do you want or need a website?
“Because everyone else has one” or “Because all businesses have websites these days” aren’t thought out or qualified answers. Websites have a purpose, so spend some time thinking about your needs, goals, and expectations. Here are some quick questions to ask yourself that’ll get you started:
- What are you trying to accomplish? Leads, sales, brand recognition, an easier signup process?
- What are your marketing goals? How are you going to recover or justify the money you’re spending on a new site?
- What do you want your website to do? Should it have a blog, a photo gallery, the ability to buy things or amazing cat pictures?
- What do you want it to look like? Are there competitor websites, or other websites that you like the look and feel of?
Spending some time thinking about and documenting your website’s goals and purpose will help the project, and all future conversations about the project, go much smoother. Having clear goals and expectations will also help your development and marketing team steer you in the right direction, avoid making costly mistakes, and give you new ideas you probably weren’t familiar with before.
Define Your Resources
Whether hiring a web developer or building a project yourself, it’s important to define your resources and limitations from the beginning.
- How much time and money are you willing to invest into this project?
- Will there be additional time and money required to promote or maintain the website after it’s launched, and what do those resources look like?
- Do you have people in your office that can help provide the content that you need for your website, or other assets/skills to the project?
Building a website properly isn’t as cheap or easy as TV commercials and $5/mo. website builders would like you to believe. In fact, building a website correctly is far more involved than it was ten years ago. It requires a lot of work and a lot of time.
More often than not, people or companies greatly underestimate the amount of their time that will be required to successfully complete their new site. In most cases, you will probably need to be involved in several meetings, provide much of the content for your website, and approve documentation throughout the process. Be prepared for this and make sure that you have the time or human capital in place to help address these needs.
Next, defining your budget from the beginning is essential. That website you have in your head – or on paper hopefully – has a $500 version and it has a $50,000 version. The difference is aspects like quality, details, features, design, and search engine friendliness.
Properly determining your budget from the beginning will help your web development agency provide the correct solution for your price point.
If you’ve found the right web developer, listing your budget doesn’t mean they’re going to charge that exact amount. It means they’ve defined a ceiling to work backward from, making sure expectations meet budget, and there aren’t any additional or ongoing costs you might need to consider.
Lastly, always anticipate ongoing costs like website hosting, SSL certificates, software licenses and ongoing marketing or advertising costs. If you spend a substantial amount of money building the perfect website, and then have no money left to promote it, you’re going to have a really bad day…or couple of years.
Choosing the Right Web Developer
All web developers are not created equal. In this day and age, almost anyone can build a website and call themselves a web developer. But having the knowledge to do it correctly, on time, making search engines like your site, and not costing you more time and money later is a combination of art and science.
- Don’t let great designs fool you. It just means that they’re a good designer, or know where to get good templates.
- Always ask for references and examples of their work. Check the source code of the website, if you know how, and determine if they’re just using a cheap/free theme, or if they build things custom.
- Hiring a freelancer is almost never a good idea, unless that is all you can afford. Choosing a web development agency with many people, skill sets and more advanced knowledge of multiple topics is almost always a safe bet.
- Hire the very best development company you can afford. You wouldn’t go with the cheapest doctor or attorney, would you?
“Design by Committee”
If you’ve established your goals and expectations up front, found the right web developer, and your project’s scope has been properly determined through a lot of conversation – then your project should almost never go over budget or miss its launch date.
Yet, historically, over 70% of website development projects end up taking longer than expected to complete, and costing more money because the budget is overextended. Budget overage is caused by the “Design by Committee” phenomena.
It’s essential to limit the amount of input you receive from others and to filter all of those “great ideas” through a single person. Opinions on what looks good, or how a website should function, are subjective. It’s similar to the adage, “Too many cooks in the kitchen…”
You, or someone on your team, should have the ultimate say on what the website is going to look like and how it’s going to function. All feedback should be filtered through that person, and they should make the decision as to what is actually incorporated and what is not. If there are many executives or stakeholders involved in the process, get their opinions early and often.
Multiple rounds of design changes, website revisions, functionality changes or incorporating your neighbor’s/accountant’s/husband’s ideas too late in the game will make a project go over budget, and result in a messy finished product.
When all else fails, rely on your design team. Trust their opinions and feedback implicitly. They do this for a living every day and have a much better understanding of design concepts and technology than you or your advisors. Treat them like your attorney and trust their knowledge.
If “Design by Committee” is responsible for a project going over budget, then website content and timely feedback are responsible for websites missing their deadlines. Clients never anticipate the amount of work they’ll need to put into gathering, writing, reviewing, and approving content.
Even if you’ve paid for copywriting, you’ll still need to be involved in the process of writing, gathering, or reviewing content for every page of your website.
Why? Nobody can speak about your business or idea better than you can. Your feedback and input is essential for information like company history or technical products and services.
From the beginning, you should determine what pages your website needs to contain and what words, pictures and functionality need to be on each of those pages. (Your web developer or salesman should be able to help you through this process.) A website cannot be finished without its content, so don’t miss your delivery dates by underestimating this vital step.
There’s so much more to know about successfully building a website, but if you can avoid these five common challenges, you’re way ahead of most.
As always, we’re happy to help you navigate the process or work with you on our you web development project too. Contact us and let us know how we can help!