It's exciting to get started on a new website, but it's easy to make assumptions about what's being built and miss important needs. Ask yourself, your team, and your web development company these 12 questions to make sure you get the site you really need.
- What's the primary goal of the new site? - Ideally, you've already decided that the purpose of the new site is to increase lead generation, add a store, promote your new branding, etc. But if you haven't, then you need to sit down with your stakeholders and hash this out before going any further. Web designers, information architects, and developers are going to give you a better final product if they know what really matters to you.
- Who is going to use this site? - Similar to question #1, but this question will help determine site organization including the prominence of certain content, calls-to-action, and how user needs are prioritized. Your site will probably serve multiple types of users and will need to have something for everyone, but you should know what your ideal customer looks like and what will be most important to them.
- The new site must have X. How will we implement it? - There may be very specific requirements because of your industry or your strategy. Things like 508 compliance or a way to securely upload files come to mind. These things aren't necessarily hard to get done, but they may require additional software or skills that aren't readily available. Talking about this stuff early on will let you both figure out the costs, gaps in your resources, and the best way to handle this part of the project.
- What content are we talking about? - Older sites and ones with inconsistent oversight will have pages and tools that were added and then forgotten. This can include old blogs or landing pages, tracking tag includes that no one needs anymore, and documents that were stored on the server because DropBox didn't exist yet. Make sure you have a full inventory of your pages, documents, images, and other media & a basic understanding of your web stack so your vendor will know what they need to account for.
- What needs to (re)connect to the new site? - Are you using job board software that looks like your site, but is actually hosted elsewhere? Or subdomains running on completely different platform? Make sure you know what is connected to your site, whether that connection is via links, embeds, DNS records, 3rd-party connectors, or APIs. You'll want to know what has to be reconnected or pointed to the new the site and you'll definitely want to know if any legacy tools/programming isn't going to continue working.
- Why are we using this content management system? - WordPress has become the default CMS for most of the web, but that doesn't mean it's right for you. You might want to look at Drupal if you're worried about performance issues or SiteCore if you'll need enterprise-level content controls. Make sure you talk thoroughly about performance, security, and user types so the web development company can properly assess your needs and select the right technology.
- Will the new site perform well with our current hosting? - This one can be tricky, especially if your current site doesn't get a lot of traffic or hasn't been changed in a while. But you want to make sure that your hosting plan can support additional traffic, custom programming, or heavier pages. Depending on what you've got planned, you may need to look for dedicated hosting.
- How will the site architecture change? - If the company is primarily doing a re-skin, then this might not be a big issue. But make sure that you know where your content will sit on the new site, where different navigation options will send visitors, and how things will be labeled. Plan on having a site walkthrough for departments that regularly use the site like customer service. You might also need on-site messaging to help visitors get acclimated to big changes in navigation.
- Who is responsible for copy? - It's surprising how often this gets overlooked. You get focused on new styles and page templates, and no one thinks to ask who will write the copy to fill the pages. Ask your web development company about copywriting when you're scoping the project. If you plan to write it yourself, then make sure you plan out exactly what you need and have deadlines for completion.
- Is SEO part of the project? And what exactly will they be doing? - More and more web development shops are offering SEO services, but that doesn't mean they know what they are doing. If they say they are doing SEO, then ask them to provide a plan for retaining your rankings as the site moves, and documentation about the on-page SEO capabilities of the new site. If you've got an SEO person in-house, then make sure they are involved in this conversation. If you don't have SEO knowledge on hand, then think about hiring someone to do an SEO audit.
- How many people are working on this and where are they located? - It's not uncommon for companies to have team members scattered across the world or to be using part-time help for some tasks. This isn't a problem unless they don't have the staff to deliver the project on time. Ask about headcount and specializations so you know who is going to be doing what. This can also give you forewarning of delays: if you know that they only have one database administrator or mobile designer, and you hear that person is out sick, then you can assume something is going to slip.
- How will we review the site for QA/QC? - I like seeing a site in stages, so we can make adjustments and do QA in small batches, but many firms will only start showing the site when they think it's close to finished. Talk to your dev company about work phases, QA, presentations, and sign-off before they get started so they know what you need to see in order to keep them moving. Aligning reviews to milestones (and payouts) is a good way to make sure you don't have any surprises at the end.
This list is pretty high-level, but it gives you starter questions for discussing your strategy, goals, assets, technology requirements, staffing, and closing requirements. Bring these questions up as early as you can to get better estimates and uncover roadblocks early enough to find cost-effective workarounds.
Also published on Medium.