A new website is exciting. But it’s easy to miss things when so much is going on. 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 the purpose of the new site is to increase lead generation, add a store, increase readership, etc. However, if you don’t have a clear goal, then you need to sit down with your stakeholders and hash this out before going any further. 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 helps determine site organization & content prioritization. Information architecture, calls-to-action, color schemes, writing style, and more all come back to the user. Your site will probably serve multiple types of users and need to have something for everyone. But always keep your core (or ideal) customer top-of-mind.
- 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. Talking about this stuff early on will let you both figure out the costs, resource gaps, and the best way to handle this part of the project.
- What content are we talking about? – Forgotten pages and tools are common on older sites. This can include old blogs, landing pages, and documents 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 so your vendor will know what they need to migrate.
- What needs to (re)connect to the new site? – Make sure you know what is connected to your site. Do you have a bunch of iFrames? Are you using a CDN to host all your images? Are you using a landing page builder with CNAME to make it look like the page is on your site? Subdomains running a different platform or host? Account for links, embeds, DNS records, 3rd-party connectors, and APIs.
- 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. Talking thoroughly about performance, security, and user types upfront will save you a lot of headaches later. Pay special attention to this if you do ecommerce, content gating or file storage.
- Will the new site perform well with our current hosting? – If your site doesn’t get a lot of traffic or hasn’t changed in a while, then this can be tricky. Make sure that your hosting plan can support additional traffic, custom programming, or 3rd-party applications running in the background. Ask about bandwidth and processing expectations during the planning process.
- How will the site architecture change? – If the company is primarily doing a re-skin, then this might not be a big issue. That said, make sure that you know where your content will sit on the new site. New navigation options (even renaming) can have big impacts on user experience. Its a good idea to plan a site walkthrough for departments that regularly use the site like customer service. And consider on-site messaging to help visitors adapt to big changes in architecture.
- Who is responsible for copy? – This gets overlooked way more often than you’d expect: we get focused on colors and page templates, and forget 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 document the on-page SEO capabilities of the new site. Also, make sure your in-house SEO team has a look at everything. Hiring an SEO consultant can makes sense if you don’t have someone in-house.
- How many people are working on this and where are they located? – It’s not uncommon for web development companies to have team members scattered across the world or to be using part-time help. 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/UAT? – I like seeing a site in stages, so you 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 you get started. This way, they’ll 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.