8 Critical Things You Need to Do Before Starting a Website

website project management

It’s fairly easy to find a web person these days that will take on your new web project. Before you begin, fully understanding this type of workflow will help you to keep the project on course, and also allow you to manage expectations for a beautiful and functional website. If this is your first foray into having a website built, it’s advantageous to have an understanding of what will occur and when. We cover the 8 most important things you need to know before starting your website.

Pay attention to what is shown to you at the beginning.  This is the blueprint of your site and will drive how it looks in the end. Get those changes in and have those conversations. Be picky at this stage, as it will be much harder (i.e. adds time and cost) to make changes the week before launch. Custom websites are like custom houses. If you build the model house package, it’s difficult to go back and customize things at the very end, as it will change the scope of the project. If you are not clear on something, raise your hand and ask. This is the stage to nail down as much detail as possible about what you will need – forms, functions, layout, graphics, emails, URL.

Content does not always mean a page. To clarify, web content means someone will write your page text out in a way that is interesting and enticing.

All sites are not custom.  There are thousands of WordPress templates available to give website builders a leap forward, and most sites today based off of a template with minor adjustments for color and font. This keeps your costs down, as time spent does not need to be focused on building the framework. In the old days (not that long ago), this was not as common as most sites were built from scratch and required extensive page mockups to show where the information would live and how it would look, meetings to approve these mockups and sign-offs. Then a programmer would work up against that design from the framework.

Less expensive sites will not have the extensive SEO, font selection, or specific formatting that you see on a custom site. If you need this to represent a brand really specifically, you need to be detailed about what those factors are up front when you are scoping out the project. Expect to see some kind of proposed page layout before anything is built.

All programmers are not necessarily designers.  And vice versa. If you are selecting someone yourself, be sure that you know the difference and work with someone that has the training to help you make good decisions.

If your site needs to have heavy back end work done, such as the setup and management of a large e-commerce site or automated database management, you will need a programmer that understands how to build this type of site and can show past portfolio samples of complexity.

Web designers are typically people that are focused on how the site looks and how a user will move through it (UX designer). It is up to the programmer to figure out how to build that functionality.

Occasionally, you will find someone that is nicely adept at both sides, but it’s less common and will usually be someone that has a related degree. Ask lots of questions so you have a good comfort level, and take a look at their portfolio.

Beware scope creep. There are extensive tiny (and important) details surrounding even a 3-page web project. Stay organized and know what needs to be done to finish the project and what should possibly wait to be added after the “Go Live.” Many times, groups find new things they want to add or create for the site that surface as you go along. Some of these need to be put on a waitlist or mutually agreed upon that it will expand the project X hours and costs to accommodate. Stay clear on the wants vs the needs as this will impact your timeline considerably.

Adding to an existing site vs creating a new site.  If you are requesting an addition to an existing site, be articulate about what the site needs to have. Do ask lots of questions and never, ever assume something is covered. Projects are built around time to execute and can be easily subject to scope creep.

Do you need additional pages of content to explain what you offer more deeply? Does the site need advanced SEO? Does it need to be reformatted differently? This means you are asking for a redesign of the site theme to handle those changes correctly for every page. This is not the same as asking for e-commerce, which is a separate functioning element.

Allow time for debugging and testing before launch. Like anything with code these days, your site will not work identically in all environments and will need to be tested and adjusted accordingly. Normally this is about a week.

Keep in mind that any site will not render exactly the same from iPhone to Samsung or Chrome to Explorer. Older browser versions may have issues as plugin updates are not designed to include them. Build in the time (usually a week) to allow the fix to be researched and implemented/retested. This is crucial for sites that rely heavily on animation or online sales.

Post-launch maintenance plan. This is usually forgotten until there is an issue down the road. WordPress sites need regular updates for the platform as well as plug-ins, themes and backups to avoid hacks and other problems that could bring your site down. Talk with your builder to see if they can handle this for a small monthly fee or recommend someone they trust.

With open communication throughout the build time, you will avoid running into last minute concerns right before a scheduled launch. By being prepared, your new website will be exactly what you needed.

About the Author

Amanda MacDonaldAmanda MacDonald, Founder of Full Gallop Communications, is a marketing veteran that works with equine-based businesses on improving brand communication, marketing strategy and content marketing. With over 17 years of experience and a lifetime of riding behind her, MacDonald loves to work with the companies that enrich the lives of her riding partners. Contact her at hello@fullgallopcomm.com to inquire about how your marketing efforts can become more successful.

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