Earlier this week I was asked to do a brain dump on the marketing committee of the Gettysburg-Adams Chamber of Commerce with the latest web design trends. Their hope was I would be able to give them a handle on trends and features to include for their forthcoming website RFP, and after sending the follow up email, I thought to myself that this has wider application than just the Chamber.
So, to protect the innocent, I’ve removed the names and emails, but here is my email in otherwise unredacted form:
date: Thu, Feb 22, 2018 at 11:45 AM
subject: Gettysburg Chamber Meeting – Website Brain Dump
Cxxxxx and Hxxxxx-
It was a good to meet you all on Tuesday, and you have my card already but I thought I would follow up.
At the meeting I could see Hxxxx taking notes at a furious pace, but my main brain dump is:
Mobile/Responsive design for mobile and tablet usage
Content Display Network (CDN) to ensure speed, uptime and deter hacks [a free CDN can be found here too]
Shallow/flat information hierarchy (3 deep at most, but don’t feel bound to do this – better your topical grouping flows together for user experience)
SSL/HTTPS – move the site to encryption standard (Google is starting to display websites without this as “insecure” which frightens the ordinary web surfer (this is not a big deal, but make sure the setup is done correctly – 90% of them are not).
AMP – Accelerated Mobile Pages – this allows content to be optimized for delivery on mobile devices – it makes the user experience much better
Ease-of-use for content management is an obvious no-brainer, but defining what that means in a bid is difficult – I’ve never seen it articulated well, but my recommendation is before a decision is made, you have your people user test/trial whatever CMS is being recommended so they know what they are going to be dealing with and whether it fits your needs.
SEO/optimization was mentioned too, but candidly, as an SEO practitioner, I spend inordinate amounts of time ripping out what the web designer/developer thinks I need, and then replace it with what I do need to move the site forward – so, putting into the bid, “Must be SEO-friendly” is again a meaningless term. Probably better to stipulate that the bid winner must be prepared to work with a third-party SEO of your choice as they perform the build, and that way you get them working collaboratively with your SEO overlooking what they are doing (for instance, web designers love Flash and Ajax, both of which can cause significant SEO problems down the road if they are not implemented correctly).
Some ‘gotchas’ to watch out for is content creation and content porting – all the content on your existing site must be transferred or redone in line with branding and positioning results. You’ll need to make sure that scope is nailed down tightly within the RFP and within the bid responses, plus your own expectations.
Also, who is going to maintain the site going forward and cost structures – that is a big issue where you can get low-balled upfront and stung on the backend but cannot move easily or without a stiff penalty.
Ensure all IP, files, domains, etc are owned by YOU! It seems obvious I know, but I cannot emphasize this enough as I keep seeing this, and indeed I am in the middle of helping a local business here in Gettysburg recover their files and website from a very poorly behaved provider right now.
Hosting is a big gotcha – the quality really matters, but then so does cost – probably best to discuss this further, as I don’t feel I got a firm enough handle on your requirements to give substantive guidance on what to include or look out for (except stay away from the cheap dollar or $10 per month deals – for a site of this nature I think you’re either looking for a VPS or a home on a managed box with a small number of neighbors, and what hosting you end up on will also be determined by the platform you use for the site).
Integrations is something we touched on, but did not get into the weeds with: if you have any business systems or SaaS/apps you are using and want to be able to share data with, e.g. member database, then this must be highlighted and scoped out. Integration work can be specialized, or it may simply be a plug and play, but this is where an open checkbook and a black hole have been known to develop and swallow your budget, or simply do not work as advertised at the end of the project.
Finally, a couple of things we didn’t get to on Tuesday:
- Chatbots and Chat functionality – AI is getting better all the time, and you may want to look at this functionality, but I suspect if marketing automation is beyond you at this stage so is this, though basic chat may be on your radar and is simple enough; and
- PWA – Progressive Web Apps – this is a development where your website starts to look and feel like an app that can be installed on your cell phone or tablet, yet delivers a desktop experience as a website – again this may be too far for you at this time.
I would also like to take this opportunity to explain the nuances you will need to recognize when looking at vendors for the website:
Web designer – someone who designs websites, who may also have web development skills (but not always) [think artistic, creative, and over-optimistic]
Web developer – a coder or techie – someone who knows code and can develop a website and handle integrations – may have some design skills but not always [think analytical, technical, and over-optimistic]
SEO – may do design, may do development but in my frustrated experience, designers know next to nothing about SEO, and developers enough to be dangerous, whereas I as an SEO know some code, but do no design myself. [think pragmatic, realistic, and used to banging their head against a wall]
SEO is a very specialized field and not for gifted amateurs or someone who read about it in a book a couple of years ago, so please do not be fooled by technical jargon or marketing hype. (For instance, we use an internal developer, an external designer, and either myself or my assistant for SEO components during the dev phase – each specialist works on what they are great at not what they ‘think’ or ‘claim’ to be able to do).
That’s what I have on the web dev/design side and please share this with your fellow committee members or come back to me with any questions or clarification.