How to Launch a Successful Website

A client recently asked us for our opinion on how they could better manage the task of bidding and building a new website. Since it’s as much about the process as the product, we were happy to respond from our perspective of a web design and development parter. Here are the do’s and don’ts of launching a successful website.

What you ask for in the RFP is never exactly what we end up building. There are simply too many uncertainties at that stage. Once you’ve chosen a partner, start with an expectation that you will need a discovery phase to more clearly define your needs.

Be agnostic about the technology used. We get a fair amount of “must be in .NET” in RFPs when that’s neither the cheapest nor best development platform… just what the IT guys had recommended. If you have legacy applications, most CMSs can integrate with them. Allow the problem to define the solution.

Understand that good designers can be poor web developers, and vice versa. We run across way too many half-completed jobs where a previous partner failed in one aspect or the other and there’s no budget left to finish properly. It’s critical for you to assess your partner from multiple angles… especially if you need a robust CMS or custom application development.

Find a partner with a host of skills that complement your internal capabilities. The only way to ensure your final online property is an integrated and genuine reflection of the brand is to build the right team. Assess a potential vendor not just upon their ability to provide a single service, but on how they will work with you to cover all the bases.

Treat the estimate… as an estimate. Every RFP response begins with assumptions that can turn into surprises, and managing scope as the job unfolds is arguably the most difficult part of the process. Pad your budget expectations so you have some negotiation room to add features or functionality you (or your vendor) might not have anticipated going into it.

The launch date is important, but getting what you need is more important. Try not to commit to a go-live date until after the discovery phase is complete. Far too often we respond to web design RPFs with built-in, arbitrary deadlines that aren’t based in reality. The final scope of the site should be what ultimately drives the schedule.

Be an active partner in the IA, UX and wireframing stage. It’s critical to get those right and all too often our client’s eyes glaze over when we do the discovery and scope exercise. You know your key audience(s) best, and you play a critical role in helping us lay the foundation and anticipate their needs.

Provide content and other assets early in the process. The more we have to start with, the faster the final website will come together. It’s far more efficient to design and build around actual messaging. Plus, generating approved content is frequently one of the biggest delays to a site launch.

Ensure your site integrates with other marketing efforts. Could you use custom landing pages? The ability to send HTML emails for retention or lead generation? How important are organic search rankings (SEO) to your business? How does your site “play” with your social media efforts? All too frequently these broader online marketing concerns get overlooked. Your customer’s level of engagement depends on how well they all work in tandem.

Shepherd it through. The most efficient (and least painful) site launches happen when there are only a small number of decision-makers involved. We’ve done design by committee, and it rarely ends well. Be an advocate to ensure that internal needs are satisfied without allowing any one person to derail the process.

Plan for growth. It’s tempting to think of the launch as a final product, but your website should always be evolving. Have a content strategy in place so entropy doesn’t take over, and update it regularly to keep it fresh. Actively monitor your site analytics and make incremental changes to increase conversion rate goals and retain users longer. Consider who and how your site will be maintained as part of your yearly marketing budget.

Ultimately, vet the right partner and then trust their instincts. It’s all the little decisions and forethought prior to the launch date that determine whether your site is a true success… or will need to be revamped again in a year. Cost is only one aspect of getting the best value in web design.