Nine steps to developing and maintaining a website
by Mike Wills, Backbone (UK) Ltd
1 Seek advice before you start
Do not rush to use the first person who contacts you about building a website. You should expect to do some research before talking to suppliers - use the best sources of information. Speak to independent consultancy organisations and ask them to talk you through the issues you need to consider before you take the plunge. They will also help you to manage the project if required. It is also recommended that you speak to colleagues, associates and friends. The right advice will enable you to learn from the success of others and to avoid some common pitfalls.
2 Define your objectives
Write down your expectations so you can discuss them and agree your objectives with suppliers from the outset. Defining a clear set of objectives is an important stage in running a successful Internet project.
- what are you setting out to achieve?
- consider your business objectives, for example a 20% increase in sales revenue - and try to define how your Internet solution might help you meet that goal
- how do you intend to measure the success of your website?
- Identify who in your company will make the decisions about your site's development and who will be responsible for running the project on a day-to-day basis
3 Write a project brief
A clear and concise brief with background about your company and your aims will enable you to get good quality responses from the suppliers you invite to tender for your project.
4 Find some potential suppliers
Based on local research identify some companies who have the capabilities to undertake your project. Once you have narrowed your list down to two or three, provide them with your written brief and as much background information as possible. Ask them to come in and talk to you and present you with their proposals.
5 Select your preferred supplier
There are many capable Internet suppliers and there are many that are not so capable. So how do you select the right one for your company and project? Here is a list of things to consider when making your decision:
try to find suppliers who are prepared to listen and understand your company - what will they add to your business?
find out what they have done before and what the client spent, ask them to show you their previous work. What is their background?
ask the supplier if you can talk to one of their previous customers. What did they like about working with the supplier and what were the problems? (But remember that few projects are without some problems)
remember that many suppliers are small companies with limited resources - consider paying a small amount of money to a supplier to have them produce a full analysis of your options and likely costs
find out their special areas of interest and expertise. Few companies can expect to cover everything, but do they understand your type of business?
how do you feel about their working methods and approach? Are they people you feel confident about working with?
find out who will actually do the work. Using sub-contractors or other companies for parts of the project can work well, but requires good project management skills.
try to gauge the technical competence of the company and their ability to explain it to you appropriately. Avoid companies that seem to use technology for its own sake.
some companies will have developed technical solutions that they re-use with all their clients. This can save you money, but make sure that the solution fits your business needs.
be careful about people offering very cheap solutions - these may not fulfil your expectations or business needs
6 Agree a specification and work plan
Once you have selected your preferred supplier, ensure you have tied up all the loose ends before starting work. Make sure there is a documented project specification and work plan, especially if you are under time and/or budget pressure. Both parties will then be clear about exactly what is to be delivered and by when. A good specification should as a minimum include:
- a project description
- relevant background information
- a definition of what features and content will be in the site and who is going to provide them
- a contact for each party
- timescales showing when each milestone of the project will be delivered
Now is also the time to finalise any outstanding commercial matters with your supplier, for example the final quote, payment terms and conditions. Build plenty of checkpoints into the project plan so you can keep track of how it is progressing.
7 Monitor and measure your project
Once your website is launched you need to know how well it meets the objectives defined in step 2. In partnership with your supplier, you can track how many visitors your site gets, which pages those visitors look at and how many contact you subsequently. Measurement is an ongoing process and should take place over a period. The results will help you determine how your site should evolve.
8 Maintain and develop your site
Keeping your site up to date after it has been launched is as important as creating the site in the first place. When information remains static, there is little reason for people to re-visit the site - and therefore the opportunity to promote new products and services is lost.
When starting the project, budget for the on-going maintenance and development of your site. The maintenance budget should cover routine updates to the site such as price changes and additional products. It is also worth assigning a budget for more radical changes to the site, for example the addition of e-commerce capability, discussion forums or multimedia applications.
For maintenance, there are several common arrangements:
- doing it yourself: you can choose to carry out maintenance in-house using commonly available and inexpensive editing tools. If you elect for this option, then check that you have someone able to carry out the work and allow him or her sufficient time, especially if being a "webmaster" is not their main job.
- ad-hoc: you can pay your website supplier to undertake the maintenance tasks on an ad-hoc basis, instructing the developer to make changes as and when they are required. This can be cost effective if changes are infrequent.
- maintenance agreements: where changes are likely to be both regular and frequent, then it will probably be more cost effective to agree a maintenance contact with your supplier. For a fixed regular fee, perhaps monthly or quarterly, the supplier carries out agreed maintenance tasks. The amount of time that the supplier will spend on your site will depend on both the level of changes required and the available budget.
- other maintenance solutions: an increasing number of suppliers are able to provide you with easy to use tools that will enable you to update parts of the site yourself, without any knowledge of HTML. These may be used on their own or as part of a maintenance contract.
9 Write a good brief
A good brief is clear, concise and contains all the relevant information about your business and the project. It should cover:
- introduction: a brief (no more than 200 words) overview of your company, your products or services and how the site will fit into your overall business plan. Detail what the budget and timeframe for the project is.
- purpose and functionality: clearly describe the purpose of the site - is it a brochure site or for e-commerce? Describe your target audience and the areas of content and functionality you require. Do you expect people to return to the site on a regular basis to look at news, buy things, search for information, ask questions?
- content: where will the content come from? Will you have to clear the copyright of certain information? Who will be responsible for collecting and editing the material?
- design: have you given thought to how you want your site to look and feel? (It may be useful to give the addresses of sites with the "feel" you are looking for.) Do you already have existing corporate identity guidelines you would like to apply?
- technical issues: do you know what hardware and software your target audience has? Have you decided where your site will be hosted and by which ISP? How often will the site be updated? Who will be responsible for this? Do you have a budget for ongoing maintenance?
- contact details - who is ultimately responsible for the project in your company? Is someone else to be contacted on a day-to-day basis?
- timing: when do you expect to hear back from suppliers? If you expect a detailed proposal, be sure to give enough time for potential suppliers to do themselves justice.
- promotion and marketing: have you a plan and budget for the on-going promotion and marketing of your site? You obviously need to update your letterhead and business cards, but what about PR? How will you know if the site is "working" or not? Define some measurement criteria.
Reviewed January 2011
last updated : 21/01/2011
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