If you’ve never been involved in the creation of a website before, there are some paths that can lead to delays or bloated budgets. We’ve identified what we feel are the biggest pitfalls and how to avoid them.
1. You’re Likely Underestimating How Long Content Will Take
In the majority of sites we make, the client wants to create the content. The most common reason for this is the client feels they are the only one capable of doing it. They often miss one very important point though: the person on the receiving end of this decision is likely already very busy with their job. Even if that individual is an excellent writer, it is a process that demands great time, attention, and respect. It’s important to note that a command of the written language is just one tool of many that are required to produce good web copy.
For many businesses asking an employee (or yourself) to carve out an extra hour each day for a week would be a huge request. Now consider the fact that depending on the site, content could take many, many times that. Once you factor in the reasonable chance of writers block, multiple revisions, exploratory emails, and maybe a spattering of procrastination, then perhaps you see why at times the act of writing content can throw a project off its timeline by months.
When we provide a timeline to a client, we can generally nail it down tightly. We’ve been making sites long enough that we’re able to narrow down how long a given task will take to the minute. Once something as important as content is removed from our to-do list however, we lose our ability to forecast almost completely.
Our advice? Don’t provide your own content. If you’re on a tight timeline, the single best thing you can do to keep things on track is to include copywriting in your budget and let us help you. Of course I’m the guy selling the website, so I won’t fault you for being skeptical. I will promise you this though: ask 10 people who make websites what their #1 reason for missing deadlines is, and you’ll get 1 answer.
2. If the Content Comes After the Design, Your Site Will Suffer
Most of the time when a company wants to get going on a site, they want to get going on it yesterday. We’ll ask for content to be done first, but in almost all cases we’re told that won’t be feasible and we’ll just have to design in tandem. There’s one very important hitch though that most don’t realize: the content you start off with in your head is rarely the same as the content that is produced. Be it time constraints or the inspiration that comes during the writing process, things have a way of changing.
In the past we’ve dedicated a large portion of the design budget to building an elaborate area with super cool functionality, only to find out 2 weeks before launch that the content didn’t come together and that section won’t be used anymore. That’s an opportunity where the client could have saved a boatload of money. What’s more is that if a new layout needs to be created for that content, there are now restraints on how that layout can be built, which could result in a less than ideal solution or added cost.
Our advice? Sit down with whomever is building your site and lay out a content plan. If they’re providing the content, facilitate a meeting with the copywriter as soon as possible. If you’re writing the content, look at the sitemap together and go over best practices and what will be required for each page (eg. “this page will require a tagline in the banner, 6 product images and 2 sentences for each product).
3. There are Important Principles of Design That May Run Contrary to Your Preferences
At the beginning of every project, we outline what the main goal should be (generating more money, more attention etc.). From that point forward every decision is made with that goal in mind.
Preferences come in all shapes and sizes. Some are harmless (I love green), while others can flatline a site goal (I love tons of crazy fonts). It’s important to know the difference, and it’s important to know that your web developer loves you and isn’t just a big meanie. Sometimes when we speak up against your preferences, it’s coming from a place of research and love (but mostly research).
Our advice? If your designer disagrees with something you want, ask why. They should be able to back up their opinion with a solid reason that relates back to the overall goal.
4. Getting on the First Page of Google is Likely Harder Than You Realize
If getting onto the first page of Google for a given search term was easy, absolutely everybody would be there – and that would be one hell of a first page. Google takes many factors into consideration when it ranks sites, and they aren’t like flipping switches. It looks at whether your content is good enough to be shared, if your site displays well on mobile, if the images are properly tagged for blind people, etc. You’ll note that by doing this, Google is rewarding sites for being useful to users. Google’s mission with rankings is to serve the best site to the user, so sometimes it’s a lot easier to focus on making the best site possible and letting the search results happen organically.
If that doesn’t sound appealing and you want to dive deeper into the world of Search Engine Optimization, it’s important to start by recognizing one key point: there is no silver bullet, and even the plain old bullets you’ll have to use probably won’t be easy or cheap. As mentioned above, SEO isn’t a switch you flip, it’s an ongoing process that can require months of attention, testing, and tweaking to see a result. Remember some companies take their SEO so seriously that they spend as much as they did on their entire website every few months.
Our advice? Go into the project with some realistic expectations. Realize that to go beyond SEO basics could involve a financial and time investment that you may not have.
5. The Contract is Far More Useful Than Boring
Many people treat the project contract like a user licence agreement on a computer. They flip through it at increasing speed until they get to the part that tells them it’s over. The contract is actually a pretty spectacular document that should be referenced by both parties throughout the process. It includes timelines and deliverables for everybody, and it’s an excellent way to keep things on track. While we always provide a weekly summary of our projects, it’s always good to have a north star.
Our advice? Set up a time when the contract comes in to go through the contract together. That way if you require any clarification or notice an omission you can ask as you go.
The best advice we can offer is to spend a solid block of time with whomever is building your site and become acquainted with their process. Ask them what their pitfalls are, and how best to avoid them. While you may not be able to accommodate everything, you should be able to find a middle-ground that will ensure your project releases on time and on budget.