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Four Ways to Avoid Website Disasters and Ensure Project Success

This post is the second in a series on website and digital publishing best practices from The Marcom Group’s Dave Plivelich. Read the first post here and the third post here.

How many times have you clicked on a website, only to experience glaring errors right away? It happens more often than you think, and this reality doesn’t bode well for companies trying to bring in new business and attract new customers, followers or donors. For example, you click on the “About” page of a website and a “404 Not Found” appears. It means something is broken and needs to be fixed. The solution is apparent and relatively straightforward.

However, not every problem is so obvious. When it comes to website design or upgrade projects, more challenging mistakes often exist. They come in the form of last-minute delays, overextended budgets and, ultimately, the mishandling or death of a project. Much like a common cold, the best solution is one of early recognition and prevention. In fact, there are symptoms that can be spotted to safeguard the health and well-being of web development endeavors. Here’s how:

1. Establish appropriate expectations upfront and address them.

Website development companies need to make sure the agreed-to project fee aligns with what the client expects to receive. Add-ons (and change orders) will clearly frustrate the client and damage the relationship. This includes adjustments in budget, scope and time line. By creating a plan and defining responsibilities for all participants, the appropriate parties can be held accountable. In doing so, both developers and clients are protected so long as they uphold their duties. Ideally, this step should occur during the proposal process. In this way, the work will be scoped in a way that defines ongoing deliverables and translates directly into the final project. The earlier expectations are set, the easier they are to adhere to. What’s important to remember is both parties have a role in this process.

2.   Before starting the design, get approved content from the client.

Many would-be website owners and even some design agencies tend to overlook this essential fact: one of the main functions of a website is to deliver customer-centric content that provides real value. That means development teams and their clients need to take into consideration the target audience’s attributes including technology level, demographics, preferences, sophistication level and general knowledge. In doing so, the website will be more likely to provide information that is meaningful to visitors.

Not every client has professional writing staff in-house. That’s why it is important to review the client’s content and offer input and suggestions before proceeding. When quality content is left out of the web development process, it can become the loose strand by which the project begins to unravel. If a web development team does not approach content development with the appropriate care it deserves, they are ultimately doing a great disservice to their client.

Even with great content, it is still possible to run into trouble. Some web development teams will become too wrapped up in what they want to make or what they think looks “cool,” as opposed to the most effective way to present the company’s product or service offerings. Examples of this are unorthodox site navigation schemes or the rampant overuse of home page image sliders where that valuable space could better be used to drive visitor action. (If you do use sliders, include a compelling and actionable message for best results.)

3.   Present designs in real time.

In other words: Sell, don’t tell. Presentation and showcasing might seem similar, but there are some distinct differences. In this context, a presentation is defined as an exercise in which all aspects of what is being presented are thoroughly laid out for the client. In terms of websites, a complete presentation will go over both the visual design of the front end and the functionality of the back end.

It does a client no good to see how pretty or “hip” a website looks, but still not understand how to make changes on the back end. Therefore, it should be the responsibility of the development team to educate the client not only once the project is completed, but also as functional milestones are reached and implemented.

4.   When it’s time to launch, provide education, training and support.

Almost inevitably, there will be changes necessary that will go beyond the ability of even the most technically astute clients. Not every adjustment can be accomplished through a back-end content management system. Because of this reality, it is important to understand a prospective web development team’s track record for postlaunch support. It is wise to ask questions of the web developer regarding their longer-term customer assistance protocol.

Web development teams that constantly chase new projects jeopardize ongoing relationships with their current clients. Not every firm that lacks a customer support team falls into this category, but it is something to be aware of when searching for the perfect team to develop your website.

The stakes are high

Become familiar with how your development team handles each of these potential pitfalls in order to ensure the website project is on sound footing. The stakes are high. A company’s growth and long-term survival often depend on the quality and effectiveness of its website and the company’s ability to quantify success. Metrics can include the number of visitors, number of pages viewed, time on the site and action steps taken. With these measurable analytics noted, it’s easier to have conversations about needed modifications and improvements.

In the end, website development agencies that are committed to the self-evaluation process and who strive to improve the delivery of their services keep projects alive and healthy. At the same time, clients who are actively engaged in the process and know what questions to ask are more likely to get positive results. This type of partnership results in a win-win for both parties.

David Plivelich is the CEO and creative director at The Marcom Group Incorporated. David can be reached at or by phone at (661) 489-4444.