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What Web Development Companies Don't Tell You

Website design project meeting

Your site is out of date and you need a refresh. Maybe you need an entirely new website all together. There is a lot to consider when working with a web development company. Unfortunately, too often  web design projects crash and burn leaving both parties with a bitter taste in their mouths and jaded at the experience. Even worse, you still need a new website so you'll inevitably have to go through the process again. But there are some things you can do to make sure your project is a positive experience and not a colossal headache. It all starts with understanding some of the things web development companies don't tell you. Not because they're trying to be sneaky or non-forthcoming. But because often, they assume you know their world and vice versa. You can prepare by familiarizing yourself with some of the most popular agency terms that you might hear. First let's look at some of the biggest things to avoid in a website project. 

Major pitfalls of web design projects

  1. - Misaligned expectations  - If expectations are not aligned from the get go, it's a sure fire way to spell disaster for your web design project. Often times business owners aren't aware of all that goes into the strategy, design and development of a new website. It is the responsibility of the agency to explain the "what" and the "why" of the project. However, as a business owner, you can insulate yourself from disappointment by clarifying anything you might have questions about. Don't be afraid to ask for further explanation or context about how long something will take to build out, or how much it will cost to do it another way. Aligning on these points will help avoid any miscommunication down the line. 
  2. - Creative kickoff wasted - Arguably the most important part of any project is the creative kickoff. Your meeting should start with an agenda and address the most crucial parts of the project. Map out your buyers journey. Clearly define what the goal of the project is and what success and failure look like. You should do all your information gathering prior to the meeting so that you can focus on strategy around meaningful outcomes that will drive the project forward. Avoid tangents or off topic conversation to make the most of your time. 
  3. - Feedback is not concise or helpful - This is where you as a business owner can help out. Giving specific and direct feedback about design is not always easy, but absolutely necessary. Vague feedback like "it needs to pop more" or "It just doesn't feel right" provide little value in addressing what is actually wrong. Amanda Schoedel wrote a great article about this called the 7 Simple Rules for Giving Great Design Feedback. The premise being, if you're willing to engage and collaborate with your designer, you'll see greater results. 
  4. - Too many cooks in the kitchen - I can't overstate this enough. Crowd sourcing feedback about your website is the quickest way to get a mediocre, watered down version of what it could have been. You will never please everybody all the time, and rarely do the people giving their feedback know about proper UI/UX, conversion path implementation or web standards. This is your website so make sure it is what YOU want it to be. Or trust the professional you hired to do what they know is in your best interest. 
  5. - Scope Creep - Wikipedia describes scope creep as:

    Scope creep (also called requirement creep, or kitchen sink syndrome) in project management refers to changes, continuous or uncontrolled growth in a project's scope, at any point after the project begins. This can occur when the scope of a project is not properly defined, documented, or controlled.

    This goes back to #1 and setting of expectations. Not covering all your bases at the beginning results in work that you want done, but wasn't accounted for. Here too it is important to make sure you clearly know what the end goal is. That's why we employ a Growth Driven Design approach toward continuous improvement. You can mitigate the effects of scope creep by defining what is needed for phase 1, then prioritizing additional work that wasn't initially scoped as part of phase 2 of a continuous improvement cycle. This also helps reduce delays in timeline and allows the team to focus on what is needed to complete the project on time. 
  6. - Hidden costs - With proper due diligence, the entire job to be done will be properly scoped. However, missing important functionalities can lead to hidden costs. Are you going to need a paid plugin or app to fulfill the scope of the project? Will a database need to be built or do you need anything integrated with a 3rd party or CRM? All of these things need to be identified during the exploratory conversation to avoid any unforeseen charges in the 11th hour or when you're trying to wrap up the project.  

Key Questions to Ask

So what are some of the best questions to ask your web design agency? Here are a few targeted questions that you should definitely have answers to:

  1. Can you walk me through your web design and development process?
  2. What sort of project management tracking do you use?
  3. What are the major milestones of the project?
  4. How many revision sessions do I get?
  5. How do you handle change orders?
  6. Do you provide stock photography, fonts or other creative assets?
  7. Who will be responsible for the website page copy? 

Don't assume that your creative agency partners can read your mind. Design can be very subjective and different people might interpret design differently. Mutual understanding of the scope of the project, along with alignment on creative direction is key to a successful project. But above all else, your website should be focused on function. Remember, you want this website to work for you. If it's not generating leads, then it's not living up to the potential a professional website should. Good and bad web design really boils down to results, not personal aesthetic preference. Here too is a major roadblock for many projects. 

Avoid the thick of thin things

Understanding that your website is your greatest sales rep, it's important to pick and choose your battles. Sometimes our personal preference in design contradicts what best practice would suggest. Requiring multiple revisions to adjust an image or to develop and redevelop pages will lead to scope creep and additional change orders which typically include additional billing. Allowing your team of experts to do what they do best, even if it doesn't quite align 100% with your personal preference, you will complete the project faster and allow the numbers to speak for themselves. 

To help you with your next project, here are a few Pro Tips for a great website redesign experience. 

Get your assets in gear before you kick off - By auditing your existing assets, you can gather up any logos, fonts and other branding elements as well as any imagery that you may want to re-purpose on the new site. Any creative direction you can provide will help your designer and developer more closely match what you're looking for. Inspiration or example sites are also great preparation you can do prior to your kickoff meeting.  If you do not have much to start with, it's always good to do a little research to find a few things that can help you show the designer what your preference is. There are many free resources out there and Anthony Wood with Creative Boom wrote a great article that lists out 50 free resources you can choose from. 

Evaluate you existing content - Auditing your content to determine if you need to rewrite or add any additional to the new pages will help save time on the back side of the project when you're trying to tie up any loose ends. Content can include copy but also things like video, motion graphics, infographics and more. Knowing what you have and what holes you need to fill will help provide direction during your web redesign project. Check out these 5 simple steps to auditing your content for help getting started. 

Audit you can offer - Get a handle on what your current offerings are. Is a request for consultation the only thing you have? What about eBooks, whitepapers, case studies, demos, etc. Listing out your offers will help you determine your conversion paths and set the foundation to map your buyers journey. Note: Don't assume that these are included as part of your website redesign. If you want to redesign your eBooks or case studies, make sure to discuss that in your initial discovery. 

Determine what success looks like - Knowing what you want is the first step to a successful project. Really define what you want the end goal to look like, function like, or impact it should have. Being able to clearly convey what your goals are will allow all parties to have a common direction and baseline to measure by. 

For many companies, their website redesign projects are positive experiences of collaboration and synergy that result in mutual benefit for everyone involved. But there are those times that are not as positive and it's important to learn from those. When two organizations come together with a win/win objective and clearly defined path to success, great things can happen. With full transparency and mutual collaboration you can gain a high level Speed of Trust which will allow your project to be more efficient and ultimately have a better outcome than it would otherwise.