8 questions to ask before commissioning a website
Updated: Apr 20
What website developers wish their clients knew.
A large percentage of what I do for clients is help them with their websites. I don’t develop websites myself, but I have managed the process between client and developer for over 10 years and I know the misunderstandings that arise and how to avoid them. A good hard-working website is a complicated business and includes lots of different elements: copy, content, design, SEO. Clients and developers make assumptions about each other’s knowledge and capabilities – I ensure everyone understands what’s needed, why and when.
Without expert guidance clients make assumptions about what the developer is going to bring to the project because they don’t know the questions to ask. A developer’s knowledge may be limited to the technical and design side, simply delivering how it looks and functions based on the brief they’re given.
If neither client or developer knows anything about search engine optimisation, then no matter how good a website looks, no one’s going to find it.
This may be a horrible generalisation, but over the years these are the assumptions I’ve encountered from both sides;
I want clients to understand what makes a good website brief and what part they need to play in their website’s development; how they can write a better brief and identify a good developer/agency that will deliver all they might not know they need.
A little bit of LinkedIn research. What do developers wished you knew more about before the project started?
It is my firm belief that copy (the writing) and content (images and videos etc.) is what holds up website development and causes the most frustration. Clients are just not prepared for the time, effort and skill it takes to plan and write content for their website – and that’s not even content that will optimised for Google (see my assumptions above). But I wanted to substantiate this and investigate if my horribly generalised assumptions were close to the mark and if I could use the findings to help clients and developers alike.
So, I took to LinkedIn to ask web developers two questions.
When creating a client's website
1. What is the one thing that holds up the project?
2. What do you wish all clients knew more about before the project started?
I had 22 valid responses to my post (by 03.04.2020)
90%, 20 out of 22, agreed content was the one thing that holds up the project.
Great. Assumption one confirmed.
The responses to question 2 were more varied but certainly supported some of my assumptions. They are important points to consider if you’re commissioning a website and come straight from the horse’s (developer's) mouth. I have gone through them with some further explanation.
i. What you want is not necessarily what you need
Developers that understand Google Analytics and digital marketing will be able to see how your website is working, what it is not doing, and where it is falling down. Clients may feel like they need a better-looking website or one that attracts more people, but this might not be the case and a developer who investigates what you need over what you want is a must.
If you don’t have Google Analytics on your website, this needs to be sorted ASAP, and is a very basic SEO requirement. If you can’t measure what you’ve got, how can you make changes to get what you want? Ask the question about Google Analytics and if your developer doesn’t know – it’s time to get additional help/advice.
ii. What they actually want the site/design/plugin/functionality to do - i.e. the core purpose of the project
Clients need a clear idea of the core purpose of the website: to educate, to engage, to sell, to take bookings, to collect data. Developers can then help them decide what functionality is needed and how much this will realistically cost.
iii. Budget - what they want and what it actually costs
iv. Expectation vs reality - multi-million pound website is not achievable on a shoestring budget
v. Difference between T&M and Fixed Price
As with any bespoke service you’re paying for expertise, materials and time.
As a client you may not realise how long it takes to sort through 10s – 100s of photos and then resize the ones you want to include. Shops, galleries and event booking functionalities take time to get right and populate, even if your developer has the information. Small changes across the site take time. You can save yourself budget by doing some of the ‘grunt’ work in terms of delivering content and images in an organised way, writing a very specific brief that you stick to, and ensuring you deliver what your developer needs in exactly the way they need it.
‘Can you justs’ all add up. And it’s not the developer being unreasonable if they want to charge additional time. If you add ‘just’ a small chocolate bar to a large weekly shop at a supermarket checkout, you still have to pay for it, so why is it any different here.
Clients be sure you understand what your developer’s quote includes and doesn’t, and if you have multiple quotes check that they are comparable or like-for-like. A fixed price will give you some security on price, if that’s what you prefer, but a time and materials price (T&M) allows you to increase or decrease the work as you go along.
Developers need to be clear on what they are including and what will be charged as an extra.
Clients need to be sure they understand this and that everything they want is included and be prepared to pay extra for anything that is ‘out of scope’ or for additional changes and small extras.
vi. Who they're trying to appeal to and what these individuals need to see and experience in order to convert (not just their own likes and dislikes)
vii. That they need to see the website from the user’s perspective rather than their own
Clients need to think about who their ideal client is and what they are looking for, there are lot of persona exercises you can do to help with this. The simplest is to think about your top three clients and map the similarities between them. Your website needs to be built for that visitor, not the business building it. You must find the balance between what you want to say and what your clients are looking for; and write and design it to satisfy the latter.
viii. Sales funnels and how websites fit into them
Sales funnels differ for every business, but if I’m still allowed to generalise, think about a simple funnel of 1.awareness 2.interest 3.decision and 4.action. Your website and digital marketing strategy needs to support all levels of this funnel if you want it to become a real engine for growth. The majority of websites are strong on interest and decision but fail in generating awareness and action.
If you have a clear understanding of your clients, what interests and motivates them, you can put a plan in place to generate awareness and interest in your product and services, attract those clients to your site and, once they’re there, provide them with a way to act on a decision to buy. Conversion.
ix. How important SEO (and Digital Marketing in general) is alongside having a good website.
x. That the project will/should grow with their business.
I liken creating and launching a new website and then not working on the digital marketing side of things to printing a brochure and throwing into the street - hoping the right person will pick it up.
There is a myriad of reasons to keep updating and adding to your website; changes to your business, new products and services, engaging with your clients, educating prospective clients, content for social and search engine optimisation, to name a few. Inbound marketing with a decent content marketing strategy will make all the difference to your rankings and your website’s performance going forward.
Clients should bear in mind that the budget for the initial website is just phase one. If you’re building a website to generate leads as opposed to just being a brochure you need to budget for this – whether you are going to do it yourself or hire external resource.
xi. Client side/internal stakeholder management plays an enormous role in a successful project.
Creating a website needs to be a collaboration between all involved. Clients have to realise that they can’t just hand it off to designers/developers, making the assumptions above. Their input is going to be required to ensure the success of the project.
Developers aren’t experts in your industry, neither do they know your business, clients or your expectations for this website. They will work with what you give them to create a website. Clients need to work hard to determine purpose, copy, content, success metrics, targeting etc. either with their developer, if they offer this, or in readiness to start the project.
8 questions to ask yourself
I want clients to be educated in what is involved in creating a successful website, and the questions to ask to find the right team to build it for them.
I have spent whole days mediating between irate clients who have spent thousands on a website they are not happy with and frustrated agencies who feel they have delivered on the brief. I see so many websites designed by someone with no understanding of SEO or digital marketing for clients who have even less understanding. What’s the point in having a website that isn’t ranking on search engines?
Please, before you commission a website spend time answering the following questions. This can be done with someone like myself or a developer/agency that understands digital marketing, SEO, design, strategy and content marketing.
1. What is the core purpose of the website?
2. Who is this website being built for?
3. What do you want visitors to do/feel?
4. Where will the website fit in your sales funnel?
5. What are your core services?
6. Who will write the copy and sort the images?
7. What is your content marketing strategy?
8. How will you measure the success of this new website?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have the basics for a great brief and the insight to find the right agency or developer. Look for a developer or agency that is interested in the bigger picture and will work with you on all these steps to deliver exactly what you need for fantastic long-term success.
Questions, comments, concerns? Give me a call on 07813 846569 and I’ll see if I can help or have a look at my website page to learn more about what I so.
Thank you to all the web developers who answered my questions on LinkedIn – they are the kind of developers you and I both want to work with in the future.