Creating a website from scratch is a daunting prospect for even the most seasoned techies, but, taking it on as a general marketer can be a real learning moment. Tweaking Cone’s old website would have been like trying to use a vintage car in a Formula One race. Cone was undergoing a major brand overhaul, taking a fresh look at everything from name and logo, to images and copy. Our website needed to reflect the best and newest version of ourselves. So we decided to start at the beginning, capture the latest technology, newest look and capitalize on all we’ve learned in the past five years.
Here are seven best practices I learned along the way as a “lay person” taking this on.
- Internal buy-in. Always begin by assembling your internal team. Engaging the IT and new media folks at our agency helped to speed up the learning on technical aspects. Involving those who create much of our content, at Cone that’s our Research & Insights team, allowed them to participate in decisions that would impact their content delivery.
- Invaluable input. Interview clients and prospects (or the people you most care about reaching with your site) to understand their experiences and what they want to see. It’s also important to make sure employees have a chance to weigh in with their visions and wishes – and what they’ve seen elsewhere. Lastly, audit sites of competitors and other service providers to understand what you liked and what you need just to stay competitive.
- External experts. Seek out objective input on the design and back-end development. Outside resources will help keep you on track, provide new thinking and offer critical expertise.
- Pen to paper. Having a good plan is critical. Working with both a design agency and development team, you can create the best navigation, optimize page layout and plan for new technologies that will give your content a boost. Make sure you put all of this on paper, to a high degree of specificity, before any development begins. It saves time and heartache during the expensive and time-consuming programming phase.
- Cool, but not too cool. Adopting every latest technology and gadget sounds fun and exciting, but pushing the envelope too far can mean you are the guinea pig on something that may not work as planned. If you’re working with a developer, ask to see sites that employ the same combination of technology so you see it in action and find out how dependable it is.
- Content is king. The name of the game for every website is a constant flow of fresh content. Every developer and search engine optimization (SEO) expert will tell you this, but it is easier said than done. Ideally you might host a blog that gets updated at least once, if not several times, a week. You can also think about how to frequently add news or post new case studies of your work. Provide content to show that the site is changing and updating.
- Measure, analyze, react. Once built, there is no rest for the weary. You should be consistently tweaking your website to meet your needs. Access to good analytics and knowledge of what they mean are critical to making mid-course corrections. Google Analytics is what we use with great success, in combination with micro analytics provided by our Web developer.
Don’t be afraid to roll everything back and start fresh. Sometimes tweaks on top of tweaks become so mired in fixes that, ultimately, the site doesn’t do a great job of anything. Building your site from the ground up lets you make every decision intentionally and with knowledge of the latest technology and your most current business situation.
--Cici Gordon, Senior Brand Strategist