August 19, 2015

Things to remember when developing a new website

If you haven’t noticed already, the Great American Media Services team has been busy redesigning our various websites.

New designs for Coach and Athletic Director, Produce Processing and Stationery Trends have already been released and we are currently working on Fruit Growers News.

It hasn’t been any easy process, but we’ve learned valuable lessons along the way. And as we work on website number four, it seems appropriate to share our (much-improved-over-the-last-few-months) process with you.

Before we talk technicalities, it’s important to start from ground level. The purpose of a website is to please your audience, right? So let’s start there.

What do your customers want? When they visit your site, what do they expect? Do they want your products or services to be front and center or do they desire to know more about your business?

I’m sure you don’t know the answer to most of these questions; it’s time to ask. Put together a short — but detailed — online survey. (If you don’t have a go-to resource for online surveys, check out Survey Monkey. It’s free and easy to use.) Send the survey via email and post it on your social media networks. You may have to offer a small incentive to get people to participate, but it’s worth the added cost because your ultimate goal is to please them.

While you wait for survey results, research content management systems. There are a number of options available, so it’s important to find the one that will work best for your business. WordPress seems to be the industry standard, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the best CMS for you and your team.

Speaking of your team, don’t forget to ask their opinion.

I suggest scheduling a pre-design meeting to work out the kinks. Ask your employees what they expect and compare their responses to the survey results you (hopefully) already analyzed.

Form a concrete plan. “This is what we like; this is what we don’t like.” If everyone is involved in from the beginning, there will be no surprises at the end.

When a plan is in place, communicate word-for-word what you’re expecting with your web developer. Be as specific as possible, even if you feel like it’s something he or she should already know.

Work with the developer to create a schedule and stick to it.

When it comes time to proof the new design, try to simplify the process as much as possible.

I’m not suggesting that you limit the number of people critiquing the site — the more eyes the better! — but organization is important.

Here’s the process we’ve adapted for proofing:

Team leader receives the proof from the web designer and makes sure it’s on track. If it’s what you were hoping for, pass it along to the team for comments. If you’re dissatisfied, send it back to the designer and ask that they start over.
Ask that you team send you a Microsoft Word document with all of the suggestions. (A team member is anyone that may encounter the website on a daily basis.)
Analyze the various comments you received and compile them in one file to be sent back to the developer.
Repeat this process until you’re satisfied with the design.

The new website you launch now will be an online representation of your business for years to come, so spend the time fixing every mistake no matter the size.

When you’re comfortable with the design, work with your developer to schedule a “soft launch.” Make the site live, but refrain from announcing the change to the public. Ask your team to navigate the various pages for operating errors. If everything looks right and performs without a hitch, it’s time for the big reveal.

Don’t hold back. You’ve spent countless hours — and dollars — making your new website, so it’s time to let everyone know!

Advertise the new design on social media, in your signage or print advertising and send out an email notification to your dedicated customers.

But don’t forget to ask for their feedback. Do they approve? And really listen to their thoughts. Most developers offer a small window of time (usually 30 days) to make any updates at no charge.

Happy designing!