Your New Website: 4 Factors That Can Drive Up Costs & Limit Effectiveness

08/08/11

At Dorey Design Group, we work hard to give our clients the best product for the lowest cost.

 
One thing we've found to be true is that the more “mission creep” during the site build, the less effective the site is at meeting its goals. That is, when a site project starts to acquire features and design elements that weren't in the original scope, there’s a pretty good chance it’s also moving further away from accomplishing what it set out to do.
 
In this article, we discuss what can be done to avoid higher costs and diminished effectiveness for a site.
 
 
#1: Have a clear idea about the purpose of the site.
 
Nowadays company websites are so common that the question of goals is often not considered adequately. If the basis for hiring a web design company is something like "Doesn't everyone have a website? We should have one too," then you're setting yourself up for mission creep.
 
A business website ought to have a clear mission. Is it to drive prospects to your business? Is it to present examples of your work to prospective clients? Do you expect to use it for internal communications or document sharing? How much time and resources are you willing to devote once the site is launched? Who's creating content? Is the strategy realistic for your staff's workload and skillset?
 
The answers to these questions should drive the kind of website that's built.
 
For instance, if your company wants to create blog posts and news articles on an ongoing basis, you should consider a robust content-management system (CMS) with a WYSIWYG editor. Although this will increase the initial cost, it allows subsequent updates to be done in-house by staffers with no specialized technical training, and would probably end up being a money-saver. For some companies, paying us to change out some text later might be a perfectly acceptable ongoing cost, whereas for others it could be wasted money.
 
Working with us up front to determine what the site should do will help ensure that you've purchased the right tool for the right job.
 
 
#2: Invest the time up front to plan the features, design, timeline and budget.
 
Project planning for a website should include answering questions such as:
• Who bears the costs and responsibility for images?
• Who bears the costs and responsibility for copy?
• What are the respective roles of the team members?
 
Part of this planning should also include delineating client-side responsibilities. Who, specifically, has the authority to approve designs and copy for the client? When there are various people weighing in, it can lead to ambiguous or conflicting direction, which translates into higher costs, muddled messaging and decreased effectiveness. That doesn’t mean there can’t be multiple people giving input, just that there is one designated point person who is charged with collecting that input and giving direction to the designers and site builders.
 
By clarifying and documenting everyone’s roles the designing and building processes can avoid chaos and come in at the lowest cost possible.
 
 
#3: Avoid Late Design and Feature Changes
 
Once the plan has been created and the designs approved, stick with them! It can take some discipline to make a decision and resist revisiting it later, but this is by far the #1 reason websites cost more than they should. Custom design, graphic work and copywriting is not cheap, and doing it twice (or even more) can quickly double or triple a website's costs.
 
Perhaps even more importantly, the design, navigation and features of a website should work as a coherent whole. Every time something new and unexpected is grafted on, the overall impact and effectiveness of the site is lessened.
 
 
#4: Write copy and choose photos early!
 
I wear lots of hats, but primarily I'm a writer. And one thing that is always true for me --and I suspect others --is that my writing is improved if I put it down, clear my head and revisit the draft a day or two later. I'm more focused on the overall presentation and how well it's working, so am better able to spot places where I might be going off into the weeds.
 
When a client is providing copy and images, they will often make the mistake of assuming that it can all be pulled together at the last minute. But writing that's done that way is usually terrible and will almost inevitably be revised, and often revised many times. A little time spent up front can keep costs reasonable and help the site stay on message.
 
 
Some additional tips for cost-conscious website owners:
 
• "Save Up" updates. Many website updates are small text changes that, in and of themselves, take very little time to make. But the developer has to find the right file, open the right applications, find the right passwords, and get reoriented to the site. Once that's all done, it becomes as easy to change text in five places and change out a couple of photos as it is to do one. So costs can be kept significantly lower when a few changes are requested at once.
 
• On bigger projects, a fixed "test and accept" period can help prevent creep. It may not work for every project, but agreeing up front on a fixed period after the draft has been delivered, during which the client can test features, ask for minor changes and sign off on the finished product, can help avoid endless changes that push a project off schedule and over budget.
 
• Being an "early adopter" has its cost. Every site owner wants something new and different that will set them apart from their competitors. But if you're asking for something unusual or that hasn't been done before, there's always the possibility of a learning curve and higher costs. In the tech world there's always something new coming. If a client wants that hot new thing, there's probably a premium to be paid.
 
• There is life after launch. Today's websites are interactive, changeable, "living" documents. The notion of creating a perfect static site and never touching it again is outdated and doesn't make the most of the incredible tool the internet has become. Expect to add content later, and plan around doing so.
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John Mulvey