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Nine Tips for Managing the Web Design Process

October 20, 2014

jshelbyToday’s post is courtesy of Jennifer Shelby, CPSM of Rhino PR. Ms. Shelby has more than 14 years of experience in the architecture, engineering and construction (A/E/C) industry.

People say that the eyes are the windows into the soul. Professionally speaking, a web site provides a first glimpse into your business. Today’s websites are dynamic marketing tools that require a constant influx of new information to maintain visibility within your target market. Content must be varied, accurate, and enticing. The content management systems that run the back end of these sites must also be easily updated, bug-free, and intuitive. Sites should be overhauled every three to five years to ensure information is presented using the newest digital tools available and appropriate for your message.

If you find yourself on the precipice of starting the design or re-design process, here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind:

  1. Do your due diligence. Check out competitors’ web sites and those of other firms that appeal to you. Note the features, photos, and amount of text. Do you prefer the sites with more photos? Minimal text? Social media access on the home page? Does your firm require a client portal for project management and communication? Knowing what you want, what you like, and explaining why is very helpful during the discovery process.
  2. Craft a thoughtful RFP. For many of our clients, hiring a web design firm is a new experience. Rely on what you already know about RFPs and responding to them: articulate your goals, target audience, project scope, budget, and schedule. Outline the elements that design firms should include in their proposal, and how you wish them to be answered. Be sure to ask for functionality across many mobile platforms and include search engine optimization (SEO) to improve your search ranking, web analytics, and visibility. Some companies will take the opportunity to refresh their corporate logo along with the creation of a new web site. If so, engage the services of a graphic designer and build that into the RFP as well.
  3. Think about SEO. Most developers build basic search engine optimization into their sites. However, a full-blown SEO program will ensure greater visibility, more clicks, and a reciprocal relationship with other relevant sites in your industry. This level of SEO often requires a separate SEO sub-consultant to build out a robust program. If this is something you wish to consider, write it into your RFP as a separate line-item. Your chosen developer may already have a relationship with an SEO consultant and will co-propose with them, or include information from them in their response.
  4. Request proposals from several firms. There are many web design firms out there, designing sites that range in complexity, technology, and price. Since the process may be new to you, ask for proposals from between three and six firms so you get an education and learn the questions to ask. You’ll be surprised by the array of responses you receive. It’s helpful to take the time to create a matrix that compares elements from each proposal across common parameters so you end up only focusing on one section at a time. It’s also helpful to rank each section and then tally the results to come up with a short list of firms to invite to interview.
  5. Schedule interviews with each qualified firm. Insist they bring the designer and developer who will actually be doing the work, as well as the account manager with whom you will be interacting on a regular basis. As AEC professionals, we understand selling services involves selling the firm, but knowing who is doing the work is critical. In addition, as so many of the firms will be comparable in terms of price and technical capability, it’s important to choose a firm that you will enjoy working with, and one that exhibits an easy exchange of information.
  6. Personality is important, but technology is key. Most web sites can be designed and built in as little as 12 weeks, so the chemistry should feel right between your firm and the selected designer/developer team working together for the duration of the project. Long after the site is completed, however, your firm will have to live with the site and whatever web platform and content management system (CMS) you choose. Be sure to ask thorough questions about the technology used to build the site to ensure longevity in the marketplace and ease of use for everyone responsible for making updates. A web-based CMS will allow your non-technical staff to easily update content on both the online and mobile sites. There are several proprietary CMS programs that vary in terms of technical support and compatibility. Check references to ensure your chosen solution will last throughout the life cycle of your site.
  7. Assign an internal project manager to oversee the web design process. Typically, your firm will supply all source material, including written content, headshots, and project photography for the web site. (If not, expect to pay extra for these services.) Having one person in your firm responsible for the web design project will facilitate communication with both the designer and developer and ensure that deadlines are met. Remember that delays and redesigns may also cost additional money if the scope of work creeps out of control
  8. Prepare your e-marketing when your web site has been thoroughly tested and is nearing completion. It’s a smart idea to include a request for an email blast template in your RFP that will reflect the new website design and support the firm’s email marketing program with consistent branding. Create an email blast that celebrates your firm’s new web site and don’t forget to plan announcements through social media channels.
  9. Prepare to launch. You’ll be excited to push your new content out to your public, yet it’s important to take baby steps. In addition to the thorough testing your developer will perform, you should plan for a couple of soft launches in the process. First, launch to a core group of staff members, preferably those who have been involved in the process and/or are involved with corporate marketing, branding and business development. These experts will catch messaging inconsistencies and will have an eye for what a typical audience member will catch. Then, plan a soft launch to your entire staff, giving them an adequate amount of time to peruse the site and offer minor suggestions for content and usability. As much as you may not want to hear critical feedback, this is a valuable step in determining how your site is received. Allow for about one to two weeks to collect responses. Once you’ve addressed all relevant concerns, plan your official launch, and then buy a case of champagne to celebrate your efforts!

Jennifer Shelby, CPSM is an account director at Rhino Public Relations. Questions or comments? E-mail her at, visit www.rhinopr.comor start a conversation on Twitter at @RhinoPRBoston.

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