Are you planning a new Web Production project? Looking for an agency to redesign your website? Looking for better results? Then this tips article is for you.
We are frequently being asked to pitch for new website production work and like any business, we are always keen to win good quality new business. Many of our clients either no experience of producing websites or have worked with other IT companies / members of staff or web design and development firms in the past. Some of our clients have even produced their own website to various degrees of success.
So what is web production?
Cyber-Duck prefer the term 'Web Production' as opposed to just 'Web Design' because 'production' better encompasses the many tasks and stages we go through to ensure any website project is a success. These stages range from the planning stage, creative stage, software and the technology stage right through to the target user testing / quality assurance stage and even online marketing campaign and traffic analysis stages.
Web production, like any form of new media production, is multi-faceted as it can entail any of the following:
- Website Design and Website Development
- Dynamic Websites (Database driven and normally Content Managed)
- Flash Websites
- Online Marketing (including SEO, PPC, Banner campaigns, Affiliate advertising, viral marketing)
- Portal Design
- Intranet and Extranet Production
- Online Games
- eLearning (Online Educational learning)
- Online Software
As a marketing manager or simply the person responsible for New Media in your organisation, more often than not you will be responsible for ensuring the success of the project. Your own clients, colleagues or line manager will come to you if the project goes well or indeed if problems do occur. Typically web projects are ongoing and once a graphical user interface and interactive system are built it is hard to go back and change things. Therefore planning and making the 'right decisions' at an early stage of the production are vital to the success of a project.
The importance of correct project management processes are emphasised in this analogy; Imagine that you are leading a team of 3 people: an architect, construction engineer and marketer and that you are responsible for designing, building and marketing a new holiday village. 4-5 months into the project you discover one of the following problems:
- The location is wrong and nobody hears about the village
- The roads can't cope with the traffic
- Planning permission was not granted for all parts of your village
- People can't find a way around the village as its too complex and get they get lost
Obviously such problems would mean that the project turns out to be a disaster and therefore indicates that the project management was poor.
What can industries such as web production learn from this? The following guide should help people like you better understand the important questions that you should be asking yourself in order to ensure that your web production agency or freelancer delivers a product that is both tailored to the needs of the user and is successful in the long-term.
Always make sure you write a brief which will explain the following:
- Who is the target audience?
- Who are the competitors?
- What's the style of the design?
- What features and functions will the project perform?
- Do you want to capture user's data?
- Do you need to manage the data?
- Who will update the Website or project?
- How will this happen?
If the project is a website that will be offering a new product or new service and you don't have market penetration will you want to use your Website to gain new leads? If so:
- What is your maximum monthly budget for marketing the site?
- What search engines and directories will users find your business on?
- Can Newsletters help to market your business?
- What other online marketing methods can help?
- Is there an online marketing plan at the planning stage?
Ensure the domain names are registered in your own businesses name. You can get a Web Agency or IT company to do this for you but make sure you are definitely registered as the owner and have the access codes to the registrar login control panel. Make sure you get the registrar certificates from Nominet (if you registered a .co.uk) as this will ensure that the domain legally belongs to your business.
Flash or no flash? This debate has been ongoing since 1997. Ultimately if you are concerned about Search Engines finding your website, and want maximum accessibility by visually impaired users / mobile devices use flash to a minimum. Building a project in Flash is only suitable when no search engine indexing is required. Flash is very powerful - use it wisely.
Are there standards for Web technology? The answer is yes. There are various organisations headed by the W3C consortium which advocate HTML coding standards. In the UK it is a legal requirement to code Web pages so they are accessible for disabled users following the Disability Discrimination Act of 1999 where UK businesses have to take reasonable steps to ensure their Websites and digital interfaces grant access to disabled users who might not be using a traditional keyboard and mouse.
Open source technology such as PHP and MySQL is technology that is not proprietary and means that competent Web Developers can unlock the code should they take over the 'source code'. Open source also means that the code is sometimes 'collaborative' and shared on Bulletin boards or 'wiki' websites. This allows better fine-tuning of commonly developed systems such as eCommerce (lets say an invoicing module). In terms of 'Source code', it is important for you to have an arrangement where you are able to purchase the code of your project should you opt to use a different company. If the project is of a high budget you should try and have a clause in the contract specifying this.
Outsourcing the production overseas?
In most cases this can spell a potential disaster. Most chances are you will have problems communicating with foreign production houses in the short or long term. There are various points throughout the project where art direction, features and functionality are scrutinised and this especially true for the ‘attention to detail’ phase. It is true that it is cheaper to outsource web production but unless you are outsourcing the development of bespoke software, which will return to your own developers, it will be far more cost effective to work with a local production house who can guide you, talk the same language and support you throughout the process. Understanding the user base of the target country is especially crucial when designing interfaces, Call to Actions, and copywriting content. Synergy between copywriting, design and technology is ever so crucial, so don’t sacrifice that.
Freelancer or agency?
Cyber-Duck recommend you work with an established New Media agency which provides comprehensive and cutting edge creative and technology skills, daytime / evening support, longevity, and meeting facilities. You need to ensure that the agency of your choice is well established, has excellent branding and attention to detail and can deliver. You will need to scrutinise their work and receive testimonials. You also need to ensure that the staff is academically and professionally qualified and practice user-centred design so that the project will deliver. If Search Engine rankings are important to your project, you will need to ask for proof of excellent ranking.
A freelancer normally provides cheaper rates and can generally be quite creative. Freelancers normally struggle to cope with work outside of their domain and normally do not have a pool of contacts to tap into. Additionally, freelancers can sometimes struggle to cope with more than 1-2 demanding clients at a time and may lack the business infrastructure and financial stability of an established fully staffed business.
If you decide to work with a freelancer make sure that they have been established for more than 4-5 years and are not planning to become fully employed again. We have spoken to businesses who lost entire projects because freelancers magically disappeared or went on long vacations to Australia.
What should you look for in an agency?
Once you are ready to select an agency to develop a 12K Website for you, feel free to use this check-list before you start. Ensure the agency complies with the following:
- Usability and user friendly design at the forefront of the company
- Creative flair, with strong art and technology backgrounds
- Can they Wireframe and blue print user interfaces and systems for you?
- Academically and professionally qualified staff with degrees within Computing or Interactive
- Hands on - ensure the managers you meet will be involved at all project stages
- Project Manager - ensure you will be dealing with an experienced project manager who knows how to draft project initiation documents, gantt charts, specification documents etc'.
- Attention to detail - is the agency website and client work truly stunning?
- Portfolio with relevant links that are similar to your desired project
Make sure that the agency’s proposal matches your brief. Ensure that the proposal is well written, cost effective, clear and concise and lists all features, time allocated, and precise scope. The agency may well allow room for flexibility, but make sure the proposal will ‘take care’ of the project.
In your proposal, make time for QA (Quality Assurance) which is testing the project for bugs, and quality issues and allowing you to feedback on any issues that arise within a period of 3 months. Depending on the project, the QA process should be taken very seriously and sometimes you will need to allocate 1-2 months or more to test the project in a 'test' or 'live' environment. In some projects, you will need 'live' user testing.