Designing and developing a new website is an exciting endeavor. It is also a complex one. Jumping too quickly into a vendor relationship, or adopting a new technology platform without the expertise to understand the implications of doing so, can be risky for your organization. It’s expensive and time-consuming to build a new website. To make sure you’re meeting the needs of your organization, audience members, and website administrators, you need to take some time to prepare.

Our clients come to us to design and develop a new website for a variety of reasons:

  • Their website has grown into an unmanageable and complex mess.
  • The content doesn’t feel relevant and/or there’s too much of it.
  • The site isn’t telling a clear, engaging story about the organization.
  • Their users aren’t converting to donate/purchase/engage.
  • The site has become difficult to navigate and users are confused about where to find what they need.
  • The design feels outdated.
  • The content management system is difficult to use internally (or is non-existent).
  • There is a significant dependence on an external agency to make every little tweak or update they need.
  • A major stakeholder has given their website that disapproving shake of the head.

Some clients know exactly what they need. Others need help from an expert to make decisions about things like which CMS platform to use, how long the process should take, and how to deal with all of the site’s content. We have created this guide to help people know what questions to ask and how to think about selecting a partner to develop your new website.

Searching for the Best-Fit Agency

If you are like many of our clients, you are likely searching for an agency to reimagine your website. Finding an agency that’s a good fit can be hard — there are a lot of us to choose from. Some agencies are more affordable but offer limited customization. Others will retain control of the site, giving you limited freedom to make changes outside of their fees. Some agencies will provide training, while others may offer ongoing maintenance services. If you’re lucky, you’ll find an agency that can provide all of this and are able to collaborate with your own team to support you long term.

Questions to Ask Prospective Agency Partners

Whether you are in the early phase of getting a bid or wondering whether an agency you’re considering is the right choice, certain questions can help you make an informed decision. We’ve created a list of questions to ask a prospective agency on how they’d approach the build of your new website.

Understand Roles Around Content and Website Strategy:

  • Do you run an audit of the current site so we can see our strengths and weaknesses?
  • How will you help us determine which features of the current website will carry forward into the new site?
  • Who will be responsible for creating initial content, and similarly, who is responsible for entering it?
  • Will you facilitate a process to help us decide what content stays, what goes, and what new content we should create?
  • Will you help us plan what content and messaging should go on each page?
  • What is your strategy for providing SEO guidance?

Understand how your brand will extend to the website:

  • Will the work include custom design(s)?
  • Is there a designer involved in the process, or are you leaving it up to the developers to interpret the theme?
  • Who will be responsible for supplying photography, fonts, and iconography?
  • Can we see some examples of sites similar in scope to get an idea of what those sites look like?

Determine How Your Website Will Be Built:

  • What CMS platforms have you developed on for other clients? (This will help you understand if the CMS recommendation is optimal for your needs or if it’s simply their platform of expertise.)
  • How will you determine which CMS will best meet our needs?
  • Will you use an established theme or will you code from scratch?
  • What kind of responsiveness can we expect? (Do you build to desktop/tablet/mobile; will the site be fully responsive?)
  • How do you incorporate accessibility standards into the build process?
  • What kinds of integrations can we expect (e.g. analytics, social, newsletter)? What are some other options?
  • How will you help ensure the security of our site?

Know How much Flexibility and Independence You’ll Have With the New Site:

  • How much of the site is hardcoded versus editable in the CMS? (Can we change navigation menus and edit footer links? Or, would we need to call you to do that?)
  • How experienced are your developers? (Or, if using a pre-built theme, are you using a mid-level developer?)
  • What kind of CMS documentation, in-line help, and training will you provide to us? Can you show an example of your documentation?

Understand Expectations Around Maintenance:

  • What does the maintenance relationship look like?
  • Do you offer a service level agreement post-launch?
  • Do you offer a website warranty post-launch?

Your selection of an agency will depend on the business needs of the website, budget, and resources – whether that be a shop that specializes in templated websites or a full-service agency that can build a more custom website to meet your unique needs.

Here at Smith & Connors, we take a holistic approach to building websites. We live by a few principles that help differentiate us in the agency world:

  1. Through a well-honed process, we put you at the center of decision-making around which software will best suit your needs. Taking into consideration your budget, timeline, feature requirements, internal skill sets, and maintenance needs, we’ll come up with a plan for development together that your team can buy into.
  2. Our process includes an audience analysis and an audit of your current website that give us important insights, creating a solid foundation for the work we perform on one of your most important marketing assets.
  3. We take our designs seriously, using them to extend your brand identity into a visual tone for your website that resonates with your audiences.
  4. We ensure that our clients’ internal teams are fully trained and equipped to manage the website come launch. You will have spent time entering content, asking questions, and receiving support from us by the time the site launches so that you know what to expect going forward.
  5. We do not own any of the assets we build – we want our clients to have full autonomy over one of their most valued assets. We naturally want our relationship with you to last forever, but we know that isn’t always the case. You will own your domains, hosting account, code repository, style guide, imagery, and other assets by the time we launch the site. And we can tailor our engagement to support you over the long term, providing responsive assistance when you need it.

If you're interested in our approach to websites or want to ask us a few questions (go ahead and copy that list from above!), please reach out. We'd love to hear from you!