Whether you’re building the very first website for your organization or redeveloping an existing one, it is important to not rush headlong into the process without thinking things through. Design and cost are not the only important factors to take into account when developing a website. Here are some points to consider:
Is your content web-ready?
When developing content, it is important to consider where and how it will be used on the site, rather than simply rehashing old materials that were destined for print or other formats. Research indicates that the majority of website users spend an average of 15 seconds on a given webpage. This means that your text-based content should be short and snappy, and ideally, well-structured for maximum readability. When someone lands on your home page, they should be able to tell relatively quickly what it is you do and why – try to avoid overloading the home page with detailed information, or if you must, place it further down. It’s also not necessary to post every document or article your organization has ever produced – keep what is pertinent, and save the rest in an offline archive.
If you operate in two or more languages, as many organizations in Quebec do, you need to prepare the content in both languages either fully or partially. Even if you only wish to have a unilingual site for now, it is best to allow for multi-lingual functionality from the outset if you plan on transitioning towards multi-language content in the future.
Images and multimedia content are especially important to be able to rapidly convey what it is your organization does. Our browsing habits tend to be both attracted towards and influenced by images, so it’s important that you use them effectively, whether it’s your staff in action, your community, or your neighbourhood. Make sure you have permission to use the images and avoid stock photos if possible.
Do you know why you need a website?
Because a website is a vehicle for outreach and communications, it is crucial to situate the site within the context of a larger communications strategy. If you don’t have a strategy, then at minimum, you want to be thinking about basic questions which apply to all of your outreach methods:
- Who are we trying to reach?
- What messages are we trying to get across?
- What action do we want them to take?
Because websites are going to be the public online face of your organization, it is important that the information transmitted therein line up with and complement the information transmitted by your newsletters, press releases, and social media – ideally, these should all be working in tandem!
In thinking about the “why” of your website, consider what its purpose is in relation to these elements. Is it to attract donors? Is it to convey information? Is it to advocate for a cause? Or all of the above? Clarity of purpose will lead to clarity of structure and content.
Will the website play well with our existing or future IT systems?
A website is just one part of a technological ecosystem that exists already, in most cases, at your organization. Consider all of these different technological tools when choosing a platform and designing the site.
- Do you have a contact database? Does this database need to talk to the website and vice-versa, to be able to collect email addresses of interested subscribers or donors, for instance?
- Do you do regular electronic mailouts? Is the content for the mailout pulled from the site?
- Do you have a cloud-based file sharing system?
- Do you use specialized software specific to your field?
- In all cases, you want to make sure that systems are compatible and that you have a strategy for them to be able to talk to one another.
Perhaps some of these systems aren’t in place yet but are planned or wished for in the next few years – in this case, it’s always prudent to start thinking about compatibility as early as possible.
Do you have sufficient staff capacity?
A website does not make itself! Even with the most top-of-the-line web development companies, they will need you to provide them with content and feedback on the various stages of the process. Sufficient staff time and availability needs to be allotted for this, especially during the content development phase. In addition, think about ongoing needs once the site is launched. The site will need to be maintained; regular content articles, perhaps in two languages, produced; photos and events updated and so on. Make sure you have budgeted sufficient hours for this and that training is included for your staff once the site is completed, ideally given by the web developer. The more autonomous you are, the less you will have to rely on outside help, which can be pricey and often frustrating.
Are you aware of all the costs?
Websites are sometimes offered as all-included package deals, but most often, you will have to consider a few different costs. Up-front, there is the cost of the web development, that is, the actual cost for the hours needed to build the site and launch it. The number of hours and the rate can vary widely depending on the complexity of the site and the experience level of the developer.
In terms of ongoing costs, there is also the web hosting. This is usually a monthly or yearly cost, with packages of varying bandwidth and space limitations. A basic package for a small site starts at around 7-10$ a month, plus taxes. In addition to hosting, you will also need to register your domain name, or web address. which generally cost 15-25$ a year. Sometimes domain name registrars also offer web hosting, or vice versa.
Finally, there is the cost of maintaining the site, if no one has the capacity or knowledge to do it internally. This includes keeping the core files and plugins updated and ensuring that the site is secure and running smoothly. There may be additional costs for supplementary support hours as well.
Is your website secure?
Once your website is up and running, do not be lulled into complacency thinking that no one would attack the website of a local community organization. Attacks are not necessarily targeted; sometimes they are perpetrated by malicious bots that comb the internet looking for vulnerabilities in any site, regardless of location or political orientation. Attacks can also be caused by weak passwords or outdated plugins or core files. It is important that you take proper security hardening measures by enforcing strong password management, regular updates, and installing a firewall if possible. Security plugins exist that help thwart known attack patterns.
It is also extremely important that your site is backed up regularly, and on a different server than the one on which your site resides, to avoid potential contamination. Web security will be the topic of a more in-depth, future blog post, so stay tuned!
Here are some links to more resources: