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I often encounter people tasked with the responsibility of rebuilding their company's website. They are overwhelmed with the advancements of web technology and find it difficult to understand where the starting point for such a project should be. I have to agree with them. It can be a confusing and daunting process. But with a bit of planning and the right web development team, it can be made into a predictable and pleasurable project. In describing how to approach the project I like to use the comparison to organizing a dinner party for your boss's spouse. Proper planning is essential to ensure that everyone has a good experience and a memorable time. Questions need to be asked:

  • Who is coming?
  • Is there a theme to the dinner party?
  • What will we be serving?
  • Do any of the guests have special needs? Food Allergies? Accessibility Issues?
  • Will there be a special presentation made and what type of audio/visual needs are required?

These same type of questions need to be asked when defining the parameters for a website. The term scoping may be used, but it means the same thing. Until "scope" is established a budget is difficult to define. Using the dinner planning comparison, are you having lobster or hamburgers? Three courses or five? Do you see how these issues effect the project's budget?

That being said, the nice thing about a website is that they can be built in phases to accommodate budgets. In part of the planning process lets say the wish list includes steaming video capabilities, yet that module costs $4000 to include and pushed the project beyond the available budget. The streaming video can be added as "phase II" at a later date when budget allows.

Websites range in their requirements. There are the "on-line brochure" websites. They are relatively simple to build. This is because the content types (copy, photos, video, presentations, biographies, mapping, case studies and such) are limited and relatively static. This does not mean they are boring or not interactive. Brochure-type websites can be very engaging and informative. This changes when the relationships between those content types become more complex. Let's say, "an employee is linked to their biography, plus articles they have published, presentations they have made, and projects they have consulted on" the demands on keeping all that information aligned and manageable becomes more complex. Then the costs of developing that website increases. This makes sense.

I am often asked about my opinion on Open Source vs Proprietary content management systems (CMS). The future is clearly Open Source. There are many well established and robust Open Source platforms that will serve your needs and deliver functionality that you desire. By the way some notable institutions that are built using open source include the White House (WhiteHouse.org), the NHL (NHL.com) and Stanford University. If they trust the reliability of Open Source, so should you.

My final comment is about keeping content fresh. Whether it is regularly updating the site to include your products' advancements or sharing of knowledge keeping your site up to date will truly assist with higher ranking when people are searching for related information. But keeping the content fresh can be an onerous task for one person. We have come up with an innovative way of addressing this issue.

A website we recently completed for a large engineering firm called Kerr Wood Leidal is a great example of how this problem was solved. They wanted all their staff to have the ability to update content on the site. By sharing this load across many shoulders the website will always be up-to-date. The issue was in managing the content updates to ensure the "new content" supported company policy and communication standards protocol. Authorship was given to all, but no postings we're published to the outside world without a moderator (usually a KWL team leader) authorizing the post be published. The system we built allowed for feedback between the author and the moderator to refine new content ensuring it met with the company's communication standards.

Such mechanisms build complexity into a website, but if there is such a need, my comment is that it can be done.

Should you be assigned the task of rebuilding, or refreshing your website, please contact me, or anyone at Red Rocket. We'll provide you with an honest assessment that will suit your needs today and with the flexibility for your needs tomorrow.

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