A Website Design & Development Project Checklist

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Here’s 10 examples, off the top of my head, of conversations i have actually had when I have had to postpone a website launch and the client has asked why?…..

My answers:

  1. The changes you sent to the design brief on Wednesday
  2. The 150 images you sent to us yesterday to be included on the site
  3. The 50 pages of text for the website you sent to us Tuesday…. in the post….. er, on paper
  4. This is the first time your boss has seen it?
  5. You never told us all your organisation used IE4
  6. Yes, as we mentioned, 1024×768 won’t fit on your bosses smaller screen
  7. What do you mean your logo is changing
  8. So you’ve actually not got any content ready for sections 3,4,5,6 and 7?
  9. Ah….. so you want sections 3,4,5 and 7 removed from the navigation….
  10. The guy who controls your domain is leaving early today?

The list could go on…… what I’ve learned to do is take some responsibility on to ensure I don’t repeat mistakes I should have learned from.

What I have learned is good communication is paramount when developing any website. It’s a learning process, and you hopefully can only get better at it with time and experience. There’s always unexpected challenges, but there’s some stuff that needs discussed from the outset to avoid the vast majority of headache.

I loved being a web designer and developer. I love the thought process and the finished product, but there are so many other factors out-with a web designer’s control that make being a web designer suck sometimes.

I’ve came across a lot of situations….

  1. Domain Name Registrars who for some reason don’t release domains
  2. Hosting companies that take your site down and don’t tell you until your client spots it
  3. Other web design companies you win clients from who make it a difficult transition
  4. 3rd Party IT people (who manage client internal PCs and email) who are as useful as a chocolate fire-guard
  5. Clients who think a CMS comes with free lifetime CMS training or telephone support
  6. Clients who don’t know how to cut and paste
  7. Clients who think it’s your responsibility to get them website sales… from this point on
  8. Clients that want a blog, but don’t want to write anything in it
  9. Clients that think their £500 job is the only website your 7 man team is working on
  10. Clients who don’t supply content in time, but still want the website launched on time
  11. Clients who don’t supply content
  12. Clients who think it’s your job to update their Joomla or WordPress installation for life
  13. Internet Explorer….

Ive been designing websites since 2000 – so I have made a lot of mistakes. Here’s a quick web design & development project checklist for clients and designers – a collection of the some of the more important stuff I’ve learned – that might save you time and money in the future.

Managing Client Expectations

If you’re aiming to agree a fixed price for the development of the website, as we do, ensure the project goes smoothly before you start, by communicating with your client at the outset. They’ll appreciate you for it, there will be less surprises, and you may be able to start making a profit from fixed cost website design jobs again.

Here’s stuff that needs to be discussed:

  1. Prices can change even for a fixed cost website
    • Web Design Costs are dependent on how many hours is spent working on a design and how many times the client asks for changes to it
    • Show the client your portfolio – that is the type of sites you build, do they like it?
    • Has the client supplied examples of the sort of site they are looking for?
    • Estimate a cost for a job, based on early discussion.
    • Ensure the client knows you can quote for a job only on the information you have available to you at the time
    • Confirm a job cost on reviewed client requirements
    • 50% of job before start, 50% on completion
    • Ensure the client knows you are costing the job by hours and you do have other clients
    • Make sure all your costs are approved before starting a job (remember VAT)
    • Ask the client to send you an email notifying his acceptance of the project scope and cost
  2. It’s impossible to make a site that will look the same in all browsers;
  3. Content should be supplied by the client in a form easily used
    • Who is supplying the text?
    • Who is supplying the images?
    • Get the client to supply all text, photographs and content in electronic format
    • Make sure text supplied, if formatted, is in a web-ready format
    • The client should supply an example site-plan, in a bulleted list
    • The client needs to specify any specific functionality required at the outset
  4. ‘Milestone’ dates for the project should be agreed
    • Communicate missing any milestone date for supplying content / adding new content will have an impact on launch commitments and costs – both of you have businesses to run
    • Agree content delivery date
    • Agree Site Architecture Freeze Date
    • Agree Site Functionality Freeze Date
    • Agree Design Freeze date
    • Agree Launch Date
  5. Changes to the brief should be communicated and costs agreed / timings considered in electronic form
    • No Favours – The road to hell is paved with good intentions and the bodies of well meaning web developers
    • Everything should be charged out, agreed and accountable
  6. Websites can go down every now and then
    • Who hosts the current site?
    • Get Contact Details
    • Hosting is a recurring annual charge
  7. Domain transfers sometimes go a bit Pete Tong
    • You are at the mercy of third parties
    • Who controls current domain(s)?
    • Domains need registered every year
    • Get Contact Details
  8. Emails might go down for a period of perhaps 24-48 hours
    • Who controls current email(s)?
    • Get Contact Details
    • How many email accounts to you have/need
  9. Launching a website can be about pressing buttons and…. waiting
  10. Websites Get Hacked
    • All CMS needs kept up to date
    • In most cases hackers seek to deface the site
    • A hacked site can mean disaster in Google
    • A site that has been hacked can be rescued
    • Who’s in charge of security / CMS updates
    • Agree maintenance fees
  11. A Winning Website Is never ‘Finished’!
    • The client should keep his site up-to-date with news if he has a CMS
    • Training for the CMS should be costed if required
  12. A website is subject to Laws of The Land and the client should investigate these
  13. Agree ongoing responsibilities
    • Who is responsible for the client’s email, hosting and domain management
    • Do you ‘guarantee’ a website is fit for purpose for say 1 year?
    • When will annual billing start and occur

I’m sure I’ve missed some things out, but I wanted a post on the site I could point my clients to, to educate them on some of the less talked about aspects of developing a website. I expect to modify this page every now and again.

Take responsibility, agree the scope of the project, recognise the requirements to meet the brief within allocated time-frame, and bill for your time.

I’ve learned this the hard way. Now I aim at all times to communicate with the client as much as possible to ensure any web development job doesn’t get out of control.

Ranking High In Google Is Not A One Time Fix

If you do nothing to a new website once it’s ‘built’ – you can be sure traffic, after an initial honeymoon period (to give you a taste of how valuable Google traffic is), will plummet and you’ll slump into obscurity. Make sure the client knows that.

The only ways to gain visibility is to actively promote your website in a manner that Google will reward with rankings – that’s ‘seo’ – or – pay Google directly in a kind of ‘auction’ for rankings – that’s Google Adwords Pay Per Click.

For small businesses, we provide a search engine friendly website design and development service, ranging from hundreds of pounds to a couple of thousand pounds. When we launch this site we ensure Google, Yahoo and MSN find the site and index it accordingly. We ensure this site is promoted to all the search engines before project end.

As we are a search engine optimisation company, we ensure a site is built in a way Google can “read”, so all pages on the website, and new pages created at a later date, are soon in Google search results. This is search engine friendly website design. We have never launched a site that doesn’t feature in Google.

Please note, a search engine friendly website design does not constitute a SEO Agreement between Hobo and any company. Our SEO clients in cases pay us tens of thousands of pounds on average to continually promote and tweak their site to generate leads from the new site and a seo agreement is 100% separate from any web development appointment. SEO is about competing in the search engines for keywords. This requires constant analysis over time.

I ensure anyone thinking of buying new site from us that we are not responsible for the levels of traffic to a site after we launch the site.

Search engine optimisation is an ongoing process, requiring addition of new fresh content, constant modification of website content, changes to site architecture and link building (this is a subset of search engine marketing). All of these together build traffic to a site, and are necessary to generate leads from a site. To put it in simple terms, once the site is launched, you need to work at it to get leads from your site. The project is not finished on launch day. You don’t just sit back and expect leads from the site (especially if you are not promoting the site offline).

Our small business package makes it easy for customers to add rich content to their site, and small business have the advantage of free seo advice from our team to help them penetrate Google and get that free traffic organic listings promise.

I also note in a small business web development agreement without a seo provision that we are not responsible for adding new content, optimising current copy or for keyword analysis to determine which is the best keywords you should target when developing your site. We only use the text for pages given to us by the client.

I realise clients are bamboozled by all the different jargon in our industry, but we at all times attempt to be clear and transparent in our approach when appointed for either of our two main products – seo and web development.

Every small business needs to:

  1. Promote the site yourselves once it is live
  2. Get QUALITY links to it from other websites to increase Google “trust”
  3. Very importantly you need to add good content to it regularly (which we make easy)

Make no mistake. Hobo are advocates of effective, simple seo. Do this and you will enjoy ever increased leads from your site. Do nothing to promote it after we launch it, and you will probably get very little traffic to it. A website does not generate free traffic alone.

The only time that may be an exception is if we are building a 500 page information site (ie not a small business package). Adding that amount of good quality, original content virtually guarantees traffic from Google especially, as Google loves lots of useful original content it’s spider has not found before.

But you still need to work at building traffic to your site.

Common Fixes For SEO Issues

I’m an ex-web developer, once very interested in accessible website development and web accessibility laws, that found his way into organic search engine optimisation.

We’re working with a web development company just now who wants to charge my friend for introducing unique page titles to the pages of their bespoke cms. WTF? It’s 2009. My response was:

They want to charge YOU for creating dynamic titles? You should be charging THEM for telling them how to build websites properly.

A website design company is not responsible for getting you traffic to your website, but I wonder if they are liable or responsible for preventing you getting the traffic from Google you deserve, and Google wants to give you? After all you are paying a lot of money for a online shop for instance and Google tells people how to build a basic site it will like:

Create unique, accurate page titles – GOOGLE STARTER GUIDE

Here’s a list of the most common problems I encounter when customers approach us and ask us to audit their site:

  1. Duplicate Page Titles – Every Page on your site should have a unique page title and a unique meta description – a site killer for sites with low link equity, large in pages, and thin on page content.
  2. Duplicate Meta Descriptions – Every Page on your site should have a unique meta description – not a site killer, but useful. (Addition – I’ve added this, while not a killer mistake, it’s indicative of auto-generating/generic population of things the site should not be doing) – Tip, if you can’t be bothered putting a meta description in yourself, leave it out. Don’t auto-generate stuff like this, unless you know what you are doing to make each meta-description unique. Meta descriptions are for humans, not Google, IMO.
  3. Duplicate Content – Duplicate content is problematic – ensure every page is necessary and only primary content is crawled (that is, not the PDF or text only version of a page)
  4. Building A Navigation System Google Cant Follow – Make sure Google can read your navigation system and so your content – Flash websites for instance can cause big problems in Google, even today.
  5. Building A Site Structure That Does Not Emphasise Important Content – Create a site structure for your website eg Home/ Categories/ Subcategory / Products Google can spider – Don’t make a linear navigation route to content that means you have to click 6 times to get to a product page
  6. Sloppy Interlinking causing canonical issues – Google can screw up a bit if you are giving it canonical woes and even have went as far to support a canonical tag to help
  7. Building A Site with A Lot Of Fancy CSS, the result being a lot of what Google will determine ‘Hidden Content’ and actually penalize un-trusted sites

The client is responsible for getting links to a website, which makes it rank, and is responsible for adding keyword targeted content to the site to make it a valuable resource, but I wonder if you would agree a website design company that professes to know little about SEO should know these basic 7 things that could really help a client’s website succeed without pricey seo to fix basic ‘errors’.

Pity too, the web design company in question has build a solid site, but basic google-unfriendly woes will nuke it in rankings. So what is the point?

There’s plenty of free advice out there, including the free seo guide for beginners we publish.

Commission A Site Built To Standards

If you’re about to commission a new website (or update your old website design), then here is one thing you should demand from your “expert” website designer: A CSS based layout web design! Why? Cost effective web design & maintenance benefits, search engine optimisation benefits, accessibility benefits, usability benefits – the list goes on… Read on if you want to save money!

CSS – The Best Way To Build Modern Websites!

You see, websites are “supposed” to be built a certain way. Without getting technical, the look, the graphic design of your website, can and should be easily separated from the presentation (ie your business, company or corporate information). The correct use of CSS allows this. Expert Web Designers are singing from the rooftops about it! Professional SEOs recommend it.

CSS allows you to modify the look of your website design across your entire site without touching any of the “pages” – just editing one file. So think on it, when you have an old site with 100 pages, wouldn’t it be easier to edit just one file to apply a new look, rather than individually modify each and every page on that site? Of course it would be.

CSS is a smarter way to build a website. It’s a cleaner, lighter way. As a search engine optimiser, I recommend all our new client sites are converted to table-less, SEO friendly css.

TABLES – The Old Way To Build Websites!

The problem in recent years has been that, for various reasons, the other way(s) to build your website using, for instance, HTML TABLES were sometimes seen to be an easy way for a designer to get your website looking as close as possible to a new graphic design approved on paper , and to have it looking “the same” on as many different internet browsers as possible.

The problem with this method is that usually, in basic (ie not dynamic) HTML TABLE-based websites, this means that the presentation and content is inter mixed, meaning when you want to change the look of the website you have to change the code of every page. For a search engine optimiser, this can be a a big job.

Unfortunately this was not really the way websites were recommended to be built. Of course it’s not “wrong” to build a site with TABLES, but why should you, as a company owner, accept a tables based layout in 2007? Once a designer is familiar with CSS, websites can be put together quicker and more precisely using CSS, and of course edited easier and faster, once your website is live, so saving your company money in the long term. The correct use of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) leads to cost effective website design and cost effective website maintenance – yes! That means cheap website design / site maintenance for your business!

It can mean that next year, when you want to revamp your website design, but keep the content the same with minor changes, this job will be a cost effective, quick and painless process. You see the designer or seo only needs to “fix” one or two files for you, add some new aesthetic and hey presto you have a completely new site. This also means most of the time and money you spend on the site goes into the design side, rather than having the web developer physically go through every page on your site and painstakingly make unneeded edits to web pages that have not been built this way.

The UK Government Recommends:

Use HTML to structure the document, not style it. Use Cascading Style Sheets to format and style basic elements of a website’

Guidelines for UK Government website design
Illustrated handbook for Web management teams

You might ask yourself is this expensive to achieve, this CSS website design, but the answer is an emphatic no! A good website designer, with a good knowledge of W3C recommendations (World Wide Web Consortium – The people who created CSS – and indeed, the leading industry light on standardising the web), can build you a quality, reliable CSS based website usually reasonably quickly (usually in a few weeks).

Sometimes using TABLES for layout purposes is the sign that your local web developer is not as “cutting edge” as they would have you think! CSS has been around for 10 years – hardly considered “cutting edge” in an environment like the web – but the fact is many designers are still getting to grips with CSS, hence TABLES based websites still pop up!

“In 2006, the World Wide Web Consortium proudly celebrates the ten years of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), the technology designers use to create attractive, economical, and flexible Web sites.”

Save Money With CSS

So, remember, demand your website be built using modern CSS! There’s a good chance if your professional web design company is building your website with CSS, that in the long run, it could save you cash! It’ll take the website developer less time to work on your site, meaning less hours spent on your job, meaning you save money. Website maintenance becomes cost effective, and you are no longer held to ransom by unscrupulous web design companies who after all, want to spend hours and hours on your job – and then charge you for it!

Oh, and did we mention, building your site with VALID CSS (ie the code is written properly) can help to make your site more accessible if built to best practices? It’s virtually guaranteed to work for years! It can cut down on download times, too, if used expertly. It can have search engine optimisation benefits too. Google loves quick loading, well formed, easy to read pages, and CSS can really help you achieve this type of Google friendly website. In fact, the benefits are too numerous to mention:

“The design community has confirmed that using CSS promotes beauty while making it easier and less expensive to build sites, ” said Bert Bos, W3C Style Activity Lead and one of the original co-authors of the specification that became CSS level 1, published on 17 December 1996.

Go Modern!

So – if you only do one thing, demand CSS for your website layout – even if you are using a website content management system (CMS). Demand Separation of Content from Presentation! Pay less for an expert website design, less for search engine optimisation (seo) – and then reap the rewards in the years to come with a usable, accessible, easier to maintain and professional website for your business.

Good luck!

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