When building a new website, you need a plan.
Think of it like building a house – you wouldn’t start construction before drawing up blueprints, so why leap straight into web building without a plan?
Before you issue an RFP or seek a vendor to build you a new website, spend a few bucks to document your requirements. Once you request proposals (did you know that we build websites too?), the quotes you receive will more accurately reflect the website you actually need, not some web shop guesstimate.
We recommend including the following in your blueprint:
1. Content producer requirements
Any vendor you hire should understand and adhere to modern web design best practices. All submissions should explain clearly what that vendor’s idea of best practices is. For clarity, that will include (but is not limited to) things like:
- Use of a modern, user-friendly Content Management System (CMS)
- Recommendation for a superior hosting environment and security measures
- Modern, fresh, brand-compliant and responsive design
- SEO copywriting
- Website performance considerations
- User experience, navigation and accessibility
- Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)
- Recommendations for future scalability and integration options
- Analytics, measurement and KPIs
The above should be standard fare for any reputable web shop. Premium WordPress host Kinsta has an excellent article, “Web Design Best Practices For Your Next Website Project,” that puts the above into context.
2. Stakeholder requirements
One of the most important questions to ask before any planning can begin is who the website is meant to serve. Investors? Government? Volunteers? Consumers? Prospective members? Whoever they are, document them at the beginning and get specific on their needs so you can build a website based on their unique requirements. Hint: If you’re not sure what each audience wants your website to do, ask them or hold a focus group.
3. Technological requirements
It is critical that your website be compatible with your people and possibly your internal systems.
People compatibility is relatively easy to assess – just ask the vendor to show what your marketing or communications team would have to go through to publish an article, page, blog post, or new section on their recommended Content Management System (CMS).
If it looks like a hassle, this will be a serious impediment to efficient content marketing, and your team will be frustrated. If publishing requires IT intervention, run, don’t walk away from that CMS.
Technological compatibility is more complex and depends on the need (or lack thereof) for integrations.
Sometimes you just need a website that includes basic web objects like contact or lead gen forms. If a simple embedded object is all you need, that is not considered an integration; it’s more like a connection.
However, in certain circumstances, you will need to connect aspects of the website to back-end systems (accounting, CRM, inventory databases, etc.). In such cases, compatibility is critical. For example, if your organization is on Microsoft 365, uses SharePoint internally for collaboration and document storage, and authenticates users using MS identities, and you need to incorporate these features into the website, then you need a CMS that integrates cleanly with a so-called “Microsoft tech-stack.” This will require a deeper evaluation to ensure smooth connections, logins and data transfers between the outside website and inside systems.
It all depends on how much inside you need to allow to peek out to the outside. Oftentimes that is not at all.
4. Branding requirements
The look and feel of your website will set you apart, and the vendor you choose must be able to conform to your brand and style guidelines. Is your style conservative, modern, bold or minimalist? In your blueprint, get clear on the brand you want to portray, as this will inform the writing and visual style you choose. This includes logo use, font, and colours but also copy style (CP Style?) and tone. And don’t forget the intangible “feel” of the site, which can be tricky to pin down. Supplying links to example sites that you admire can really help, as can brainstorm sessions, mood boards and so on.
5. Content assets (gap analysis/creative requirements)
If you’re redoing your current website, take stock of the content you already have. What’s missing, what needs to be rewritten and what can be removed? If you’re building a brand new site, map out the content you need to develop.
For either situation, decide what content will go on landing pages and sub-pages and determine how content flows throughout the site. Keep in mind that the content you write needs to be SEO-friendly so Google feeds traffic to your site.
Finally, what multimedia do you want to include, and how will you store it? Do you have a big photo or document library? If so, you may require a highly searchable digital asset management (DAM) system.
Keep in mind that once uploaded, your documents, images and videos will need to be tagged, categorized, post-dated, stale-dated, have synopses, be cross-linked with related documents, etc. This is a major component of “findability” and knowledge-sharing.
6. Project timelines and milestones
Think about when you want to launch your site. Do you need it completed for a special event or campaign? If so, outline that in your blueprint and ensure that your vendor can meet the deadline. Most sites take about six months or more. Be realistic in your timelines. The main steps in the process are:
- Requirements document created from stakeholder interviews
- RFP issued
- Vendor selection
- Kickoff meeting
- Brand, look and feel workshop
- Development of Information Architecture
- Development of sitemap and navigation scheme
- Wireframe development (optional but helpful)
- Page template mock-ups
- Content inventory and gap analysis
- Content development (SEO copywriting, photos, videos, graphics, etc.)
- Site build on a staging server
- Content input
- SEO/metadata input, redirect defunct or relocated pages using 301 redirects
- Design, layout and copy tweaks (as few rounds as possible since approvals happened earlier in the process)
- Quality assurance (QA) and testing, including mobile optimization, image optimization, code minification, speed testing and Google Core Web Vitals
- Soft launch review by wider client group and “friendlies”
- Launch (DNS changes)
- Connect Google Analytics (both UA and GA 4) and Google Search console
- Backup and archive old site
- Conduct site audit on new site, including Google Search Console, to ensure Google hasn’t “lost track” of important pages (thus reducing your “Google juice”)
Tip: the more detail you put around each step in your timeline, the more likely you are to stay on track.
7. Budgetary expectations
Just like homes, websites come at all price points. From $5,000 microsites for an ad campaign to $500,000 (and up) monstrosities. Since you likely already have a budget in mind, consider telling proponents what your acceptable range is to avoid wasting everyone’s time.
Each vendor needs to clearly outline their fee structure and provide an itemized budget that aligns with all the requests in your blueprint. A key question you need each vendor to answer is “What’s not included?” You also need to know if this is a flat fee quote or a “the meter is running” hourly quote.
Avoiding surprise costs is better for everyone.
Your vendor should also provide corresponding timelines for each high-level project element.
The clearer you get in your website blueprint, the better your website will turn out. Not sure where to start? Give us a shout! We’re here to help.