Your organisation’s new website – what you need to know

Having spent several years working with web technology, I often get asked what’s involved in setting up a new website; what’s involved, what are the different components, what needs to be thought about, and – importantly – how much is it likely to cost?

What’s involved?

You first need to understand that your website is a business asset. Like all other assets it is an investment – so the money you spent on the site should be commensurate with how much return it’s going to generate for your business or organisation. Your website is one of a number of digital properties your organisation is likely to have, and together these form your digital portfolio. You need to consider your digital portfolio as a whole, and how it ties back to your marketing and overall business plans. For instance, if most of your customers are on Snapchat, do you have a Snapchat presence?

Like all other assets, your digital properties require maintenance over time – just like real estate requires upkeep and painting. Websites are not ‘set and forget’ – they require refreshed content, and technical maintenance from time to time. These need to be factored in to your website development plan.

Takeaway: Your organisation’s website is a business asset, in a portfolio of digital properties. Understand how your digital portfolio is going to return value to your organisation, and be aware that like all other assets, it needs to be maintained.

What do all the terms mean?

When you’re confronted by all the options for a new website it can be overwhelming. Here’s some of the terms you need to know to make sense of the alphabet soup.

  • Domain name: A domain name is a unique URL or web address for your organisation. You may already have one, or you may be acquiring a new one. Domain names are registered with a company that can register domain names, often called a registrar. Often, website companies will bundle domain name registration, hosting and web development services into a bundle. Domain names have different meanings depending on what they end in. For most Australian businesses, this will be .com.au.

    Your domain name is registered for a period of 1-2 years, and you will normally get reminders when it’s time to renew. It’s important that you renew your domain name on time, otherwise it will become lapsed, and other businesses may be able to register it. For a .com.au domain name, you will normally need to provide your ABN. You can expect to pay $30-$50 for a two-year registration of a .com.au domain name.Every domain name has a domain password or EPP key. In order to move your domain name from one hosting company to another, you will need to provide this password. So, it’s important that you keep it in a safe place. Ensure that if your hosting company registers your domain name on your behalf that you get the domain key.

  • Hosting: Each domain name translates into a unique internet address, called an IP address. The IP address resolves to a server somewhere on the internet. That server will usually belong to your hosting company. The server is where your website’s files, and any supporting software, are held. The hosting company will usually charge you a monthly fee for hosting, and there will be different elements that make up the costing of the hosting package;
    • Bandwidth: This refers to the amount of data that is transferred between the server and the website user, or vice versa (for instance if the website user is uploading files to the website). For static, or low volume sites, the bandwidth requirements will be quite low, but if your website is going to be hosting files which are large, such as videos, then you may need additional bandwidth. Often, hosting companies will display a message on your website like ‘409: Bandwidth exceeded’ if you run out of bandwidth with your hosting plan.
    • Storage: This refers to the amount of data that is stored on the server. Again, for a static or small site, this is likely to be small, but for a larger website with lots of images, videos and attachments (such as PDF files) then you may need additional storage.
    • Databases, subdomains and other technical features: These may be required if your website will be database-driven (such as with WordPress). Your developer should be able to give you a good indication of the bandwidth, storage and other technical requirements for your website.
  • Web design: Web design usually refers to the design or visual appearance of your website. Before embarking on a new website for your organisation, it’s very useful to understand your overall branding, and how the website will fit into that. Preparing examples of websites that you’ve seen that fit well with your brand will save time in the development process. Most small websites will not have a bespoke design. Instead, you’ll normally start with a template or theme, which will be altered with your organisation’s name, your imagery and logo. Bespoke web designs can be prohibitively expensive.
  • Web development: Web development usually refers to producing the website, and creating any customised components, usually through code. Here, the theme or template, your organisation’s branding such as logo, colours and imagery are applied, and the website is tested – functionally (is it working the way it’s supposed to?) and for acceptance (is it what I expected?). Web development will normally be the largest cost component in your new website project.

Takeaway: Understanding what key terms mean prepares you to have an informed conversation with a website developer.

How involved is your website going to be?

The next key decision you have to make is how much investment you’re going to make in your organisation’s website. The levels of investment can be summarised as follows:

  • Introductory: This type of website is usually a few static pages of content, usually 5 or less pages, and will often be generated from a theme or a template, often using a build-it-yourself approach. Key examples of this type of website are Wix, Weebly and SquareSpace. Plans for these sorts of websites start at around the $USD 10 per month mark, and go up to around the $USD 30 per month range. You can expect to pay extra for additional features, such as eCommerce, and you may have a limited range of themes or templates to choose from. Support is usually built in to these packages, but expect it to be email only support.
  • Intermediate: This type of website will usually have between 5-50 pages of content, and will usually be driven by a publishing platform, such as WordPress or Drupal. A basic WordPress or Drupal site will usually set you back around $AUD 3000 to $AUD 4000 if you use a commercial development agency. An initial build should include a contact form so prospective clients can contact you, the location of your organisation and other key information. The upside with this is that as long as you provide the content to the agency, they will do the initial build for you, which can be time-consuming. Expect to pay extra for an ongoing support package, particularly if you require telephone support.
  • Advanced: This type of website will usually be driven by an enterprise-grade publishing platform, but will have significant custom or bespoke design and development, may require additional production such as shooting of video or photographic imagery, or integration with other systems such as booking systems, reservation systems and so on. Prices for this sort of advanced development usually start at around $AUD 10k and go up from there.

Takeaway: Understand what sort of website you’re in the market for, and how much you’re prepared to spend. Understand upfront as well as ongoing costs of having a website.

What you can do to prepare to meet with a web development agency

There’s lots that you can do before meeting with a web development agency. The better prepared you are, the less work the agency or developer has to do, and therefore the lower your costs will be.

  • Bring a clear understanding of your requirements – what is it that you want the website to achieve, and how does this link back to your overall business strategy and objectives?
  • Bring any logos, branding collateral, imagery you wish to use with you to the meeting. Bonus points if it’s in electronic format.
  • Have a list of websites you like the look and feel of and a list of sites in your industry that you don’t like. This will help give the web developer a sense of what you’re aiming to achieve – and what you’re aiming to avoid.
  • The web developer will usually have a platform in mind – as companies usually specialise in one or two platforms. It pays to do your homework and understand which platform the web development agency specialises in, and how common this platform is. For instance, what if the relationship doesn’t work out and you’d like another agency or developer to take over, but it’s a bespoke platform that only the first company has expertise in?
  • Be prepared to talk about what ongoing maintenance or support you will require with the site, and have an understanding of what tasks are required to maintain the site over time. Explore what your organisation can do to reduce costs with ongoing maintenance.

Understanding quotes

After you initially meet with the web developer or agency to brief them on your requirements, they will usually prepare a quote. Read through this carefully to understand exactly what’s included, what’s excluded, and what comes as part of the package, and what features or services incur a ongoing or monthly recurring charge.

Some of the things I’ve seen web development agencies charge for are questionable, so here’s a list so you don’t get caught out;

  • Analytics: Google Analytics is a free service that is easily integrated into websites to give you information on who’s visiting you, how many times, where they’re from and what sort of device they’re using. Google Analytics is a great addition, but getting an account itself is free, and integrating it with a website should take less than half an hour, and this should be priced accordingly.
  • Software charges: Platforms such as WordPress and Drupal are actually free software. It costs the web development agency nothing to download this software, although they incur mainly labour charges in installing it on servers, paying for server equipment and so on. So do challenge any software charges where the platform software itself is free.
  • Testing: Testing should be included in the overall charge for the website build. What carpenter doesn’t ensure joins fit correctly? What seamstress doing ensure that a dress is a good fit?

Ongoing maintenance and support

Once you’ve gone ahead with the website and it’s live and running, you’ll need to turn your attention to ongoing maintenance and support. The sort of tasks that can be expected here include;

  • Content updates: Think carefully about who will be doing these, and what skills they will need to have. Does this person have content updates as part of their position description? Will they need training or guidance? Do they have time to be able to do the updates? Do they have an appropriate tone of voice and do they have a content strategy? Having a content schedule that matches the key business lifecycle of your organisation can be helpful, particularly in integrating all of your digital properties.

    One thing to consider is whether to have plugins or functionality that allow your audience or customers to help create the content on your site. This is called crowd-sourcing and is a rising trend among websites. Tools such as IFTTT allows people to easily submit content to your website based on certain attributes, but you should always have the final say in content that gets published on your site.

  • Platform updates: Platforms like WordPress and Drupal require around-monthly updates to keep them safe and secure. This is usually a push-button process, but check what’s required with the developer of your site.

Anything I’ve missed? Leave your feedback in the comments below.

Eliciting website requirements for non profit organisations

Following on from the Making Links conference in November last year, one of the conference delegates raised a question with me regarding eliciting website requirements. So that everyone can benefit, I’ve attempted to answer the question here;

I think where we need the assistance is clarifying exactly what we want/need, from a website point of view, and help determining this.

Understand your organisation’s objectives and strategic goals

A website is a business tool. It helps to deliver the objectives and goals of your organisation. For example, a company that manufactures Widgets may have a website which provides information on Widgets (which is a pre-sales function), compares Widgets to  Blidgets (also a pre-sales function), allows customers to log a support request (a post-sales function), and uses the company’s branding to enhance market position (a marketing function). The website may also allow customers to pay bills  online (an accounts payable function) and network with other users of Widgets (a community building function).

A non profit organisation is no different – it still has goals and objectives, and your website should support this. For instance, if one of the objectives of your organisation is to raise awareness  about a particular topic – then this will be an objective of your website. This is the ‘what‘ – or the objective. The ‘how‘, or the implementation details – then become part of the discussion between your organisation and the web developer.

Some other common requirements of not for profit organisations (and thus requirements of their websites) include;

  • Facilitating donor relations and fundraising: Many non profit organisations are dependent upon donations and a donor base. One of the objectives of their web presence is therefore to foster relationships with donors. This may be implemented as simply as having a Paypal donate button on the site, or having something such as CiviCRM allow donors/members to register their interest online. Other functionality that can help meet this requirement includes the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds (which are done automatically using something like WordPress) so that donors can keep abreast of news, or allowing people to submit their email and subscribe to email newsletters. Again, don’t confuse the ‘what’  – ie facilitating donor relations – with the ‘how’. The ‘what’ for organisations may be the same, but the way in which they are implemented is likely to differ based on the the nature, ethos and community that the organisation serves. Another example
  • Raising awareness of issues and influencing behaviour or choices: Many not for profits are focussed on a particular area or cause. Often, one of the aims of the organisation is to raise awareness of the cause by informing the general public. This is the ‘what’. The ‘how’ can differ from site to site – for instance some may use story telling, by providing real life accounts. Others may opt for a ‘brochureware’ style site offering clear and concise information to help influence behaviours or choices.
  • Brand awareness: This is an area that non profits are traditionally not strong at. The bigger not for profits, such as World Vision and Oxfam have very good ‘brand awareness’. Their logos, colours and name are easily recognised by the general public. This is the ‘what’. ‘How’ this is done on a website comes down to having a standard logotype, standard colours and branding for your organisation, and ensuring that your web presence reflects this. (As a side note, part of ensuring brand awareness is also about having a Web Style Guide which is adhered to by the staff charged with maintaining web content).
  • Building communities of practice: Some organisations seek to build or support communities which share common values or a common ethos – for example those interested in the environment, support groups for those with a particular disease or affliction or groups sharing an attribute in common – for interest those who are HIV positive. Building the community is the ‘what’ – and a forum, wiki, blog or other tool is the ‘how’.
  • Providing services online: There are some services provided by not for profit organisations which may be time consuming, expensive or otherwise cumbersome to administer using a manual process. They may be candidates for automation via the website. The ‘what’ here is providing the service online – and the ‘how’ is the method used to implement – for instance an online form or instant messaging system.

Your organisation’s business plan, strategic plan, annual plan or annual objectives document (if it has one) is a great place to start eliciting which functions your website needs to support.

Prioritisation

Prioritising requirements when developing a new web presence is vitally important. Having a strong strategic or other business plan is a huge advantage here, as it will already outline priorities for you (and hence priorities for the website). If you do not have this type of document to refer to, then there are other methods to prioritise requirements;

  • Return on investment: Return on investment can be measured in many ways, such as labour savings (by automating a manual process online), income generation (by facilitating online donations or donor relations) or brand awareness. Which of your requirements is going to give you the greatest return on investment? Which return is the most important for your organisation
  • Effort: Some web site features are harder than others (in terms of effort, cost, overhead to maintain etc). Your web developer will be able to indicate which features are high effort or high cost and which are not. It may be in your interests to get some ‘quick wins’ on the board – those features which provide a good return but which are low cost/low effort.

It may be useful to map out requirements and the effort they will take on a graph with two axes – one for return and one for effort. Those that are high return/low effort or high return/high effort should be prioritised higher.

Measuring whether the website you are designing will meet your objectives

When identifying requirements (the ‘how’), think about how you will measure whether the objectives that your website is supporting have been met or not. This takes us into the field of website metrics – measuring the success of your website. This can be as simple as measuring how many ‘Contact forms’ have been received or how many times someone has downloaded Brochure X. Focusing on website requirements in this way again helps to align them to the objectives of the organisation.

(NOTE: The best book I’ve found in this field is Hurol Inan’s ‘Measuring the success of your website’ – highly recommended)

Making Links 08 – Intensive Web Day

The Making Links 08 conference was held this week at the University of Melbourne. The tagline of the conference is ‘where social action and technology meet’ – and the delegates are primarily from the community, not for profit, activist and educational sectors.

I decided to catch the train up to Melbourne as it’s both cheaper and less stressful than driving in peak hour traffic through the West Gate car park. Who should happen to sit next me on the train? None other than former Liberal member for Corangamite – Stewart McArthur. The irony was not lost on me – a presenter at a largely left wing conference chancing to sit next to a right wing MP. Perhaps the universe was having a chuckle. Stewart was devouring his way through at least three newspapers – so I tried to break the ice by asking him which one he thought was the most truthful. To his credit, he took the question very well and provided me with advice on the merits of various individual journalists. We got talking and I found out he was a keen runner, and he encouraged me to take up the sport. I felt like a politician when I refused to commit 🙂

My talk on the day was on free software for non-profit organisations;

making-links-kathyreid-useful-free-software (Open Office .odp file)

making-links-kathyreid-useful-free-software (Powerpoint .ppt file)

The presentation went well, and the audience let me know they were very pleased with it – and had a load of questions! 🙂

I then lead the CMS session – which didn’t go quite so well as we spent a lot of time on security issues rather than being able to demonstrate the software in a lot of depth.The group really wanted to see some different options with skinning Drupal and Joomla – however I hadn’t upoaded any and I couldn’t get FTP access with the wireless network connection. There was a lot of contention over whether Joomla or Drupal were more appropriate for use – with the comment raised theat Drupal documentation wasn’t up to scratch.

Some of the key themes expressed during the day were;

  • Concern over having sensitive information in databases hosted on the web: CiviCRM is a tool which holds contact details and personal information on donors and volunteers. Delegates were concerned about the security that would be applied to ensure that unauthorised access did not occur to this data.I’ve provided some links below for further information on these products.
  • Criteria on which to base a CMS decision: Many organisations wanted information on how to select the best CMS for their need. One of the delegates provided this handy link to CMS matrix which allows organisations to compare the functionality that is available through different CMSs.
  • How to being a foray into social networking: The organisations that were present needed pointers on how to step into the social networking waters – with some already on Facebook or Twitter, but with no real engagement strategy or supporting strategies.

Other key presentations included:

Jason King (non profit web designer) presented tips for non profits, including;

  • Register your name and keep it registered (so that somebody can’t grab it when it expires) – this theme was also bourne out by Darryl later on in the session with his presentation on whatsinaname.com.au, which lists all of the domain name registrars and prices for domain hosting (interestingly my host, Servers Australia isn’t on the list – and they’d be near the top for pricing)
  • Make sure that you keep all the details such as passwords for the site – so that in the event of a disagreement or dispute with the web designer, you’re able to get into the site and take control
  • Choose your web developers carefully – sometimes the director’s brother’s kid son is not the best person to plan or design your not for profit web site.

Andrew Edwards, of Huge Object also gave a presentation on working with developers, the key take aways being;

  • Know what you’re paying for – understanding exactly what the developer is quoting on can give you much clearer expectations of what will be delivered
  • Check our your developer – by making sure that they know what things like web standards are for instance
  • Have a clear idea of what you want in your website – so that what is delivered is more likely to be what is delivered

[Updated 17 Nov 08 to include summary of Jason and Andrew’s presentations]