Digital Marketing

Web Dev Post-Launch Maintenance

Submitted by Sam Moore on Thu, 06/10/2021 - 10:17
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Web Dev Post-Launch Maintenance

Once a webdev project has been completed—actually, the proper term would be “launched in its first incarnation,” since we know that websites are living, evolving organisms—there are a number of ongoing maintenance issues that must be attended to. These will involve all processes, once the site is technically in operation.

This maintenance work must be a planned part of the process from project initiation, not something considered after the fact. It must be acknowledged as a valuable activity and resourced accordingly.

This means that your team must build a culture of continuous improvement. The attitude must be, “We need to constantly put new stuff up on the site.” Any site that has value is going to be regularly and continually kept up to date with fresh content that both keeps current users interested and attracts new ones.

This effort needs to involve all stakeholders, and not just be in the lap of one person. The value of new content must be impressed upon all who can provide it, and plans made to reliably generate that content and get it to the site editor on a regular basis.

The site editing function has to be easily accessible. The editor should not have to go through the IT department to be able to post or remove content.

It’s not only acceptable but necessary to begin with a “minimum viable product” type site. Generate the content needed to launch, plan a calendar for future content, then make it happen and keep it going.

Savvy Project Management and SMART Tasking

Submitted by Sam Moore on Thu, 06/03/2021 - 10:52
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Savvy Project Management and SMART Tasking

One of the overriding requirements of a successful webdev project is the need to think about the totality of project needs, and development of a way to look over the shoulders of the dev team to make sure all those needs are met. 

This should go without saying, because it seems so obvious; but the biggest obstacle of any project—especially one with a deadline—is a common lack of clear communication. In other words, people involved in the project need to talk to each other. Active listening skills with clarifying questions will most quickly achieve the desired understanding. 

The project must be planned, and part of that plan must include the scheduling and resourcing needs of all team members. Once the plan is in place, the success of the implementation rests largely with the management of the process. Generally, this will begin with an individual acting as Project Manager, who knows a great deal about what the client wants and why. This person “rides herd” on the rest of the team, making sure they’re all heading in the same direction. 

There are now many commercial project management platforms/software/apps that can be used by groups large and small, local and remote. These tools can give an edge to savvy users because they are designed to anticipate problems and help clear them up when they do happen. There's an excellent roundup of potential packages, including both SAAS and downloadable platforms, here

Once project management has been established, it’s now time to determine the shape that function will take inside your webdev project. Chances are you already have an established process you follow, but if not, consider adopting “SMART” Tasking. This consists of the following attributes: 

  • Specific – Target a particular area for improvement. 
  • Measurable – Quantify, or at least suggest, an indicator of progress. 
  • Assignable – Specify who will perform each task. 
  • Realistic – State which results can realistically be achieved, given available resources. 
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved. You need to be able to check it off, say I'm done with this. It can't be a never-ending task. 

Learn more about SMART Tasking here

Design a Fully Integrated Production Process for Webdev Projects

Submitted by Sam Moore on Thu, 05/27/2021 - 10:46
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Design a fully integrated production process for webdev projects

One of the first things a webdev team must do for an effective new site build is to design a fully integrated production process. This requires viewing the larger overall strategy of the client and their digital presence, as well as all the elements thereof. 

Make It Fit – Understand how the business interacts with customers via other channels, including social media, offline, or any other mode the business provides. This will help establish interrelationships, which can help determine priorities in both navigational hierarchies and production processes.

No Silos – It may not be entirely possible, but the first idea is to keep people out of “silos,” making sure they are always working together at each stage of the process. This ensures that all points of view will be represented on behalf of stakeholders at any point of usage.

Emphasize the Brand – Bring in the appropriate team members to vet proper use of corporate identity, colors, graphics and other branding elements. This will ensure brand recognition and continuity across the client’s digital footprint, using the website as its hub. One potential spot for branding to go sideways is when too many people with too little training in both branding and Content Management System (CMS) usage have access to content editing. Yes, it’s far easier these days to use a CMS for content additions, but that also makes it easier for those without an understanding of the importance of brand consistency to stray from implementation guidelines.

Bring the Easy – One of the beauties of today’s CMSes is their ability to create, catalog and maintain reusable code components (often called “widgets”). These code snippets can be employed over and over in a design, both reinforcing proper user interaction and making it faster and easier to build more customized parts of the site.

Keep It Virtual – Even before COVID, people wanted more convenience, the ability to do as much as possible online. There’s always been a level of social anxiety for people about interacting with others they don’t know. Post-COVID, it’s now a ruling consideration. Give thought to how the site can offer users whatever they need virtually, as much as possible. How many touch-points can you make virtual, rather than forcing them to deal in person or via telephone? This is also a time-saving issue for many users whose schedules may limit their ability to interact non-virtually.

Iterate and Optimize – Having evolved out of established production methodologies such as JIT and ISO, today there are seven basic webdev process approaches:

  1. Iterative: This webdev approach is based on a cyclic process of prototyping > testing > analyzing. It focuses on metrics and data, allowing designers to learn from changing market needs to deliver a successful project. More of an ongoing process than a “one-and-done” approach.
  2. Agile: An iterative approach requiring less planning than traditional site dev projects. Its short development cycle makes it flexible and easily adaptable. Agile methodology focuses on recommendations and user feedback, which ensures delivery of a high-quality project.
  3. Scrum: A type of agile methodology, the built-for-speed Scrum process does away with documentation and specifications, dividing the development process into “sprints.” This gives the dev team more freedom to decide how to deliver the final product, with minimum input from the team manager.
  4. Waterfall: Far more rigid than Scrum, the Waterfall method is a set of clearly defined process stages, which developers must perform in sequence. Because the project’s objectives are set from the beginning, webdev pros can easily estimate costs and set deadlines. Lends itself better to larger projects with sprawling requirements.
  5. Lean: Good for smaller projects that require closely shepherded resources, this methodology eliminates waste (which is anything that doesn’t add value for the client). Employing short development cycles, early testing and frequent client feedback, Lean targets fast delivery and emphasizes a cooperative work process.
  6. Kanban: Initially implemented as a manufacturing method by Toyota in the 1960s, Kanban is based on the 6 practices of visualizing, limiting the amount of work in progress, managing flow, making policies explicit, providing feedback loops and always improving and evolving. Based on workflow visualization, this methodology gooses efficiency by having no strict roles within a work group. Kanban also doesn’t corral work into sprints.
  7. Extreme Programming: This careful methodology is characterized by continuous testing and planning, customer input and smaller, gradual releases.

WEBSITES: GET OUT OF BROCHURE MENTALITY!

Submitted by Sam Moore on Thu, 05/20/2021 - 11:03
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WEBSITES: GET OUT OF BROCHURE MENTALITY!

Journalistic media understands the need to keep content fresh, because their topics are constantly changing. News remains at least partially new, so they don’t really have a choice; they cover what’s breaking.

But when it comes to marketing, content freshness remains way behind. Some organizations, such as hospitals, almost have a legal duty to keep their website’s content current, to make information quick and easy to find, because they deal with legal and health information, which can change daily. But for the majority of companies and organizations, it just doesn’t happen.

These entities still think about their websites as little more than static, digital versions of their old print brochures; what we call the “one and done” mentality. But it just doesn’t work anymore. Information comes at us all fast and furious, and when a business has responsibilities to its customers, staff and possibly a board of directors, keeping content fresh is of paramount importance.

The Web is an ever-evolving medium, and the content that comprises it must reflect that. There’s nothing that says, “We really just don’t care,” like a website that greets a first-time visitor with dated graphics and copy. You can’t have much of an idea how many people you’re actually turning away before they ever get to know your company or organization because they never got past their disgust or frustration with the first screen.

Content must be kept up to date. It’s no longer optional. It’s now a cardinal rule of good site design and maintenance. But there’s a catch: No matter how important it is, to ensure fresh content, a site MUST be easy to update, or it’s just not going to happen. There are many ways to keep content updated, but the design of the production process must reflect keeping it simple.

  • This means setting up a content update process that works for ANYONE who will be responsible for that task.
  • If the content editor isn’t familiar with the particular CMS being used to build the site, they must be trained thoroughly and supported by tech staff to answer questions on an ongoing basis.
  • Updating tasks must be logical and understandable, with as few extraneous distractions as possible.

There’s a good, thorough article at Laughing Samurai about best practices for keeping Web content fresh. It describes not just the whats but the whys, bringing home the importance of this function in keeping a website relevant. 

Managing WebDev Client Expectations, Part 11

Submitted by Sam Moore on Thu, 05/13/2021 - 10:18
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Managing WebDev Client Expectations, Part 11

The last area in which you must manage client expectations to enable a successful long-term outcome from a webdev project is what will happen post-launch.

The unfortunate fact is that, despite all precautions, websites can get hacked. If you’re not going to be responsible for the ongoing maintenance of your client’s site, protect all the work you put into building it by making sure they know:

  • In most cases, hackers usually want to deface a site with activist messaging or simply embarrassing content, just to prove they can. But some will use hacking to launch and cloak nefarious activities.
  • A site that has been hacked can be rescued, but that’s an expensive, too-long process. A hacked site can be disastrous where Google rankings are concerned. Real damage can be done to the client’s business and reputation in the meantime. It’s far better to be proactive about keeping it safe in the first place.
  • All CMS software must be kept up to date to prevent security loopholes from being exploited, and HTML-based sites must constantly be monitored for hacking by proven site security software and/or security monitoring service.
  • Who’s in charge of their security/CMS updates. (If your company will be responsible, agree on monthly or annual maintenance fees.)

As we stated in an earlier post, a successful website is never “finished.” It’s a living cyber-representation of the client’s business.

  • The client should commit to keeping its site up to date with news—either via an inhouse or contracted content editor—or by you, if content is designated as part of a maintenance contract.
  • Training for the CMS should be costed into project, if someone in their organization will be responsible for that task.
  • If it’s an HTML-based site, that means it’s likely large and complex enough to warrant hiring someone whose only job is maintaining the site.

A website is subject to Laws of The Land, and the client should be aware of these. Some include:

  • Website accessibility recommendations for physically challenged users
  • U.S. requirements for Terms of Use and corporate transparency statements
  • U.K. GDPR compliance, regarding the use of cookies 

Managing WebDev Client Expectations, Part 10

Submitted by Sam Moore on Thu, 05/06/2021 - 11:54
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Managing WebDev Client Expectations, Part 10

Regardless how wonderful your execution is of their website development, the relationship can sour due to a lack of expectation management on the back end. Most often, this scenario can be brought about by technical issues.

Since this is an area largely unknown and therefore misunderstood by many clients, make a special effort to get out in front of any such landmines. Here are some major ones you should be aware of regarding a new website launch:

Even after a successful launch, sometimes websites go down for reasons beyond anyone’s control. Be prepared by:

  • Finding out who hosts the client’s existing site (if there is one), and getting contact details for their tech support
  • Making it clear to the client that site hosting is a separate function from site development. Be sure they understand that hosting fees are a recurring annual charge and will need to be monitored and ensured that they are paid by someone in the client’s organization. You may, alternatively, offer that your firm will continue managing all aspects of the site on a paid annual contract, if you offer such services.

It may be that you’ll need to make a domain transfer, which can sometimes go off the rails if their current domain manager is miffed about losing the business and isn’t inclined to be cooperative about enabling the changeover.

  • Make sure the client understands that, in this process, you’re largely at the mercy of the registrar and possibly someone who’s currently managing their domain.
  • Get contact details for the current domain registrar’s tech support, and find out who currently controls their domain.
  • Let the client know that domain registration is also a recurring annual charge, and will either be someone in their organization's responsibility, or that your company can continue managing all aspects of the site, if you offer that service.

If the client’s email accounts are embedded in their current web hosting account, their email could possibly go down for 24-48 hours. Prepare them for this possibility, then:

  • Find out who controls current email accounts within your client’s organization, and get contact details for that person.
  • Ascertain how many email accounts the client currently has, and whether or not they will need more.
  • Ask if they require a VPN, which may mean you have to configure a different email server entirely.

Make sure the client is aware that a public website launch doesn’t just happen all at once. Explain that several processes are going on to enable the launch, and sometimes—after all the buttons are pressed on your end—it’s a matter of being patient and waiting until the site propagates to the Web.

  • Understand that “going live” is not the same as “launched.” Going live happens when those responsible for user testing can access it as needed, launch is when it becomes “real”—ready for anyone to use, for the public to see and respond to, for the marketing department to use as an active tool.
  • Decide what expectations are for the launch from all parties, and agree among you what constitutes “launched.”
  • Agree on what activities will be undertaken around the launch—news releases, a related blog post, social media notifications—and make sure they are properly timed to allow for this lag. 

 

Managing WebDev Client Expectations, Part 9

Submitted by Sam Moore on Thu, 04/29/2021 - 10:44
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Managing WebDev Client Expectations, Part 9

Regardless what is agreed upon in the interim deadline establishment, there will inevitably be changes to the creative brief, which can happen for any number of reasons. These should be communicated with timings considered and costs agreed upon in electronic form. Email or via your chosen project management software is best. Texts are too easily lost or overlooked.

This is the point in the project where things can get tricky. Here are a few landmines to be aware of:

  • Expect Evolution – As a creative, you may not realize that some people have difficulty visualizing things that don’t yet exist. Most people don’t really know what kind of website they want until they see it starting to take shape. Then they get ideas, and want you to implement them. This is fine, but remind them that they must agree which is the priority: More/better features and functionality, or budget.
  • Avoid Incremental Scope Creep – No Favors. If the client wants to control costs, you must all agree on a scope of work, then stick to it. But any additional work performed outside the original project scope (this is why it’s important to have it in writing) will be charged out, agreed upon and accountable. The closer any changes occur to the beginning of the project, the less costly they will be, because they affect less other work that’s already been done. 

Managing WebDev Client Expectations, Part 8

Submitted by Sam Moore on Thu, 04/22/2021 - 10:07
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Managing WebDev Client Expectations, Part 8

Having established a good system to track deliverables in your webdev project, ‘milestone’ dates for interim deliverables should be agreed upon.

You’ll need to communicate to the client that missing any milestone date for supplying initial content or adding new content will have an impact on launch commitments and costs. Both of you have businesses to run, and your schedule depends on them holding up there end of the bargain. If you have to shuffle personnel from one project to another and/or pull in help off of other projects, there’s a cost to those delays that the client will have to bear.

The best way to make sure major milestone dates are met is to set interim deadlines for each portion of the work. These would include setting dates for:

  • Initial content delivery
  • Site Architecture approval
  • Site Functionality approval
  • Site Design approval
  • Draft site internal “go live”
  • Site Owner and User Testing
  • Public site launch

Managing WebDev Client Expectations, Part 7

Submitted by Sam Moore on Thu, 04/15/2021 - 11:23
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Managing WebDev Client Expectations, Part 7

Last time, we discussed the importance of establishing the content creation process for your clients webdev project. Once that’s out of the way, the next challenge to keeping clients happy with a smooth process becomes tracking all those elements.

Asset Tracking & Management

You’ll need to create a content gathering platform that works for the client and your creative staff. Without such a system, the entire process can go off the rails: Email gets lost. Attachments get lost. Version control becomes a nightmare.

Google Docs is a free and ubiquitous tool, but you’ll need to decide if it’s adequate to the project’s needs. As a text processor, it can work okay, but doesn’t track changes as well as Microsoft Word.

It might be time to explore asset tracking and management tools. There are many out there, most now available as SaaS or subscription platforms. You’ll want one that allows for meta tagging, categorization and adequate titling. Your particular needs may vary. Let’s look at a few possibilities:

  • Gather Content is a low-end platform that works fairly well.
  • Flowmapp is a user journey designer that can be used to prototype content.
  • You can find other, more sophisticated Digital Asset Management (DAM) tools online. Here are places to look for free and open source products. Freemium and paid tools can be found here.

 

Managing WebDev Client Expectations, Part 6

Submitted by Sam Moore on Thu, 04/08/2021 - 11:21
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Managing WebDev Client Expectations, Part 6

Client expectation management must be done at all points along the way in the long webdev process. Content and functionality provide two potential friction points. To head them off, a sitemap needs to be developed based on client input. This is usually part of the wireframing process. The client needs to specify any specific functionality required at the outset, before the sitemap is completed, since some of that functionality may affect how pages are built and linked.

One of the stickiest points in the webdev process, responsible for much client dissatisfaction, is the lack of clear understanding by both parties about how content will be created. Clearly, content basic points should be supplied by the client—the expert in their field—in a form that can be easily used. But the devil is in the details from there on.

To begin with, you must get the client to supply all text, photographs and video in electronic format. If they can’t or don’t know how to do that, have your project manager work with their liaison to find a resource to help them.

To make things clearer for everyone, you’ll need to ascertain and make all parties involved aware of:

Text Content

  • Who is supplying the text?
  • In what Web-ready format?
  • How will it get to your copywriter?

Image & Video Content

  • Who is supplying the images?
  • In what Web-ready format?
  • Will they require any editing?
  • If so, who will be responsible for that?

What method or tool do you have to capture and track these assets?