9 things I wish I knew BEFORE I rebuilt my company website

Building-a-website

I went live with my new company website last week (although I still need to write copy for a few pages).

I’m really pleased with the result – it’s shiny and a big improvement over the previous version – but it’s been a struggle and I learned a few things along the way which may be helpful for other people thinking of building their own sites.

The project took six months from start to finish. I am responsible for about two months of that delay; simply because paid-for client work trumps working on my own business. Deadlines work well if you’re being paid, but not so well if it means working on weekends. Also, it’s very hard to look at your own business and be inventive with it. Too much ego. Lesson: delegate as much as possible to trusted subcontractors.

1. Fix one thing at a time

I wanted a new logo, new stationery, a new website – in fact a complete rebrand. Looking back, I wish I had taken one bite at a time.

2. Design is priceless

I have a great designer. His biggest asset is that he understands how to translate my incoherent mumblings and scribblings into art. He produced detailed Photoshop mockups of each page – this is a good way to get the look of the site right.

3. UI mockup tools help

I use Balsamiq to sketch out page layouts. This is a great way to communicate how a page should fit together, without getting drawn into the design. This was the most useful tool for me.

4. Code is a commodity

I work with a team of coders in Argentina to build websites. They’re cheap and very, very good. We used WordPress as the content management system and they took my designer’s layout and turned them into page templates. As an ex-programmer, I respect the art but the truth is that it is easy to outsource programming now if you have even basic project management skills and you can produce a detail specification of what you want. The site coding cost less 20% of the total project budget.

5. Plan for everything

Although I do this kind of work for other people, I fell into the classic trap of underestimating the amount of work needed to get the site done. The longest pole in the tent was copy. I’m still writing some of the pages. How ironic! I’m a writer and this is the only bit of the project that is completely free. But I also underestimated the effort required to test the site and deal with some of the transition issues from the old site. The lesson? Make a list of everything you need to do and then add about 50% for contingency or reduce the scope of the project so you can tackle it in a more agile way.

6. Perfect is the enemy of good enough

Occasionally, I had an idea of how I wanted something to work or how I wanted the copy to look but there wasn’t time to do it like that. Looking back, I don’t think I miss the stuff I scrapped and, in some cases, the site is better without it. Lesson: non-existent features take an infinitely small amount of time to implement.

7. Testing is essential

I used a professional firm of testers to run the site through different web browsers and do some other testing. They found some performance bottlenecks (there are still a few in there but they’re not show stoppers and I’ll fix them later) and they also found a few bugs. For the sake of a few hundred pounds, this testing probably saved me a lot of time and heartache. I have to mention now that my old site had the wrong phone number on it for six months and I would have caught this if I had tested it properly.

8. You never finish the journey

Launching the site is only the first step. With my old site, I made the mistake of letting it atrophy over four years or so and I didn’t update it often enough. With the new one, there are a few issues I’d like to fix around performance, SEO and other technical issues. I also have to write some more page copy. I expect people will find bugs and typos. But after that adolescent period, I want to start adding new tools, new content, an events page, webinars and other stuff. This is my biggest recommendation, really: a website is not a destination. It’s a journey.

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Matthew Stibbe is writer-in-chief at Articulate Marketing. He is also an avid blogger, closet geek and HP fanatic.