Searching for a web development agency partner can be nerve-racking. Most companies look for help because it’s not a skillset that is in-house. Virtually all the agencies they review at have great portfolios and seem really smart. How are you supposed to make a good choice?
We think there are at least 24 key mistakes to avoid that will help you find the best partner for you project. Ignore them at your peril!
- Don’t be closed-minded about the technology used. How important is it that you stay with the technology your organization uses? Web sites run on a wide variety of systems. Sometimes sticking with your in-house technology is a big benefit, and sometimes it ends up costing you more and getting you less. It’s rare that your organization is taking advantage of the latest and greatest. Be open minded to the recommendations your agency provides - they are (hopefully) keeping a pulse on the latest and have your best interests in mind.
- Don’t go looking without a budget in mind and set aside. If you don’t know how much you are planning to spend, you’ll get responses all over the spectrum. You’ll also have a tendency to get a taste for champagne and only have a beer budget.
- Don’t think that the website job is over on launch day. If your budget only includes building the site, your investment will be wasted. Most of the value you can derive from your web presence is the data about what customers are doing and interacting with. This shows you what they care about and what they don’t. To get that data, you need an agency that knows how to collect that data, how to interpret it, and what to do next. Quick tip: if you don’t have analytics set up on your site today, get it running. You’ll want to be able to compare old to new data once the new site launches.
- Don’t expect miracles. If your brand is having trouble drawing traffic, or customers are hard to come by, don’t expect the new web presence to magically change that. Like most things, big change takes time. It might take a few months before new content gets picked up and prioritized by Google. It could take just as long for a new platform or service to be adopted by your customers. You are in for the long haul.
- Don’t try to say everything to everyone all at once. If all of your services or products are important and all of your customer segments are important, then nothing is important. A visitor’s first experience on your site is about wayfinding. They need to figure out just exactly what it is that you do, and if it’s a fit for them. Too many choices leads to paralysis. Be clear and decisive. Apple is about the iPhone, not the laptop, iMac or their other products. Most bad homepages try to put everything on the home page.
- Don’t try to plan it all up front. Research has shown that the best technology is developed when teams iterate. It’s also shown that projects done the other way have a habit of failing or not even finishing (according to an IBM study). This iterative process is known as the Agile Development Method. Plan enough to get teams going in the right direction, then allow the technology to evolve based on real world feedback, or even just your team’s feedback. The goal is to get people clicking before launch day.
- Don’t hire a brand agency to do a tech build, and don’t hire a tech agency to redo your brand. Is your need more about brand and communication or more about technology to power an interactive experience. Agencies fall into a few categories - which one are you looking for? Agencies which focus on brand usually fall down with large sites and technology builds. More technical agencies will need help putting the message together. Before you sign a contract, be sure to figure out if the agency you choose will be able to deliver the experience you need.
- Don’t forget the marketing. It’s just not true that if “you build it they will come.” Potential customers need to find out about the company. This can be done through traditional channels, search engine optimization, paid search, paid ads and social. Better yet, all of the above. This is especially true for new products or platforms that didn’t exist before. How could a potential customer find a product that they don’t even know exists?
- Don’t get stuck on one solution. In many cases, companies go out into the market with an idea tied to a specific solution: “we need an app.” Or even: “we need a new website.” It’s possible you’re right. It’s also possible that the right next step isn’t what you started out looking for. Maybe your technology dollar goes farther by creating a customer portal to manage returns, or a sales tool to allow teams to showcase your company’s products. Work with an agency to figure out what is the best use of resources.
- Don’t ignore picking a team to support and improve the site over time. Many times, this is a good task for internal IT. Many times it’s not. It’s not uncommon for internal IT to already have a full plate. It’s rare for them to be great at understanding User Experience or how to interpret user data. Consider whether hiring an agency to support the site for you. That way you have experts working to preserve and grow your investment in a digital product.
- Don’t start your web project before your business strategy is in place. Too many times, digital projects are started before the company is certain about what it is trying to accomplish. Are we going to focus on Product X or Y? Will the new facility be open in time or not? Will we acquire that other company or not? It’s an expensive investment to use a creative or technology project to figure this all out.
- Don’t introduce big changes late in the project. The earlier a big change comes, the more easily a team can adapt and incorporate it. The later the change comes, the slower and more expensive it will be to include.
- Don’t go rogue. For a brand experience to make sense to customers, all the ways in which they experience it has to cohere. If you aren’t satisfied with how the main brand engages customers, or your division has an idea that will revolutionize the business, don’t use a totally incongruent new digital product to fight that holy war.
- Don’t forget to research whether this has been done before - better. You might have a great idea. But you also might have an idea someone already did a better job with. If it’s already out there, don’t give up, maybe you can pivot to something that addresses a similar need. Just be sure to do your research before you start.
- Don’t miss out on analytics. There are myriad tools out there (most free or next to free) that can be used to collect data about what users are doing, where they are clicking, and what they respond to. Use them! Google Analytics is one everyone knows about. CrazyEgg can show you where people click on a given page, Lucky Orange can show you a video of what people do in a session on your site. SEM Rush and Moz can tell you where you stack up against your competitors in search. There are many other. Talk to your agency about them. Gathering and interpreting this data is how you make your site better.
- Don’t be a bad first date. (A favorite topic of mine.) Think about User Experience as the most important filter for your site. Think about what your customers or users care about and give it to them. If all you do is talk about yourself, brag about your accomplishments, how great your products are, users will not be engaged and will leave. User experience is all about designing your digital for the end users and the tasks they typically want to accomplish.
- Don’t just use a template. Is your business just like every other business? No. Templates are designed to look cool, but generally speaking, they are not effective. They almost always sell themselves by offering a million bells and whistles. The buyer thinks, “wow - look at all the possibilities!” It’s rare, though, that a company has a reason to fill all the widgets full of content, or can keep up with the implied content demands of a template. Have an agency design a template that works for you and your content. Too much on a page is a bad thing. Bonus tip: templates generally have code that is very difficult to support for development teams, so changes are often far more expensive than you might imagine.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. It’s likely that what you want to create, or components of what you want to create, have been done before. Work with your agency to find pieces that already exist. Commonly reinvented wheels include homegrown content management systems, reinventing integrations for popular tools, browser responsive programming and interaction design programming. If all that sounds like jargon, ask. If it seems like your agency is discovering fire for the first time, it’s ok to press them on it.
- Don’t undervalue Project Management. Some companies are surprised or even offended to see a line for Project Management, or think it should be included. The most important factor in a successful technology project is clarity of communication among the teams. Having someone on the agency side to make sure everyone is on the same page is vital. It dramatically increases the chances of success for the project as well as the likelihood of completion within budget.
- Don’t worry if the agency’s portfolio projects don’t match your business exactly. It’s rare that your industry or market is so specialized that the agency you pick has to have years of experience in it to do a great job. Sometimes it is even more valuable to get new ideas. It’s also common for an analogous situation to have been solved for another client in another industry that you can leverage.
- Don’t insist on a local partner. Digital work is made to be done remotely. Having a local agency means you will go see them in person more, right? Our experience is that it’s still more convenient for everyone to do most meetings online. The cost of a few flights for the agency to come see you for kickoffs or important user interviews shouldn’t break the bank.
- Don’t create the site for the CEO or yourself, create it for your users. You need an agency which will stick up for your users. Too often CEOs come in at the last minute to make changes based on gut feelings. Sites perform best when real users see it, interact with it, and give you feedback. Make time to test with people who will really care about what a site does. And listen to them. It’s almost impossible to predict what users will respond to in advance. You do best by tailoring based on the user interaction data and patterns.
- Don’t believe the lowest price. You shopped around and got 3 proposals that are about the same and one that is a lot lower. Maybe 1/10 as much. That last one? It’s wrong.
- Outside opinions matter. If you only use ideas form inside the company you are limited to what the company has already done or already knows.
Caxy Interactive is a web development agency in Chicago specializing in User Experience and Agile-driven software and technology development. We love helping clients break new ground, find new customers, and engage the ones they already have in unexpected ways.
Call or contact us to get something started today: 312-207-6200