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When choosing a website vendor, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples

The time has come at last: you’ve begun to contact vendors for your new website design.  You may have put together a list of requirements or written an RFP. Perhaps you’ve included your “must have” features and some “wish list” items. You’ve spoken with several account reps, and a number of them seemed pleasant and seemed to understand what you were looking for. With your short list in hand, you contact the bidders, then watch the proposals start rolling in. So far, so good.

As you start reading, you realize something is wrong. You understand you may not be the most technically savvy person, but, feel that you did a good job communicating what you were looking for. So why do proposed prices range from $500 to $30,000? Why the huge gap, and which direction should you go?

Proposals take many different forms between vendors. They may be as simple as a two-page, high level synopsis of the proposed work, or a (sometimes much) more detailed presentation. You have to boil them all down to apples-to-apples comparisons to make a decision, and knowing the basic components of a good website and its development can speed the plow now, and save confusion and extra cost later.

Once you choose a vendor, there are, essentially, two distinct aspects of your website development undertaking: the product and the process.

Your website is the product. It includes:

1.       The design: Call a design meeting right away. Bring samples of other sites you like, along with any notes you’ve taken.

2.       The organization and navigation: This is critically important. How will your information be presented and found by site visitors?

3.       The content: Content is the heart and soul of your website. Be sure to have a clear understanding of what needs to be created or edited, and who is responsible for it.

4.       The content management system (CMS): This is the “back end” of your site, where you’ll be able to update your own text, images, videos and other content.

5.       The hosting platform and service provider: Who will host and take care of your site once it’s launched? If not your new vendor, be sure to find out what they need to do their work.

6.       Domain (URL) management: Changes will have to be made to your domain records to make the new site work. Be sure you understand and assign this responsibility.

The creation of your new site is a process. Common components are:

1.       Project management: One person in your company needs to be the first line go-to for the vendor, to avoid the confusion and delay. Conversely, your vendor needs to provide you with same.

2.       Choosing a design: You may be shown wire frames (typically black and white renderings that simply show placement of proposed elements), then design comps for all your required templates.

3.       Front end development: This refers to the programming required to add dynamic capabilities such as sliders, menus, animation, mobile compatibility and more.

4.       Back end/custom development: This is the programming work to enhance or extend the functionality of your system. It could involve anything from adding an additional field to a product database or table to creating forms and writing a new module or plugin for use with your CMS.

5.       Training: How will this work with your vendor? How many people from your team will they train? What kind of documentation and short-term support will they provide once you start actually using the site?

6.       Go-Live:  This is the process for pointing your URL to the new site, moving it to its new server (if applicable), changing your domain/DNS records and generally ensuring a smooth launch.

You can use these two lists to help you create a RFP that will give you the apples-to-apples comparison you need. Or, if you’re not going the RFP route, use them as checklists to make sure everything you will need for your website is fully addressed.

 

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Matt McCoy is the co-founder and president of Lanex, an award-winning Milwaukee-based website design, development and hosting company, serving a wide range of industries.

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