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Re-developing your website: The 8 questions you need to discuss with your agency before you start

A photo of a woman smiling and pointing to a laptop enthusiastically. She's wearing a dark green T-shirt and there is a plain bright green background behind her. This photo is mildly suggestive that this article may be about websites, but it's all very figurative.

Obviously you read the blog posts on here for the sage advice that’s given.

So you’ve made sure that you’ve kept your website in the peak of good health and you’ve made good decisions on the content, the blogs, the photography and the rest. You’ve been a good digital citizen.

But the time still comes when you and your old site have to part company. It’s inevitable. Every website has a shelf-life - in fact according to Forbes the average span of a site is around two-and-a-half years.

After that point, a site becomes a bit stale-looking as design trends and technology changes have shifted to a point where it all looks a bit old-fashioned (and by extension your organisation looks equally so). It becomes that little bit more invisible on search (now driven by mobile rather than that desktop version you’re so attached to) and it just doesn’t get shared so often on social media, because it looks rubbish when it does.

So let’s say you’re an education provider. You need your website upgrading? You want your front window to the world to look a whole lot better? What next?

The short answer is to get the experts in. Getting your website re-developed can be a big job and you need the right people to do it (ahem). It might, if you’re being dramatic, be a migration to a whole new platform, but, more likely, it will be making far more of the platform you’re on, the site you’ve built there and the content you’re publishing.

This post is not about showing you how to do it - it’s to help you be a good client. To make sure you have the right conversations with your agency (even if it’s not us, mistakes do happen) and to ensure that you do your bit. If you have these conversations with your agency/developer/mate-who’s-used-Wix-once then you’ll be better able to define what you want, and have a far better chance of getting it.

Why are you even bothering?

Aside from the things you can’t influence (technology changes, design trends and all that), what’s changed that is in your orbit? Why have you suddenly decided to change your site? Has your approach shifted? Does your organisation still have the same brand values? Does your current website still represent who you are? Asking those questions at least means you know what you want to achieve. That makes the exploratory questions (the ‘discovery phase’) with your agency easier.

What’s your budget?

This is the embarrassing bit:

How much is it?''

"What’s your budget?"

"Well, how much does it cost?"

"Depends what you want"

"A website"

"...

And repeat to fade… until someone gives in and says a number out loud. You can dig back into your financial archives and work out what you paid last time, and use that as a ballpark. But did that budget buy what you wanted or were you compromising all the way back then? Have a grown-up conversation with your agency about how far your estimated budget can take you and what that investment will buy and that’s related to….

What do you want your website to do?

If it's a website for a school or college, what is the purpose?

  • Is it a sales vehicle?

  • A repository for educational content?

  • A platform for a community? How much of that (and more) is it actually achieving?

As a sales vehicle, what is the conversion rate?

As an educational platform, is it delivering high-quality content to students?

Are students using it (and on what device) and does that hybrid model of education work for you financially?

If it’s a place for students, teachers, parents to meet - is that happening and is it the best place for it or would Facebook or a WhatsApp group do just as well? (leaving you some spare budget for different ambitions).

What should you benchmark?

Depending on what you’ve decided you want your website to do, you need to benchmark what you’re currently achieving so you know whether what you get in the future is an improvement.

So pick some measures out of:

  • Number of visits, visitors, and unique visitors
  • Bounce rate
  • Time on site
  • Top-performing keywords in terms of rank, traffic, and lead generation
  • Number of inbound links (and what pages are people linking to?)
  • Total new leads and form submissions (if relevant)
  • Content downloads (if you’re using it to deliver educational content)
  • Social media shares, comments, likes….
  • Whatever engagement mechanics float your boat

And set targets accordingly that see the number in all the above rise. But don’t blindly pick all the above. Not all are signs of good health.

If you’re providing content for people to consume and learn from, then long dwell times and high pages per visit is a good sign. If you want people to buy from a range of services then those high numbers might be a sign that people can’t find those products, are flailing around and the internal search doesn’t work.

Remember what your site is for and pick benchmarks and targets which align to that.

What’s your branding and messaging?

You might work in a crowded education market. What makes you stand out? What’s your unique brand proposition? Have you even thought in those terms before? What is your branding, your messaging and your value in your market?

Many schools don’t think in that way and teachers and tutors are usually openly scornful, but it’s useful to have such conversations with an agency before you start, because the reality is that you are in a busy space, with lots of competitors and you have to stand out.

Anyone who visits your site should understand you from any page they land on. And that’s not easy. Does your current site match your own sense of what you do and stand for? Or has that got lost?

And how does all this compare to your competition? One thing you can guarantee is that your agency will say, at some point, ‘who does this well?’ You might as well get your answer ready now and dig out the urls of those school sites you (secretly) admire

Who is your audience?

Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about your customers. Your students. Or the people who make the choices for them - parents, agents, schools and so on. You and your agency need to work out who will use the site and what they need to understand, to know and to enthuse about. What brand messages will make them want to buy and what functional content will help them buy. You should be working with the agency to understand what people want to hear and how to deliver it.

And how do they find you?

Search and social are likely to be your primary drivers. Your agency will need to know your social media strategy and can help you with your keyword strategy to make sure you protect your search optimised pages. We’ve talked about SEO before. And social. Ask us about it. And be prepared for detailed answers.

Are you on the right platform? You’re going to need a content management system (CMS), which is what you develop, design and publish your website on. Choosing the right CMS is key since it’s usability from the editorial back-end is almost as important as the user experience from the front. Most agencies will offer preferences which suit both their developers and their clients, and many organisations are used to WordPress, so that’s not a bad place to start.

Either way, you’ll want training and editorial rights and a bank of content and a media library and a content schedule and editorial processes and an editorial style guide and a brand book…

Once it’s done bask in the glory (but don’t PR it). And then the hard work starts…