So, You Need a New Website…. Questions to Ask Before You Begin
We’re excited for you!
A website redesign (or a brand new website) can unite an organization around a renewed focus on mission, and your new website can showcase that mission through compelling storytelling and a strong brand identity. A website that functions as well for internal audiences as it does for external ones can raise morale and efficiency, serving your organization’s needs as it motivates your audiences to engage.
Maybe it’s been a minute since your website got any real attention.
You’ve come to the right people. The strategists, designers, developers, and project leaders at Fastspot are terrific problem solvers and partners who want to help you achieve your goals and knock your socks off in the process.
But before you jump in: Developing a website—whether it’s a new one from scratch or a redesigned one—is a complex, intense undertaking for any organization, and there’s a lot to think about and understand before you enlist Fastspot or any agency in a project.
We have thoughts. Questions, really. Nine of them, which organizations would do well to ask themselves as they prepare to embark upon a website project.
First, a quick bit of background on the voice that’s collaborating with the Fastspot team in providing this advice. I’m a communications consultant who advises nonprofit organizations on wide-ranging aspects of strategic communications and marketing. I spent 20 years leading teams in higher education before launching my consultancy, and over that time I had the opportunity to shepherd colleges through many brand evolutions and website builds and redesigns. I got to know the exceptional folks at Fastspot when I led communications at Trinity College. Our work together was the most deeply collaborative agency project I’ve ever been a part of, and the partnership yielded outstanding results. I was a big fan of Fastspot before; now, I’m kind of obsessed.
Onto the questions.
1. Why do you want a new website?
What’s driving the project now? Is the current site several years old and getting a bit tired, or is there a significant strategic driver: a new brand identity, new institutional leadership, or maybe a new strategic direction for your organization?
Knowing why you need a new site will shape your big-picture goals for that site. What should this new website help your organization accomplish, create, or change? Those big-picture goals, in turn, will sit atop the entire process, setting clear expectations and signaling to everyone involved what success will look like.
2. Do you know who you are and where you are going?
Does your community—comprising diverse internal and external audiences—have a shared sense of your organization’s identity, purpose, and direction? These are foundational elements in any website project. Identity and purpose shape structure, storytelling, and content strategy, and your organization’s direction informs the development of your project goals.
Also, is there stability within the organization’s leadership? Even if there’s unanimous agreement that your site isn’t serving the organization well, it’s almost never a good idea to undertake a major redesign when leadership is in transition. Do what you can to iterate and make small necessary improvements until new leadership has settled in and is defining a direction and goals for the organization.
3. Have you established a stakeholder team and a project team for the project?
For a great website, you need a great process. That means engaging multiple sets of stakeholders and audiences at the right level, to the right depth, at the right stages of the process. Starting early.
A high-level stakeholder group should be on board from the beginning to signal support across the organization and ensure consistent support for the project. Those leaders should be consulted at key milestones—for their input and feedback—and they should know from the start what their role in the project is, and what it isn’t.
The day-to-day, meanwhile, should be managed by a small, responsive team with knowledge and skill sets that complement your agency team.
4. Do you know your audiences? Do you know how to reach them?
The folks at Fastspot will ask, so dig into your analytics and any metrics you have that can inform them about your audiences and how they engage. Do you have any market research on your audiences and your brand perception? Gather it all, pore over it with your team, and set your sights on a clear prioritization of your audiences and what you want to achieve with them.
5. Do you know what you want to say?
If you already have a strong positioning statement, an established set of brand pillars and key messages that support your organization’s strategic goals, you’re in great shape. And you’re in even better shape if you know you have a steady supply of content that conveys those things—stories, digital assets, consistent and compelling visual identity—that you’ll need to deploy across a new website.
But if you don’t have those things, and/or you know a brand refresh is needed soon, this probably isn’t the right time to launch a web redesign.
6. What business do you need a new website to do?
You don’t need to know the answer to every question about functionality and integrations, but to properly scope a website project, your agency partner will need an accurate sense of the landscape. What’s the environment in which this website will live, and what heavy lifting will it need to do for the business of your organization? Are there financial, human resources, and other systems and databases that will need to be integrated?
We’ll ask lots of good questions, don’t worry. But the better sense you have of functionality and integration needs as you get started, the more efficiently and accurately we’ll be able to scope the project and avoid surprises (and delays) down the road.
7. Do you have a realistic sense of the process (decision-making), timeline, and budget?
See above for our advice on setting up the right structure for a project like this. Beyond those decision-making groups, you’ll need to engage the wider community at big milestones, and you’ll likely want to chronicle the project for that community, creating a space for you to invite participation and to share proposed wireframes, preliminary designs, and more importantly, to reflect back to your community what you’ve heard from them and how they’ve influenced the project.
These projects take time (often several months to a year), commitment, and discipline. Cultivate buy-in and engagement, practice active listening and open-mindedness, and communicate consistently. Trust the process and your partners!
8. Do you have the team—and time—to make it happen?
A major website project requires not just institutional buy-in and support from your leadership, but also the internal capacity (skill sets in communications, marketing, and IT) and bandwidth to collaborate with your agency partner and to stick with it to and through the website’s launch.
If your project team pulls from different divisions within the organizations, you’ll need to coordinate at the leadership level of those divisions to ensure a sufficient investment of resources—money and time of key staff—and to make clear the roles for project team members.
9. Do you have the team/infrastructure/budget to ensure long-term success—life after launch?
Just as a branding project doesn’t end when an agency hands over a strategy document and design guidelines, a website project doesn’t end when the website launches. Ideally, your contract should include a plan to assess, reflect, and make changes as needed to get the very most out of your new website.
Maintaining your beautiful and strategic new website may mean a retainer or service contract with your agency partner, ongoing dedication of staff time and resources, or both. You might need a new position, or some restructuring of existing ones, to attend to technical updates, content strategy, and the ongoing care and feeding of your new site. Anticipate this when you’re scoping out the project.
What comes next
If all of this seems daunting, don’t despair. You don’t have to know the answers to every detailed question. No one ever does, and there’s never a perfect time or perfect context. But you should take stock of the big stuff (the state of your institution and its strategic aims) in advance, and you should have a realistic sense of the process for a big project like this. You also should note now the questions and issues you’ll need to address later—like ensuring you have the capacities in-house to maintain the website and ensure its success post-launch.
If you’re in need of a rebrand, you can do that AND a website project in tandem, for which you’d need to enlist experts in brand strategy and digital strategy (see this earlier blogpost on the benefits of taking that approach). Or if you’d prefer to sequence the two projects, hire a brand strategist first; a brand strategist may then also serve as a powerful connector to your web project.
If you’re new to all of this and just want to learn more, be in touch! We can share more about how Fastspot works and the process you can expect; we can listen and provide ideas and recommendations; and we can connect you with clients (your peers) who can give you their perspective on a project like this. And, perhaps most importantly, if a partnership with us is the right next step for you, we’ll meet you where you are, and help you get where you want to be.