Website Development Pitfall 2: Getting an 'agency' to do it

By Angela Schuster

When putting this series together, there was never any doubt about what Pitfall 2 would cover... getting an 'agency' to develop your website.

Call them what you like; agency, digital media expert, website designer... unfortunately there are many companies out there eager to help but oblivious to the fact that they just don’t really 'get' online and that it's not as simple as mocking something up in Photoshop/Illustrator (or another design tool) and then banging out a website in Dreamweaver.

Pitfall 2: Getting an 'agency' to do it

Now I’m not picking on agencies. In fact, some of our partners and closest friends are agencies but there is a difference between a company that can develop websites and a company that should just stay out of that particular sandpit.

Seek external assistance but here's how you can avoid using a company that really has no idea. It's simple; ask them a few questions. Their answers will tell you if they can really help or if they should stick to the swings.

Questions to ask:

  • How will the site be maintained?

    If they say they’ll do it – think about the ramifications... carefully.

    Content management systems (CMS) were invented to give anyone the ability to manage their website without technical know-how.

    A good web developer should offer to build you a site in a CMS that allows you full control over all content. You should be able to change the navigation, images, logos, page order and content throughout the site, all by yourself if you want to. Anything else is not content management.

    If you choose to engage a company to maintain the site, well that’s your choice and sometimes for some sites it's the only option to ensure the site is well maintained. But, at least you have the choice and are not forced to rely on a supplier.

    You can of course forego a CMS but (unless you know HTML among other things), you'll need someone else to make every single itty bitty change to the site - even just fixing a small tpyo.

  • How will you ensure the site is optimised for search engines?

    If they say they’ll include meta tags or run Google Adwords campaigns – get rid of them.

    Meta tags don’t really mean that much in search engine optimisation (SEO).  It’s more important to ensure you get the right keywords into your content, your page headings and also in your links and navigation.

    There are a pile of other things you need to do, like make sure your URLs are search engine friendly and so on, but meta tags are very very low on the list of “useful things to do to optimise a site for search”.

    Google Adwords is great, but it is NOT the be all and end all for optimising your site for search. In fact Google Adwords is not really search engine optimisation but rather search engine marketing (SEM). It's a pull tactic that costs you money.

    There are companies out there that do good work in the SEO and SEM and get results. They'll also be pretty adamant that it requires planning, commitment and more than just meta tags.

  • What should we do about content?

    If they tell you that you should stick to 100-150 words per page - show them the door.

    Online, content is king. Anyone who says otherwise is a frustrated closet-designer with no understanding of what a user wants from a business website. Yes, some websites do need to be highly graphical, particularly if you’re appealing to under 14 year old consumers. We’re not talking about them though; we’re talking about appealing to businesses.

    People want information, ergo information is content. People will actually read lots of content provided it is useful and relevant. Yes, your site needs to look good but it needs to sound good, read well and convert your users.

    As part of your website scoping and requirements gathering stages, you should include a content plan and make sure you cover off where content is coming from, who will maintain it, how often it will be updated and so on.

    You should also read Pitfall 5 which outlines why you shouldn't leave content until last.

  • Do you think we need social media?

    If they say YES YES YES, WE RECOMMEND YOU DO – laugh at them.

    Social media has its purposes, but it’s not for everyone and it needs to be used carefully. Some 'agencies' like to recommend it just because it’s new, all the rave and fun.

    Unfortunately, social media presents a time commitment.

    If you’re going to use Twitter – who will have the time to craft engaging 140 character snippets every week (or more frequently if you’re going to do it properly)?  If you’re going to post videos to YouTube, who will put the videos together? If you’re going to blog who will write and edit the blog and monitor and respond to comments?

    Social media does work, but you need to be strategic in its application and commit time to do it properly.

    Of course, the 'agency' will say they’ll handle all of this and manage your social media for you. Now, if you do need to use social media and you can't manage it yourself, you could outsource it - just make sure you factor this into the planning stages and your budget.

  • How should we start?

    If they say they'll design a few mock-ups for you - tell them not to bother.

    Read Pitfall 1, 'nuff said.

Getting the right help

There are companies out there that do good online work. To avoid Pitfall number 2, you just have to sort the wheat from the chaff and ask some hard questions... and don't be afraid to question their answers!

If when you ask the above questions, they give you sound advice then they could be the right company for you to use. Obviously due diligence plays a part, so ask for references and don't settle for just one proposal. Get a few - compare them, question them.

In answer to what you're thinking, no we're not an agency.

We work with companies to plan and implement their engagement marketing strategies - online being just one area. Online marketing is not just about websites, but if a website is required then we can assist in sorting the wheat from the chaff, providing strategic direction and guidance, and managing the project to fruition.

Read on for Pitfall 3: Ignoring standards and conventions