Without a doubt, websites are daunting. From the number of internal stakeholders that all need their buy-in, to the rapidly changing technology, to website design trends that are here to stay (think social media and mobile marketing), there are a multitude of factors to consider. If you’ve ever been part of a website project, you understand how quickly it can get derailed and delayed. If you’re looking at hiring a company for your first website, then you’re in for a long process.

But it doesn’t have to be so bad. Websites provide the foundation for your business online, and serve as the target for all of your marketing initiatives. As such, it should be efficient, effective, and reflect your brand well, and it doesn’t need to be a nightmare to accomplish. The key is communication and clarity, as a client, to make sure that you get the product that you’re looking for. Follow these five tips to keep your project on track.

1. Assess your own needs and capabilities 

Your web design agency will likely be able to help you with this assessment, but do your homework about what your website might need as well. Look at your competitors to see how their websites function, and consider how their sites are structured to help drive their business goals. Consider what you’re selling, and think about how you can best use a website to fill the sales funnel for your product or service. By looking at Google Analytics, you can find your most popular pages and data about the current visitors that you’re getting. This data will help you restructure your new site and determine whether or not you need a mobile website for your audience. If you’re undertaking a digital marketing campaign with an old or unoptimized website, your efforts will likely fail.

Ask good questions internally, like:

  • Who is my target audience?
  • Why should they visit my site?
  • What should they do once they get here?

For maintenance, look at your marketing team internally. If you’re planning on incorporating a blog or an events calendar or a photo gallery, make sure you know who is going to be updating the website. It’s better to not have dynamic features on your website if they’re just going to remain dormant.

2. Be thoughtful during the discovery phase

This is the most important part of the website process. Many agencies will begin your website project with a long meeting, a written questionnaire, or both. Although it may seem like a bore, pay close attention and convey every detail about what your new site should be. Getting everything ironed out internally before meeting with your agency is key, as infighting about feature sets or design elements during discovery will be counterproductive.

The answers you give at this stage should form the scope of the project. Again, make sure that the creative brief or scope document covers the entirety of the the feature set that you want on the site, or you may incur costs and delays down the line. If you’re not sure whether your new site will allow you to add pictures, or make new contact forms, or be usable on a mobile device – ask that it be written out.

3. Ask a lot of questions

For the perfect website, you don’t want anything left to chance or assumption. If you have an inkling of doubt or uncertainty about how many rounds of revisions you get, whether or not your website can be maintained by someone without a development background, or if there will be a blog, you should get absolute clarity. We’ve written tips on communicating with a partner before, which can help you ease the communications process. Your agency contact will be happy to oblige your curiosity, as websites are complex. If you thought that your new site would integrate seamlessly with your lead management software but this was never documented, you will incur costs later to build this feature.

If your agency can’t or won’t answer your questions, you may be heading for disaster. You deserve transparency on such a large project at every stage.

4. Be organized

If you have hired an agency, there will be a number of items that they will need from you in order to finish the website. This may include logins to your old site, logins to different software that you have integrated with your site, PDFs or other material from your current site, product information, and more. They should provide you with a list of assets that they need, and you should be able to acquire them and keep them organized when the time comes. If you don’t know what FTP information is or the difference between your DNS Provider and your host, you can ask your IT person or your agency to help you find the right information.

5. Hire a reputable company

Although freelancers are almost always the lowest cost option, there are very few that have a well-rounded skillset to make sure that your website is serving your business needs. Ideally, you’ll want to hire a digital marketing agency that has (at least) the following staff in-house:

  • A web designer who understands your brand, as well as website best practices
  • A marketing strategist who can learn your business and ensure that your website ties to your bottom line
  • A search marketer who understands the importance of SEO, both on- and off-site.
  • A project manager or account manager who can help you through the process and keep everything on track
  • A developer (of course) with a proven track record of successful, well-built websites

The strategist, search marketer, and project manager could conceivably all be the same person, as long as they have the requisite skillsets.