Why Written Plans Improve Web Site Project Success

by Jennifer Beever

Web Development GapStudies show that up to 25% of web site projects fail and 30% are over budget. But, don’t worry, there is a solution!

When creating a new or updating an existing web site, marketing professionals have a tough role to play. They have to understand the web site owner needs and translate those needs into specifications that web developers (the techies!) can use effectively. Web site projects either fail or exceed the budget because of a lack of clear communications of owner expectations and constraints due to technology limitations.

The solution is a written web site project plan. By writing a plan, marketing has a document that the user community has to approve and sign off on before any programming starts. The programmer has a document that outlines the vision for the website, and, if done right, much more detail that eliminates the guesswork and bridges the gap between owner expectations and programmer assumptions.

The written web plan is an iterative process. Once the plan is written and approved, the web development team can use the written plan to develop a comprehensive and detailed proposal and technical specification for the project. The web development team can use the document to identify any technology issues and new solutions that should be communicated back to the site owners. Any issues or problems need to be negotiated so that solutions are found. Once the web developer’s proposal and specification is accepted, the web plan can be updated with appropriate changes so that everyone is on the same page.

What are the elements of a good web site project plan?

Like all marketing projects, the web site plan should discuss how the web site will help the site owners achieve business objective and goals. What are the critical success factors, and how will we measure them? Do we need to generate new leads, create awareness, better support existing customers, build a user community? How many leads, how much awareness, what satisfaction level, how many users, what level of engagement? How will we accomplish these goals and objectives?

The plan should include a discussion of the web site audience. Who are they? What are their demographics (age, income, gender, etc.)? What are their psychographics (lifestyle preferences, purchase habits, affinities, hobbies, etc.)? What colors do they like? What colors will they have a hard time reading (for example, seniors have difficulty reading red text)? What images will appeal to the audience? What images should be avoided?

What kind of structure and navigation will the new web site have? If there is an existing site, how will the structure  navigation differ? Here diagrams embedded in the documents help tremendously. A picture paints a thousand words. You can embed a simple hierarchical chart using Microsoft Word 2007 SmartArt. I’ve also used SmartDraw and MS Visio to generate web site diagrams. I show one chart for the old navigation and a second chart to show the new navigation.

What is the objective of each page on the site? What kind of content, graphics, images, forms or other features will each page have? The web development team can review these detailed requirements and recommend new technology and solutions where possible.

What is the plan for website optimization? What SEO tools will be used, and how will the website technology support SEO? What keywords will be used?

Web site plans are not foolproof. Basically, if the plan is not comprehensive or lacks important information, it won’t be effective. Garbage in means garbage out. Recently we’ve had several situations where sites were developed and then the business owner wanted to optimize the site for better search engine performance. Because SEO was not planned in advance, there were major technical issues that seriously hampered SEO efforts, requiring additional time to perform costly re-work on the site for the business.

Year ago, a client firm – an IT services company – insisted on including Macromedia Flash in their web site update. We explained that Flash was not easily recognized by the search engines and could impede the firm’s search engine performance. We negotiated a solution: the site pages would be programmed with part Flash and part HTML.

When the site was 90% complete, one of the firm partners noticed that when navigating through the site his back button didn’t work. The web developers on the project didn’t think to bring up this technicality: the back browser didn’t work when you use Flash on a web site. They assumed the site owners knew this. The site owners didn’t know what they didn’t know. It turned out there were work-arounds for the problem, but it would have been better to identify the issue up-front and avoid the surprise at the end of the project.

Need an expert to make sure your website update project is successful? At New Incite we’ve been managing website update and development projects since 1998. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.

The study referenced in the sub-headline is by ZDnet. Read about it here.

Photos used in this post are from Flickr by Elvert Barnes and David Goehring. Some Rights Reserved.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: