One key inspiration for our perpetual grumpiness is the appalling state of many nonprofit websites. Too many are simply too bad. Why? Lots of reasons but first is that nonprofits do not correctly brief, select or work with their developer.
Hootville Communications is very dubious about website developers which we declare despite making part of our living developing websites. Developers are privileged in that they know soooo much more about websites than their clients which can lead to…less than optimum performance.
Over the next few weeks we’ll help you keep website developers honest with some savvy questions. Otherwise you’ll get the site they want to build for you – the quickest, fastest and most profitable.
And yes, dear developers, in future future weeks we’ll tell nonprofits what they are doing wrong.
Q2. What features would you recommend?
A. The developer better have some strong recommendations or you’ll end up with a boring online brochure. Chief among the smorgasboard of ideas: social media sharing technologies such as Sexy Bookmarks, eNewsletter such as MailChimp, online payment, bookings and donations systems, embedded video, Google Analytics, Google Maps of key locations, embedded Twitter feed, pop-up banners, integrated Facebook, easy SEO options such as HeadSpace2 to enable Google-friendly page names and tags. You want lots of suggestions based on the developer’s experience. You needn’t utilise them all but you are paying for their wisdom. Are they wise?
Why do you want all these features? Because having and utilising them means your site is worth visiting more than once. It turns your website into a 24/7 employee and that the money you invest gets a better return. We’ve all been trained by some companies to interact with them via the web; perhaps to book an appointment or pay a bill. In fact we often prefer this. Your site should do the same. Without features your site is likely to be feeling pretty lonely, pretty soon.
Let’s say you want to offer online bookings on your new site. If you use a well-established CMS (see question one below) you will have a range of options for this purpose. This is similar to the range of apps you have for your smartphone which all offer largely the same thing, such as choosing a restaurant. Each app is competing for your custom and is reviewed online by nerds. Read and consider these independently of the developer. The more you know, the smarter your questions; the better your choice.
In a way this is a trick question – you are asking this to see if you the developer will supply more than technical know-how.
Q1. What content management systems do you work with and why?
A. Your content management system (CMS) is fundamental to how your easy or otherwise your site is to build, maintain and expand in the future. You use the CMS to present your words and images on the web as a working website. It will determine how many options you have for features such as online payments, online shopping, booking systems or social media sharing. The CMS will determine if your site remains cohesive with ever-evolving technologies. It will also determine the mental health of your web editor.
A website is not like a Saville Row suit – you don’t benefit from having it handmade from scratch by one artisan. Think of it as a quality car, assembled from dozens of tested, proven parts from various specialist manufacturers, enhanced by some (relatively minor) choices you make, all under the experienced eye of one car company which takes ultimate responsibility and most of the profit. (We hate car-analogies but in this case it’s a valid one.)
Hopefully the developer will answer “WordPress” or another proven CMS such as Drupal or Joomla! though we cannot vouch for these platforms. If they talk of their own special CMS which only they develop and maintain, walk away. Run away if they explain that their system is superior to say, WordPress which drives 19 million sites. Slam the door behind you if they start explaining that you must pay ongoing fees for use of their CMS.
You can save yourself from a whole lot of wasted meetings by clarifying this straight away. Developers will generally have a preference. This is their preference, not yours. Don’t be swayed without great reason.
Do some homework by asking owners of great (not good) websites about their CMS. You may be surprised at the passion of the responses. And be sure to ask the person who actually updates the site – not the boss or the techie.