5 Things to Sort Out Before Building a New Website

  • Paul Hammond
  • Director of Digital, Free Range
Team working around a table

Focus: Activation, Economic Opportunity, Education, Innovation, Storytelling, Sustainability

In the not-too-distant past, an organization’s website was the cornerstone of its digital presence – the one central online hub for all your audience’s needs. We’ve seen a shift in recent years. Instead of acting as the central hub, a website functions as one of many touch points. It’s increasingly common for users to to develop deep relationships with brands entirely apart from their website, instead choosing to follow and engage on just Instagram or via a regular newsletter, for example.

So what does that mean for the mighty website? It means it’s more important than ever, but important in a different way. It plays the unique role of equipping audiences rather than merely informing. It is a place for action and activation, not passive reading or consumption. It is a role player – albeit an important one – and understanding its role for your overall strategy is more critical than ever.

Websites are a significant investment, both in terms of cost and time from your team. As you consider engaging an agency partner, there are a few things to nail down to set the project up for success. A bit of pre-work will help your team align on priorities, reduce the onboarding and ramp-up time needed in engaging an agency, and streamline the entire process.

Below we offer five considerations that will help you in the run up to engaging a partner like Free Range. To be clear, you don’t need to have everything answered – but you should be aware of your organization’s level of readiness in each of these areas.

A solid brand

People often try to use a website project to shoehorn in a brand update, but a clear brand starting point is essential. Before you invest in a new website, make sure you have a strong grasp of your brand promise so your audience understands who you are, what you stand for, and why they should support you. This is also a great way to invigorate everyone involved with your organization and prepare your teams for the organizational shift that’s ahead.

While sometimes a complete brand overhaul is necessary, there are plenty of subtle ways to enhance and modernize your brand for the times. The United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) just announced their refreshed look prior to working with us on an upcoming website build. While it’s not a complete reinvention of their brand, it does give them a nice visual update that sets them up for long-term growth and brand sustainability in a new digital era of advocacy work. It also provides clear guidelines for a design team to use as a starting point.

A short list of features

Digital tools can further your mission, but they can also drag you down and add to the cost of a new website, so take some time to figure out what you really need. It’s easy to get starry-eyed about the possibilities, but too many bells and whistles will just lead to a bloated project.

Take this opportunity to do an internal audit to determine what capabilities and integrations various departments will require of your new website. If your team is unsatisfied with any current tools – such as your CRM, HR recruiting, CMS, or web hosting – now is the time to talk about it. Above all else, make these decisions with your strategy in mind. Ask yourself, “What is essential for helping us achieve our goals?” If it doesn’t pass that test, consider it for future feature additions.

A story in mind

While much of the content will be defined during the planning and design process of your website, you should have a broad idea in mind of the story you want your website to tell. Your website will often be the first thing that people see when they want to learn more about your organization, so it needs to tell your story in a cohesive way and establish your identity in a way that stands out. Take time to think about why audiences come to your site and what you want them to immediately understand about your work.

Of course, in working with a creative partner, you’ll take the kernel of an idea and turn it into something unique and engaging. But don’t shy away from suggesting what you know works. After all, you are living your story everyday and a great design should begin with your experience.

A vision of how users will interact with your website

Your website can be more than just a digital pamphlet. Beyond offering information, it can serve as a hub for action for your users and activate your champions and promoters. Now is a good time to decide how your website can offer opportunities for collaboration, communication, and advocacy for your audience, whether through forms, email submissions, online chat, or other tools. You should consider whether or not investing in a robust platform could potentially impact your organization’s ability to scale and evolve.

The Complete College America Platform is a great example, demonstrating what’s possible with WordPress. We helped them build a complete network solution that allows their users to interact with one another, as well as share and favorite news, stories, and articles. This used to be something that would require significant backend customization beyond what an out-of-the box CMS could support. Now, more can be done for less.

A clear decision making process

Now is the time to determine the few key people who will shepherd the new website project. Though many people in your organization might eventually manage and interact with the website, it’s best to streamline the decision process to avoid death by committee. Create a plan for how stakeholders will offer input and how you will update the organization on the process. You may need to educate your peers on the importance of keeping the project moving in order to stay on time and on budget.

 

Need advice? Want to chat? We’re here for you no matter what stage you’re in.