We get it—a new website is a tantalizing endeavor. When you find yourself with the resources to pull it off, all you can think about is that shiny new digital facelift. But, when you start to get into it, you might realize that you don’t know what you don’t know. The reality is that there’s plenty to consider before you can get going on a new website. Do your third-party software platforms integrate with each other? How much content needs to be migrated? Where do your DNS records live? Unfortunately, that may just be the tip of the iceberg for your organization.
Here are six things to consider before you dive in:
1. Content migration
How much of your existing content will migrate to the new site?
There’s a common misconception that everything on your existing website will have a home within the new site. That’s not necessarily the case. Some of your content may not be relevant in your restructured website, and it also might not align with the newly architected and designed pages. You can’t count on everything having a one-to-one fit.
There are times it makes sense to auto-import your existing content, like with press releases, blog articles, events, and similar content. However, there are often new pieces of content that need to be added after import. For example, your new event calendar might include filtering based on categories that didn’t exist on the previous website. Someone has to assign those categories to each event, as the content didn’t exist before. It’s good to know going into a new website how much content you can migrate and how much will be entered manually.
When considering your hosting requirements, you’ll need an estimate of your web traffic and storage requirements. You’ll also need to account for scalability, access, and support.
What kind of traffic do you have already, and what might you be expecting in the future? You want a hosting solution that provides enough bandwidth for additional traffic, assuming your new website will attract more people.
Scalability allows you to increase your specifications and capabilities to fit your traffic needs. Autoscaling is also desirable, which allows you to adjust those capabilities so you’re not overpaying for something you’re not going to use year-round. For example, say an organization has steady traffic throughout most of the year, but they release a controversial press release twice a year that causes a sudden influx of traffic. Autoscaling is a good option because it allows them to scale up when needed versus paying a fixed amount to accommodate for that increased traffic throughout the year.
In terms of access to your host, you’ll want to consider who can access what. Or, maybe more importantly, who shouldn’t access certain things. What permissions will be required for you to access the server, and what kind of firewalls and restrictions do you want in place?
For support, it’s best to look for hosts that can support everything that’s in place on your server as opposed to retaining system administrators to maintain it, unless you are a very large organization. We don’t offer system administration as a service at Mighty Citizen, but rather, the host we use for our clients supports the server OS and keeps the packages and apps up to date.
3. Content Management System (CMS) requirements
What do you really need your website to do? Your content management system is the backbone of your website; the system that makes it go.
Choosing the right CMS for your organization is critical, and you should always consider your organizational goals and existing procedures for publishing. Who will be working with your content? What kind of permissions will they need? Do you want to build an approval workflow into the CMS? Workflow is one of those things that seems desirable, but you may realize that the person who needs to approve the content for publishing is never going to actually log onto the CMS. Don’t get stuck with (or pay for) a capability you won’t utilize.
After identifying what it is you want your website to do, it’s time to get specific on your CMS needs. What functionality or features are required? Sit with your team and dive deeper into your current site with the following questions:
- Can our users find what they’re looking for?
- Is our content up-to-date and relevant?
- Is our current CMS simple enough for non-technical staff to use?
- How important are security and accessibility?
- Does our CMS have an active community of developers that can offer support?
- Can it be integrated with our CRM, user database, or other third-party platforms?
- Is our website actually furthering our goals in any way? If not, what needs to work better?
Once you take a good, honest look at your current website you can better evaluate its capabilities and the needs of a future website.
4. Third-party integrations
How does your organization handle lead forms, tracking code, social feeds, newsletter sign-ups, events, etc.? Do your marketing software providers have a way to integrate their code into your new website? Many marketing departments find themselves with dozens of third-party applications in their marketing stack. For example, an organization could have a donor/member database, a marketing automation system, a volunteer management system, an employee recruitment system, and a learning management system all within its ecosystem. Your web developer will need a list of all third-party systems to be integrated with the new website.
Often, these integrations seem simple but quickly become complex. We often build connections between the website’s CMS and the third-party system so the two systems can share information. For example, imagine events that live in an Association Management System (AMS). We import the details of the events from the AMS into the CMS so we can display them where they’re needed across the website. Then, we link from the website over to the AMS for event registration and payment.
As a specific example, the American Association on Nurse Practitioners inputs events into their AMS. That data then gets auto-imported into their CMS so we can display the event info where it’s needed across the site without having to input the event data into both the AMS and the CMS.
5. Third-party site skinning
If you use a third-party system like an AMS, the services provided by that AMS often need to be overlaid with your organization’s brand colors and imagery to match the look of your new site. We call this process “skinning.” For example, when your members log in to your AMS, you don’t want it to look like the default AMS login. You want the login to have elements of your brand colors, fonts, and imagery that tie it into your website design for a cohesive user experience.
It helps to consider upfront what third-party integrations you’re using and which ones have the ability to be “skinned”—and to what extent. Can you only change colors or can you also adapt fonts and imagery? Is the sky the limit? Hint: it’s almost never the limit.
6. Single sign-on
Single sign-on is a configuration that allows your users to use one set of credentials to log onto multiple related systems. If your organization has different systems for, as an example, your main website, event registration, and calendar, requiring your users to log in to all three creates strain. And not just strain, but honest-to-goodness annoyance.
Single sign-on is also necessary if you want to have gated content, or content available only to those with credentials (like members). If you’ll need to use a single sign-on system, you’ll need to consider what technologies your system can support. Are there easy ways to integrate that technology with a new CMS, or will it require custom programming to get the two systems to talk to each other?
You need a clear picture of your current technology to move forward with your new website as quickly and efficiently as possible. You don’t want to be surprised by a technical oversight halfway through your website project—that will cost you lost time and additional money. Start evaluating your existing tools. Have a sit-down with your internal IT and marketing teams. Then, you can craft accurate requests for work and ask the right questions up-front to make the entire process more efficient.