Author: John Dudley

Endless Web Projects: Have you considered a Support Contract? (part 1)

It’s easy to think about web projects as one offs. Each new website, maintenance or design project can be tackled as necessity presses the issue. The build out of your presence on the web is a long road.  And you’re building this road ahead even as you drive right towards it.

You have questions about the digital avenues for your business. You’ll have countless more in the months and years ahead. Because building digital roads isn’t your business, even if these roads are vital for your business.

Paving the Road

From full strategic website site redesigns, to small one off graphic design projects, site optimizations, user experience testing, or any manner of custom dev, there are a million reasons to solicit a digital agency. So, on a project to project basis, you reach out to agencies to build our your web-based infrastructure.

Of course hiring and rehiring support isn’t an ideal process for you or your organization. But you don’t have unlimited resources; you can’t hire full-time digital professionals for every digital need that arises. Under ideal circumstances, your best long-term strategic bet is to set aside a budget for a support contract with a trusted (full service) digital agency.

Why wouldn’t we want to have a full-service agency at their disposal? Who wouldn’t want a team of web experts to think strategically for us? Why would we not want each new project immediately tackled? It really is the ideal scenario, to have a contract with a proven team that is intimately familiar with our existing digital infrastructure and our end goals.

Still, despite the benefits of a long-term agency partner, support agreements are relatively rare. But this isn’t surprising. Like any ideal scenario, it invites skepticism. Heck, it would be foolish to enter into a support contract with a firm that hasn’t proven deserving of your trust. And, as always, it’s hard to think about the road too far ahead, especially when you’re busying yourself with one step at a time.

But what if you’ve found a firm who has earned your trust? What if, at the end of the day, you know that you’ll have a number of web development needs down the road? What if you need to save time and money?

Well, that’s when it become s bit foolish not to explore the benefits of a support contract.

Let’s consider a few questions:

  1. First of all, did you even know that a full-service agency can handle just about any facet of your web needs?
  2. Do you worry that you’re not seeking strategic support enough?
  3. And how often have you sought agency support? How many different agencies have you worked with already: how long does it take each agency to actually understand your organization’s unique needs?

Support contracts are an overlooked option. It’s usually as simple as folks not knowing the full scope of in-house capabilities offered by an agency. If an agency provides great support, but doesn’t communicate the skills and service offerings also offered by their various teams, well… that’s on the agency. And such a lack of communication can account for why you’ve sought web design or development assistance from a number of teams, without even considering the possibility of going steady with one good catch.

Of course you might prefer to hire a team for their specific ‘core competency’, from designing a logo to building a website, to developing custom ecommerce or CRM tool integrations.

But what will you discover through this project-to-project hiring process?

Well, you’ll no doubt learn firsthand how no shortage of time is wasted in discovering what, exactly your business needs in terms of web construction. And then there’s the endless repetition of discovering any number of teams that can knock it out. This process can entail dozens of emails, several phone calls and hours of proposal reviews. And once you’ve finally hired your support team, you’re not even actually sure what level of service to expect.

Does this all sound familiar? Does this sound like an ideal solution?

Building out and maintaining your digital presence shouldn’t be an endless cycle.

Here’s a hint, if you take nothing else away from this post. When you find the digital agency that gets it done for you:

Lock.

Them.

Down. 

A support contract with your web development partner is the smart long-term play. Because the best, most direct service you can get from your web development partner comes after a support agreement. It’s not just the best value either (with cost savings built into most agreements), you’ll actually recieve better overall service.

And in my next post, I’m going to break down why you’ll receive better service under contract. AND your cost (and time) savings under contract!

 

Ghost Reviews

How many websites do you visit in a month?

According to Nielsen’s statistics, the average American visits 89 web sites in a month, spending just over 29 hours browsing those sites. And these are the numbers from 2010, before many had yet grown accustomed to browsing sites regularly on their smart phones.

This is all to suggest that your website visitors have all seen enough to know what they like. In fact, over half of your site visitors are going to spend less than 15 seconds on your site. Are they happy with what they find? Or will they be quickly moving along to your competitors site?

If anything, it’s just a little too easy for us to cast our verdict on a site’s quality. It’s certainly easy to move right past a web presence that isn’t up to snuff. Sometimes we don’t even dwell on our assessment of a discarded site, just as we dive absently into many that work. We’ve been surfing the net for decades now, we ride intuitively.

You don’t have to be a user experience design professional to recognize great UX when you experience it. Just like you don’t need to be a graphic designer to be influenced by an impactful design. But when an unimpressed visitor passes right on by, it’s not just the site being passed over.

We assess the overall quality of businesses and services by way of their web presence.

Your site might be being assessed harshly by visitors who aren’t intentionally leaving their review. And if your site just isn’t connecting for any reason, you need to know.

There are a number of metrics to help gauge a site’s effectiveness. Such metrics include the dreaded: ‘visitors who leave your site quickly, never to be seen or heard from again’. This can be a website’s most straightforward ‘pass/fail’ test. These are your most negative reviews. If far too many site visitors are ghosting entirely, well… that’s a problem. Of course, what is more nebulous is the ‘why’ behind such behavior; as is what, exactly, you can do to hold onto more visitors.

You’ll never get rid of all of these ghosts. But trying to convert more of them is the good fight. Fortunately, ghost-busting isn’t always as daunting as it might seem.

User experience design and general design aesthetics can be largely subjective. But not entirely. There’s a small window of objective assessment that can actually give us a clear look at a site’s impact.

Analytics and user testing has proven that expectations built off previous site experiences can help us review a new site design objectively. We can assess site infrastructure as it relates to or adheres to our shared expectations. Considering the volume of sites the average site visitor processes, it’s no surprise that they will lean further into the UX they already prefer. What’s more, with enough user data, we can even discover the objective consensus for an optimal site experience.

From there, we can design a site experience to look and even feel better than the current objective consensus–but not too far as to be an alien and non-intuitive experience.

Baby steps.

Our best experiences with a new site is when we can interact immediately. It’s exciting when a site experience awes us with any number of new flourishes; but a successful new site should still always allow for us to dive right into the experience.

Basically, as we engage with site infrastructure and learn our way through an interface, we’ve already put the work into learning those processes. Sites that adhere to these learned models simply feel more intuitive. It’s more than just ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ for the sake of appearances. This has real stakes in the success (or failure) of a business.

It only takes us a few clicks to review a site. It can take considerable effort for a web presence to meet the expected standards of the day, but it’s a key step towards keeping the ghosts at bay.

Stupid Questions: The Smart First Step

When seeking strategic web development, asking for help is the hard part. Fortunately, asking the right questions is easier than you might expect. Feel free to skip right to the bottom if you just want this simple, oh-so-secret wisdom. 

Perhaps your existing (or not-yet existing) website features are in need of a redesign?

Maybe your business could be drawing more sales or fundraising through the site?

Or attracting more members?

Whatever your web construction needs might be, it’s daunting to approach an outside vendor. But at some point, you’re bound to recognize that your web presence has untapped potential. It’s only a matter of time; this will always be the case. Because there are always improvements to make.

A digital agency can help you set the right course. But how do you get the most out of them? How will they offer the best support for your specific needs?

You don’t have all the answers, and frankly neither does any one member of a digital agency. As web development standards have evolved and broadened, a need for agencies with a team of diversely talented design and development professionals has been crucial. So take comfort in the fact that no one person can handle it all, even the professionals. That’s okay. In fact, admitting as much is a great start. Then, as you become more comfortable asking the secret questions (still getting those!) the quality and end results of your own web development initiatives will also steadily improve.

The first step is to remember that the old adage is true and more applicable here than just about anywhere:

There are no stupid questions.

Web development teams have heard it all, believe me. Site design and development standards are too dynamic and ever-evolving for committing to a strategy to be anything but daunting.

The questions you want to hear from a service provider should be substantive. More specifically, you want to hear the probing questions that relate to how you and/or your agency will actually utilize the product. A web digital agency should never presume to known and understand your organization. Or how your web presence ought to factor into your business model, for that matter.

Of course a worthwhile strategic service provider should provide strategic support, but only after they ask their own share of ‘dumb’ questions. Be wary of an agency or professional who walks into working with your business like they own the place.

Remember what we say about people who assume?

Your first concern when engaging with a service provider (web-dev or otherwise) might be that they’re going to sell you on something you don’t need. But you can cut through this fear quickly; just don’t avoid questions. Let ’em fly!

If something doesn’t make sense in any way, just ask. Here’s a cheat sheet:

“I don’t understand. Could you explain that?”

“How will this help?”

“Are there other options?”

If these questions aren’t answered to your satisfaction. REPEAT. Then repeat again until they are either a) answered to your satisfaction or b) the provider can’t communicate to you successfully (in which case, move along!).

With these questions on hand, you can always cut through the fluff. More than this, you’ll have answers on hand that will empower your decision making when it comes time to compare and contrast with competing firms. Good luck.

Now get out there and ask away.