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Why you may have paid too little for your shiny new website…

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Like all developers, new work for us usually comes as the result of our successfully winning a ‘request for proposal’ or, in less formal circumstances, submitting a proposal in response to a work request we receive via an in-person meeting or over the phone.

Regardless of the means through which we’ve learned of the new work, though, our response is always the same. We begin by attempting to understand all the concerns or requirements of the job. We then ask ourselves whether the scope aligns with what we’ve learned over the years in designing similar sites for similar clients. Then we compile a master list of possible solutions for the client, as well as a list of questions that the client may have failed to think of while developing their RFP.

The thoroughness of our process — to the discerning client — proves that we’re not only on top of our game but that we’ve given their project the thoughtful response it deserves. Ironically, though, sometimes our best efforts actually have a contrary effect. It’s not unusual for our concerns to be given only cursory value by some prospects, who seem too preoccupied or uninterested in giving further thought to the issues we’ve raised.

When this happens, it’s usually a ‘canary in the coal mine’ moment for us — alerting us to the likelihood that the client is not a good potential fit. Our proposal, as a result, usually becomes vaguer around the issues we don’t feel have been properly addressed. And, not surprisingly, our total price is given within a wider range than we prefer. Usually we don’t get the work, which is probably best for us.

Always the professional voyeurs, though, we often keep tabs on the ‘lost bid,’
keeping a constant eye out on the client’s url for the new site to appear. When it does, we’re usually not shocked to see many of the concerns that the client glossed over have created prominent problems within their new site. Periodically, we follow up with the client, and learn of their ‘dissatisfaction’ with their chosen developer.

In the spirit of avoiding the ‘gotcha’ moment we’ve seen so many times, we’ve put together a list of ‘commonly overlooked’ issues which often don’t make their way into client RFPs or briefs for new work but which are important and can bring unanticipated costs:

  • Developing a URL redirect strategy for current site. This is an all-too-common oversight made by clients with smaller to medium sized web assets. The issue is this: if a client is creating a new url structure on the new site, what happens to all the inbound links pointing to the former site’s urls? To preserve SEO value, a redirection or naming strategy must be developed. Often, this critical step isn’t even considered by the client, when releasing the new site redesign bid.
  • Allowing the definition of ‘responsive website design’ to remain as ambiguous as the term itself. We love RWD. But, we find, the devil is in its details. What one firm considers a ‘responsive’ solution across multiple resolutions might be woefully inadequate to another, more fastidious vendor. To give a quick example, we design a lot of sites which have a ‘portfolio’ component to them. Usually, the desktop versions of these sites feature a column or two of thumbnails. But, when these designs are viewed on a phone, the thumbnails often become too small. Developing a solution for unique circumstances such as this is time consuming but results in more predictable and more eloquent solutions.
  • Not being clear on design process.This is a fairly simple but still common problem which often makes comparing proposals from different vendors an ‘apples to oranges’ comparison. Different firms will have different approaches to their design phase but its importnat to determine how many different approaches a firm is offering in an initial design review and how many page typologies is contained within each approach. (For instance, we typically offer 2 – 3 distinct ‘looks’ for our clients of 3 significant pages, such as the home page, another ‘main’ page and a secondary page. Once an approach is chosen, we then design every page type on the site and allow 2 sets of review.)
  • Failing to consider styling nuances specific to print. Although RWD gets a whole lot of attention from our clients these days, don’t overlook the importance of how each page on your new site will print. We’ve designed several law firm websites over the years. We’ve found — again and again — that individual lawyer biography pages are frequently printed out by their clients and potential clients. As such, we typically write custom styles for that portion of their website, so that the pages look their best when sent to the office LaserJet.
  • Vaguely describing backend functionality of the CMS backend.This is another one we’re talking up our clients a lot more about. The modern website is plastic; allowing end users to create new content with great ease and flexibility. But the ease with which non-technical clients can add content is determined, to a great degree, by the effort put in by the website developer in customizing the Admin area of the client site’s content management system. This issue, which clients frequently overlook, can be the single most important determiner of whether the site actually allows the client to publish content as seamlessly as they’d like.
  • Forms, forms, forms. We once built a website for a financial services client which required us to ‘integrate’ a 3rd party mortgage qualifying service. When we initially got the work, our client was pretty vague about how significant the form work was; we agreed to take the work and revisit the form components at a later point. What we initially thought was an easy job ended with us having to write and validate 4 pages of detailed financial data which the form collects. Although this job was somewhat unusual in many respects for us, we’ve found that forms can be budget busters and sources of potential discontent for clients.

If there’s a moral to what we’ve learned in our years of responding to bids, it’s that the bid process should be regarded as a conversation, rather than an auction. There’s a constant tension between offering a thorough response and not wasting time on bid we’re unlikely to get. We use the ‘have you thought of these issues?’ process as a litmus test to assess the willingness of the client to invest time into the planning components of the site redesign. If that commitment isn’t there, the potential of a challenging client relationship looms.

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