In the constant tug-of-war between value and cost, weighing your website management options can get murky. It makes sense to cut costs, but that can actually be more expensive in the long run. In my consulting work, I’ve encountered a common model for website management: an organization hires a low-bidding firm to design a website. The same firm then charges a small fee for minor updates after the site goes live. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this arrangement. In fact, I can understand why it would appeal to organizations without web developers on staff. However, I’ve yet to see this arrangement result in an ideal situation for the client. Here are a few challenges it creates:
- It’s too passive. In this model, the expert takes a step back and waits for the client to make a request. The client’s staff won’t always know what they don’t know. Consider how fast digital reality changes. It’s going to be very hard for the client’s website to remain fresh and up-to-date, because they’re not keeping up with best practices in web design; they’re busy running their organization.
- It takes extra time. Imagine waiting for a response from the web guy in the midst of a PR crisis. Even the most accommodating third party can’t be as efficient as an internal process. At staff meetings, people say with alarming frequency, “We’ll have to call our web guy and ask him about that before we can move forward.” And then people forget to call. That’s not the web guy’s fault, but in that conversation, he went from being a resource to becoming an obstacle by being out of sight and out of mind.
- It costs more. Even if the website initially was cheaper, it will require significant maintenance and content updates. It’s amazing how websites need to change over time alongside your marketing objectives. All it takes is one employee or customer to look something with fresh eyes and BOOM! goes the insight. You need to make a change ASAP. Over a year or two of constant small changes, it might be less expensive to hire a specialty firm.
- It’s too static. In one case the website included a customized analytics system. That sounds like a good thing, right? But the staff IP address had not been removed. This means that the data failed to distinguish between customers and staff. It also didn’t reveal entries in the search bar. These are basic functions of Google Analytics, which is free. Why spend time and money on a custom analytics system when Google’s is free and better? The worst part of this scenario, it was set up badly in the beginning and that’s the end of the story.
Five years ago, it made a lot of sense to outsource basic web duties. In the past decade, websites have evolved from digital brochures into interactive, versatile beacons of strategy. It’s now possible to see how many people clicked different items on the page (even objects that are not links), what systems they used and how the website fell short of their expectations and much, much more.
In addition, people expect updates in real time, just like on social media. More and more organizations are realizing that they need more control and open source software (like WordPress) has made it easier than ever to get it. If you find yourself constantly emailing your web designer, or saying “Oh yeah, I meant to do that,” at staff meetings, it might be time to consider moving to a content management system. You can still hire a professional firm to create it and help you with the complicated moving parts (like databases). You can even get support as needed – there’s no need to be in this alone. Websites must do much more than showcase branded graphics alongside copy. They must empower the digital strategy of your brand.