When it comes to building a website for your organisation there are so many options available, how do you ensure you will create an effective online presence with a solution that is flexible and future proof? It was this quandary that led Gallery to evaluate website build options. We wanted to create a Website Build Solution that met our organisational needs and was also a scalable, robust and flexible way to deliver websites to our clients.
We’d previously built our websites as bespoke hand coded sites, hand coded meant we could deliver whatever the client wanted but it was completely unique to each client and each setup was built from scratch. Technology develops quickly, especially on the web and the demand to keep up to date with the latest methods for delivering content to users can make it very hard for organisations to keep their web presence relevant. No sooner have you paid for a fancy new site than it is out of date! Nowerdays our clients realise they need to view their site as an ongoing project rather than a static document, and we wanted to develop a method to best help them achieve this.
We spent many months investigating modern web technologies and the best approaches to working with them. As a result of this work we have gone through a complete re-invention of our own website and are now producing websites for our clients that are flexible and future proof. We wanted to share this process with you and explain what factors we believe are vital for a successful website re-build.
If you're looking to create your first website or your site is ready for an update or complete re-write, in our experience there are several key stages that make up a successful project
1. Prepare and define - Document your goal & key objectives of your website, identify your requirements, resources, timeframe and what criteria you need to meet for the project to be a success.
2. Make sure your content takes centre stage - The design should revolve around your content and your mission. Consider up front how much multi-media elements will be used.
3. Make sure your organisation’s purpose is immediately apparent - Putting an abbreviated mission statement right on the home page or put a prominent link somewhere on the home page.
4. Make sure your website is consistent with your other promotional materials - Your logo should use the same logo and colours as your other promotional materials. Maintaining a consistent brand throughout your organisation greatly increases your chances of being recognised in passing. Your website should echo the look and feel of those materials increases brand identity. Make sure the content is consistent and proofread.
5. Include a news section or blog - Including a blog or news section has big advantages...
To increase traffic and repeat visits.
To increase the exposure for your site.
Constantly-updated content increases your search engine visibility.
6. Make your site media-friendly - Getting media attention can have a huge impact on a non profit organisation. Offer downloadable images from your site so journalists and bloggers don’t have to contact your and wait for a response. Include quotes that journalists and other organisations may use.
7. Choose the right web partner - The right partner is vital to a successful website build, they should not only build the site itself but help manage the project, help you define your site and support you in achieving an effective online presence. Ensure the web-designer understands the purpose and make sure everyone shares the same vision.
First impressions count, and obviously the design of a site plays a huge part in this. The design of your site should reinforce your brand and be created for your target market. Of equal importance is the role design plays in the usability of a site. A good design will make it clear to your users how to navigate the site, and should be able to influence the paths they take through the content you have to offer. Likewise a design that is not geared properly towards the web can really hinder site navigation, and negatively affect user experience. Designers and website technicians should have a working relationship which prioritises the user experience.
We’ve worked hard to create working practices which assist in the client, designer and technicians working well together to create intuitive, clean sites which enhance the client’s brand. One of the key ways we achieve this is through the use of a simple questionnaire which the client fills in prior to the project planning meeting, this is then discussed with our designer who then produces two different initial themes which the client then gives feedback on. Then before the designs go to the client the technician and project manager review and feedback on usability of the design, these designs are then uploaded to Gallery’s resolution tool which demonstrates how visitors will see your new site depending on the resolution they have set.
Perhaps the most important decision to make when embarking on a website build involves understanding the technology the partner is suggesting, which most likely will be some form of Content Management System (CMS).
For those not familiar with the term, a CMS is a piece of software which enables your staff to publish content (such as articles, videos etc.) to their website in a collaborative manner, and without having to know computer code. There are many different CMS’s out there, all of which behave differently and have different pros and cons (more on this later).
Choosing the wrong CMS can result in:
- A slow, complicated and non user friendly system
- Organisations being forced to employ a large team of tech savvy individuals just to get content online
- An inflexible system which is built to do a very specific job, but is unable to grow and develop as the business requires
- Being completely tied into working with the company providing the CMS
With that in mind, the questions to ask any Website Build partner who is vying for your business are:
- How will we update content on this site? Ask for a demonstration
- Will the site be future proof? How easily can we add new features to the site when needed?
- How will people find the content on our site, is it search engine friendly?
- If we decide to stop working with you, what will happen to our website and its content?
The choice of Content Management System is extremely important then. But what options are available for you to choose from?
Bespoke – Company built software
There are many companies that have custom built Content Management Systems which they will license out to you, along with full support, hosting etc. These are often built for specific sectors and therefore their clients have common requirements. Features added are relevant to that sector and development of the software is funded by the client base.
For very specific sector configurations, where the business model is unlikely to change, custom systems such as these can work fantastically. However it is worth being aware that taking this route ties you in to the software company’s vision for what their CMS should do. Should you ever need extra functionality you will either need to pay the company money, sometimes substantial, to create it for you or you will need to start your site from scratch with another CMS (potentially re-entering the majority of content you’ve already added).
Open Source software is where programmers collaborate to create software that can be freely distributed and modified by other users. There are all types of Open Source software out there, from web browsers (Firefox) to office software (OpenOffice) to operating systems (Linux). There are also of course Content Management Systems, the most widely used being Wordpress and Drupal. These systems all have massive amounts of functionality and flexibility, as they are constantly being added to by members of the Open Source community. Since the code is open to the community (not owned by a specific company) then everything needed to make changes is held within, you are not tied into a specific organisation which owns the code that your site is written in.
The downside of using an Open Source CMS, for the general user, is that by its nature it comes with no guarantees that it will work or that you will be able to get support should you need it. It is provided ‘as is’. This is fine for an individual looking for a challenge, but for an organisation looking for stability the learning curve is likely to be too steep. Unless you have someone in a dedicated site admin role in-house, who is willing to really get their sleeves dirty under the hood, it is hard to recommend taking the plunge into an Open Source CMS regardless of the undoubted benefits they have to offer.
So where does that leave a charity or SME on a budget, who recognises the need to secure a proper web presence for themselves?
Having engaged in our research into current web technologies, it was this question which led to Gallery exploring a setup whereby we could take on the task of leveraging the power of an Open Source CMS on behalf of our clients, thus giving them flexibility, stability and greater functionality. The idea being to leave them confident that they own a site which is free to grow and that isn’t governed by a third party, and yet which has a knowledgeable administration team to set it up and look over it.
Which Open Source CMS?
We needed to decide upon a CMS to work with. Mentioned previously are two of the most widely used Open Source Content Management Systems; Wordpress and Drupal. Both have have their strengths and weaknesses, but in terms of flexibility we feel Drupal stands head and shoulders over the others. Wordpress is fantastic for brochure and blogging sites but just isn't designed for enterprise level.
Drupal has a friendly well established community, and importantly adopts a unique modular approach to adding functionality which means that all parts of the site can talk to each other. This means for example that you can add a piece of content, and it will automatically propagate throughout the site depending on how you tag it.
Drupal can be employed to create almost any kind of site imaginable, and it already powers many sites that you may not expect, such as:
We’ve slowly pieced together an installation of Drupal which contains all the features a client may need, and are able to add new features easily and with little fuss when needed. Our server setup allows us to maintain and keep an eye on our sites simultaneously, and our internal setup ensures a personal service which makes the site building process enjoyable for both us and our clients. So far we have produced a number of sites for clients using this approach, and everyone involved has been very happy with the results.
You can take a further look at our website build pages on this website which gives information about our offerings, clients, prices and functionality included.
If you’d like to talk to us about your site, please click on the big contact button to your right (or use the contact link at the bottom of the page if you’re a traditionalist).
Some examples of our work can be viewed below. Just click the thumbnail images on the right to navigate through them.