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Web Development Checklist

Existing brand elements – logos, color palettes, style guides

These elements are critical and must be firm. If you’ve never had a designer develop these for you then now is a good time to firm this up. These elements are part of your identity – the path to how people identify you and associate you with your mission. They are not optional, and they should not be squishy.

Purpose/vision for redesign or redevelopment

Be concrete and honest here – “be less embarrassed” is a legitimate goal (if not a low bar) dig into the deeper objectives – if people were happily going to your site – what would they do there? How would it change your organization? Would you sleep better? Why? Get even the unreasonable expectations out on the table – “it would change our world,” “the whole world would know what we do and love us for it” – then boil it down to the concrete, measurable objectives.

[  ] Three central goals
[  ] Three tertiary goals

Strategic goals to be achieved and concrete ways to measure that achievement
Once you’ve gotten honest with your objectives, figure out how to measure them. Hits, visitors, unique views are one element, but they shouldn’t be the only element. You should have an array of measurable outcomes – hits, and visits but also sign-ups and registration, comments and emails … if you charted the path of a user’s engagement – what do they do as they become more engaged? What are the actions they take? It might be useful to develop a few personas (mock user members) who might represent a typical user. As they click, visit, share, register, contribute, complain, renew what does it look like when there are many more of users just like that one?

Architecture including new and old content

No one loves their website but hates their content – or hates their website but loves their content. Usually, an organization has taken so long to address how their site has become outdated that they’ve not spent time on the content. Since they don’t want anyone going to the site, they don’t invest in the content. Eventually, they arrive at a place where they are likely to say “there is very little we’re planning to save of the current site” – still there’s usually stuff. If nothing else there are links. You’ll want to maintain links that are in search engines to protect your natural SEO, but you also want to be clear about what kind of redirects, content migration needs, and who is doing what. Pay particular attention to select things like recurring donations, specialized content management, 3rd party systems and other integrations you may well be taking for granted.

Content ownership and leadership

At the beginning of the process try to be clear-eyed about the ultimate ownership of content. Many organizations have aspirational goals of “everyone contributing” to the website. After 20+ years I’ve concluded this is unrealistic, though admirable. What typically happens is everyone dumps their content onto one or two people in the organization. This doesn’t mean the goal of having a site “easy enough for anyone with some training” to manage is a bad thing. It’s the correct goal. It is also essential that the effort to update and publish be low enough that the dumpees do not have to re-learn or develop specialized skills to operate what should be a core function of their duties.

Editorial calendar

“The site needs a makeover – the content is atrocious. We’ll rewrite some of it, but most of it isn’t even coming over. The rest we’ll do once it’s launched.” Sound familiar? I’m not sure I can remember the last project we did that DIDN’T have this sentiment. I advocate coming up with an editorial calendar – based on the skills, priorities, and objectives of the organization. It needn’t be written in stone, but it needs to be real. Getting concrete topics set up and expectations clear will help keep things from grinding to a halt. The effort of redesigning, and redeveloping a website is a big one – preserving the momentum is essential.

Required functions and their relationship to the strategic goals and objectives.

Get practical. What functions do you need on your website? Be explicit and concrete – newsletter signup, foldout navigation, blog topics, search – these might be obvious but between you and me – a developer might not agree about the definition of “obvious.” Be sure to crawl your site for little-specialized tools and features like quizzes, calculators, forms, widgets. All of this impacts the implementation, and all of it is “devil in the details” stuff. Often this kind of thing is buried deep in the site – it may or may not need to move, but someone needs to decide.

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