Imagine building a house without architectural drawings. The construction crew arrives at your vacant lot, and you hand them a few sketches that you’ve thrown together on a piece of scrap paper. Waving your arms around, you announce that you want the basic living spaces, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, etc., wherever they fit. As construction progresses, the rest of the details will fall into place.
You might end up with something a bit off.
Building a website is comparable to building a house. Poor planning, disorganized management and unnecessary delays can lead to disastrous results. Here are a few common pitfalls that we often see when law firms build websites.
- Not spending the necessary time on determining the best content management system (CMS). Websites can be built on open source platforms (like WordPress and Drupal) or proprietary systems. Just be aware that, as with the foundation of your home, once you build on it, it’s not easy to change.
- Not finalizing your navigation structure during the strategic planning stage. Your information architecture should list your entire menu (through all levels) and show how content is related. Do you want to link attorney-specific practice areas, blogs and news content on attorney bio pages? Do you want to connect bio pages to practice area pages? Determine this structure in advance, in much the same way an architect might diagram key systems, like plumbing and electrical.
- Forgetting to keep track of all URLs created after content migration. Once content from your live site is migrated to the development site, all new content will have to be added manually to the development website before launch. Make sure to keep track of any pages that are published after migration.
- Getting bogged down with insignificant content changes as the launch date approaches. Typically, several members of the firm will look at the new website on the development server. This analysis can trigger minor edits that delay the launch. Ask people to divide their punch lists into “immediate” and “after-launch” changes.
- Launching without conducting the proper quality assurance. This phase is always a particularly labor-intensive task. Your developer will ensure that all functionality is working properly. Inevitably, though, some things fall between the cracks. Select key members of the firm who will review the website looking for broken functionality, missing content, dead links and other issues that affect the user experience.
Creating a Development Process That Works
Invest time in the beginning to plan, so what you end up with is what you wanted. Your website project manager should lead the planning phase, working with several team members. The process will depend on the agency selected, but the steps generally follow this formula:
- Set goals for website development, functionality, implementation and desired results. Remember to continually ask: “What do we want to achieve with the website?” and “Is our website strategy aligned with our law firm's marketing and business goals?“
- Develop your project timeline. Check to see whether any major scheduling conflicts will preempt a timely launch.
- Finalize selection of your website developer. Have your team and processes in place to reach your objectives and make sure all members can meet their deadlines.
- Determine the appropriate platform (CMS) for your site. If you are revising or adding to your content, begin the process immediately. Generally, content creation, not programming, holds up a site launch.
- Define the design theme. Your website designer should work on various site designs from which you can select. Choose a design that aligns with the site’s goals, as well as differentiates and supports the firm’s brand.
- Keep to the schedule. Your project manager and development team should lead your firm through the development stages and put in checks and balances to keep the process on track.
New website projects can be arduous if you’re underprepared. However, with proper planning, good project management and a little luck from the scheduling gods, your new site can and should come off without a hitch!