January 2, 2016
Here I'm going to be giving you my top tips for choosing the correct and realistic feature set for your websites. I will be discussing which Content Management System (CMS) platform to choose, taking a phased approach to development and how to handle extra feature requests.
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Make sure that you choose your CMS platform carefully. Ideally, I'd just leave it down to your web developer to recommend the platform that you're going to be using. And that they're going to be comfortable with using it. Check that it will be easy for you to use. Don't forget, it's going to be you who's going to be adding your pages of content, creating blog articles, uploading videos and everything else content wise.
Work with your web developer to make sure that they're building on a platform which they're comfortable with, but on a platform which you're going to be comfortable editing your content with.
One of the most commonly used platforms out there is WordPress. There are some inherent problems with WordPress which I will be talking about in a later blog post, but with a good web developer, you can get those ironed out. Features lie security and performance tend to be superceded by how easy a CMS platform is to customise with a theme. From my experience off the shelf CMS platforms can be bloated with code and consequently run slowly. The good news is that there are ways to optimise them and speed them up. That's something which we can help with. Check with your web developer that they understand the concepts of security and site performance and the impact it will have on your website search engine PageRank and security.
In my book and in my series of tutorials, I talk about some of the best testing tools available to make sure that your website is working as well for your business as it possibly can be. A CMS is a very simple tool that should allow you to add, edit, and delete pages of content to your website. And when I say content, it could be blog articles, it could be products, it could be a gallery or portfolio of images, it could be a series of videos, it could be potentially anything that you want to add on to your website. It could be courses that you want to sell, e-commerce, all sorts of things. You also want to check that there is some element of social media integration with whatever system you use.
Social media and socially generated content is huge at the moment, especially video. It’s the new form of organic SEO. Whenever I talk about social, I also mean vide, so using tools such as YouTube and Vimeo. Make sure that there's some kind of integration because those external types of media will be driving traffic back to your website. The two have to talk to one another. If you're not planning on using Twitter or YouTube or anything like that, then there's not really much point at this early stage including those features on your website, but plan ahead, you might want to add them at a later stage.
If you've created a specification document and it's very long consider breaking that project up into a number of smaller phases. What this does is it just makes it easier, in the first instance, for your web developer to estimate a time and cost against each of the different phases of work.
This makes everything a more realistic because if you have a large website project with thousands of features on it, it's going to take your developer a long time and you're going to get frustrated.Mainly because it will take so long to get a product delivered to you. Another problem which co-exists with that is from when you originally wrote your specification document your business may be in a completely different place to where your business is by the time your website is delivered. Ensure everything happens in realistic time scales so that everyone involved and all of the features are talking to each other to make sure that you get the best out of your website for your business.
If your project is large scale then I would consider looking at the lean principles by a guy called Eric Reis. Reis wrote a book called The Lean Startup, and he talks about something called a minimum viable product.
Imagine this; a new project that you're working on. You need a website. Rather than building out this great big project, with all of the different features, why don't you try and create the smallest version that you possibly can and take it to your market. Here users can test it and get some feedback back to you before you then commit to going full steam ahead with this project.
I've worked with several organisations who have come to me with a huge feature set. We've taken it to market and tested it, and through the testing they determined that it's just not a viable product and so they pulled the plug, saving tens of thousands of pounds of money and all of the development time in the process.
Consider getting market feedback early. Something called a feedback loop cycle. I talked about the phases of development earlier on. At each phase of development, release something to your marketplace, to your customers. Before you add any more features, it might be that the customers come back with some useful user feedback.
Let's say that first feedback loop takes a month, rather than the entire project which takes six months. Well, if you get some feedback after month one, and it comes back positive or negative, it gives you an opportunity to pivot and change your course of direction at a much earlier stage, rather than wasting lot more time and money. It might be that during that feedback process, your customers come up with a great feature that you haven't even considered or thought of that you need to bring forward into an earlier phase of development.
This one's obvious; extra features add cost to websites. It goes without saying. There are loads of plugins on WordPress, but every time you want your developer to add another WordPress plugin and test it, well, that's going to cost you more money.
I would suggest that before you add features, make sure that you, especially if your business is very young then grow your audience first before you switch on features. Then as your audience grows and there's demand for your products and services switch on features (such as eCommerce). When you add e-commerce to a website, the costs tend to go up dramatically both in terms of up front dev time and ongoing support and fees. In varying degrees.
This is a tried and tested runway for your website launch. First we'll get traffic to your site before you then switch on your full e-commerce checkout and start making sure that you're making money before it's costing you any money.
Decide what are the “must haves” for your website versues than the “nice to haves” and what value they will add to your website. A must have might be just a straightforward text based blog. A nice to have feature might be to integrate media and social media automatically into that blog. Decide which one of those features you absolutely need and must have and where your starting point is.