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I find it odd that in this day in age the public facing web presence of any organization whether it be non-profit or commercial is still perceived as a one time investment. Like all companies in the small to mid-sized business range the reality of budget is something everyone must work within. In order to put these efforts in perspective, I thought it might be valuable to break down the elements of a successful web presence down to more than the standard fan faire. As I search around the web I find a close comparison to John Madden announcing football, and the explanation of a successful web presence, "Your going to need a good website and a lead conversion focused design!" usually wrapped up with, "Call us and find out how!". This isn't helping anyone make a tactical decision in whether or not an organization should even look at taking on the challenge that's presented to them on carving out their piece of the online pie.

So I've included a full break-out (after more years then I'd like to admit) in the web space to what we've found derives genuine value for success on the web.

Web Management

Web Management is the term we use to describe the full life cycle of any web presence. Your web presence is just like a child in that it continually needs to be nurtured in order for it to become the next President of the United States or Professional Football Player you've dreamed about. Usually the best strategy is to start from a clean slate if you haven't addressed your web presence in many years but their are always exceptions to the rule. Think of web management in four major categories: Project Scope, Hosting, Software Support, and Continued Growth.

Project Scope

The project scope is your first step into ensuring that you're not horribly wasting your money on a new online brochure with an updated look. At Unleashed Technologies, LLC we follow a very simple rule that's proved very effective for our clients. Does it save you or make you money? If it doesn't do one of these two things (or both) you're probably making a lateral move that's not helping your organization in a substantial way. The thought of it looking current and professional is almost not even a consideration anymore It's expected as an unspoken requirement of any project. I'd have serious reservations with any web firm that said, "Did you also want this to look professional and correctly identify your brand? Because that's not included.".

When looking at the web scope there are definitely some areas you can approach fairly uniformly. In order to address both non-profit and commercial organization I've left this a little broader then I'd like but I still feel it will offer substantial guidance.

  1. Do you have a CRM/AMS for seamless integration?
  2. Would you alleviate administrative workload from internal staff by offering key resources within the website? Are they tracked/managed from other systems?
  3. What's the key factor for this project and what's your expected result after completion?
  4. How are you creating web engagement for your clients and visitors?

There are many more questions to consider but these basic question will quickly yield to the fact that you have a substantial opportunity to reduce overhead, increase your exposure to new opportunity, and create new value to your existing client base. Perhaps of this list one of the most important is integrating seamlessly with your web site as the front end portal to your CRM/AMS that offers event registration, direct lead assignment, support portals, training portals, updatable client records, and much more.

Web Focused Hosting

All hosting is not created equal although the powers that dominate the lions share of the market would have you believe so. There are many different types of hosting and it's more important to look at YOUR EXPECTATIONS of a hosting company before making an arbitrary selection. One of the major areas that small to mid sized business make a mistake on is hosting, believing that a Network Solutions, GoDaddy, or some other equivalent works terrific.

If you simplify the hosting options out there you'll find three major veins of hosting; shared hosting, virtual private servers, and dedicated environments. I've used this analogy a thousand times and I gaurantee you'll hear it a thousand more, "Nobody cares about the uptime of your website for less than a lunch at a fast food restaurant.". You're kidding yourself if you believe otherwise. Of the major commodity vendors none of them have any obligation (legally) to have back-up copies of your data, respond before 24/48 hours during an outage, or take proactive care of your hosting environment. You as the person(s) investing in this new web presence need to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is my expectation/goal for web traffic to my site?
  2. What kind of capabilities and features do I want (the vast majority of the commodity vendors don't support automated scripts, etc)?
  3. If my website was to go down for two full days would I care?
  4. If my website was hacked by a group of high school kids that put indecent pictures up? Would I be embarassed in my business community?
  5. Am I willing to deal with the FBI?

However you decide to tackle hosting I've always made the recommendation that if you're dealing with a full service web organization you utilize their hosting products/services or if they don't and have a recommended partner, you take a serious look at that as well. These individuals are industry experts and their services/recommendations are directly attached to their professional reputation.

Platform/Software Support

So one of the largest mistakes made is that once the project scope is completed, deployed in the hosting environment, and made live for the world to see nobody ever looks at the platform it was built on again. New security patches, enhancements, and options are available on a weekly/monthly/quarterly basis. Just like your business or personal computer some software upgrades have alot to offer and others are just critical for protecting you against the scum of the internet that choose to be malicious for no apparent reason. Your software support plan should always cover:

  1. W3C HTML Compliancy
  2. Platform and Software Patches (Monthly/Quarterly)
  3. Site Audits (Broken Links, Damaged Web Pages, and Errors are Unprofessional Always)
  4. Sitemap/Webmaster Management
  5. State of Readiness for New Enhancements

This is a great starting point and because these tasks are simple in nature you'll not be terribly hurt (financially) by taking on a plan that ensures your always ready for the next big feature, protected against the next big exploit, or just won that big project because your site was well put together.

Future Growth

In the classic world people called this retainer. In our world we call it growth because whoever is performing graphics design, web design, web development, online media, and more should be proactively making recommendations to you on what would best benefit you in reaching your online goals. The web is a continually evolving place. For instance, most of our website that we build and maintain are getting mobile web versions or mobile web applications if they don't already have them.

You'll often have great ideas and you need to be able to take them to your web team in a manner that doesn't slow progression but allows it to move freely. The inverse is true for the web firm who's goal is to help you meet your goals and offer new innovative options tailored to your specific needs.

What's Essential?

Here is what I believe is genuinely essential to all web projects. If you're working within a limited budget you'll want to prepare for the following:

  1. Project Scope
  2. Hosting
  3. Web Support Plan (Monthly or Quarterly)

The project scope is the one time investment and usually represents the lions share of your organizations investment. The hosting and web support plan will make up your regular monthly/quarterly/annual costs for the web presence. It's hard to put target ranges on what you'll pay for these plans because each web presence is unique. Here is what you must know when learning and discovering these plans; pricing should be standardized and then that standard pricing metric should be applied to your project.

It's common in our industry to find a lack of system or established pricing ruleset for what these plans should cost. If the web firm your working with can't clearly communicate to you limitations of traffic, hard drive space, options, traffic, or how the support pricing plan is structured then you need to find yourself another web firm to do these things.

Final Considerations

If you noticed I didn't list a "Growth Plan" as a critical component. That's because the base assumption is made that you'll be integrating new content, doing new graphics work, and adding new pages on your own utilizing a content management system. If you don't have time to do this I would recommend at a very minimum a ten hour growth package per month in order to make sure that you're staying current with information. Once you make this investment your ranking and relevancy is decided by what you contribute. Take this seriously or you'll level out in web traffic very quickly!