To all of our clients: If we thought we got it before, now we really (really) do.
You see, this year we wanted to launch a new website for Peaktwo. Our current site was almost two years old and to be honest, it never quite captured our vibe or presented the information as seamlessly as it could.
It wasn’t that we didn’t try to create an awesome site from the outset, but—like so many of you— we had too many other things happening to give the new site the attention it deserved. The whole “Cobbler’s kids have no shoes” syndrome, that was us.
And so we didn’t painstakingly map out a strong web strategy, and didn’t accurately define our audience. The result was a web presence that while fun to look at, didn’t do much to convey our strengths or help us stand out from the masses.
So we resolved that 2017’s site re-launch would be different. We set out a schedule with deadlines. We resolved to follow the process we use with our clients. We’d implement all our best practices around design, SEO, and content creation. We’d make the site a priority – nothing was going to slow us down…until January became March and March became June and June became August.
Well now it is SEPTEMBER, we are finally live, and you know what? We love our new site, but even more than that, we learned a lot during the journey and thought it would be fun to share some lessons with you.
Lesson #1 – Be Ready.
Oh, we thought we were ready in Q4 of 2016 for a January 1st launch. It sounded so nice: “We launch on Jan 1!” Sure we had a lot more to do—namely, write the content, take photography, gather testimonials—but the design was done, the site was coded, and aren’t those the hardest parts? Uh, nope.
Which leads to our first lesson: You need have all your ducks in a row before you kick off your website project. There are two basic chunks to think about: who you are and how you will get the work done. Make sure you have thought deeply about your company identity, about what you do, and what makes you different. For your audience, know exactly whom you are speaking to, what you want to say, and what you want them to do or learn when they get to your site.
As for the how it’s going to get done—the blocking and tackling—this piece of the pie is a biggie. Figure out who is going to doing what and make sure they truly have the time to do it within the time frame. Set a schedule…and, speaking of schedules…
Lesson #2 – Set a Launch Date and Work Backwards.
If you are truly ready—meaning you’ve actually done everything in lesson #1—set a date for launch and work backwards. But don’t just circle that date in red and tell everyone to hit the gas. Grab the fine hairs and keep everyone accountable by creating milestones for strategy, architecture, design, content, photography, SEO, development, testing and launch, and even post-launch communications. (Yeah, it’s a lot of stuff).
And about that launch date. Be REASONABLE. Just because that conference is in four weeks, does not make four weeks a reasonable date. And don’t include the three weeks everyone takes off for Thanksgiving and Christmas as part of your schedule. If you aren’t working then, neither are they.
Estimate your launch period based on the size and complexity of your site and the resources you have available. Then select a real date—not “the week of” or “sometime in Q4.” Pick an actual Month, Day and Year. Considering tattooing it on your forehead or engraving it somewhere.
Lesson #3 – Don’t Move Your Launch Date.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Do whatever it takes to stick to the schedule. Having been reasonable and smart about the date will go a long way to making this a non-issue.
Lesson #4 – Holy Sh*t Content is Hard.
Design? Design is easy! Design is fun. Everybody likes design, but content? Oof, writing content is like scheduling an appointment with the dentist or starting an exercise regimen. It’s the hardest part of any website project, hands down.
Now sure, we’ve come up against exceptions, but they’re rare. When we launched a new site for Arabella Advisors, the content was a breeze. Why? They had a team of seasoned writers on staff dedicated to the project. That felt like cheating.
The truth is: if you aren’t a great writer, find one! (That’s a blog post for another time.) To be honest, we dragged our feet a bit on content, and even worked with three different writers along the way. We’d thought that a writer would be able to help us express our voice in a way we never could. But here comes lesson #4, part b: no one knows your voice, your culture—your special sauce—better than the people in your organization. You can’t expect even the best writer to spend a half-hour on the phone with you and understand everything that makes your business unique or dynamic.
That said, here’s what a really good writer can do. A good writer can ask the right questions. A good writer can tease out the language and feelings your want your copy to express. A good writer can turn run-on sentences filled with technical jargon into flowing prose, making straw into gold, as it were. And most importantly, when you seek a writer to work with, it’s about more than just hiring a wordsmith. It’s about finding someone who is as finicky about deadlines as possible, who will also hold you accountable and keep your on a productive path– NOT the other way around.
Lesson #5 – Have a Post-Launch Plan.
Launching a new site is an exciting time, a big event. This is a huge success! Just look at what you all accomplished! The CEO gave her blessing, the sales team is salivating for the Glengarry leads, the marketing team is patting themselves on the back…but the rest of the world has been spinning madly on, with no idea at all of what’s being going on behind the scenes.
And they won’t unless you have plan for how you are going to roll out the new site. How are you going to announce it? By email blast, social media, a press release? Will it be tied to a promotion or a contest? And who on your staff is going to do to all these things? Was that accounted for in your schedule? What about metrics? Did you set goals for the new site in your strategy? How are you tracking them and who is responsible for measuring site success? So many questions, which all need answers. Do not pass Go, return to lesson #1, to get those logistical ducks in a row.
Which brings me to the final lesson we’ve learned, probably the most important one, and where we are at today:
Lesson #6 – The Journey Doesn’t End Here
Your website launch is not the end of the road; it’s a tollbooth, a checkpoint. Site launch is the start of something bigger—here you are, looking at very reason you decided to launch a new site in the first place. Now, for the the good stuff…