Logging in to update content on your website often feels like a chore you could do without. So how often do you even need to it? [Read more…] about How often should I update my website?
There’s two parts to this post. The first is some guidance on external communications and remote working in your new situation and the second, at the end, is an offer of help if you need it. [Read more…] about Effective Communication and Working during Covid-19 (+ free support from Flat Cap)
Does your website tell people what they want to know?
(Or does it tell them what you want them to know?) [Read more…] about A very common mistake that many websites make
So many of our clients arrive with stories of awful projects that dragged on, underwhelmed on launch and didn't deliver any noticeable benefits afterwards.<!--more-->
In this post, we'll look at the real reasons why that happens, and give you the full framework needed to plan a successful project - even if your website developer doesn't understand your needs.
Websites are tricky projects
And if you didn't realise that before, you probably do now. It may have put you off ever trying to build a new website again.
If you're anything like a lot of our new clients, you spent a lot of time on your last website project and aren't really happy with how it turned out.
You tried your best to explain what you liked, but by the time the site launched you would have been secretly happy never to see your web designer ever again.
Worse still, once the site had been up a while, you realised it wasn't actually doing anything for you that your old website or your Facebook page weren't already doing just as well.
I see this all the time, and there's five common reasons why it happened. But first, let's throw a spanner in the works.
It's only partly your designer's fault
You might think that if you'd picked a different web designer, you would have had a different outcome.
That may be true.
But we've often taken on new clients who've previously worked with some of our absolute favourite web design companies in Leeds - companies that turn out amazing work - who still arrive with the same problems.
Does that mean they were bad clients? Does that mean you're a bad client?
Well, you'll be relieved to know that it isn't all your fault either.
Here are five things that make for a disappointing and stressful website project. If any of these sound familiar, then you and your designer had probably started on your project before you were truly ready. And, with the benefit of experience and some careful planning, you can totally fix that for next time...
Five things that make for a nightmare project
1. You didn't know what you really wanted.
If someone calls me for a consultation and says they want a new website, my first question is usually, "What for?".
That isn't because I'm terrible at my job and don't understand the point of a website. But the needs of one business or charity I work with are totally different to the next one.
If your requirements weren't agreed on before the contract was signed, you were taking a chance that your web designer understood your organisation well enough to know what your priorities were, and would be able to solve your problems as they went along.
2. The money conversation hadn't happened.
We all hate discussing money. The problem is, if you hadn't agreed on your requirements and solved them with different parts of your budget, you probably weren't on the same page right from the start.
In that situation, this happens:
Your designer might have thought they could skip a few things and still deliver what they thought you wanted on a small budget. Or they might have thought you wanted flawless design and were willing to wait for it.
You might have thought you could add some extra features and budget later on if things went well.
There might not have been a clear method to make sure the website paid back the money you invested in it.
Or - yes - it might have been that you and your designer just weren't the right fit.
Somebody told me recently that he had been working with his web designer for over a year and still hadn't got a website up and running. As we chatted, he admitted that the eCommerce site they were building was crucial to helping his business to survive, but he'd agreed to spend just £200 on it with a developer who was based over 300 miles away and was no longer contactable (more on communication in a moment). However he got to this point, it was clear that the money conversation hadn't really happened and so there was very little prospect of the website turning out a success.
Yep, there are plenty of ways in which money can make a website project a total nightmare.
3. You didn't have good goals
Somebody asked one of my colleagues recently if it was possible to build a new website for a niche product and get 100,000 'hits' a month for it. He did not take on that website project.
Why not? The goal wasn't properly defined. You can buy website traffic but it doesn't guarantee sales. You can build higher traffic levels but it might take ten years, or a change of product range.
If you set out on a new project without SMART goals, you risk never knowing whether your website has been a success.
Worse still, if you don't discuss them with your developer, they won't even have a chance to tell you whether your goals are realistic.
If your goals were limited to things like "making the phone ring more" and "getting more donations", then you didn't have targets you could tick off as you hit them.
4. Your content wasn't very good
This is a big one, and I want to tread carefully.
Every bad website project we've ever been aware of has, as one of its problems, involved delayed or low quality page content.
Articles like this one take a long time to write. I don't always enjoy putting my top priorities down to work on some really high quality page copy. (Hopefully you're finding this page useful - if so, it was worth my while!)
If your project had a long delay in it while you got round to writing content, or you had to get everything approved a committee of non-writers, you probably found it one of the most stressful parts of your website project.
And quite often, your customers aren't interested in the same things you are, so the content you put together doesn't really engage them in the way you need anyway.
5. Communication with your designer was ..... tough
Once things get sticky with unclear requirements, confusion over money and waiting for good content, communication quite often goes down the pan.
You start missing your regular meetings and ignoring their emails and phone calls, and they do the same to you.
Every so often there's a little breakthrough where you get some work done for a week or so, but then it's back to radio silence by either you or them.
Usually the communication problems are a symptom of a struggling project, not the cause. Nobody wants to have a difficult conversation and nobody wants to admit they are downing tools because of something that's gone unsaid and has now become a bigger problem.
There is a better way!
If these have struck a chord with you (and hopefully not hit a painful nerve, because that would really mix our metaphors up) there is good news.
It's totally possible to improve your website process and have a far better chance of your next project being a massive success.
Take some time to think about:
- What your organisation truly wants
- The potential benefits to you of investing in your website
- Your clear goals
- Your approach to content
- What sort of communication you would want with your ideal website designer
If you follow this framework, which we use with all of our clients, then I'm sure your next website project will be clearly defined, well planned and go on to turn out even better than you had hoped.
If you want an in-depth guide to help you address each of these five areas so that your next website project is a winner from the outset, download our free guide here.
[Because, if you haven't written a blog post about Gutenberg, are you even really a WordPress developer?]
The new version of WordPress opens up opportunities to make websites richer and more creative. But it arrives with a steep learning curve for casual users and widespread compatibility problems for millions of websites.
Read on to learn more about this major update and the approach we've chosen to look after our own clients.
Gutenberg: A long time in the offing
The WordPress industry spent most of 2018 waiting on the release of WordPress version 5 and its new system for editing posts and pages, Gutenberg.
Gutenberg had been in development since mid-2017 but plans to bundle it with WordPress took far longer than its creators had hoped. This is perhaps unsurprising; there are 38 million WordPress.org websites out there, in endless combinations of plugins, themes and custom code tweaks.
Despite the delay, when it finally landed in December 2018, it caused widespread problems across the millions of WordPress sites it was installed on. Most reputable web hosts didn't force the new software on their customers straight away. Many of the brave sites that did update immediately had compatibility issues. The WordPress team had realised this would happen, and had already released a plugin designed to undo the effects of Gutenberg.
So Gutenberg is, at least in the short term, potentially problematic for your website and your business. Before looking at how you should avoid it though, let's try to get to know it a bit better.
What is Gutenberg?
The Gutenberg software changes how you put content onto your WordPress website.
Instead of the old system of one editing box, with editing controls familiar to anyone who has used Microsoft Word or Google Docs, the new page editor starts with Blocks. In fact, WordPress are now referring to Gutenberg as the Block Editor.
Blocks are sections of content - headings, images, text, contact forms and so on. Gutenberg allows you to arrange these in the page editor and so produce complex page layouts more quickly.
Get to it, how does Gutenberg affect my business?
There's probably two ways this could affect you:
1. If you edit your own website. Gutenberg is completely different to the old page editor and will need some time to get used to. Fortunately there's lots of videos on YouTube already, and thousands of blog posts.
2. Compatibility issues with your themes and plugins. A lot changed under the bonnet with this WordPress update. Lots of themes and plugins, particularly premium ones from established developers, have been updated to play nicely with Gutenberg. But lots haven't.
In either case, there's one route you can try - the Classic Editor plugin. This disables most of the new features in WordPress 5.0, including Gutenberg, and so resolves most (sadly not all) of the glitches that users are experiencing.
The Classic Editor plugin has had a massive uptake, being installed on millions of websites in a matter of weeks. WordPress has outlined plans to maintain the plugin until at least 2022. Even so, it's really only a temporary measure so I've planned carefully to make sure our clients' sites are future-proofed.
(If you need help with your WordPress website, skip down to the last part of this post.)
Are you going to use Gutenberg?
Most reputable WordPress studios have been using advanced page builders similar to Gutenberg for years now already. While it's great to see WordPress starting to catch up with the professional tools, it's unlikely to affect our workflow anytime soon. If we build your site, you're not that likely to encounter the Gutenberg Block Editor for the foreseeable future.
I'll be making sure we have the expertise here to support our clients, whether we built their site or they took out a Care Plan with us for a site that uses different tools.
Speaking of which...
How are you handling this update for your existing clients?
If you're on a Care Plan, the good news is that I've taken the decision to include this unusually large update for all our clients at no extra cost. This will include installing the Classic Editor too, so very little will really change.
To carry out the update we'll use staging versions of hosted websites to learn about the behaviour of our usual trusted combinations of WordPress software extensions. We use our scale to licence these annually and include them in the cost of Care Plans. It's an economical approach that means our sites are always secure and packed with the latest features.
Once we're happy, we'll take a final backup and start updating WordPress on your live site.
If we find compatibility issues with unusual specific pieces of software that you or your previous developer chose, we'll get in touch with you to agree a plan.
If you want to start using the new Block Editor, we can enable it for you and support you as needed.
If you're not on a Care Plan, but we host your site, you need to urgently address the question of compatibility for your own website. Our hosting systems will soon (potentially before the end of January) have to automatically update your site to WordPress 5, for our own systems' security and to keep us focused on supporting the latest software. If you need help carrying out a managed update and identifying any compatibility problems, get in touch.
Can you check my WordPress website and get it ready for Gutenberg?
Of course! If you're not a Flat Cap client, we offer a flat price website audit to quickly give you a technical and strategic assessment of your site. The insights are usually pretty eye-opening!
If needed we can also carry out safe, staged updates to your site and walk you through the upgrades without any technical knowledge needed on your part.
If you want a website audit, get in touch here.
Gutenberg is a game changer in the world of WordPress. Individuals are going to have access to tools similar to what the pros use. But it's not going to be replacing those more mature page builders, and it's going to upset a lot of hobbyists along the way. The Classic Editor plugin will help lots of people in the medium term.
Our advice? Get your site securely and safely updated ASAP, and embrace the new features.
Leave your questions below!