What it takes to make a website

Generally I like reading Seth Godin’s work, but I really thought he missed the point with How to make a website: a tactical guide for marketers. There’s a lot very wrong with his approach. He attempts to create a framework, and perhaps his words are best for the start of a project. His ideas usually spread like wildfire, but this time he got a little burned. Posts like How Not to Make a Website came to the forefront as the discussion. Having worn different hats in website development I had my own feelings regarding his post and wanted to clear the air.

Websites should be collaborative efforts

Agile project management and web development
It can be messy, but it’s also fun.

Seth’s ideas of scouring the Internet for ideas and examples is not a terrible idea in theory. I would go a little deeper. Understand your audiences and find elements that work for them. Understand why those elements work. Don’t pick just the flashy, hip thing. What might work for one site doesn’t always mean it will work for you. Designing your web presence isn’t about the a la carte of web technology. It should be about determining what will meet your business goals and your target audience’s needs. When you hit that sweet spot you’ll see more results than you could ever achieve looking at what others are doing.

Create a complete team

The website team should consistent of marketing, IT, business users, and executive stakeholders of the site. This team creates the vision and direction of the web for your business. Identify each member’s role within the team and meet early and often. It is important to be consistent in how often you meet to keep on task.

Websites begin with goals

What will this website accomplish for your customers? How will the website impact your business? Answering important questions about your business can point to the technical solutions you can implement for your website.

Content, content, content

Over 90% of all websites I was involved in that didn’t meet deadlines had one key failure – content. The issue can be you are attempting to write too much content. The issue can be the lack of content. It’s even possible the content you have doesn’t work for the website’s vision. Address this early in the project. It will guide in site navigation or user experience.


Compare two designs side by side. One has “Lorem ipsum” in its content, and the other has your real content. Which makes more impact on how your site looks and feels? Placing content before design can increase the effectiveness of your mockups. You can realistically compare image placement with text and make sure all flows well for your target audience.

Be lean, be agile

“Last step: Hand the Keynote doc to your developers and go away until it’s finished.” When Seth said this, my heart sank. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I know what he’s trying to say. He’s pointing out that marketers wouldn’t have to write a single line of code. I think that’s fair, but this is such a poor example. Not everyone needs to touch code. Not everyone needs to understand the code being used to create the website. Everyone should meet consistently before, and after, scheduled milestones to stay on the same page.

The marriage between marketing and IT comes from the pairing of business and content solutions with technology. Information technology cannot determine user experience alone. Marketing can’t always know what’s best or capable alone. Working  and solving problems together is the only way a website becomes truly successful.

We can’t always be right

Seth Godin has a lot of great nuggets of ideas and information. Unfortunately we can’t always be right. The worst thing you can do is hand over something and walk away to leave development to their own demise. The worst thing in the world is for development to tell marketing to go away until it’s ready. I’ve been a part of that model before. It rarely works. Constant streams of communication are vital daily to ensure a successful project. I challenge the notion to build mockups and leave.

I’ve spent the past two and a half years developing a new content management system (CMS) for Ball State. It took team members from all areas – marketing, IT, a third-party vendor, designers, writers, and business users who will be using the system. It was a collaborative effort which required weekly, sometimes daily meetings to get through various sprints. The development life cycle was agile and was able to pivot at nearly a  moment’s notice. This is how you build a website. This is how you work together as a team.

Image source: VFS Digital Design

Do you have any tips for building a successful website?