I’m not here to sell you a website

But if that’s the next component your organization needs to make it’s digital strategy more coherent, then I’d like to hook you up with one that exactly meets your current need, while establishing a durable foundation on which to build, as your company’s ambitions increase, and its needs evolve.

If you already know what you want, whether it’s a new site, a new administrative tool, or a little help handling some of your engineering team’s overflow, or if you’d just like to bend the ear of an expert while you conduct your own analysis of how to take your online presence up another notch, please contact me here to schedule a free consultation.

Otherwise, if you’re shopping around for a new website, one of the greatest challenges you face is probably the fact that you already have one.

If you’re lucky, it’s a five page promotional site. The PDF version of your menu is a little out of date, but the download link still works. The order online tab still correctly redirects to GrubHub, even though you haven’t received a reminder to renew your maintenance contract since 2007, and you have to assume the cost of hosting it wouldn’t be better spent on a yellow pages ad, mainly because who knew to ask for analytics in the 90’s, right?.

The good news in that case is that you’ll be pleasantly astonished to learn what you could replace it with now, probably for less than you originally paid for it. If that’s the boat your in, then shoot me a line. At the very least, I can reacquaint you with the landscape of possibilities and help get you pointed down a path to a better place.

Hopefully, though, your situation is a little more involved than that at this point.

Your organization’s web sites may have started out as isolated places to plant a catalog, a blog, or a shopping cart, but over time they’ve grown together. If you scan your ticket tracker logs, you’re likely to find components intended for use by customers have turned out to be indispensable tools for your sales force, and that a lot of the new feature requests have come from them.

You might not even have to scratch the bark that deeply to find a tangle of roots and tendrils reaching deep into your back office, not only wrapped around your databases, CRM and email systems, but touching all sorts of offline operations and workflows as well.

This is categorically a good thing.

It means whatever you’ve been doing is effective. Your business has been growing and evolving online.

It can be a little intimidating, though, especially when trying to root out cruft, or isolate components to upgrade. Far more so if what you’re trying to decide is whether your site can sustain yet another face lift, or if it’s finally time to bury it and start over.

That sentiment makes my heart sink a little every time I hear it echoed, though.

Really? I want to ask.

Do you really regard such an integral system, in which you’ve invested so much energy and effort, let alone work product, as an inert patient for whom cosmetic surgery is all that can be done to temporarily stave off inexorable decrepitude and inevitable ruin? Or worse, as a suffering pet begging to be euthanized?

If these suggestions are coming from your marketing department, you might suggest a better metaphor than face lift, but they might also be right. It could be that a good makeover is all that’s really needed to make their jobs easier. A top to bottom overhaul of a large site’s templates and views isn’t a trivial undertaking, but it does have a definite scope, and with a well engineered site, it can be accomplished with very minimal impact to underlying business rules, content, or basic workflows. It also provide a great opportunity to conduct a thorough audit of all the points of contact with back end process in order to identify ones that ought to be re-implemented as APIs, or offloaded to Angular or some other front end javascript altogether.

If the grumblings are coming from your in house devs, it might not even be the website itself that’s the problem. Given its high profile and visibility among all of the other elements of your IT infrastructure, “the website” is often a convenient stand in for “somebody else’s problem.” Few things are as frustrating for an engineer as to be pulled of, and out of, a mission critical project, for which one is specifically qualified, in which one is deeply engaged, and which couldn’t reasonably be outsourced, in order to troubleshoot some ill defined issue in somebody else’s domain, which probably could be.

As hyperbolic as their suggestions may be, they might not be totally unreasonable if construed, not at face value, but as a pretty clear indication that the problem is more than skin deep, is technical in nature, and would you please pick on somebody else to deal with it next time.

More troubling, is when the idea of having it put down arises as a vague feeling you sometimes get in your conversations with the techs at the agency or full service provider you contracted with to build and maintain your site. In that case it’s even harder not to be cynical, but even then, maybe you shouldn’t be.

There are tremendous advantages to working with an agency. Not only does it provide you with access to a team of developers and designers on an as needed, pay as you go basis, it also leverages a wide body of experience and an extensive library of pre-existing solutions already perfected for other clients with similar needs.

What’s important to bear in mind is that this approach really is a compromise between an off the shelf site in a box, and employing your own, in house developers, and that there are significant trade-offs you need to remain aware that you’re making when pursuing that approach.

One of the easiest of these to loose sight of is the fact that the ability to customize and tailor your site to your needs comes at some cost to the efficiency with which the site can be maintained. This cost is often hidden by your provider’s eagerness to serve and pride in is ability do deliver exactly the features you want. As a rule, the more your application diverges from the agency’s standard offering, the more it will cost to maintain, and the more quickly it will begin to show signs of age.

Often, if the customization is cosmetic, or the feature involves functionality you’ve seen somewhere else and want to include on your site, the hit to maintainability is minimal and the rewards can be great. On the other hand, the more specific a customization is to your particular situation, the more involved and expensive it will tend to be to keep it up to date with the agency’s own tried and true way of doing things.

Of course, just because the new feature you have in mind isn’t something you’ve ever seen before doesn’t mean you shouldn’t build it into your site. A new kind of social media interaction, or a new workflow pertaining to the shopping cart might have broad appeal to others in your industry, in which case you and your provider might both benefit from letting them develop it. On the other hand, if it’s a new part of your customer portal needed to support your own particular products, you might want to consider alternatives.

One possibility to consider would be to build, or commission a stand alone app that the website could make use of via an API.

The thing to remember is that your company’s website isn’t just a display you can prop up in your window, it’s the place where you greet your customers, so the first thing it needs to be is inviting. If you allow it to, it can also grow into an environment in which to engage with them, and that offers up new paths for them to explore on their own.

Creating such a dynamic and continually renewing environment can only really be achieved using an approach that is methodical, incremental, and ongoing. It requires both the courage to allow it to grow naturally, and the vigilance to prevent it from growing wild, or going to seed.

If the tree in your front yard is in immanent danger of falling on your house, then obviously you have no choice but to chop it down. More often than not, though, it could have been saved with a little seasonal pruning, or even with something as trivial as having aimed the sprinkler head a few feet to the right of it.

Ultimately, yes, I can build you a website, but then I’d really rather you thought of me as your gardener.

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