We get a lot of requests for proposals (RFP) for web sites here at HB Design. This post looks at two common requirements that are often stated in web RFPs:
- The site should be easy to find in common search engines like Google.
- The site should have a non-technical content management system (CMS)
These are admirable goals, but are not necessarily easily achieved. Let’s look at each.
Easy to Find in Search Engines
The problem with this requirement is that is says nothing about what users are searching for. Search engines respond to user queries. The rules that search engines use for returning results are very complex. So if you are searching with the phrase “HB Design in Portland Oregon,” chances are very good that the first item in the search results is our web site. But if you are search for “Graphic design firms,” chances are very good that our firm will not be the first.
So the question is, is our site easy to find? For some search terms, yes, for others no. That is just the way it works.
The basic response to this requirement is that the site will be coded with industry best practices for search engine optimization (SEO). If the copy for the site is written with SEO in mind, and with good keywords and key phrases, then with some searches the site will be easy to find. If the copy has not been written yet, then developing a search engine strategy could be a line item in the estimate for the site. That would include keyword research and audience research. But optimizing for search is an ongoing process. It is also ideally part of a larger marketing process that might include social media marketing, back-linking, paid advertising, and other strategies. All of that continues after the site is designed and launched and all of that is likely to help improve a site’s “findability.”
We, or other agencies, can help with that work, but clients need to realize that it is ongoing work that takes time and money. One question to ask is how important is it to your specific business. If users are already familiar with your company and are looking for you by name, then you may not need to have on-going investments in SEO. On the other hand, if your business is not well known and you are competing with many other companies for on-line sales, then you should be prepared for ongoing efforts and advertising.
Non-technical Content Management Systems
When someone asks for this they usually mean that they want to create new web pages or content for an existing web page easily without having to know coding. Most content management systems will provide that, but content management is much more, as is web site management.
An analogy I like is the automobile. I want a car that is easy to drive and maintain. Get in, turn a key, and go. Pretty much all cars do that today. But even with that ease of use, there are things you need to know. Premium or regular gas? Are the tires worn or low on air? When you are having problems with your car you take it to the mechanic to fix (and you pay for that service) or fix it yourself. Depending on your skill level, this could range from simple oil changes on up.
Web sites can be like that, but they are more difficult and have other concerns. For example, you want to add a new page to the site. The content management system lets you do that easily. But have you thought about where in the menu system the link to the page should be? (This is part of Information Architecture.) Is the copy on the page well written and optimized for search engines? Does the page you are adding have photos or graphics, and do those fit with your sites style and tone? Are those images optimized for the web?
In addition, CMSs need to be maintained regularly with security and functionality patches. In some environments with multiple users, the users need accounts set up and managed.
Some sites rarely update their content; some sites update daily. If your site is updated rarely, do you really need a content management system that you have to learn and remember? Maybe it would be easier to send the content to your agency and have them update the page. On the other hand, if you are updating content frequently, then you probably need to learn more about how the CMS works. It all comes back down to time and money.
As a general rule, I believe knowledge is power. If clients want to get the most out of their investment in a web site, they need to be prepared to either pursue more knowledge through continuous learning, or hire skilled, knowledgeable employees to perform the needed tasks, or engage and work with a skilled agency that they like. In any case, most of the time web sites are living entities that have to be nurtured to get the most out of the initial investment.
Too often RFPs have vague general requirements. If you are looking for an agency, you will be better served by finding one whose work you like, that is referred to you, that you can meet with to discuss your needs, and that will help define your solutions based on your needs. Find an agency with people you like, and would like to work with. With the right agency, you will not only get a good product, but will increase your knowledge about the web and how to effectively use it to meet your goals.