One of the things I love doing at Envision is talking to prospective clients. I am fascinated by their businesses and organizations and feel great when I discover ways to help them solve their website problems.

When we conduct prospective client meetings, we like to ask lots of questions – it’s almost like we’re doing an interview. We try to learn as much as we can about their project requirements, their expectations, their target audience and their reasons for making a change.

People are very quick to point the finger at why their previous website project was not a success. I’ve been involved in over 700 website builds since 1999, and over that time, I’ve seen a number of patterns emerge.

The reasons those sites failed are not what you’d think.

It’s Not About The CMS Technology (Usually)…

Most of the potential clients we talk to are already working with a website maintenance provider or website partner. The previous partner selected a CMS (content management system) to build their website, usually a popular CMS like Drupal, WordPress, Joomla, Umbraco, or SiteCore. Most prospects say they are unhappy with the technology that allows them to update their website.

There are hundreds of open source content management systems to choose from. I have my own personal favourites I like to work with, but in reality many have very similar features. Some systems might scale a little better or have a better user interface, but in my experience few are truly awful. The root cause of the problem is not about the technology used.

It’s Not About The Planning Software…

Another reason I’ve heard many times was that they need to use a specific software when planning their next project.

They might have heard of Basecamp and feel this platform is going to solve all of their problems. Or they used an online platform last time and would prefer to use a more enterprise solution like Microsoft Project to plan the next project.

Again, I don’t feel that the choice of software used to manage the website project is the root cause of the problem either.

…It’s All About The Plan

The real reason that websites fail in the long term is that there was no plan in the original project.

A plan doesn’t need to be a complicated 100 page document, and the planning software is not important. It’s OK to be Agile and change your plan along the way (in fact we encourage it). But you do need to know where you are going and what you are going to test to make sure you reach most of your goals.

I’m not going to bore you with the possible elements you might include in your website plan, but overlooking the essential things like what content to migrate or who your target audience is can have huge implications in the future.

Without the foundation of a strategic plan and site structure in place, your site is destined to be a failure. You need to know what your user needs are, how they align with your business goals, and how your site is going to bring it all together. Without serving your users’ needs, even the most beautiful site will be ignored.

The Problem With Open Source

Many open source CMS solutions have given people a false sense of security. Some solutions make it very easy to add new pages or make minor coding changes. Website designers often position their solution as an easy to use CMS that anyone can manage. This is usually true – the technology is great for creating new content. But the ability to adapt is not the same thing as a plan.

Don’t Plan to Fail

Open source website projects (and CRM integrations or Google Adwords campaigns, etc.) always require a plan. It’s very tempting to just start creating. But a plan allows you to create goals and keep your team on track. Aligning yourself with the right partner who has experience, knows the technology and the right questions to ask can help make your project a success as well.

Benjamin Franklin was right. Regardless of your website size, without a plan and clear objectives you are planning to fail.

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