How to Choose a Website Vendor- The Solution

Part 2 of 2 Kelley Jarrett 01.04.10

Choosing the right website vendor is critical to the success of online and offline initiatives for many nonprofits, but it can be a daunting task. I have spent the last four years helping clients and potential clients walk through this process, and I've learned some useful lessons based on their successes – and mistakes. 

Last week, we looked at some things to consider about the partnership between your nonprofit and your website vendor.  Today we'll take a look at the solution.

Part Two: The Solution

  1. Design – while design is extremely important, it’s only part of the picture. A good-looking website will only get you so far. Consider the following when reviewing design options:
    • Marketing – Many websites are based in flash and other pretty, design-friendly language. However, these designs do not always bode well with search engines, and you may be missing the boat with your overall goals. Sites should be designed with search engines AND actual constituents in mind, not just the ooh and ahh of the visual.
    • Layout – Site navigation is critical to the usability of your site. A constituent needs to find what they’re looking for quickly and/or understand what you want them to do next in order for them to be engaged in the website. A marriage of Call to actions, easy searching and a useable flow are just as important as overall look and feel.
    • Stickiness – What tools, benefits and ideas are you offering your constituents to keep them on your site? Or to keep them coming back? Engagement comes from dynamic content and community feel – not from information presented on a page.
  2. Platform Compatibility – Consider the hardware structure do you already own and wish to take advantage of.  Who maintains this setup? Do you need a provider to host your website for you or can you handle it in house? How will it connect to your other offline systems (or will it)? What will this integration actually look like from a workflow perspective? 
  3. Content Management System – Not all content management systems are created equally. Who can edit, manage and create is only part of the picture. Learn more about what CMS options are out there to know what you should ask when reviewing the bigger web solution picture.
  4. Solution Fit  – A website discussion should really be a total solution discussion (or how it will fit into the offline solution you already have in place). What departments will need to talk about the information gathered and transactions that occur on the website? For example, if a donation is made, does it flow into the appropriate database for the development team? Or will there need to be data handoff? Understanding how the website affects the offline world is key to meeting actual goals, not just creating a disparate online environment for your organization.
  5. A holistic view - what will you do with the information you learn? Web metrics allow you to make strategic layout and architecture decisions, which are very important. However, integrating with other used systems (constituent relationship databases, credit card processors, social networking sites, etc.) is just as important as metrics you gather. Allowing you to USE information you collect online makes a website project worth the money you spend on it…and helps provide ROI for future development.

I hope this information will help you think strategically about your website selection process. I know how emotional this type of purchase can feel – we all get caught up in the beauty and creative side of a new website. However, I would encourage you to think more big-picture in your review process. If you choose a website solution that helps you accomplish actual goals, it will put you in a better position for future growth and furthering your mission – much more so than a pretty picture.


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