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Site Development Guide: The Whole Enchilada

Planning: Build Your Team

  • Project Manager – It never hurts to have someone help manage your project. The PM helps to keep people on task in meetings, coordinates activities, and follows up on tasks.  Depending on your project size this may be a person doing another job in the group, but don't underestimate the need to have one person drive the project.
  • Technical Lead – Regardless of how simple you try to make your site, you still need at least one person to be the expert.  All members of your team should be open to learning new tools and supporting others as they tackle new challenges, but a technical lead should have lots of the answers to tech questions.
  • Artist – It helps if you have someone with an eye for the artistic side of things, especially if they have skills with Photoshop or other image-manipulation software.  Engineers are great for getting a job done, but you may end up with a very rigid site structure. 
  • Wordsmith – You need someone with word skills, whether writing or even just proof-reading.  Having someone double check your site will add to its overall quality and impact.

Planning: Con
sider Stakeholder Issues and Concerns

  • Who is the driving force behind your project?  Board of directors?  A subgroup of members? Local, state, and/or federal agencies?
  • Identify the key people in providing direction and approval of your project: these are your stakeholders.
  • Ensure the stakeholders are represented in decisions.
  • Include these stakeholders in your review process.

ing: Identify Priorities and Goals

Establishing the priorities and goals for your organization will allow you to plan your development tasks accordingly.  For CCCMB, the ability to readily update the website without requiring HTML skills and knowledge was essential.  In order to keep the site updated and relevant, we needed more than just a lone web developer to be able to update content, maintain the calendar, and ensure effective organization of the site.  We deemed creative flexibility or a flashy site with lots of visual impact less important for our site because we are not selling a product but rather attracting service-minded individuals and informing people about what our organization does and how they can help.

Aside from priorities and goals for the care & feeding of the website, link your goals for the website directly to the structure of the content. Your team will likely incorporate calendars and work trackers as well as info about volunteer opportunities, work days, and trails in your area.

Typical things to consider in setting goals:

  • What are you trying to accomplish with your site?
  • How does your site fit into your organization's goals?
  • How do you want to present your organization?
  • How will you know when you are "done?"
  • How will you measure (and celebrate) success?

Planning: Consider Your Budget 

  • Do you have a budget?  Is it zero dollars?
  • Even if you don't have actual money to spend, establish a human budget.  Don't burn out your team: respect their time and input. Distributing the load amongst people is a great way to avoid burnout. 
  • Your budget will feed into your tools selection, hosting options, etc.

Planning: Identify Tools

  • Chances are pretty good that you have one or more people with some kind of web development experience.  Draw on that experience.
  • Consider the countless free tools available to anyone with an internet connection and pick tools that align with your goals.  That may mean a blog site such as Wordpress or Blogspot or a more comprehensive set of tools available through, for example, our choice of Google Sites.  
  • You may have access to experts who may offer to build your site and host it on their server.  That can be great but just make sure it aligns with your organization's goals.  If you need your non-technical president to be able to update the site on a regular basis, requiring your president to learn HTML and FTP tools in order to upload files may not yield success.  
  • Pick tools that you can share freely.  Free tools and Open Source tools are great options that allow you to legally share copies of the programs. 

Execution: Project Management

Although the building of a site for a small organization is not a terribly daunting task, having someone in a central role to drive the project is nevertheless critical.  Typically, volunteer efforts such as contributing to the development of a trails website can't always compete in priority with other activities in the lives of your team members.  The project manager should be aware of what needs to be done and when. 

Usually, the organization your project manager brings is helpful in keeping meetings on track, tracking the various action items that come out of the meeting, and keeping an eye on the dependencies and dates associated with various work going on. By knowing the state of the project at any given time, your project manager provides a single point of contact with regards to anything going on.  This protects other team members from distraction and lets them focus on their tasks at hand.


Execution: Technical Lead

The Technical Lead for your implementation helps provide the basic guidelines for the development of the site and provides support and guidance to the less experienced members of the team.  The selection of a framework like Google Sites is very empowering to even a novice.  The downside is that if you turn loose a handful of people to develop your website, you may very likely end up with a website that has no coherency between pages.  Your lead is responsible for defining the basic style guidelines and making sure that all of the pages adhere to that (e.g., headlines will be 18pt. Arial, Body text will by 12pt. Tahoma, all images will have a 2 pixel black border). Adhering to these simple style guidelines will give your site a more cohesive feel and make navigation and readability easier for your visitors.

In addition to supporting other team members by encouraging the application of site-wide standards, your lead will be the go-to person for any of the more complicated content (e.g., importing or inserting video, ensuring proper sizing of images for speedy download, providing images or artwork to support pages that go beyond simple text and a picture).

Execution: Wordsmith

Having a team member with strong writing skills is key to a professional site.  Just as the Technical Lead is key to keeping the look and feel of the site consistent, your Wordsmith is critical for keeping the voice of the site similar.  While this doesn’t mean that these individuals will write all of the content, they should be involved in the review and editing of all of the main content.  Grammar, spelling, and general structure all create a positive experience for visitors to the site.

Execution: Artist

Your artistic person helps things look nice.  Hopefully, they have some skills in photo editing or other graphics tools and can lend a technical hand.  Even if they don’t, direction they provide on style and appearance will be valuable.  

ExecutionBuild a Framework

Create an outline or framework of your site to work with.  Start with a storyboard approach that only outlines the basic site functionality and keys areas to be detailed out further.  Establish the basic page names, headlines, and navigation between pages. Content is not critical at this point: you are just looking to get a rough idea of the work in front of you and ensure you understand the task at hand. Share this outline with your stakeholders and collect their input early and often.  Often, a quick demonstration of the site capability or the design idea will garner the input and direction you need.  Showing something online and live is a great way to build excitement for the new project as well.  

With a framework in place, the overall scope of the project will seem more manageable since a blank slate can be daunting.  Refer back to your goals for the site and the organization to keep yourself on track.  Deal with the fact that often the most important work to be done is the least exciting.  Developing something interactive or flashy is nearly always more fun than putting down your club mission statement and filling in the details surrounding why you exist.  However, that basic information may be the most critical thing to share and implement.

Execution: Develop Iterations and Perform Reviews

You are going to start out your project with various goals and plans.  Some will be too lofty while others will turn out to be insufficiently detailed or envisioned.  Plan for this uncertainty and embrace it.  Rather than trying to polish everything to perfection all at once, finish things in smaller chunks and segments.  In this way, you have an opportunity to return to the project and refine the content or layout at a later date, but you also have a finished product that at any given time is ready for review. As you finish up pages and content, have your team members review it.  Does it make sense?  Does it get your point across?  Grammar and spelling are all good?  Creating a professional appearance for your site lends credibility to your organization.  It goes back to the old adage about one chance to make a first impression.

Execution: Create a SandBox

Define somewhere on the site for unfinished work, even if it is only marginally hidden from the view of end users,  This allows you an area for staging content or ideas that aren’t ready for prime time.  As you flesh out the ideas and finish them, you can move them to a more public area.  Google Sites has some limitations on how much you can bury content, but it is possible to at least get things off of your main linked pages and keep them waiting in the wings.

Maintenance: General

Although it will seem like a long time and a lot of work to get a fresh site up and running, the reality is that maintaining the site will represent the bulk of the work that you do over the life of the site. In a club situation, showing activity in the organization requires continuously updating your site: not every day but probably more than once a quarter.  New calendar items, stories, or messages about past events all show a vibrant and active group.  Stale content and outdated posts or links are your enemy when it comes to attracting new members and return visits.  

In order to keep the site updated, you need an ongoing commitment from your team and from additional contributors to keep the site updated.  How much work this requires depends on the nature of your organization.  A moderately active club may only need an update once per month in order to keep the calendar current, post meeting minutes and possibly any relevant news items.  

Make sure you have one primary person assigned to the maintenance of the site.  More is better, but ensuring that someone “owns” the site is very important to keeping it up to date.  Team members from the execution of the project are great choices for maintaining the site, but consider bringing on new team members.  The skills required to update an existing page or calendar are much easier to acquire than what it takes to design and build a site.  Just make sure to publish your guidelines and educate your maintenance team members on standards and guidelines.  

Maintenance: Analytics

Site analytics are something that is usually a concern for commercial sites interested in how traffic arrives at their site and what numbers of consumers actually purchase something as a result of their visit.  Having some level of analytics at the club level still has value.  You’ll gain insight into the traffic that lands on your site.  Where does it come from?  How many pages do people usually view?  What pages see the most visits?

By utilizing a free tool such as Google Analytics, you can fairly easily track your visitors and understand how visitors utilize your site. If you have content that nobody ever reads, then you will at least know this and can review said content for adjustments with placement and navigation, including whether or not the topic is relevant to your visitors.