7 questions to ask before you build a website

Before you start any project, you need a gameplan, and a website is no different.  Answering these 7 questions before you begin will help you ensure that your new site does what you need it to do. After the site is built, it's also a good idea to check back and make sure it meets each of the goals you've set for it here.

  1. Who are your audiences, in order of importance? Are there any particular challenges in communicating with them?
    Often the answers to these questions are more complex than they sound.  For example, an admissions-oriented website is sure to attract prospective students, but will also get visits from high school guidance counsellors, parents, and staff members looking for information.  As well, some 50% of McGill students speak English as a second or third language — they may be particularly confused if the information is jargon-filled and bureaucratic. 
  2. What are the most important things you're trying to convey, in order of importance? And do these messages differ by audience?
    McGill's websites attract a vast range of visitors — from prospective and current undergrads and graduate students to journalists, faculty members, external researchers, government workers, parents, donors, regular Montrealers and more.  Each of these audiences wants different things, and the complexity of this need is a big reason for the complexity of the McGill website.  Through every step of your site's creation, and as the site evolves over time, you need to make it easier — not harder — for each group to find what they're looking for.
  3. What does success look like?  If this website succeeds, what will people do or think differently as a result? How do we measure this success?
    Not every website is meant to spur action — some are purely informational.  But even for these sites, success can be measured.  Depending on the site, increased traffic may be a good indicator.  Better yet, a usability test is a great way to consult your audience, find out if they're finding what they need, and solicit ideas for making it easier.
  4. What is the approval process for this project?
    Few things can kill a project more slowly and painfully than an ambiguous approval process.  If the approvers are identified — and brought onboard — right at the start, you'll avoid huge headaches later on.
  5. Do you need to communicate in both English and French? Other languages?
    Whenever possible, McGill strives to communicate in both of Canada's official languages, and we strongly recommend that all McGill units provide bilingual content wherever resources allow.  Keep in mind, though, that it takes time and money to keep multilingual websites up to date.  If you take on that commitment for your website, you need to make absolutely sure that your site is updated in all languages at the same time, no matter who's on vacation, busy, or home sick on a given day.
  6. Who will be maintaining/updating this website once it's complete?
    Just as a clear approval process is essential, clear site editor and site manager roles will help ensure that your site stays up to date.  We recommend assigning editing permissions to just two or three people in your unit, as things can become a bit chaotic when many people are editing the site at the same time. For more information about Web permissions visit the IT Knowledge Base.
  7. Do you have the time, resources and skills you need to make this website as you want it to be?
    If so, great! If not, we can help!


One last question...

One last thing to ask yourself before you begin: given the answers to the questions above, are you ready to move forward? Is maintenance likely to be an issue?  Do you have the resources you need for ongoing translation?  If your goals and audiences aren't yet clearly defined, can you make time to re-examine them?  You may well find that more planning needs to be done before any work begins — or you may find that, given your specific needs, a website just isn't the best tool for the job.