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Does a web design firm need a strategy and why its important for the firm's clients.
16th May 2012

In the old days web design used to be a pretty static affair. You created the site, you did a bit of SEO and presto - it worked. Nowadays the entire evolution of web design and marketing is in a state of constant change. Web design companies have become partners more than just vendor simply due to the constant updates, changes and course corrections that have to be made online everyday.

What does a web design firm's strategy involve?

When we are talking strategy here we are not talking about individual projects. We are talking broadly on how the web design firm is going to tackle future changes and how its going to affect the client's online presence.

The strategy can come under the following categories:

  • Technological Evolution
  • Marketing Philosophy
  • Client centred choices

These three broads head cover the areas which will affect the client directly based on the agency's decisions. Lets take a more detailed look at each.

Technological Evolution - What decisions are going to influence work on the web technology front.

The questions that need answering are based on web technology specialization by the web design firm

  • What development platforms is the design firm committed to? Which operating systems - Linux, Windows or now maybe even Android. What programming languages and what database technology? E.g. We specialize in Core PHP -MySQL development.
  • What tools are in the pipeline for improved web design efficiency or website easy of use. E.g. Content Management System upgrades, Form processing systems or any other licensed scripts and programs.
  • What are the various content delivery solutions shortlisted for various possible scenarios? What blogging platform, which chat platform, which video hosting site, which PDF/Presentation hosting site? Does the web design firm have ready resources to address the different types of content delivery challenges that come up?
  • How is the web design firm going to approach outdated technologies, whats the plan to identify and update them. E.g. Jquery is fast replacing Flash. Is the firm committed or equipped for such a transition?
  • Are they tooling up for newer mediums such as mobile or tablets? Are they also adding app development or do they prefer to outsource it?
  • Security updates and future protecting the websites against spam, hacking, viruses, server crashes and other scenarios. What is the firm's backup plan? Does it rely on the hosting company or does it have its own backup systems.

Marketing Philosophy - When all you have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail.

I know of several web firms who recently started in the Social Media space and are starting to expand into other web specialities such as SEO, Design etc. But they are handicapped by their inclination towards their specialization i.e. social media. There efforts to enter the other spaces remains half hearted and their marketing services mix remains lopsided. The reverse happens for older web design firms who are experts at design and SEO but treat Social Media with suspicion and step motherly treatment. The ideal firm should have a balanced outlook on all possible online marketing opportunities.

Note: When i mention 'marketing' I mean it terms of marketing of the clients products and services, not the web design firm's services.

  • What is marketing tools mix and what resources are dedicated to each? What are the firms marketing strengths? Is it strong in SEO and average in Social media? What steps are being taken to correct the imbalances in the marketing services mix?
  • Whats the overall marketing philosophy of the firm? Where do they see the online market place evolving? Are they on top of the latest trends in online marketing and customer behaviour?
  • Is the firm a thought leader in any area? Is it influencing the industry in any manner? Is it setting the pace in certain areas which can be considered a leadership position?
  • How is it educating and working with the client to make the most of the marketing opportunities or is it working in a vacuum without the clients inputs?

Client Centred Choices - What type of clients and projects does the web design firm want to handle?

As web design firms grow and evolve so do their preferences and aspirations. It may be from an individual entrepreneur or a management team but every firm will make choices on what it will or won't handle. Some firms restrict themselves to only small jobs and avoid programming complexity. Others won't touch small jobs, instead preferring challenging and large projects. The client has to evaluate whether their existing web design firms are a match to their own ambitions or lack thereof.

  • Will the web design firm scale up staff and resources to match the growth levels of the client's company. Or vice versa, will it scale down its own expectations with a downturn in the client's business.
  • Does the web design firm match the clients approach to marketing? Conservative or otherwise? Many clients get frustrated when the web design firm simply does not want to experiment instead staying on the tried and tested path.
  • Does the web design firm 'get' the clients business model. Nothing is sadder than when the client and the web design company work at cross purposes simply because the firm does not 'buy in' to the clients marketing strategy.
  • Does the web design firm match the client's passion? Client's can get excited over selling ceramic pipes (for e.g.), can the agency match this enthusiasm in their work or do the want only the 'sexy' projects.

At the end of the day it comes down to whether the website design firm and the client match expectations in terms of technology, marketing approach and client selection choices.

Some advise for web design firms and clients - take it with a pinch of salt as they say.

  • Web design firms should be crystal clear on where they are going in terms of technology, marketing and business philosophy. This clarity should dictate what kind of clients and work they take on. Ambiguity will cause client relation problems and the business will go nowhere.
  • Clients should idenfity their expectations in terms of approach to marketing, business ambitions and in-house knowledge and then find the best fit for them. Its a technical as well as philosophical choice.

Cheers,
Ron

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