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Why are websites so &*#% hard to build?

If you are part of an agency, I'm talking to you. (Note: when I say agency, I mean that in a broad sense to include advertising agencies, design firms, marketing firms, PR firms, etc.) Don't feel bad - every business has its problems. And the problems that cause website projects to be difficult are solvable.

Website are difficult. Anyone who says otherwise hasn't thought it through.

All too often, site owners are overwhelmed by the difficulty and complexity of building a website. Here are a couple reasons:

Print experience vs. web experience. One reason websites are hard is the internet is still a new medium. Customers understand printing. Your customer could have experienced the process of building a print piece hundreds of times, but have never been a part of a web project. When your customer needs to print a brochure, they could easily be doing business with a printing company that is several generations old. Print is second nature to many people that have no experience with the web.

Content is a challenge. The information included in most websites is more complex than any other company communication. A customer may come to you with a list of projects they want executed over the next year or two. The list may include a few product sell sheets, a couple product line brochures, a refresh to the design of their packaging, some new outdoor advertising, and a new website. Your customer probably doesn't even know that all of their print requests combined aren't anywhere close to as much work as the website. The website will include the content of the new print projects plus the content in all of their other 30 sell sheets and eight brochures plus the everything the HR department knows about the company plus everything the marketing department knows about the company, etc.

Here is an approach to solving the problems associated with building websites.

Agencies fall into three general categories with respect to interactive services. Younger agencies have offered interactive from day one. More established agencies were print and/or media oriented for some number of years, and then they added interactive as it became necessary. Then there are the holdouts who don't offer interactive services at all, although the size of this group is dwindling quickly.

These three types of agencies face different challenges producing websites. If you avoid the web entirely, you are missing out, and you will probably not survive wihtout a plan that includes interactive. If you really can't see a way to include it in your activities, find someone to partner with. The web is not going away, but you will if you don't respond with a plan.

For print agencies trasitioning into interactive, don't spin your wheels making mistakes that can be avoided. Involve personnel in the project who can help you build websites the right way - staff or contractors.

For web-centric agencies, you understand the technical complexities involved in web projects. Your biggest challenge is shared with all other types of agencies: helping your customers understand why a website is difficult and why your involvement in the project has value.

No matter which type of agency you are, you need to:

  • prepare your customer for the challenges that come with creating a new website
  • stake your reputation on professional contractors who deliver consistent and thoughtful solutions
  • understand that the success of the site may not be fully measured for months or even years after go-live.

The problems will always be yours. How you solve those problems will determine how successful you will be in this exciting and growing industry.