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Stuart Wells, Managing Director at agency Wickedweb talks to Figaro Digital about best practice within design and build - Article by Jon Fortgang - Figaro Digital
"If you build it," runs the line in baseball drama Field of Dreams, "they will come."
That was back in 1989, but until comparatively recently the same theory underpinned plenty of design and build projects. Now that Google decides on ranking, campaigns are seeded on social and the mobile frontier opens up, brand managers and marketers need to approach the planning and construction of their sites – and in particular SEO - with scientific precision.
Wickedweb are a full service digital agency who specialise in this field. Established in 2002, the company's work with a range of clients over the last decade has provided them with a clear perspective on some of the most persistent challenges – as well as the greatest opportunities – open to digital marketers seeking to optimise their presence across all channels.
"We speak to some new clients now," says Stuart Wells, Managing Director at Wickwedweb, "who've been through maybe two or three versions of a design and build project, and they're a bit nervous at the start. They're saying to us, 'we've made these mistakes in the past, we've seen these errors crop up. How can we mitigate the risk and improve our top level approach to a design and build project?'"
For Wells and the team at Wickedweb, the answer to that has involved establishing a clear best practice procedure which, they believe, helps brands refine their objectives and focus on achievable goals with measurable value. So what, for Wells, does best practice within design and build actually entail?
"Most projects start with a client saying, 'I want to deliver this'," he explains. "'I want to do it in three months and this is how much I've got to spend.' But the reality is, at that point, nine out of 10 clients don't know what it is they're looking to achieve, they don't know how long it's going to take and they don't know how much it's going to cost. And the agencies tendering for the job don't know either, because until you get into those detailed workshops and discussions, you simply don't."
Wells uses a three-part model to describe the approach best suited to streamlining and unifying that process. "There's the budget," he says, "There's the deadline, and there's the delivery. The methodology by which a large scale design and build project is delivered is all-important. In years gone by you'd see the 'waterfall' methodology, where you do one stage of the project, agree it with the client, sign off and then move to the next stage."
The problem with that approach, explains Wells, is an inherent lack of flexibility. Budgets change, deadlines shift and objectives are reconceived. "A lot of times that ends in disappointment. We inherit a lot of clients who've been through that relationship. What we're looking at now is a more agile way of working, where we'll ask the client not necessarily to commit to a definite budget but a budget range, not to commit to an absolute deliverable, but to a deliverable range. And not to set their heart on an absolute deadline but to a range of dates. That way you can enter the project and be far more open and pragmatic and say, 'What is actually achievable here? What are you looking to do as a business and what can we do to give you as much value as possible?'
Given his experience, what, for Wells are some of the most persistent challenges facing brands and agencies as they embark on a project together? Though brand managers may imagine the tighter a brief the better, that isn't always the case.
"Eighty per cent of briefs are actually too specific," he explains. That might sound counter-intuitive in a field where clarity of purpose is key, but more information, it transpires, doesn't always mean better information.
"Most brand and marketing managers will have a good idea of what they want to achieve. Let's say it's an integrated campaign – they'll be aware of some of the things they can do in social media, some of the things you can do with a CMS. But they may not know the best things that can be achieved at that point in time. Often agencies will respond to those client requirements because the clients have been very prescriptive. But that may not be the best way to achieve a client's underlying objectives, because there are new methods or more technically advanced ways of doing things." As an example, Wells cites advances in browser-technology versus Flash. But the point, he says, is that agencies should be able to analyse a client's top-level objectives and then present that client with the best routes to achieving those aims, rather than having to stick to a rigid, pre-ordained road map.
Starting with SEO
Key to any design and build project is SEO. For Wells and the Wickedweb team, it's the foundation on which everything else rests. So how does best practice apply here?
"To get the best results in SEO," says Wells, "you have to be there right at the beginning. Your organic search strategy has to be considered right at the start of the project. And that search strategy needs to filter through to the content audit – understanding where content is going to be placed. It needs to filter through to the information architecture stage, ensuring that the structure is correct around the content and search strategy. And on the back of that it should fall into design and build in a way that's fairly straightforward. You're then at the point where you've got the right foundations for search."
Dealing with data
Though the focus is inevitably on the launch of any campaign, when it comes to looking at data, this is the beginning rather than the end of the story.
"The brands that we see doing best in digital are the ones who understand their data best," says Wells. In the past this meant relying on disparate methods of analysis. "Now, with newer platforms and technology – Sitecore for example - we're able to work with customers, look at the data, look at the audience and actually prescribe the user-journey we want people to go down as we engage with them. That strategy can be put in place right at the beginning of the project and be constantly checked and progressed throughout."
While agility and flexibility are key, Wells acknowledges that the speed with which digital technology moves means specific strategies must themselves remain fluid. What works this year may need revising next. But remaining nimble, adaptable and open to change is a surefire way for brands to protect – and see measurable returns on – the investments they make in digital.
Best Practice in Practice – 10 Tips For Design & Build
- Choose you partner agency on who they are – as people!
- Get the background on senior figureheads leading all key roles within the agency
- Ask about their internal project management processes and methodology, status updates and meetings
- Ensure you know your SLA, response times, maintenance and support retainers
- Ensure you know how they and you will measure the ongoing success of the project
- Ensure you have portability
- Ensure you have performance
- Ensure you have scalability
- Ensure you have targeted content
- Ensure you have data and information
Wickedweb has been working with Bluefin Solutions, a global SAP consultancy, over the last four months to fully understand their audience, design and develop their new website and integrate with Alterian's new Content Management System, ACM-p.
Bluefin Solutions works with clients to improve their business performance, including the BBC, Barclays, Royal Mail and Shell, to name a few, and the website was tasked with reflecting the organisation's premium position, and service, to present a more credible online solution and powerful tool for growth.
Objectives included awareness building, lead generation and improved communication of the company's focus on delivering better outcomes for clients through a higher level of expertise, versus key competitors.
Our strategy included user research, with consultants and clients, to fully understand the website's audience. Conducting one-to-one interviews provided invaluable insights and shaped the user experience strategy. Personas focused the creative rationale and the concept, which considers the end user throughout, answers both business and target audience requirements.
The website is dynamic and engaging, with unique and compelling creative and photography taken with the Bluefin Solutions team, at their new Chiswick Park address, portrays the approachable personalities and people-focus at the heart of the consultancy.
Using a different design template for the careers section, the website caters for both clients, existing and prospective, and employees, as the very best candidates are encouraged to apply by the high level presentation and confident, professional approach.
Optimising the website from the ground, up, means that it is set to excel from an SEO perspective too.
We are closely monitoring the website's performance to ensure it delivers against key targets, and will work with Bluefin Solutions to continually enhance the website and grow ROI long-term.
One of our CMS partners, Alterian, a leading marketing platform provider, has launched a new Alterian Content Manager, known as ACM, and we are pleased to announce that Wickedweb has pioneered the integration of the system for global client, Bluefin Solutions.
The first website to launch on the platform since its introduction, Wickedweb is leading the way with Alterian Content Manager, Professional Edition (ACM-p). Developed in Microsoft environments in ASP.NET, our team of developers have been highly trained in the system and the site functionality reflects the platform's capabilities and our expertise, using new components such as blogs, tag clouds and customised subscriptions.
A key focus of the new suite of Alterian Content Manager products is to provide a world class solution for any budget and to suit all requirements. To find out more about ACM Corporate, Professional and Enterprise, visit the website.
Last month the Wickedweb team were delighted to be shortlisted in the pitch for the Medway Council website redevelopment project and, following a successful presentation, we are celebrating our recent appointment as the Council's digital agency of choice.
As an Alterian technical partner, it was fitting that we were brought into the project to deliver an Alterian-compatible web design and employing our usability expertise we will ensure that the creative isn't developed just for the platform, but for the wide range of target users as well. The potential website audience includes everybody the council serves, from residents of all ages, local employers and elected members to job seekers, public service partners and the media, requiring an all inclusive approach to design.
Our strategy is to convey the Council's core values and deliver an impressive website that works on a number of levels, from a creative treatment that engages all, to simple user journeys and quick access to content so that users find what they are looking for quickly and efficiently. The Council aims to not only enhance the user's online experience and interaction, but also improve the Council's performance in the next SOCITM report.
We are extremely proud to be partnering a Council in our own county and look forward to the next few months as usability testing and focus groups get well underway.
Having worked with Alterian Immediacy for three years, Wickedweb have in recent months become a fully certified partner of the software provider. The move sees Wickedweb's transition into looking to work more with B2B corporate and government clients.
Stuart Wells, Managing Director at Wickedweb commented, "We’re delighted to solidify our partnership with Alterian Immediacy. We’ve been a partner for over three years, but now as a fully certified partner agency, and only one of seven in the UK, we’re in a better position than most to help our clients take full advantage of the software. With the possibility of endless customisable plug-ins and integration options, the opportunities are endless. We look forward to expanding our Alterian Immediacy offering in the coming months and welcoming new clients to our Alterian support programme.”
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