Hiring a web development firm to design and build a website can be daunting—time consuming and resource intensive.
Finding a development company to work with can feel a like finding a mechanic you can trust to work on your car. Here are six questions that will give you confidence to start the process today.
1. Where is the site going to be hosted?
Your site has to live somewhere, some organizations handle hosting themselves, but most don’t. I would argue that virtually none should. Hosting a website sounds trivial at first, but it can have a lot of hidden complexities.
You don’t need to have a host lined up before hiring a firm, but you should ask teams you’re interviewing for a web development project which host they recommend. Experienced teams will have one or more that they enjoy working with, and will steer you away from places they’ve had problems with in the past.
Some questions to consider when choosing a host are:
How are backups handled? Start with the assumption that worst case scenarios will happen frequently. If your whole site were to be erased, how much data loss is acceptable, and what is the minimum you need for a satisfactory recovery?
Do you want to be able to review changes privately before making them live on your site? Some hosts have a built in workflow that includes testing and development sites that are automatically configured. This makes it easy to review a site in a place that isn’t as public as your main domain name. Any development shop worth anything will set this up on their end to show you the site before making it live, but having this built into your hosting means you can try out changes yourself before making them live and/or your development site can survive past a shop moving on to other jobs.
How much traffic do you expect your site to get and can the web host handle it? Some organizations will get a handful of hits per month and virtually any web host will be adequate for their site, others will get a constant stream of hits and will need a robust web server that is configured to handle that volume of traffic. Generally speaking, if you’re getting more than a couple hundred hits a month, a shared server (GoDaddy, BlueHost, HostGator…) is off the table and should not be considered.
Hosting Cost Often we see clients looking for the cheapest hosting option, but we tend to warn them away from the cheapest. Cheap often comes with downsides: security vulnerabilities, performance issues and the additional costs associated with lack of developer tools. Usually paying a little extra for a better server and better tool sets will actually save you in the long-run. Think strategically. Cheap has its costs.
2. How are website software updates handled?
A content management system (CMS) is a software package. Just like your phone, or computer, it needs to be updated. These updates can have implications for ongoing costs to the site.
Security vulnerabilities will be found and your site can be hacked into if they aren’t fixed. If you’re thinking “That doesn’t matter to me, there’s nothing mission-critical on my website” then you’re wrong. Your website forms a part of your official identity, a hacker could alter the content of your site, or cause your site to redirect to material that could hurt your reputation.
If you have a technical person on staff you may be able to handle these updates internally, if not, then you need to have a plan for site updates. Some firms will offer maintenance contracts to handle site updates, some will tell you that you’re on your own. Either way, before you commit to working with a shop, make sure you know how you’re going to handle your site updates.
3. Who is responsible for writing your website’s content - internal or contractor?
Web projects can take a lot of time. Depending on the size that means weeks to months, maybe much longer.
While your developers are working on the designs and code for your site you should be working on the content. We advise clients to start writing content as soon as the sitemap is in place.
Other time sinks in the content process are:
Finding good photography. Sometimes you need to generate more.
Passing content to management and higher-ups to approve writing.
Bottom line: Do not leave this until the last minute.
4. Who is your point of contact with the web development shop? Who is their point of contact in your organization?
Things will work easier if both parties have one person to serve as a point of contact for the other. If possible, these two people should be passing most of the communications to each other. This is not to say that this is the only direct contact happening, and it shouldn’t be. There will be times that an in-house designer will need to pass on design notes to the designer working on the project, or people in your organization testing the site will need to pass on bug reports to the developer.
But what you want to avoid is having people on your end communicating directly with the developer asking for changes to features, or even entirely new features. That can lead to absolute chaos, as people in your organization may not know what the scope of your contract with the developer is, and now could be asking them to change or build something costly.
I personally have gotten requests from people working for our clients that would have added thousands of dollars to the budget of a project. Anytime I get requests for alterations or additions from someone who isn’t the point person, I make sure to ask the point person about it and make sure it’s ok, but not everyone is going to be so careful.
5. What tools does this shop use to facilitate communications?
Big projects, no matter what kind, can be messy. They take a lot of time, involve a lot of people, and iterations of design, development, and testing.
Keeping your communications organized will be critical. Working with a firm that has addressed this problem and can tell you what tools they use is very important. If you ask about tools they use to facilitate communications and you hear, "Email" in the response, that’s a red flag.
At the very least you should have access to a task management system, hopefully one that can double as an issue tracker. Ideally, some kind of project-centric instant messaging service should be in there as well, but that isn’t as essential.
Generally, you want to avoid situations where communications can be lost, or multiple threads of conversations can happen about the same topic.
If I email the designer about a header image, and the designer emails you about it, that’s now two threads of communication about a single topic. The designer isn’t a super-human, that person needs to remember which decisions have been made about that header image. They may remember something got said in 'some email,' but can’t remember to who or when.
With a task management system you have a Header Image task, and everyone just comments there about the header image. Everyone sees everything being said about it, so you all remain on the same page.
6. What are you trying to accomplish with your website?
You need a website, but why?
What do you want out of it? A good web development shop will ask you this question, a great one will help you answer it by interviewing stakeholders, customers/constituents, and board members. But in all reality, you should have a handle on this before you even sit down with a third party.
A good place to start is by finishing this sentence: “When someone visits our website I want them to _____”.
We often suggest to clients to think about the top 3 things you want site visitors to see and do and focus on those. A lot of organizations can end up with unfocused sites—huge things that try to be and do everything. Or they end up with iceberg sites, where there’s a vast amount of content hidden beneath a deceptively sparse homepage. Think about it this way: Do you want people to be signing up for your email list? Then highlight the signup form so you see it immediately when the page loads.
Do you have a large media library you’re trying to have accessed? Don’t hide the only link to it in a dropdown menu, highlight it multiple times on the homepage with some kind of featured item area, and maybe a slider that highlights categories. Looking for donations? Make it impossible to miss the donate button and highlight what donations are being used for with your site.
A good firm will help you think strategically about your web development goals and flesh out a strong plan of action. Ultimately, you should have a handle on your goals before talking to anyone. No one knows your organization like you do, so getting this legwork done before hiring someone else will mean that you’re going to get more for your money in the long run.
Need Help? Contact Rootid.
Of course, if you need additional help, or have more questions. Contact us!
Designing a website can be a very complicated process with a lot of stages depending on the size of the site you are building. But with a user-centered strategy, grounded in best practices, you will be set-up for success.
In this session, we will guide you through the strategies we use and the basic steps needed for a clean, user-friendly website that is based in user research and design best practices. What we'll cover:
Defining Audiences (based on real people you know directly or indirectly)
Using Data to Understand Users
Designing Persona-based Information Architecture
Developing User Workflows & Predicting User Interactions
Interviewing Stakeholders & Testing Assumptions
Optimizing for Drupal Functionalities
Design Best Practices
Current Trends vs. Universal Constants
Tips and Tools for a Smooth Transition to Development
That's where data from Google Analytics and Facebook play an important role.
In addition to filling in the gaps, data can also confirm findings from other research methods. You may even be surprised by some of the trends and behaviors that pop-up in your data.
If you’re only looking at pageviews, traffic growth, and Facebook Page Likes, you’re missing the full story.
We've all been there... looking at Google Analytics and Facebook reports can be overwhelming.
So much data! How do you know what matters?
This guide is here to help you get started sorting through what matters and how to use the data effectively.
By setting up just a few simple reports we can dig deep into data that will help you learn more about your donors, volunteers, members and other target audiences, so that your communications efforts can be more effective.
Use Segments To Compare Behavior and Find Trends
Google Analytics segments are a way to look at discrete user groups based on demographics, type of device, location, behavior and a lot more.
Why is this important?
Take a look at this example of our client’s data.
This data shows that over 865 conversions took place on their site from traffic that originated on Facebook.
In comparison, traffic that originated on Twitter converted just 12 times!
Clearly, their ideal audience is spending time on Facebook, not Twitter. This is critical information when making campaign decisions, right?
How do you use segments?
At the top of almost every report, you’ll see an area where you can add segments. Choose the ones you want to compare, then click apply.
Segments may be one of the most important features that you can use when doing research.
It's important to realize that this process is about looking for trends and anomalies. Not all reports are going to give you a nugget of information. But, keep digging and you can find incredible insights.
Take some time to explore the different segments that are available. You can also make custom segments.
Some other popular segments that Google Analytics provides out of the box are:
Pro Tip: Segment Traffic By Conversions
When researching your target users, you should be looking for users that have completed a transaction or taken an action on your website to engage with you.
This could be a donation, volunteer sign-up, newsletter sign-up, or any other action you want users to take on your site.
These are the people you want to target, right?
In Google Analytics these are referred to as "conversions."
When performing research, we use segment to learn trends and behaviors that are specific to your audience.
After segmenting by converting traffic, think about the following questions:
What external marketing channels do they come from?
How often do they come back to the website?
What pages do they land on?
What topics are they interested in?
What actions do they take before they convert?
Hacks to Find Donor and Volunteer Demographics
Now that you understand how to use segments, you can segment to learn a lot about your target audience.
Demographics are critical to getting your messaging and campaigns strategy correctly.
Compare the campaign strategy for communicating with a 60+ year old versus a 30 year old. Different channels. Different messages. Different asks.
Demographic information lays the bedrock for much of what we do in communications.
You may already have a pretty good grasp on your donor and volunteer demographics based on other research that you’ve done. But are you getting the full picture?
How do you know your intuition is accurate?
Use Facebook Audience Insights to Perform Donor Research
Facebook Insights is a little-known tool in Facebook that will provide all kinds of amazing information about people that like your Facebook page or have interests in your mission.
In addition to demographic information like age, marital status, and education, Facebook Audience Insights will tell you about their additional interests so you can start to put together a full picture of your personas.
It can also help you identify potential strategic partnerships.
Go to your Facebook Ads Manager. You can find the Audience Insights in the main menu under Plan.
Once on the page, add your page name into field “People Connected to” field.
This will bring up your audience information. In addition to age, gender, marital status and education level, you can find out location information and additional page likes.
We like to focus on additional Page Likes, as this can tell you a lot of additional information about their interests.
Use Google Analytics Demographics Information
Google Analytics has also developed an interface for analyzing demographic information of users visiting your website.
Some information, like location, has always been available.
However, more recently, Google has given us information on things like age, gender and interests.
Google does not have access to this data on all users, so it is not nearly as accurate as Facebook. Regardless, Google Analytics can be a nice compliment to that information.
Find this information under Audiences -> Overview.
How Should You Use Google Analytics Demographic Data?
Demographics are one of the foundations for understanding your users.
If you don’t understand your nonprofit “customer” (meaning donor, members, clients, etc.) then your marketing campaigns aren’t going to be successful.
Here are a few ways we’ve used this information to develop personas with clients:
Demographic data will help you create your almighty donor and client personas that underpin your marketing efforts.
Location data focuses your campaign approach. One of the advantages of digital marketing is that you can fish in a targeted area of the ocean, rather than casting a wide net to see where you might find fish.
Location data allows you to identify new locations where you might expand your marketing efforts and find new constituents. It also allows you to see how campaigns in particular locations might be lifting your overall performance (think radio PSA, billboard, newspaper ad or article).
Don't forget that all of this is in context of your work.
Perhaps you're wondering if your target audience is urban or rural.
Perhaps you're interested in knowing what regions you need to target for an acquisition campaign.
What are some creative ways you can use this data in your marketing efforts?
Using Event Tracking To Understand Behavior
Google Analytics events are ways to track behavior on your site that may not be business critical, but do show user engagement or behavior trends.
In particular, it can help you understand how users are engaging with content topics and how users are using your user interface.
Here are some common events that we setup on client sites:
Page Scroll Tracking. Using a tool like Google Tag Manager you can setup events to fire based on how far down the page users scroll.
This can help you learn more about how users are navigating your landing page, or you can use this to find out which blog posts are getting the most engagement. This could help you adjust content strategy and the topics of your content.
Video Watching. Events can also be fired when users what a video. This would give you insights into which videos are most popular, and the topics that resonate most with your users.
Track UI calls to action. For example, let’s say that you have a banner image on your homepage with a button that has a main call to action.
You can track the number of times that users click on that button versus using the main navigation to get to a location on your site. You could do the same thing for sidebar call to action buttons, etc. Again, these are not main conversions, but it would inform you how users are navigating your site.
Using Traffic Channel Analysis to Research Your Target Audience
How is traffic coming to your website? More importantly, which traffic is most engaged and converting on your website?
You can see an overview of traffic by channel under Acquisition -> Overview in Google Analytics.
Use Traffic Channel Segments to Dig Deeper
Instead of using the overview report, I prefer to use segments and compare behaviors.
Some questions that are helpful to ask yourself:
Which channels drive the most conversions?
Which channels drive the most engagement with content?
Does a particular channel drive most of the conversions for one goal? Meaning do volunteer sign-ups come from Twitter, but donations come from Facebook? If so, this can lead to two distinct personas.
Are there clear demographic patterns based on channel?
Use Organic Search and CPC Campaigns to Learn More
When you connect Search Console and your Google Grants account, Google Analytics will provide really powerful information about what users were searching before they landed on your site.
Why does this matter?
Search queries can provide a really clear view into a user’s motivations and concerns.
If you can connect traffic to search queries and behaviors, then this can help you model your target audience's motivations and concerns.
If you have connected these services to your Google Analytics account, go to Acquisition -> Search Console -> Queries to see organic search queries.
You can see your Google Grants data by going to Acquisitions -> Google Ads -> Search Queries
Create your personas with a group of colleagues. Each individual in your organization has a unique experience with your personas, therefore a unique perspective. Bring those experiences together to build a 360 degree view of who your persona is.
Spend a minimum of 20-30 minutes per persona. It’s worth taking time to get the details right. Don’t assume anything, and make sure your assumptions are backed up by data and survey results.
Think outside the box. Don’t just hone in on donors. Think about strategic partners, press, clients, board members and others.
Happy New Year From Rootid & Exciting Announcements!
Though it began with a sense of confusion and uncertainty, we can’t help but feel inspired by how our clients, friends, and partners have joined together to make a difference around the world.
In 2018, we continue forward with the momentum of our collective beliefs toward more equitable and healthy communities that celebrate diversity.
Growing Beyond Just Websites & Print Materials
Last year, Rootid continued to grow our rockstar team as we expanded our service offerings to nonprofits.
Our team now spans 3 time zones and offers more than just print, web design and custom development services.
Our continued expansion provides a more holistic approach to nonprofit marketing and communications that helps our clients engage their communities through authentic and strategic brand development, more thoughtful and effective messaging, and multi-channel marketing management.
We also formed a major strategic partnership with Full Circle Fund, where we helped launch the Nimble Nonprofit Series, capacity building workshops that serve Bay Area nonprofits and community members. Valerie Neumark Mickela, Rootid Co-Founder, also joined their Board of Directors this past fall.
We Love Our Clients!
We're still fueled by our inspiring clients.
Their impact around the world is literally changing lives inc communities, influencing policies that shape our future, and building a more equitable society where everyone can thrive.
In 2017, we refreshed some inspiring brands, including:
We’re determined to serve more nonprofits, both established organizations and 'nimble' newcomers.
In addition to continuing to grow our 360-degree approach to customized marketing services, Rootid is excited about a new product to be released in 2018 that will help smaller nonprofits get started with a powerful online marketing tool set at an affordable price. Keep your eyes peeled for announcements!
Our team is also committed to giving back to the nonprofit community through in-kind services. Last year, we completed the 3rd Annual brandUP campaign, by providing $10,000 in marketing services to Root & Rebound. Our team is determined to continue to be a catalyst for big ideas and great nonprofits.
This year, we will expand the scope of brandUP to impact even more nonprofits. Stay tuned for our 2018 announcement!
Digital marketing has stolen the spotlight in recent years, thanks to its accessibility and reach, but does that mean print is obsolete? Not according to a Two Sides survey:
“88% of respondents indicated that they understood, retained or used information better when they read print on paper compared to lower percentages (64% and less) when reading on electronic devices.”
The key is understanding when and how to leverage that preference. Print collateral is best used in strategic settings, where you’re in a position to provide something tangible—something that either lends credibility (banners, signs, swag, etc.) or encourages engagement (programs, forms, business cards, etc.) Take Full Circle Fund’s yearly UNITE event, for example.
By utilizing print, we were able to set a festive and informative tone at SF Jazz. Everything was branded and strategically placed—from the stickers on the mini-wine bottles to the programs highlighting Full Circle Fund’s grant cycle.
Even our new foldout business cards had to pull their weight, that night. In addition to providing basic contact information, they also listed our services, featured a client testimonial, and encouraged follow-up with a tear-off ticket (redeemable for a drink with a Rootid founder).
That’s not to say digital didn’t play a role, of course. No one can dispute social media’s role in creating awareness.
The point is, by recognizing print and digital’s individual advantages, we were able to help Bay Area guests discover and celebrate social change in their community. That, in and of itself, is a huge success!
We don’t talk much about food and drink on Rootid’s blog, but when you’re getting ready for a 3 day trip to New Orleans for the NTEN conference, you have to plan accordingly.
If you’ve been to New Orleans, you know that the Crescent City has some of the best music, cuisine and bars in the world. If you haven’t been there before, and you’re planning a trip, then you’re in for a treat!
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit on several occasions for conferences, and have put together this list of amazing local eats, cafes and bars.
If you’re going for a conference, then you’re likely going to be located near the conference center. This list is curated to ensure that you can easily access these spots within a 20-30 minute walk depending on where you are staying.
A Map of Our Favorites
You can’t leave New Orleans without heading over to Cochon Butcher. Butcher, as it’s commonly referred to, is connected to the world renowned Cochon restaurant, run by James Beard award-winning chefs Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski.
The menu is a take on an old world butcher with a cajun flair. Items range from a the muffaletta (my favorite) to the hot boudin. All the meats are smoked or cured in-house. They also have a great selection of beer and wine. I also love their homemade pickles!
Butcher is a perfect place for a quick conference escape since it’s is within a short walk of the convention center.
If there’s no other place you make it to, go here.
Willie Mae's Scotch House
Nothing says soul food like fried chicken. Wilie Mae’s Scotch House holds the Food Network and Travel channels title belt for the best fried chicken, so don’t miss out on this one.
This New Orleans gem is run by 3rd generation Seaton family members, and they still use the original recipes. If you don’t want fried chicken, there are a wide variety of other soul food classics to choose from.
Just make sure you get here early. A line starts to form before the restaurant opens, so if you don’t plan accordingly, you might miss your next conference session (it would be worth it if you did).
Johnny's Po-Boys doesn’t look like much from the outside, but what they’re cooking inside might change your life.
Johnny's is the oldest family-owned restaurant in New Orleans. You can smell the love when you walk in the door. It features classic southern cooking in a red plaid plastic tablecloth setting.
The menu is large, so you can come back over and over if you want to try different features like alligator sausage po-boy, crawfish po-boy, or an oyster po-boy… oh yeah they do have other incredible dishes that aren’t po-boys too.
Nothing says New Orleans quite like a freshly fried beignet with a pile of powdered sugar on top. Hey, I never said eating in New Orleans was healthy!
Although most people are familiar with the world-famous Cafe du Monde, I prefer the more reserved Cafe Beignet located in the French Quarter. It feels more like a neighborhood cafe with a quieter atmosphere, and fewer tourists hawking over you while they wait to steal your table as soon as you take your last bite.
This isn’t that close to the conference center, but it's worth the trip. Plan an early morning planned to make sure you get your fill of this classic. Order your beignet with a cappuccino for the full experience.
The Courtyard Brewery
If you like beer, then don’t miss out on this funky little spot close to the conference center. When you arrive, you might think you’re lost. The brewery looks like a little shipping container plopped down on a vacant lot. It actually might be....
Despite its appearance, The Courtyard Brewery is quickly becoming one of the places for beer geeks to frequent with its wide variety of brews. In addition to serving beers they brew on location, Courtyard has a great list of other breweries from across the country.
Stop by and have a few in their outdoor “courtyard” with friends or soon-to-be-friends.
The Rusty Nail
An urban oasis that was carved out of a rough looking building, the Rusty Nail sports a beautiful outdoor patio that is perfect for those warm New Orleans evenings. It’s located close to the convention center, so you can take the edge off after a day of sitting in seminars.
Their drink list features a number of classic cocktails with a twist, or enjoy one of their several beers on tap. They always have a good line up and can provide something for everyone no matter your preference.
The Spotted Cat
Of course, you can’t have a Best of New Orleans list without mentioning music. There are literally hundreds of places to choose from when it comes to live music in New Orleans. I’ve been to many of them, but for some reason, I always like the Spotted Cat - the quintessential New Orleans Jazz club.
For some reason I have a soft spot in my heart for The Cat. Perhaps it is because it's one of the first places I visited my first time in New Orleans.
Are there better venues? Yes. However, The Spotted Cat always has a great atmosphere, and a small enough space where you’re basically standing right next to the band all night. It just feels good.
Check it out. They have free live music there 7 nights a week.