How to finish a web project

Paul Boag

The new site has gone live. There is a big sigh of relief and the web designer and client part ways. But should it be that way?

Don’t worry. This is not a post suggesting that you should keep your web designer permanently on retainer, no matter how much I would like that, as somebody who runs a web design agency.

Neither is it a post lecturing you about how a website should never be finished and that it should continually evolve. I have already covered that in the past.

No, this post is about what happens when the web designer steps back and the client is expected to take responsibility for their own site. It is about how that process happens and how the web designer can ensure the client is equipped to do that job.

Cartoon of web designer leaving the client confused about how to manage their site.
Many clients are ill equipped to run their websites over the long term when the web designer walks away.

Believe it or not, this process does not start when the website goes live. It needs to happen well before that. It needs to be baked into the project in the form of ongoing client education.

Knowledge transfer

To my mind delivering a website is only half of a web designers job. It is also our responsibility to ensure the client knows everything they need in order to successfully run their site.

Admittedly many clients don’t realise they have that need, but they are paying us to deliver an effective website and that is to a large extent reliant on how the client runs it.

With that in mind it is vital that a website is developed in close collaboration with the client. This is the opportunity for the web designer to gently educate the client about best practice and get them thinking in the right way about their site.

As we take the client through the process of building the website we have an opportunity to talk about writing for the web, running social media and tracking analytics.

We can also explain to them how to extend the site if required, how the content management system works and how to keep the design consistent. All of these things will help the site endure over the long term.

We can also talk to them about the practicalities of managing their website.

Management practicalities

Many clients are a little naive about what is involved in running a website over the long term. They under estimate just how much work is involved and so rarely have the necessary resources in place.

They tend to lack anybody with a clear vision for taking the site forward, instead relying on committees who lack the digital knowledge to make decisions about the direction of the site.

Finally, there is little in the way of policies and procedures, to help ensure on the fly decision making is consistent.

All of this leads to a somewhat rudderless web strategy and allows the website to slip down the agenda of the organisation until it quickly becomes an embarrassment. This eventually kicks off yet another redesign cycle, that throws out the old site and starts from scratch.

A website owner feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work to do on the website.
Many of those managing websites just don’t have enough time to do the job justice.

It falls to us as web designers to at least make our clients aware of these challenges, although increasingly clients are looking to us to help them find solutions.

Ideally these conversations should happen early in the development process. However, as a minimum they should be happening by the time you do handover.

The handover process

Handover should be more than pass across some Photoshop files, HTML, CSS and Javascript. It should be more than making sure the site is live and stable. It is also a chance to take stock, review and look forward.

Most web designers will have a handover meeting, where they ask the client how they felt the project went and maybe talk about future work. However, if we are honest those meetings are mainly for us and not for the client. They are a chance to smooth over the relationship if there has been problems, and hopefully secure more work.

What the client requires is more than a sales meeting. They need a process that eases them into their new role. They need a contractual arrangement where for at least a while they are able to pick up the phone and ask your advice. In fact at Headscape we go a step further. Any of our clients, past or present, are more than welcome to pick up the phone and pick my brains free of charge. We believe this is an important part of our service.

The handover should also include discussion about the future. Not just about your future working with the client, but also the clients future running the website. Throughout a project it is always a good idea to keep a wish list of new functionality and content that you would eventually add to the website. As the project draws to a close, now is the time to work through that list with the client and put together a programme of ongoing work they can address systematically. This will at least give them the beginning of a digital roadmap they can follow.

The final component of this handover process should be to help them establish some metrics to monitor the sites performance.

Monitoring and review

To be honest, monitoring and review should be an intrinsic part of the website from the outset and should continue well beyond you parting ways with your client.

It should start by establishing business objectives and identifying key performance indicators for the site. These can be used as a benchmark to measure the success of your web project. However, more importantly they can be used to measure the site after you have finished your initial web project.

A website owner reporting on the success of the website.
Key metrics can be used to demonstrate the success of the website and justify further investment.

The client can monitor how content and functional changes to the site impact these figures and even use these numbers as a way of justifying further investment in the site.

The client will need help setting up this programme of monitoring and reviewing. That might be as simple as setting up Google Analytics or it could be something more comprehensive like the dashboards we have begun building for our clients.

You also need to encourage them to do more comprehensive reviews each quarter. This is the point where they step back and look at the bigger picture. This is something we often do with the client via a simple conference call. We also will write some clients an annual review to point out any areas that need addressing or identifying new innovations they should consider adopting.

Never say goodbye

My point here is that we have an obligation not just to build our clients a website, but to help them run it too. Not all clients will want our help and that is fine. However, we should not be the ones to walk away washing our hands of responsibility. We should not be the ones saying goodbye.

Always remember that building a great website is not enough, it’s what happens once it is launched that really matters.