Today, I am happy to report that, more often that not, a new client's expectations for their website are much too low. Perhaps there has been an expectation pendulum swing resulting from past failures. That's not to say that unrealistic expectations are never a problem. But they are more rare, and often just need adjusting rather than lowering. These days, when discussing website proposals with our clients, we're much more likely raise a client's expectations - offering capabilities they did not require or that they did not know were possible.
What kind of capabilities am I referring to? Glad you asked!
Content Management. Frequent readers of our newsletter already know how critical we believe content management is to an effective website. It's our fundamental principle and the reason why we give free and unlimited user licenses of our content management system to every Newfangled client. While giving away content management is a distinguishing characteristic of Newfangled, there are many content management systems, besides ours, that are also very affordable - some are even free under open source licensing. In any case clients that do not expect to be able to easily and instantly update content, including text, images, PDFs, audio and video files or any other kind of media to their website, are thinking way too low about their sites. Content management is simply a "don't leave home without it" requirement for today's website.
Database Driven Websites. Akin to content management are database driven sites. There are some content management approaches that are not database driven (like Adobe's fine Contribute product). However, database driven content management systems have many advantages over static sites, even when the static site has some content management capability. For one, a database driven site allows content to be reused through a website without duplicating text or hard coding links. For example, case studies can be linked to on related pages. Linking up related content reinforces expertise. A database driven site can associate and display related content in various places throughout a site with a simple content association selector. No need to enter links on every page. Cross links can be re-used and easily maintained. Links to case studies that are unpublished or deleted are then automatically removed across the site.
A database driven site is also easy to expand. New applications and new content areas can be added without massive site re-coding. That's because a database driven site separates content from display, so if the site's structure or design changes the content is still intact. Whereas redesigns of database driven sites are easily applied, redesigns of static websites are... well, you might as well start from scratch.
These days some website proposals require database driven areas for the website (when they expect to add lots of content). Rarely do proposals expect an entire site, from home page to contact page, to be database driven. But anything less cuts off tremendous advantages - and these days building a database driven website is actually easier than building a static site. For more information about the advantages of database driven sites see our newsletter "The Overlooked Advantages of Database Driven Sites."
Website Visitor Tracking. A database driven content management platform creates the possibility of tracking website usage in fascinating and extremely useful ways. All websites, database driven or not, include overall site statistic reports. These reports provide a bird's eye view of aggregate trends of site usage. They are common to all websites. However, in addition to these standard stats, a database driven site can track individual sessions - divying up groups of sessions based on various triggers - triggers like Google visits, email newsletters, site aliases, and links from online ad campaigns. Database driven visitor tracking can be viewed by tracking group showing popular website trends based on specific ad campaigns or email newsletters. Looking up an individual's session by email address is also possible when the site has the user's email address on file (like when the sessions result from email newsletters). This "worm's eye view" of site stats can be extremely revealing and helpful.
If standard website usage stats are the extent of expectations - it's time to raise the sights. For more information about website tracking see our newsletter "Advanced Website Tracking Tools."
Website Forms Data Integration. Adding forms to a website is a basic capability. Collecting data, emailing forms to clients, etc. is all standard stuff. But much more can be done with form data. First of all, in conjunction with website tracking tools, contact information submitted by users can be associated with individual user sessions. For example, suppose a visitor starts a session by clicking on a search results page from Google or a Google AdWord link. The anonymous visit is assigned a generic session ID. But if said user offers their email address by subscribing to an email newsletter, or by filling out any other site form, the email address can then be associated to the visitor's session records. Looking up this session when doing follow up can provide extremely helpful insight and improve customer service.
Web form data can also be multi-purposed. In addition to storing the form data, and emailing it to the people, it can also be added to third party systems like SalesForce or WebEx. Automating marketing data is a basic capability of utilizing website forms. Client's that use CRM tools like SalesForce should be thinking about integrating their forms - such capability is par for the course.
Site search. Some clients are surprised that adding site search is a standard capability. For a database driven site, search is really plug and play. In addition to overall site search it's easy enough to create content specific search mechanisms. For example, searching within products or within a knowledge base is just as easy to set up as overall site search. If site search is considered out of reach, raise the requirements - search is standard.
User Account Administration. It's no big deal to maintain user accounts to password protected sections or site features restricted to registered users. In fact, our content management system includes administrator account control by default. Any system level administrator can add and remove other site administrator accounts at will. They can even establish which administrators have access to what website pages. So if there are certain employees responsible for product related information, setting a product only content management account for these employees takes all of three minutes. And user accounts can even be set to expire at pre-determined dates.
The same goes for outside site access accounts. Automated site registrations with user controlled account management tools ("email me password," for example) can be set up easily enough. Every site handles private information differently, some accounts can be automated, but others require a human review before being authorized. Setting up email notifications and simple account activation tools facilitates managing online accounts.
Idiomas Multiples, er... that is, Multiple Languages. In today's global economy many companies need to display their sites in multiple languages. International manufacturers often service multiple foreign markets. Allowing visitors to display the site in their preferred language is necessary for global businesses. While professional translation is not automatic, website tools that allow dynamic language toggling can be integrated into any website.