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Web Platform Selection: Getting it Right

With such a diverse and prolific range of available platforms, providers, designers and implementers it can often seem overwhelming whether you’re looking to get your first website or even upgrade your existing presence.

This article (I hope) will help you organise your requirements, set some evaluation criteria and equip you with the skills to make the best choice in selecting the right website solution for you.

Like most things in life there’s “no one size fits all” and that holds true for both selecting web platforms and their implementation. So how do you find the best fit?

Let’s start by asking yourself some questions:

  • What is the main purpose of the website?
  • Do you want to sell things on it?
  • Are you looking to promote your business to potential new customers?
  • Is it to help inform, manage or interact with your existing customers?
  • Or is it to accurately represent you brand and image to the market?

Maybe it’s all of these things or something else entirely – the key point here is to identify why you are doing it at all? Understanding this will help you clarify the features your website should have. For example, if the main purpose is to act as a sales tool then prominent call-to-actions throughout the site and an easy means of contact will be important. Back to the questions.

  • What constraints do you have?
  • How much time can you put into it? When do you need your website to go live?
  • What level of budget do you have?
  • What skills and knowledge can you bring to the project?

It doesn’t matter whether you’re creating a personal website for yourself or you’re part of a large multinational conglomerate the realities are that there will be constraints you will have to deal with. Understanding what these are at the outset can help you not only manage them, but also set realistic expectations on what you can achieve and how you can achieve it.

How involved do you want to be?

Some of the constraints above may already provide the answer to this question, however it is important to decide what level of input you want, or are able to contribute during the project, and of course when this involvement is required.

If we look at the main roles in a typical web project; what of the following can you do?

  1. Governance – allocation of budget and overall approval of the design and website.
  2. Management – managing resources, design, automation, platform selection, hosting options, budget and time.
  3. Design – Creating the design concepts, then applying the graphical representation of your brand and image.
  4. Automation – Turning the design into a functioning website.
  5. Content – The creation and curation of content for the website.
  6. Testing – Testing the website functions and ensuring it behaves as expected.

With these questions behind you, you should now have an idea of what you want, how much you want to spend and how involved you’re going to be.
The next step is to evaluate what’s out there – so let’s look at how to do this.

Web Platform/Technology Evaluation Criteria

A good way to organise or rank the technology offerings is to use a score card where each evaluation criteria is given a score. For those factors that you deem more important you can simply give a higher scoring value to. Thus when the scores are summed together the platform with the highest value theoretically is the right choice for you.

Your scoring criteria should include:

  1. Feature List – A list of the features you need as well as those that you’d like in your website – but remember to score the “must haves” higher than those “like to have” features.
  2. Platform maturity – How long has the technology solution been available. As software solutions mature the risks of vulnerabilities decrease due to fixes and patches while feature diversity typically increases.
  3. Platform popularity – How many companies use this platform and more importantly use it for the same purpose you intend to use it for?
  4. Reviews – What people are saying about this product is an important consideration in evaluating the claims and credibility of the software.
  5. Who’s using it – Another good endorsement for a product is who’s using it. This gives validity and support to the reviews along with confidence that it really does work.
  6. Security / Reliability / Performance – Has there been reported issues, bugs and hacks. How many users, products or customers can the platform handle simultaneously before the site performance get impaired? What security features, plugins and/or certification does the platform have?
  7. Future proofing – Over time what you want from a website may evolve to include features not needed at the moment. Does this platform support features that may be useful in the future? Do they have an active development roadmap?
  8. Support – What support is available whether it be online, self-help or subscription based. How big is the community and how easy is to find skilled experts should all be part of the evaluation criteria.

If you are using partners or contractors to implement part or all of these services then you’ll also need to evaluate them on their experience, reliability, endorsements, testimonials and capabilities.

By putting in place this simple structure on defining what you want and then how you’re going to evaluate it you can have confidence in making the right choice in your web platform selection to help you achieve your online vision.

Andy Brown
www.strategus.co.nz