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20 Things You Must Know Before Approaching A Web Agency

Before you engage with a new agency to build or redesign your site, there are some key data points you should know about your existing site.

In this post, I’ll cover what you need to know about your website traffic, site speed, SEO and hosting and highlight some helpful tools. Knowing these baseline metrics prior to engagement will help you establish a benchmark with which to evaluate your new site.

Traffic Behavior points to know 

1. What are your users’ geographic locations? Determining where your traffic comes from is a very important point that your agency will want to know. Why is this important? One reason is that if you are currently hosting your website on a web server in the basement of your facility and serving web pages globally, you may want to consider employing a CDN to speed up the page load time. From a digital strategy perspective, creating a location specific, personalized user experience can help maximize ROI on your website redesign.

2. Which devices do your visitors use? Thanks to Google’s new search results algorithm, any website that is not mobile friendly right now is surely losing traffic since Google now favors mobile friendly websites. You’ll want to know what percentage of visitors are using mobile, tablets and desktops to view your content.

3. Are your readers engaged? What percentage of your visitors are Unique versus New Visitors? Do your readers visit multiple page views per visit, or do you have a high bounce rate? What is the average time spent on a page?

4. What are your goal metrics? Are website actions and goals tracked and measured? If so, what actionable items (Sales Inquiries, Newsletter Subscriptions, etc.) are monitored and measured?

5. Do you know what your traffic sources are? Traffic sources are categorized by these terms:

  • Direct traffic can be explained as traffic that goes directly to a page on your site from either a bookmark, typing in the URL directly or by clicking on a link from an email.
  • Organic search is traffic coming to your website from a search engine such as Google, Bing or Yahoo.
  • Referral traffic is traffic to your site from other sites that aren’t search engines.

6. Anonymous and Authenticated Users. Who is using your site? Typically users can be organized into two main categories. Anonymous users are users who have no login credentials and typically have little interactivity with the website. Authenticated users typically do have login credentials and have permissions to create other users, create blog posts or perhaps even generate a report on website activity. Are your authenticated users logging into the website with a single sign on service like OpenID or OAuth? Your future vendor will need to know this to ensure that your new site can work with such a service.

7. Does your website currently have a publication workflow? Depending on the purpose of your site, you may have a workflow to create and publish content for your website. For example, if you are a marketing content strategist, you might write blog posts about your widget but require peer editing or a marketing director to approve your post.

Site Speed points to know 

8. How fast does your website load currently? There are many factors that can impact page load times such as page size, web server geographic location, web server capabilities and internet connection speeds. When testing the speed of your site, it is important to consider the initial page load time in addition to the page load time for returning visitors. 

There are several site speed tools available to establish these benchmarks such as:

SEO points to know 

9. Top Keywords. What are the current top keywords being used to find your site? Google Analytics reporting provides an easy way to monitor your SEO keywords.

10. Meta Descriptions and Page Titles. Do your pages currently have unique and appropriate titles and meaningful meta descriptions? Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tool is a great tool to analyze your page titles and meta data. Google Webmaster Tools also has a report to help you sort out duplicate page titles.

11. Sitemap. Does your website currently have a sitemap that both users or bots can use to crawl your website?

12. 404 Page not found and 403 Forbidden. Are there pages on your current site that have broken links or lead to protected pages? URI Valet can help scan your site and find any 400 errors.

13. W3C Validation and W3C CSS Validation. Does your current site pass the W3C Validation tests and if not, why? Mediacurrent’s Accessibility Lead, Michelle Williams, says it best in her recent blog post: Building features into a project from the start is almost always cleaner, easier, faster, and less expensive than retrofitting after the fact. It's no different for building accessibility into a website.

Hosting

14. Where is the site hosted currently? You’ll want to create a list of protocols and credentials that are used in accessing the current host, like FTP or SSH. If you’re not sure where your site is hosted you can determine this by using a tool like Who is Hosting This.

15. Who is the domain registrar? You’ll also want to know what company your domain name is registered with. If you’re not sure what registrar you are using, you can determine this by using a tool like ICANN Whois.

16. Who handles DNS changes? If you end up moving your website to a different host, you’ll need to know who to ask to make these changes and where DNS changes need to occur.

17. Do you have all the login credentials for the site, server, code repository, DNS, domain services, analytics, third party services, etc.? You’ll want to compile a list of all the login credentials that you currently have and obtain the ones you are missing prior to working with an agency.

18. Are you currently using a CDN? Many websites use a Content Delivery Network or CDN to serve content efficiently. Usually this is static content like images, documents and script files. You’ll want to know if you are currently using a CDN and if not will the agency be providing you with such a service.

19. What type of disk space requirements do you currently have/need? Before contacting an agency, you’ll want to assess what disk space your current site is using and whether or not that meets your business needs. If you are hosting many large files like video or audio files, you’ll have much greater disk space needs and you’ll want to evaluate that with the agency.

20. What software do you require to run your existing site? (Apache, MySQL, PHP, etc.) Most modern websites require software such as a database, a web server and a programming language that the site is built with. You’ll want to profile what software is used to run your website.

Conclusion

Engaging with an agency without having these key data points can be a costly decision. Take ownership and the necessary steps to gain insight into your website property. In the process, you may discover additional opportunities for growth. Know your website traffic, site speed, SEO and hosting information prior to engagement to make the best decisions for your website.

Additional Resources
How to Budget a Drupal Project | Blog
What it Really Means to Run An “Agile Scrum” Project | Blog
A Discovery Phase: Starting Your Drupal Project Off Right | Blog 
Planning a Rational Redesign: Part 1Part 2Part 3 | Blog Series

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