Sarah Durham (00:00):
A few things about the structure of the Zoom Webinars. So we are recording and after today’s webinar, we are going to post the recording and a transcript of the recording on our website. We will also be sending it out. Usually we send out an email with any resources or things that are mentioned. So if you’d like to take notes during these things, great, but if you want to just stay fully engaged or walk around and do some stretching and yoga during today, that’s okay. We’ve got the notes covered. We will send it to you afterwards. In Zoom Webinar, you will notice two ways you can interact with us. There is the chat panel, which a few of you are already starting to use. You should see that at the bottom. If you’re in the Zoom app, you have the ability to chat just to panelists or to everybody. Feel free to do whatever you feel most comfortable with.
Sarah Durham (00:50):
There’s also a button that says Q&A and in the Q&A, you have the ability to ask questions. You can ask questions or you can chat anytime throughout the session. There are two people who are going to be monitoring things as we go. My silent partner on the monitoring front is Theresa Gutierrez Jacobs, who is off-camera right now. Theresa is helping advance slides for Rose., who’s got a little bit of a technical challenge with that. So Theresa will be advancing slides. Theresa is also standing by at email@example.com. If people are having technical problems with Zoom, you can drop Theresa a line by email, or you could chat to us, too. I am Sarah Durham, I’m the CEO here at Advomatic and I’m going to be standing by monitoring the chat and your Q&A. Also Rose is going to take us through a presentation and during her presentation, we are going to go off camera.
Sarah Durham (01:48):
So you won’t see us during the presentation, but you will see the slides. Hopefully you’re seeing them now. And then at the end, we’re going to leave some time for Q&A, and we will stop sharing and we will come back on camera and I will facilitate a discussion. So don’t hesitate to chat in questions at any point, and we will do our best to tackle them at the end. So with that, I want to just explain a little bit about why we’re doing this webinar today. I think three years ago maybe, Rose delivered a version of this talk for the first time at a nonprofit technology conference. And it was really well received. And I think it was at a time when more and more nonprofits were starting to think about working in iterative ways, project management, that was more iterative and less waterfall.
Sarah Durham (02:34):
And particularly what were the implications of that for their organization’s website. So Rose presented a talk about that at the NTC that was really well received. And, and since that time, I’ve asked her to repeat that talk a few times, because I think there’s so many principles in this talk that are just evergreen. But this year in particular, it strikes me that Rose was very present in the development of this talk because more and more organizations in 2020 have seen their budgets get cut and no longer can afford to do maybe that big website upgrade or that big overhaul or build that new site. And so whether or not they want to overhaul, they are in a mode where they have to iterate. So I asked Rose to do it once again and do this sort of COVID-19 edition to help us think through a little bit about what’s the difference between iterating and overhauling and what does that mean, particularly right now? So with that, I’m going to mute myself, go off camera and hand it over to you. Rose. Thanks very much.
Rose Liebman (03:40):
Hi everyone. So I guess as Sarah said, I’m Rose Liebman. I’m the Vice President of Accounts here at Advomatic and she’s given you a lot of background on the talk, so I’m just gonna, I’m just going to get straight to it. I’m going to go off camera here and get started. So we’re here to walk you through how to know when to iterate on your site and when to overhaul completely. And that kind of seems sort of straightforward, but it actually can be quite sticky for someone to explore some of the assumptions that we make when we are trying to assess whether our site needs an overhaul and I’m using this word “assumptions” very, very intentionally here because assumptions are not facts.
Rose Liebman (04:32):
So our first fact that sort of counteracts our assumption is, one second, next slide. Okay. So that our website is old, right? We need a new website because our website is old. So I think for what this talk is really about, this talk is really about how to manage your website through its life cycle. So if you’re currently thinking, well, you know I should overhaul my site because it’s old, I think automatically that’s not actually the case, right? So if your website is old, it may not necessarily be in need of a redesign.
Rose Liebman (05:26):
So most people would think that an old site would need to be redesigned, but you may be able to get by with an older site, you may actually be able to improve your existing site instead of redesigning it completely and actually end up with a better product. We’re going to go over why these things are the case as we go. But so most of the time it would be right that you’d want to redo your site, but it’s not necessarily always the case. The next assumption is you finally have a budget, right? For years, you’ve been trying to make the case. You’ve been going to bat, you finally get the resources to do an overhaul. And you think that you must do it, right? So that’s actually not always the case.
Rose Liebman (06:12):
And I want to point out here that we’ve got this little graphic that says fact, an alternative, fact, and these slides were done years ago. And I understand that that is getting less and less funny as the time goes by, but it kind of does make a point, right? Regarding whether, you know, you have the budget. If you’ve got the budget that therefore you must have a redesign, that’s actually, there may be smarter ways, right? Especially because it’s taken you this long to get your resources together. It’s really, really important that you think through what your approach is and make sure that you’re doing it in a way that is going to yield the absolute best product. So we’ll get into that a little bit later. The next assumption that we make is, you know, you just feel like your budget is inadequate for redesign, right? And despair sets in, and you have little hope of ever having an effective site. It’s funny because you think that the opposite problem of having the resources to do a website could be freeing and wonderful, but in this case, thinking that you don’t have the resources to actually improve your site could be, you know, really, really bad. So this is something that you want to think about.
Rose Liebman (07:24):
There’s always an interim effort and affordable steps that you can take, and it may not be everything that you ever dreamed of, but it still can be a lot better. And once you start to free up some relief, get relief on some of the issues and problems that you have with your site, you’ll start to see that this assumption that we make is, and this is probably for me, the worst offender is like, Oh, okay, we’ve just overhauled our site. We don’t have to think about it for a good long time. You take one thing away from this webinar today, just one thing, it would be the idea that a website is never, ever done. Oh, Theresa, can you go back?
Rose Liebman (08:24):
When the moment takes that it’s-done attitude, it’s the moment that your website falls into disrepair. And what we’re trying to do here in this, in this webinar is to get you out of that cycle of boom and bust. So Dave, our technical manager, who’s really great, he’s fond of saying that the best time to iterate on your site is right after your website, your new website has been released. And now we’re going to go to our next slide. The one that we were just on, and that’s actually a little bit sort of, you know, a joke, but it’s a fun joke. And it really has proved a point over the years and we’ve used it a lot. This slide sort of shows, it’s a very data-driven slide, of course. And it shows how we’ve used our years of experience, building websites to get a sense of what the emotional phases are of a typical website project. That’s what we use all of our experience for, right? So you start at square one, that’s at the front end of that slide. And you have on this high stakes, emotional rollercoaster, right? You finally build your site, you consult all your stakeholders, you build a thing. And then you’re, you’re at the optimal happiness, right at that top. And then slowly over time, your happiness with your site starts to decline, right? And you reach the end, then you’re back to square one.
Rose Liebman (09:47):
So what the problem is here is not that you either have too much budget or too little budget, or you know, you don’t have enough. It’s buy-in. it’s really none of that but really, ultimately what we have found is the underpinning to success is your mindset, right? So there’s one thing that you can control, especially in a pandemic year. There are a lot of things that are outside of your control, but our philosophical underpinnings, right? And the philosophical underpinnings of this webinar is you can control your mindset and your mindset should always be that your website is never done.
Rose Liebman (10:24):
I just talked to you about two sort of personas. We like to work with personas a lot when we’re doing strategy for websites, for how we’re going to build a website. And I think it’s an interesting model to use here, right? So part of what’s happening when we succumb to this boom bust cycle of web management is that we’re thinking like serial overhaulers instead of strategic iterators. So you may be familiar with this approach of user personas, but if not, just kind of bear with me and roll with me a little,
Rose Liebman (10:52):
Let’s take a closer look at this overhauler mindset. It’s one that is mostly too likely to fall into a trap of that boom boom bust cycle. So the first characteristics first characteristic of, of the, of the serial overhauler is the serial overhauler has a very high stakes mentality, right? So they view the redesign as an all or nothing moment in time. Everything in the next five years is hanging in the balance here, or however long your cycle is for redesigning your site. That can be really, really stressful. And we know the effects of stress on decision-making. That’s been pretty well-documented.
Rose Liebman (11:34):
The second characteristic of a serial overhauler is that it’s sort of related, but a little bit separate is that they need, they have this know-all-now mentality, right? So they need to know everything about everything right now when in reality, we know that you can’t know everything ahead of time. You’re totally just guessing. I mean, think about if you were designing a site in 2019 and expecting that 2020 was going to look a lot, like 2019, that, that just isn’t how life works. Think of your relationships with your users, right, is your relationship with your users static? Is the organization’s goals static? No. So, technology is the same. It’s not static. And how could you possibly know everything at any given moment in time? Right. So what you’re really looking to do is to set a really strong, simple foundation that could be scalable and flexible.
Rose Liebman (12:31):
The third characteristic of a serial overhauler is a survival mentality, right? So we just need to get through this, right. And that’s another recipe for poor decision-making. It leads to things like setting arbitrary deadlines, which further escalates kind of emotions for people. And it can also lead to shoddy work because, quite frankly, when you press on your developers to do something that doesn’t actually fit in the timeframe and the resources and that it’s not really well thought out it’s, it’s going to end up not being as strong as it could be. And we often see websites that come to us that are in that state. And it’s very heartbreaking.
Rose Liebman (13:10):
The next characteristic is the one that sort of takes the worldview that like if we only had more money, the belief is that more money would always mean more value, more quality, more influence. When, of course we’ve seen simple examples in our communities, in politics and certainly in websites that use the live app.
Rose Liebman (13:36):
So the conviction seems to stick, but sometimes you can see a very simple implementation of something that’s actually quite effective and you also see the opposite. So within reason, of course, it’s not really as much about how much money you have to spend as to how you spend it. And that’s really what matters. And then especially if your resources are limited, it’s really important to know how you’re spending, that you’re spending really strategically. And then the final characteristic for this is that the serial overhauler is motivated by fear, right? This might sound a little bit harsh, but it really does apply because we’re all prone to succumbing to fear when we’re under a lot of pressure and the serial overhauler basically thinks about what might happen and what can happen instead of sort of taking a deep breath and saying, you know, let’s just build something simple and let’s be curious about what our relationships are, users are, how things are working and take our time to really get it right. So now Theresa, if you’ll advance to the next slide.
Rose Liebman (14:33):
It seems a lot happier to me personally, the strategic iterator, this mentality is more about incremental improvement, right? If you think of this person as a tinkerer and someone who’s curious. So the iterative mentality is characterized by a very plan-driven person, like someone who has all of the qualities of a good planner. A planner who has slow, steady, strategic pace to decision-making, has patience, understands the ROI for time spent educating one’s stakeholders. And that sometimes is a temptation, you know, to kind of just couch out of the stakeholders and say, yeah, we’ll do what so-and-so in marketing wants or what you know donations want. But when you know that if you can get them out of their way and you can give them a better product, it’s better sometimes to stand with your convictions, right?
Rose Liebman (15:27):
The second quality of a strategic iterator is that it also looks to make data-driven decisions. So a strategic iterator knows that they won’t know if their ideas are valid until they get them out into the world. And so that also kind of becomes something that, where they think through what they’re putting out into the world, so that they have a smaller scope of features and functionality that they’re testing so that they can understand them better. The strategic iterator has a plan to make iterative improvements based on feedback. Feedback from users, feedback from stakeholders and colleagues and content admins. So I don’t really love the word feedback because that word doesn’t, it sounds sort of dry, but it is very powerful. It’s a conversation that when anytime anybody uses your site, any member comes to your site or your constituents are looking to, you know, to learn more about you.
Rose Liebman (16:21):
That is a conversation, right? So you have an opportunity to listen to them. You’re not guessing, you’re listening and you’re, and you’re taking down that information and you’re improving your site over time in response to something real and true and not just guessing. The next quality is the iterator takes the long view. This person understands what the larger goal is, right? And that person who sits in that seat, the person who is managing that website really needs to understand that. So rather than just trying to get through the way that the serial overhaul or the strategic iterator is thinking, look, we’re laying down a good foundation here. And this is where we’re on a marathon, where in the long haul, we’re not sprinting, right. This will really serve your mission. And it’s just been my experience that when you see that really take hold in a team, it tends to propagate through the organization and change the culture, getting out of survival mode, out of response mode and into a more intentional mode.
Rose Liebman (17:20):
The next characteristic of a strategic iterator is the planner saver, right? The planner saver knows that there is savings in planning. It may seem that your stakeholders are pushing you to kind of move forward and move faster. You know that a good site is only as good as how well it’s been planned. A planner saver believes that staging of sites development slowly over time is the best way to get where you need to go. And a planner saver understands that, and this is a really important point that savings can hide in plain sight, right? Delaying or even skipping a redesign can save money over time, picking the right CMS can save you a ton of budget, implementing a strategy that works so well that it doesn’t need a lot of updating is another win. This is sort of invisible savings. And then there are many more examples of ways to kind of create savings through planning. And then the last quality is the final quality of the strategic iterator is that this person is motivated by curiosity. Where the other person’s motivated by fear. This person is confident in their way forward and more likely to make space for curiosity. What is my user doing? What does my user care about? Who is our audience? How is our audience changing? How can we accommodate our audience over time? It makes you think more importantly about that, I’m more open to having a dialogue with your user.
Rose Liebman (18:52):
So I want to, before we move over and we’re going to get into more of the nuts and bolts and the concrete stuff, but I’m kind of laying the groundwork here and I’m almost kind of doing what I’m telling you to do in this presentation. So I want to make a distinction between what exactly it means to do incremental improvements.
Rose Liebman (19:14):
There’s a difference between planned and unplanned improvements. So one: planned improvements are actually cheaper in the long run. The ideal is to improve your site based on solid data and feedback. And this helps you ensure that you’re spending your resources in the right place. You’re constraining the scope of mistakes. And this is something that I don’t think a lot of people think about. I sort of think about it a lot, because I think it’s an interesting concept. If you were iterating on small pieces of work and little feature updates, et cetera, and you’re doing this from a place of really understanding what you want and need, and you’re scoping it to a very small effort. If that thing, even though it’s based on strategy, it’s based on real world feedback. And it’s a smaller spend, but let’s just for a minute pretend that it doesn’t actually pan out. That mistake is not likely to make a lot of people unhappy the way that a big fancy overhaul that never really quite sees the right kind of adoption does. You can constrain the scope of your mistakes. You can try things, you can fail and you can fail in a way that doesn’t sort of take the whole apparatus down. And I love that idea. And that’s one of my big reasons why I think that iterating on your website is the best approach.
Rose Liebman (20:33):
It also helps you, this approach also helps you spend less on your initial build, right? You’re just building a really strong, solid foundation. And then you’re planning to fix and fix and iterate and improve and refine over time. And then it also does result in a longer life for your site. So if you’re really doing planned improvements in the way that they are meant to be done you can stretch out the useful life of your website. And then the final thing it does is it allows you to a room to negotiate with your stakeholders. So going back to that comment about not kowtowing necessarily to your stakeholders, like listening to what they need and incorporating what they need, but not necessarily taking up their prescriptive input because you are in control. And so you’ve got to build something that’s right for them. And it can be useful because it gives you time to work it out with them and to show and to use data, user feedback, and to show them rather than tell them that there’s a better way. And that actually helps reduce conflict inside the organization.
Rose Liebman (21:40):
Now I want to look at unplanned because unplanned is a different thing. Just the fact that you’re doing improvements, like you’re doing improvements on your site, doesn’t mean you’re an iterator. But that’s a really important distinction. If you’re doing unplanned, incremental improvements, such as say, bug fixes and those happen, that’s part of life, you’re going to have to do some of that. But these are like, quote unquote fixes. They’re kind of masquerading as improvements. You’re calling them improvements, but really what they are, what you’re doing is you’re remediating your site. You’re basically trying to correct any kind of mistakes that were made in your last site overhaul. The same goes for remediating a poorly built site. Like one that is just technically not well-built. And this is the worst one, the next one, if you’re remediating a poorly conceived strategy, right? So we’ve seen nonprofits that are retrofitting changes into their strategy that represent a short term from where they were, when they’re, when they built their site. That can often be a tip that something went wrong somewhere in the website’s life cycle, that somebody either didn’t plan or have a clear vision of what they wanted.
Rose Liebman (22:51):
So now we’re going to get to the real brass tacks here. We’ve been talking a lot about mindset and about things that are a little sort of maybe fuzzy, but I feel that they’re very important because the important thing is for us all to really get our heads around this idea before we look at what to do. So now we’re going to talk about how to proceed. Like, what is the, what is the best way for you to proceed and what are the steps that you can take?
Rose Liebman (23:19):
Oh, oops, sorry. Don’t don’t advance, Theresa, my mistake. Okay. So first, it’s important to understand that an overhaul of a website, even though it may feel like it, will not fix everything. This is sort of like something that is hard to say, but true, right? A complete overhaul isn’t always a cure for your long standing frustrations with your site. A complete overhaul isn’t going to mask a flawed or non-existent strategy. And in the context of what we just talked about, it can lead you just to sort of perpetuate the same mistakes.
Rose Liebman (24:01):
So your default should always be to iterate. And that should be the first place where you start. Unless you can find good reasons, you’ve got to kick those tires and see if, and there are plenty of valid reasons not to. If you can prove that you need an overhaul, then by all means do an overhaul. But if you can’t prove it, your first response should be to iterate. So the next idea, and we already talked about this, so I’m not gonna belabor it too much, but this is something you need to know in your bones. And the budget for these websites are never finished. A website is like a garden or a home. You cannot let it fall into disrepair or its usefulness will just plummet.
Rose Liebman (24:54):
So you finally just, can you ask yourself, can I iterate now? You kind of want to get yourself if the answer is no, I cannot integrate. I really have to redo my site. Then by all means, do an overhaul, but do that overhaul with the intention of then iterating from there on. And that means that part of your job is to create a culture change for yourself and for your team members and for your organization around how a website is managed. So now we’re going to go back to our handy-dandy chart. I want to ask the question here, what would our emotions look like when we get away from that boom and bust and how to become iterators.
Rose Liebman (25:40):
So, as you can see, over the range of time, the emotions are not as all over the place, right. Why, why are we happier on the whole, because everything isn’t riding on the success of this one project. Notice that the spend, too, is about the same over time. And there is a higher degree of happiness overall. This might be a little bit more boring, right? Like there’s no euphoria, no thrills and spills. But you always know at any point in time, I think what we’re, where that happiness, and I’m talking not just about your own happiness or your content edits, happiness, but your organizational happiness overall with your website. The reason why you have that is because you know that there’s always a chance to have more, to fix something or to add something over time.
Rose Liebman (26:32):
Okay, so how do we assess our site? This is more of the, sort of the nuts and bolts. And what I’d like to do is first look at a page out of the iterators playbook, right? On the high level, all of this, whether you’re overhauling your site or iterating on your site is all really just a single cycle. The cycle is so the first, like the first cycle, if you were doing an overhaul, it might be a big, big cycle. And then all of the subsequent cycles are smaller, but you never skip these steps. You assess, you analyze, you carefully consider your risk, you decide what you’re going to do, you implement, and then you repeat.
Rose Liebman (27:21):
So the first step in the cycle to assessing is, is to assess, right. So a good place to start is with your communications and your digital strategy. Does your website, branding content, the organization and your website functionality, are they all serving these strategies? Is your website actually doing what it’s supposed to do for all of these larger strategic pictures? If it isn’t, if it doesn’t list where your problems are and don’t be afraid to list big or small. This is best done collaboratively with you. And I, you know, in my experience, people love to talk about their pain points. They love to write them and document them and share their frustrations because it helps them sort of purge something. And I think that that’s a really good place to start.
Rose Liebman (28:10):
And if you have, you know an in-house team that does technical work and try to do it in a way that’s just passionate, that doesn’t actually, it’s not about finger-pointing, it’s really just about gathering all the information about what is working on your site and what isn’t. The next is to identify your team. And this may be less, that may seem less necessary, but it’s actually pretty important. You need to understand and be very, very honest with yourself as an organization about your real capacity. And that will inform what you build in terms of what you can support and what externally you can provide to the user. So many nonprofit’s strategies fail because they’re too ambitious and they’re too ambitious to be supported by the organization’s human capacity. So you may have big ideas about your website. Like for instance, maybe you have three sections where there’s, you’re going to be generating all this content, but can you really generate the content?
Rose Liebman (29:09):
If you can prove that to yourself before you build the site that you can generate that content, then you should build it. If not, it’s better not to be so aspirational and start small. So knowing what your real capacity is with your team helps you make the right decisions about the scope and the nature of your digital project. So you gotta ask yourself, who is your core team? Are these people actually ready and able to create and edit content in your CMS? And do they have the bandwidth? That’s a really important one. Who’s your day-to-day strategy? Like who does your social media? For instance, if you have a dedicated person, if you don’t, all the more reason to be scrutinizing your capacity, If you have somebody who’s wearing many hats, which is very typical in the nonprofit space. And finally, what is the style of your executive management? What kind of autonomy does the team have? What kind of velocity can you achieve around your decision making and approvals? These are really important things to know about your organization so that you don’t get tripped up. And the answer to these questions should inform the scope of your project because your project should be shaped around the culture, the existing culture, not the aspirational culture of your organization. You’ll need to design a plan that scopes to your ability to oversee your project and to maintain it after the fact.
Rose Liebman (30:27):
Next, you should look into your technical resources, little things like where are you hosted? Sometimes departments don’t know these things. Just gather all that information. What third party tools are you using? Are they serving you well? Do you have a CRM? Are you doing cross-platform content publishing? What kind of donation tools do you have? Do you have your eye on a different kind of donation tool? Be aware that any of the internal customer tools that you need to integrate with your site, things that may have been built custom for you, which we generally don’t condone unless there’s a really good reason for it. You want to make sure that you have an understanding of what it does on your website, how it integrates into your website. Is it like an internal record keeping or auditing system, a financial tool finally gathering any of the existing user testing or feedback that you have or not.
Rose Liebman (31:29):
Your user surveys, if you have any, any kind of formal or informal usability tests, any A/B testing, traffic usage patterns, looking for places where you lose users, there are a lot of things that you see users behave. Like they come to a page and they drop off quickly. That could be a usability issue. Maybe there’s a page that’s not, doesn’t have high traffic, but that should have high traffic. And it simply doesn’t have any traffic because people can’t find it. So you need to gather that information. Again, sort of just passionately and without having a prescriptive approach to the solution because you don’t really know what the problem is yet. You’re just gathering information. If you have any analytics, grab those, look at those, see which pages are more heavily viewed, which ones you want to document, which ones you want people to look at.
Rose Liebman (32:25):
And then finally document for yourself what your problems and obstacles are. Like, what, what do you want to fix or improve? Do you know where you want to start? Do you have a sense? Are you, can you consider commissioning a site audit for a particular piece? If you don’t know, like if you can’t answer that question to yourself clearly, or to your team, then you might need to just take a minute to do a deeper audit, to understand you know, some aspect of your site, usability accessibility, performance, what your front end looks like, what your backend looks like. A lot of times people will want to throw some aspect of their site away, but they don’t realize, so they might want to, like, they don’t like their site visually. And they think that their site needs to be redone, but their site might actually have pretty good bones.
Rose Liebman (33:14):
And all you have to do is remap the visual piece. So it’s something to be aware of. Advomatic does audits like that, too. So we, if that’s something that you’d want to talk to Theresa or Sarah about, you know, we could talk to you more about that. And then just understand that this is a dispassionate process. People get like real emotions run really high with websites. Your job is to try to keep it really dispassionate and really neutral. Just make a big list, have everybody fill that big list and then just try to triage it and prioritize it as best you can.
Rose Liebman (33:52):
I can’t stress enough that you should document everything that you find, too. I just want to add that. It’s better to just document a lot of stuff in preparation for trying to figure out what to do with your site. And it’s actually documentation actually becomes something good that you can look back on later, right? So if you’re feeling like you’re plotting along a few years later and you go back and you look at this documentation, you might see that you’ve actually solved far many more problems than you actually think that you did. Okay. So one of the things you want to do is you know, as part of your analysis step is, remember what your big picture goals are. Why are you doing this? Does it map to your strategy? This is also an excellent time to engage with stakeholders and start trying to work on their mindset, right? And get them to sort of buy into this mode of thinking, right? So if they’re feeling anxious about something, it’s a great time to start that conversation with them and say, Hey, you know, like, let’s go through the process. Let’s let the process dictate what we’re going to do. I hear you, I get you. I know what you need, but we’re not going to make any decisions just yet. We need more information.
Rose Liebman (35:11):
Audit your content. And this is a really, really big one. There’s actually a site called Screaming frog.co.uk that can scoop your site and actually Theresa can give you that link. After the fact, this can be a really arduous process. But it is very satisfying if you’ve ever cleaned out a closet and there’s like a pink sweater there from the 1980’s that you’ve never worn. It really, I guarantee you, you might think that everything on your site is brand new and all relevant. When you get in there, you’re going to find some stinkers. It’s really worth doing.
Rose Liebman (35:55):
Then you just have to ask yourself questions, like, is your site healthy? Is it secure? Do you even know if it’s secure? Is it mobile friendly? Take a friend, get a friend to go on a sunny day outside in the street and use your site and actually do a thing, like a real thing. Is it accessible? That’s really important. If you’re in higher ed, you have a mandate to be accessible. If you’re in government, you have a mandate. In the nonprofit world, it’s not as much a mandate as it is something that we do because we’re nonprofit folks. Is it really hard to maintain if you have a really unhappy, unhealthy code base? That’s one of the things that would probably be a tip off that you do need to do an overhaul and prepare yourself to become a future iterator.
Rose Liebman (36:40):
And then what’s your budget? And this is the big, huge question. Remember that having the budget doesn’t mean that you need to overhaul, right? You can take that budget and stretch it out and use it more strategically if you need to. And then also trying to think about it in those terms as like, if I have a pot of resources am I going to do a one-time build, right. I need to leave some money for ongoing work. I need to have some sort of ongoing resources to help me with my new way of doing things. And then finally, you’ll come to the conclusion about whether you should iterate or overhaul. And I’m going to have a few In the Future slides here. I’m going to have a few diagnostics, like things that definitely mean you should get an overhaul and things that might be able to be remediated in place. And save you some resources, which would be great.
Rose Liebman (37:42):
So I want to quickly talk about some risks before we get into those. These are big risks and these are like heartbreaks that we’ve seen over and over and over again. And it’s really important that you stand strong against some of these risks. And when you see them, name them and make sure that people understand the implications of arbitrary or rushed deadlines. That’s a big one that is the kiss of death to many development projects. If you have a milestone, you’re a vendor can work with you on a milestone, you bring them the milestone. You say, what can we do? And then it’s time to negotiate, right? Make sure that you’re open to negotiating and prioritizing the most important things and understand. Sometimes we call that like a minimum viable product. Be open to that, be open to a minimum viable product.
Rose Liebman (38:30):
Your big gala is coming, your conference is happening in the summer. That’s great. Find out what you need to have on that site most and release that first and allow yourself the respect to yourself and your organization that you can then take the time to do the rest of your site properly. Because if you think about it, you are going to be living with that site for many, many years, and that gala will have come and gone and that conference will have come and gone. And then you’re going to be having to remediate that site for years. That’s going to cause a lot of frustration.
Rose Liebman (39:05):
Okay, so one thing that you want to do is consider stakeholder turnaround that can happen in any organization at any time. It’s really important to be documenting everything that you’re doing as you go so that can sometimes happen in the middle of a web project. The web project from the client perspective, from the perspective of the nonprofit organization, can start to take a hit. So the more you can document as you go, even though you think you’re, it might stay at your organization forever, or your colleague might not stay at your organization forever. It’s a really helpful thing to have it all written down and have it centralized.
Rose Liebman (39:49):
And then the last piece, and this is something we kind of require it at Advomatic – have a clear sense of leadership, like who is owning this web project. Who is our main point of contact? The lack of clear leadership or decision-making power or too many stakeholders can be really problematic. We at Advomatic have a process that’s designed to help you create order out of that and to create disciplines. So for example, one of the things that we do is we have a project plan many months ahead where we’re, where we basically tell the stakeholders, all the stakeholders, what we’ll be delivering exactly on what day and when, so that you can’t, you don’t have a colleague who says to you, well, I couldn’t make it that week. If they’re interested in those wireframes or those visual mock-ups, you know, they will, they know many months in advance to put that on their schedule, to carve out time for it. It’s really important to kind of create that order and to allow that leadership to take place.
Rose Liebman (40:56):
So if after all of that, you’ve documented and you decide to do an overhaul, just make sure that your plan includes the opportunity to iterate again. So sign up for a support contract. We do support. Signing up with your own trusted vendor, if you have one, but we are, that’s a big part of what we do and why we exist is because we do our Continuous Care. We don’t like to just build and run. We really want to be there constantly improving and thinking with you strategically, you know, three months before your budget season, what you want to do next year. Really getting you out of that response mode and getting into that more intentional, you know, serial iterator or what is it, strategic integrator.
Rose Liebman (41:45):
So if you decide to iterate, make sure that you’re working toward a larger strategic goal. You’re not just iterating out of context in a vacuum because then that’s not really what we call those planned iterations, right? We’re planning, you know, planned improvements. Those are the unplanned improvements. And again, like some sort of support apparatus, if you don’t have the ability to do it in-house it would be very, very valuable there. A CMS like WordPress doesn’t require you to move to a new instance. And actually now the new Drupal is not requiring you to either. So take advantage of an easier upgrade option. If you can write Drupal, for those of you who don’t know, in the past you’d have to just stand up a brand new site. It was a completely new rebuild every time they had an upgrade, like a major upgrade. Now Drupal is becoming more like WordPress. If you can take your existing Drupal or WordPress implementation and improve on that, if it’s, if you’re able to do that, you by all means should because that could save you a lot of resources that you could use to be even more strategic over time with your site.
Rose Liebman (42:54):
And it also means that if you build whatever you have and you build a redesign or reorganize carefully, you may not have to redo it for a long time. And that’s the idea. The idea is that the big capital spends happen fewer and further between, and you’re able to make progress every day. So remember what our technical manager, Dave likes to say – the best time to iterate is, you know, as soon as you release your new site. The time to iterate really, is now. So just live by that. And then finally, we’re going to go through our cheat sheet. You should iterate if your issues are just visual. I touched on that just now. You should iterate, if the bones of your site are good. If you have a good code base and you have a decent structure to your site. And you should iterate if you have strategic issues that can vastly be improved upon. So for instance, if you have a donation workflow that’s not working, the site is mostly working really well, but you have a donation workflow that you can pinpoint. You can separate it out and you can say, look, this isn’t quite working with too many clicks, or we’re not seeing the sort of engagement that we want. You can rip out and redo in your site where you are. You don’t need to redo your whole site.
Rose Liebman (44:23):
So the cheat sheet to overhaul is, you know, obviously if your site was like, hand-coded in 1998, it’s time to redo it. You can get a benefit of a lot of new technologies and wonderful structures to the newer CMS’s. And it’s a CMS that is really important these days. If it’s too difficult to maintain, and these difficulties can’t be corrected, like with small surgically phased upgrades or updates, which is like the thing I just alluded to around say, donation workflows. For instance, if your site can’t be secured and that’s a really big one in 2020, we want to make sure that we have as much security in our sites as possible. If you have a bad mobile experience that can’t be fixed. And sometimes it can. So don’t just assume because you have no mobile experience that you can’t have a better one.
Rose Liebman (45:14):
And if it can’t be remediated for accessibility, that’s again, maybe you’re not mandated to have an accessible site, but if you can’t remediate your site for accessibility, you need to wonder about what your priorities are. It’s really, really important to have at least a baseline of accessibility. And it’s not that hard. So in short, if you have a really unhealthy code base that isn’t worth salvaging, or your CMS is no longer supported or a sunset is imminent. And so for instance, you wouldn’t be able to get security updates, then that’s a good reason to do an overhaul. So again, just to recap here, we want to assess, analyze, decide, and implement. We want to start and work on a much smaller scale. Even in our overhaul mode, we want to do a smaller scale. We want to make things technically easier and our goal is always to establish momentum. And that is the conclusion of my presentation.
Sarah Durham (46:21):
Thanks, Rose. Okay. So we have about 12 minutes left before the top of the hour. That’s a good amount of time to tackle some of your questions. And we will stop screen-sharing and we’ll dig into that. I’m looking over to the other side, cause I have a chat there. So don’t hesitate to use either the Q&A panel or the chat panel and you can chat us either your questions or your situation. If you’d like a little bit of input we’re eager to hear from you. Okay, Rose, first question is about Drupal 7. Then, you know, for those of you who don’t have a Drupal site you may not know this, but Drupal 7 has end-of-life coming up in November of 2021. And so there is this need to think about Drupal 7 in a different way, and I’ve teed up a couple of resources here we actually have about Drupal 7 end-of-life. But Rose, the question is if you have a Drupal 7 site, you have to overhaul, right?
Rose Liebman (47:41):
Eventually, yeah. You don’t have to overhaul right away when the exact end-of-life, this is sort of a misconception. Dave actually has a great blog post about that, which we should probably send out. Yeah. There are ways to kind of extend it. What you need to understand is that you’re, you’re going to be on a slow slide down. So you’ll get services the day that end-of-life is effectuated. And you can continue to get community-based services that are contributed, not from a core team of Drupal, but from volunteers who know Drupal 7 is still being used and vetted, good vetted code that you can then implement and patch. But little by little that’s going to be going away. And I wanted to actually make a correction here because Sarah, Drupal 7’s end-of-life has been extended. It was 2021 and it went to 2022. So you can, and there’s the most important thing that I could say is start planning now and figure out when you can do it and start doing it on a slow slide. But it’s not like an on-off switch, basically. It’s not like November 2022 comes around and that’s it, everything shuts down and blows up. We can talk about the specifics of how we would do that.
Sarah Durham (48:54):
Yep. And the link that I dropped in the chat is to the recorded AdvoTalk that I did with Dave a few weeks ago where he talked about what to do with Drupal 7. And one of the other things he talks about in there is a fork of Drupal 7 called Backdrop, which is technically, I guess, would be an overhaul, but in some ways it’s more iterative. You can take your Drupal 7 code, move it over to Backdrop a little bit more easily than you can build a brand new Drupal 8 or 9 website. Rose, our next question is about the pace, the pace of iterating. So the question is how often should you, should you iterate on your website?
Rose Liebman (49:40):
All the time, like every month. Every month, there should be a few things on deck, even if they’re tiny with our, with our Continuous Care plans, for instance, we have tiered services. So, we allow people to go up and down in their tiers. So if it’s a month where you’re very busy and your team is very busy, you know, maybe you have the smallest tier, but you know that those one or two little tasks that you had your mind on are going to be done. It’s sort of like, you know, you might change a light bulb in your house one month, the next month you might add an extension. It’s just sort of like always doing something.
Sarah Durham (50:14):
And I’m just chatting out my email address. If people want to hear more about how we do this at Advomatic or explore working with us, you can reach out to any of us, but particularly me. I’m probably the easiest person in the short term. And Rose, just to build on your suggestion about how you should be constantly iterating and at least once a month, I want to add that from a content point of view, if you are not posting 3,000 to 3,500 indexable words of new content every month, you are potentially not as visible from a search engine point of view. So iterating can happen a lot of different ways, but certainly putting fresh new content is also important to stay really on top of and has huge implications for your search engine rankings. Rose, do you want to add anything to that? Or should we go to the next question?
Rose Liebman (51:11):
Just keep a backlog of things that you want to do. Just always have a big spreadsheet of just stuff. If somebody mentioned something in a meeting, Oh, I’m annoyed by this, write it down, just keep it all in there because that’s gold.
Sarah Durham (51:25):
Yeah. And I think if you’re not sure how to iterate, to your point, you could, you can go around and talk to your internal stakeholders, do some user testing and build up that backlog of ideas. You might not right away start acting on some of their suggestions, but you can, you can start to get new ideas and start to see if there are patterns, like everybody wishes within the organization that a certain feature exists or all the people who use your site regularly or are frustrated by a particular, our particular area. Okay. So, so I think we have time for one more question, and I’m going to ask you a question that I think has some universal appeal about budgeting. How do I, how do I budget to iterate? And I assume that the person who wrote this means financially, although I think there’s also a question of budgeting time. But Rose, how do you respond to that question?
Rose Liebman (52:26):
I think you always want to, I think start early, start as soon as possible and start making a case as soon as possible and see as much as you can get. Just try and see what that is, how much you can get for your website. If you feel like you need an overhaul, that is, you may not need a large sum of money if you don’t. And just think through what your reasoning is going to be. If you go through the process that I outlined, and then you’re able to go to people and say, this is what we need. And you’re hearing all the facets of what we need, of why we need these resources. And then you get the resources and you don’t jump, you just think through how you’re gonna use them and you might want to segment them.
Rose Liebman (53:05):
So my thing would be if you get a sum of money approved, take 75% of that and use that for an overhaul, if that’s what you need. And use the rest to support your website over time because that will also help you change hearts and minds in your organization, if you can do it. And in terms of budgeting time, carve it out, just understand that it’s part of managing a website. There’s always going to be something. So if you’re resourcing your time or your team’s time, make sure that everybody understands that there’s going to be a few hours a week spent on website stuff. And if you’re overhauling, consider way more than a few hours, probably more like 15 hours, it’s about a part-time job for somebody to manage a vendor, to redo a website. And then toward the end in the lead up to the release and immediately after the release, it probably goes to about three quarters time.
Sarah Durham (54:00):
Great. yeah. And I want to add to what Rose is talking about by saying that a really important time to think about your budget is around your annual budget planning process. And that might be, you know, the person who asked this question might be thinking about that because here we are in mid November, and if your fiscal year begins in January, this is a really good time to think about what you’re going to budget for your website in 2021. And even if you’re not going to overhaul, I do think it’s really now is the right time. If you have a fiscal year beginning January 1 to budget, to put some sort of budget together so that you have some discretionary money to iterate on the website, if there are things you can’t do in house. So that could be as little as a thousand dollars a month, as much as several thousand dollars a month just baked in.
Sarah Durham (54:51):
Maybe you don’t even know where, how you’re going to spend it, but getting your organization used to the idea or socialized to the idea that the website needs to be constantly improved and invested in is also a part of that budgeting piece. It’s kind of shifting, shifting that mentality that Rose talked about, which is getting other people in your organization to understand that the website is not ever done. So we are just about at the top of the hour. So a couple of pieces of next steps and follow ups. First of all Theresa, who is our silent partner in crime in this webinar wrote a terrific article called Website Maintenance You Can Do and it’s on our blog. I just chatted out a link to that.
Sarah Durham (55:44):
I really encourage everybody participating today gives that piece a read. I think it’s really helpful. If you have questions about any of this, or you’re curious to learn more about how Advomatic builds and supports websites for nonprofits, you can reach out to us at advomatic.com. Most importantly, I want to thank Rose Liebman for this excellent presentation. And I want to thank those of you who took the time to join us today. We didn’t, we didn’t promote this a lot and it’s been a little bit of a stealthy one, but I think it’s a really useful time of year to think about this. I appreciate you taking the time out of a busy and stressful time of year to join us today. So thank you everybody and be well.