Comparing website proposals can be rather like comparing apples with pears. What questions should you ask and how do you know whether the quotes you receive are directly comparable?

Designing a website requires the project management of six distinct phases:

  • Planning the structure of the website
  • Designing the look and feel
  • Programming the site and the content management system
  • Test-driving the navigation and functionality
  • Planning and preparing the content (words and pictures)
  • Uploading content, proofing, testing, proofing, testing ”¦

Problems tend to arise where agencies are not quoting to a specific brief. Agencies who are not familiar with the legal profession often underestimate how complex a legal business, and therefore its website, might be. They come in for a meeting, show you some of their other sites and have a general chat about what you want and then send you a (probably) off-the-shelf proposal that tells you how creative they are, how long they have been in business and how many awards they have won.

The brief

It is advisable to seek quotes from at least two or three agencies and to ensure that each proposal addresses your firm’s particular needs. Your brief should cover the following:

Describe your firm and its range of services. Be clear about where different services relate to different markets, eg legal aid, private clients or businesses.

Describe the audiences for your website, their importance and their different needs. This is important in planning how the home page and navigation is structured. These are likely to include:

  • Clients – provide a brief profile of your main client groups. If you wish to target a particular sector, such as farming or technology, this will have an impact on the design and imagery used.
  • Potential employees who need to find information about vacancies.
  • Other intermediaries, such as accountants, banks, property agents, business agencies and other lawyers who may refer work.
  • The media and conference organisers looking for experts.
  • Local community groups.
  • Other solicitors – competitors or referrers of business.

Outline your objectives for the business, long term and short term. Explain how you wish the new website to contribute to this. For example, do you simply wish to improve your brand presence or do you wish to capture business directly online? If so, what type of work and from whom?

How interactive do you want your site to be? It is important to specify this at the outset, as any interactive elements may require additional programming or storage capacity which falls outside of a generic quotation.

Options include:

  • online document creation
  • online portal or extranet for clients
  • taking payments online
  • an automated quotation facility
  • online calculators
  • forms to download or interactive checklist / forms
  • video / podcasts
  • apps
  • social media
  • RSS or XML feeds.

Outline how you wish your brand to be perceived. Use emotive adjectives to guide the designer and assess concepts against. Do you want to appear calm, clean and fresh? Or do you prefer to appear high-energy, international and bold?

Share your likes and dislikes. Design is very subjective. Let them know about anything you really hate, for example colours you do, or do not, like. Maybe you have a particular view about stock photography or the type of images which you would like to use.

Search engine optimisation. If you have a list of target search engine optimisation terms, then share these at this point as it will help in planning the site structure.

International. If you have (or desire) markets overseas, what proportion of business is this and do you have any requirements for pages in multiple languages?

Linked websites. Does your firm have any other websites which link into the new site?

Who are your main competitors? Obviously your new website will need to blow them out of the water! More importantly, for your web designer – explain how you wish to differentiate your firm from them.

About them

Within the brief you should also ask the agencies to provide some key information about themselves:

  • Year established.
  • An organisation chart indicating who is responsible for design, programming, content, SEO and project management.
  • Examples of other websites which they have completed in the last 12-18 months and at least two referees. It is important they provide examples that have been created by the current team.
  • Details of the content management system (CMS) which they intend to provide and details of two current users for references. You should speak with the users of the CMS to find out how easy they find it to use, particularly if you do not have a dedicated marketing department.

Counting the cost

In addition to ensuring that you get the website you desire, you can also demand the pricing details in a format which will be easy to evaluate.

When planning your website budget, it is important to remember that there are other costs besides the design and creation. Some of these items may be available more cost effectively elsewhere. To compare quotes like for like, you can set out how you would like them to price the project, and request the costs under the following headings:

Development costs:

1. Planning the structure of the website

This is sometimes called “scoping”. At the simplest level, you should expect a structure chart or site map to be drafted and agreed. Some bigger agencies create a “wireframe” which is a working model of the site, and this can be useful if you have a site with a very complex structure but it does add to the costs.

2. Designing the look and feel

Also known as the creative phase, or concept design. This will usually include providing you with an initial range of designs for the home page and one internal page. It will also cover consideration of a range of imagery. Once you have chosen and refined one design concept, then they should create the other page layouts based upon this design.

3. Imagery

Imagery is key to the look and feel of your website and costs can vary widely. “Stock photography” is the cheapest option but take care not to use the same man, woman and chess piece that is seen on hundreds of sites. If budgets allow, you could consider rights-managed or bespoke photography or artwork. Don’t forget to budget for professional team portraits.

4. Animation / video

Ask for these costs to be separated, so that you can flex the total cost according to your budget.

5. HTML programming

Also known as site creation or construction. If you are asking for special interactive modules such as an online quotation facility, ask them to separate the cost of this onto another line in case you wish to postpone that element to a later phase. This should include test-driving the navigation, functionality and testing in multiple browsers.

6. Content management system

Make sure they specify which content management system the cost relates to and clarify how much of your content they will upload at the outset or whether they will be handing you an empty site and expecting you to upload all the content pages.

7. Content

Writing (or re-writing) a website is often a big job. Even if the work is spread around many fee-earners, you still need someone to edit it into a common style, make it search-engine-friendly and proof-read it. Depending on in-house resources you may need to budget for some assistance with copywriting and editing. Costs may be on a day-rate or per page.

8. Project management

Is this is an additional cost or included in the total?

9. Training in the CMS

There may be significant training costs, which may indicate that a content management system is not quite as easy to use as you were led to believe. Clarify whether you will be provided with a training manual.

10. Google analytics reporting

Will this be set up for you?

Ongoing costs:

11. Website hosting

This will be an annual cost.

12. Telephone support.

Clarify what is included in this.

13. Other ongoing costs

Clarify what is included. It is useful to compare costs over a period of four years, as some agencies offer an attractively low set up cost, but over a few years can be very uncompetitive. There should be no need to pay substantial on-going costs over the long term.

Sue Bramall is the managing director of Berners Marketing and specialises in providing marketing and business development solutions (including websites) for the legal profession. Berners Marketing has produced a free website Briefing Template for Law Firms which is available on request.

Email info@bernersmarketing.com or call 01782 791 047.

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