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Three Approaches to Website Redesign: Which Path is Right for You?

You’ve decided to redesign your website—but what’s the best way to get started? First, it’s important to know what the possibilities are. New websites can be redesigned and developed in any of three ways:

1. Custom programming

2.  An off-the-shelf Content Management System (CMS)

3.  A hybrid method that requires customization of an off-the-shelf Content Management System.

The difference between the three is not a matter of which is better than the other, but which will best accommodate your design and development requirements. But how do you know which approach is right for you? Understanding the features of each approach is a critical first step in finding the right fit for your situation.

  1.   CUSTOM WEBSITES enable you to start the process with few if any, restrictions; have a wide range of options; and a high degree of flexibility to accommodate unexpected changes (including changes of mind) during the process. These advantages make custom websites a good choice if you know exactly what you want, and your vision for a new website is unconventional and complex, or if you have a general feel at the start of the project but prefer making decisions on the details along the way. Based on the latitude and leeway custom coding provides, it is not surprising that this route will likely take more time and cost more than off-the-shelf options.
  2.   CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS are a feasible solution if you’re short on time and budget; you’re 100% satisfied with the pre-configured page designs, features, and functions of the particular system you’re considering; and you have a firm vision of what you want (or you’re simply patterning your new website against an existing website, using the exact same template.) Ease-of-use, a shorter development cycle, and a lower price (some are actually free) make Content Management Systems attractive.  Naturally, however, the benefits of using such a system also require making concessions and accepting some limitations. Frustration can set in when these conditions are forgotten, or when they’re not well understood. (For example, non-technical people might think a particular request is simple when it’s actually technically complex and time-consuming.)  If you choose to use a CMS, make sure you become well acquainted with its capabilities and limitations, since each system is different, and what is possible, or easy, on one may be impossible or difficult on another.  Imagine the problems you’d have if a new request for a critical component were to surface in the later stages of development: you might not have the budget to make changes. Whenever there is an unexpected change in scope, direction, or design that cannot be accommodated, the client and agency are less likely to be satisfied with the final results in the end.
  3.   A CUSTOMIZED CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM is a good fit if an off-the-shelf CMS addresses 90% of your requirements. In this scenario, the time and expense of building what already exists are saved, and whatever is missing can be built to spec. But again, the extent of customization may be limited by a Content Management System’s inherent constraints. Depending on the conditions, workarounds or jury-rigging may be required to complete special requests.

The takeaways:

  1. Document the project’s scope and requirements, and make sure that you, the agency, and any other stakeholders are in agreement from the start. Include a section on what can and can’t be done.
  2. Manage your team’s expectations by referencing back to that document before making a new request. This will help you consider potential responses in context of the agreed-upon terms, and potentially postpone it for “phase two”
  3. Keep in mind that if you don’t plan carefully, the initial quoted price may be low, but the total cost may end up being much higher. When comparing options, it’s important to account for all potential cost factors, such as additional time for modifications to initial requirements, overlooked requirements that may be discovered later in the process, requests for new applications, and so on.  If you’ve ever hired a contractor to remodel a bathroom or know someone who built a new deck, you’re probably familiar with the advice to “add 20% to the price and the time it will take.” The same can be true of a website redesign, so it’s prudent to include a 20% contingency fund to your original budget, just in case.
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