Is it just me, or is everyone redoing their web site all of a sudden? This summer, we had a rash of requests to talk about web site options. I am writing this after a neighbor who has never previously talked tech with me literally stopped me in the street about her organization’s site.
Here’s the problem. A redesign today isn’t that different than it was five years ago. The process is about the same. The time commitment, designer hours, and cost is about the same. Many people still think that’s what they need. Liven up the design, get new content up, and show you have a pulse.
OK, everyone today also wants easier changes to their site. Nonprofits held captive to board members or the founder’s niece for every little change is so 1990s. If you redo your site with Adobe Dreamweaver, at least get set up for easy page maintenance with companion product Contribute. Inexpensive (from TechSoup), easy to learn, and no web designer needed for adding content and keeping up to date.
But these days, it’s really a makeover plus. Once you get talking, most folks want more.
You soon cross a threshold where the choice to just update the site conflicts with the things you really want to do, if not now, then soon. Better cataloging of material; “members only” special content; commenting, tags, ratings, news feeds, tell-a-friend, printer friendly pages, and all the rest to make your site easy to use.
And it’s not just click- to-donate anymore. It is event registration; Analytics; blogging; internal planning, discussion and organizing; community calendar; newsletter signup and on.
If you are not doing a lot interactive yet, you can definitely tackle a couple of new things as add-on services for now. There’s lots of great, free or inexpensive pay-as-you go a la carte services for blogging, events, calendars and more. A la carte often means different visual looks and no shared contact information.
Much better to move to a content management system, such as the big Open Source ones frequently mentioned here--Drupal (our favorite), Joomla and sometimes Plone, as well as the pricey commercial ones like Kintera and Convio, and the many lesser commercial ones discussed on idealware and techsoup. Yet the leap to a full installation of one of the content management/web development systems, including a strong visual design “theme,” and all your content, will cost substantially costly than just updating the site in Dreamweaver.
It is truly worth it because you will now be on a modern platform that can and will continue to evolve as your needs evolve. What’s tough and unexpected for many small organizations is justifying the additional cost to get there, if you haven’t planned on it. These are hard choices for folks with small budgets.
When I have these conversations and it looks like it’s going to go in the direction of a traditional Dreamweaver facelift, I find myself musing on Rick’s words to Ilsa in the final scene in Casablanca. I think to myself, if your new web site takes flight in 2008 or 09, and it’s not on a CMS, then “you’ll regret it, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.” Well, maybe not the rest of your life, but Bogart’s Rick is a lot tougher than me.
It’s hard telling people they should wait. There’s certainly lots to do to prepare for a full blown web upgrade. Focus on your email newsletter so you know your constituents; see how hard or easy its going to be to get new stories on your home page regularly; start a linked blog; study your Analytics; focus on evaluating your contact management.
And there are ways to experiment. Google Sites, Wordpress, wikis and Ning all come up for us as alternative to full blown CMS-driven systems. These are easy, lively, even fun. And they can be done with not just less budget, but less planning time from organizations than building a full Drupal or Joomla site. They may suffice or they could be experimental before committing to bigger project. There’s no universal truth on this matter, and it’s a great time to move forward.