Skip to content Skip to navigation

Things to ask before starting a website project

In my role as manager for Stanford Web Services, I'm often the first on our team to meet with faculty and staff who are interested in building a new website. Our team helps to support the Drupal 7 CMS "Stanford Sites" as a self-service tool, and we also build new websites using Stanford Sites for academic and administrative departments and centers. After about a year of building Stanford Sites, I've noticed that many departments and centers are willing and eager to tackle the job of building their own website, or they are ready to hire a development partner, but they aren't sure exactly where to start. 

Often our conversation starts like this:

Client: We need a new website. Ours is so dated, and the person who used to maintain it left the department. It needs to match the new Stanford identity, too. Can you tell us how much a new site will cost?

Me: Well, that depends on a few factors. Before we talk about cost, help me understand the project a little more. Here's a list of 5,000 questions to get started.

That last part is an exaggeration (but only slightly.) Our initial meeting is a big Q&A session, and usually we have a fascinating conversation about their department goals, likes, dislikes, pet peeves, history, awards, people and more. I love learning about our departments, and it's the perfect opportunity for me to rhapsodize on what makes a website effective for the audience and owners alike. That's my favorite part of the meeting. User-centered design! Content strategy! Mobile first! (Squee!)

Q without the A

Sometimes I send a list of discussion questions in advance to get the clients thinking. Trouble is, this list is long and can include intimidating terms or concepts that may be new to them. Analytics? Section 508? What's that? And what do I ask that will really lead to a clear picture of their project?

The discussion needs to be comprehensive to help us determine the project scope and requirements so a budget range and timeline can be estimated, or so we can guide them to the right vendor partner. Through much trial and error last year, I found that my list of questions should be slightly different for an effective Drupal website project versus a static website redesign. I'll share a sampling of my questions here. Let me know if they're helpful!

  1. Is there a strategic communications or marketing plan that should influence this project?
  2. Who are the key stakeholders in this project, and what steps can we take to gain their support and approval throughout the project?
  3. What do analytics show about the current website? (Frequent search terms and phrases, high traffic periods, etc.)
  4. Identify all primary audiences in order of importance, and describe in detail their typical persona. (E.g., age, interests, why they would turn to your organization, actions they would take on the new website viewed on their computer versus a mobile device, etc.)
  5. Does your organization have a distinct brand identity? If so, is it used effectively across communications outlets, such as website, e-newsletter, etc.?
  6. Has a content audit been performed? If so, review content audit results. Does the content cover the needs of each audience type?
  7. What content is or should be automatically integrated into the new website? (E.g., course data.)
  8. What media should be included (videos, slideshows, map, etc.)? Does this content already exist, or will it be created? Are captions available for video and audio content?
  9. Are staff resources trained in editing Drupal 7 websites?
  10. What is the desired timeframe and budget range for the project?

Now for U

As always, Stanford is full of talented people doing interesting things, and we like to share. There are some great points to consider on this checklist on the TechCommons site. Now it's your turn: what questions do you ask when starting a new website project?