Saturday, March 17, 2012

Corporate Website Development - A Practical Guide to IT Managers

I found many corporate going online with their entire corporate information put up in their website. Some may tried to protect it with a username and password but failed for even simple direct URL access including some law firms.

Apart from appealing web design there are a lot more factors reside in a corporate website like information architecture, content management, data integrity, information security (eg: role based content access), copyrights, search engine optimization, online reputation management, branding, socializing, identity theft protection, competition analysis, online marketing strategies and other legal compliance.

Warning! Information on a corporate website is highly sensitive as a press release. Any information communicated on the website is deemed to be authentic. 

Setting up a simple website with minimal information would be the safest way to start. You can always add content to the website over a period of time gradually.

What is an ideal start point?

A simple HTML website with minimal information like about the company vision and mission statements, a short story on history and timeline, other public information like corporate social responsibilities, list of services offered with short description for each, products and details as is available on the printed brochure, a contact page with location map and address with a contact form, a blog to communicate news and happenings. In addition, you may have a career section where you can display the current openings and an email address where people can send their profiles and apply for the openings.

This would typically require 2 weeks to go live. Now you may plan the larger website with the points we discussed in the first paragraph of this article.

The challenges in developing such a corporate website would involve the following but are not limited to this:
  1. Identifying the information and architecture to be published online
  2. Finding the right / updated information on-time; especially when the old information are not documented electronically
  3. Coordinating with different teams/department to collect information
  4. Getting legal clearance from law firm / legal consultant for legal terms online
  5. Getting content organized and getting approvals from PR Office
  6. Identifying creative partner / consultant on digital space for branding solution
  7. Identifying right technical partners/vendors to offer the development solution
  8. Identifying audit partner to audit process and results throughout
  9. Finding right hosting partner who can provide consulting and solution
  10. Implementing procedural maintenance models
Answering the below questions will help you build the basic blocks of the information architecture

  • Why do you need a website?
    • To ensure the digital presense and sync with the growing markets
    • To spread awareness about the company and brand
    • To offer information about products and service offerings
    • To offer information for job seekers
    • To generate leads / sales online and focus on e-Business
    • To increase communication frequency with stake holders and customers
    • To lower cost on communication by adopting digital methodologies
  • List of details required to be published on the website
    • About the company
      • History of the organization
      • Founder & Chairman with information
      • Board of Directors with their information
      • CEO Message
        • CEO’s vision for the company
      • Corporate Social Responsibilities
        • Initiatives
        • Awards & Recognition 
        • Achievements
        • Gallery
      • Career
        • Life @ Organization
          • Employee Benefits
          • Awards & Recognition
          • Current Openings
          • Application Form
            • List of details to be collected from the candidate
            • Who should receive the applications?
              • Add multiple recipients to avoid unattended queries when a resource in on vacation
            • How to track the status of applied entries?
              • It is essential to track the communication as it adds value to the corporate reputation and user trust.
              • It may go negative if not responded promptly. If the user could comment it on a blog or elsewhere, it could affect the corporate reputation.
          • HR Contact Information
          • Recruitment Procedure
    • Contact Information
      • Registered Head Quarters
        • Provide Registered Corporate Name
        • Provide Registered address
        • Provide a permanent phone number of PR Office
        • Provide a permanent email id of PR Office
      • Legal Communications
        • Provide a contact person name and designation
        • Provide a address either corporate Office address or appointed Legal Firm address with Email, Phone Number and Fax Number
      • Media Contact
        • Provide a contact person name and designation
        • Provide a permanent phone number of PR Office
        • Provide a permanent email id of PR Office
      • Sales Offices
        • Attach a location map
        • Provide contact person name and designation
        • Provide address of the sales office
        • Mention Toll Free for Sales, if any
        • Provide phone number, fax number and a common email id for sales
        • Mention if there are any limitations applicable for the sales office
          • For example: Sales Office - Only for Petro Products, Sales Office – Federal Govt. Only
      • Support Centers
        • Attach a location map
        • Give link to FAQ section
        • Give an option to contact online through a contact form
        • Provide address of the support center
        • Provide phone number, fax number and a common email id for support
        • Mention Toll Free for Support, if any
        • Mention if there are any limitations applicable for the sales office
      • Regional Offices
        • Attach a location map
        • Provide address, phone number, fax number and email id
      • Branch Offices
        • Attach a location map
        • Provide address, phone number, fax number and email id
      • Partner Offices
        • Provide Partner Name and Partner Status / Badge
        • Attach a location map
        • Provide address, phone number, fax number and email id
    • Contact Form
      • What are the information to collect on a contact form?
      • Who should receive the contact messages?
      • Does it require escalation mechanism if a query is not responded or if it is opened for a long-period?
    • Products & Services
      • Product Category
        • Product
          • Image Gallery
          • Description
          • Features
          • Video Presentation
          • Story on the product
          • Data Sheet
          • Brochure (PDF)
          • Case Studies
          • Awards & Recognitions
          • License Terms
          • Purchase Information
          • Sales Contact Details
          • Locate Dealer / Partner
            • Dealer Name
            • Dealer Address
            • Dealer Phone
            • Dealer Fax
            • Dealer Email
          • Sales Contact Number
            • Toll Free Number
            • Sales Desk Phone Number
          • Quick Enquiry Form
            • Who should receive the enquiry?
    • Services
      • Service Category
        • Service
          • Creative Image
          • Service Descriptions
          • Quality Statements / QoS
          • SLA Highlights
          • Contract Models
          • Case Studies
          • Brochure (PDF)
          • Awards & Recognitions
          • Sales Contact Details
            • Locate Dealer / Partner
            • Dealer Name
            • Dealer Address
            • Dealer Phone
            • Dealer Fax
            • Dealer Email
          • Sales Contact Number
            • Toll Free Number
            • Sales Desk Phone Number
          • Quick Enquiry Form
            • Who should receive the enquiry?
    • Solutions
      • List of solutions offered in diversified verticals
        • Case Studies
        • Fact Sheets
        • Brochures
        • Technologies
        • Research & Innovation
Gathering data and identifying information

Website is competitive and challenging where we need to offer maximum information to the user at a very short time, because our competitor’s website is just a click away.

The best way to approach is to present with graphics and bullet point information.

Citing the proverb “A picture worth thousand words”, we must find innovative and creative way to present information to convince the customers. Present information graphically (Infographics).

Present crisp information rather than pages of data. We need to collate and process data to find useful information. For example, assuming your product runs efficiently and saves energy, don’t share the data sheet of the product on the first sight but a nice infographic of the rounded percentage of energy saved using your product instead. This will attract the user to read the data sheet and buy the product for its good reasons.

Gather information from various departments with a planned procedure. It is the most challenging and hardest part of the entire process. You need to educate various departments about the quality of content you require. You may not process all data on your own as it requires intensive functional / domain / field / product knowledge. The process could become easy when there is a print brochure. However, digital space is more demanding where your information should be more appealing and detailed (video presentation for an example).

Information Gathering – Plan & Execute

Take this to be a separate project. Plan the information structure and get it approved from the Marketing Team, Product / Category Manager, Brand Manager or the CIO / CTO / CEO. The authorization level differs to organization industry and organizational structure. However, the roles I listed here would give you an idea.

Consult with few of the department heads to identify time taken to prepare the information required. Plan a reasonable average mean time and add 10% to 15% buffer to it.

Circulate the request for information along with the structure/template, dead-line to submit information and an example to all the departments. Share a helpline number and email to contact you for clarifications.

Offer them contact details of photographer, video specialist, and any other resources required to prepare the contact.

Once the information is collected, send it to proof reading and copyrighting. Include marketing team for enrichment of content. Include business analyst to identify key points to prepare infographic and bullet points. Share the points with creative team to develop creative elements for the web pages.

Once the content is prepared, contact a consultant to help you co-ordinate with technical partners. Prepare a Request For Proposal (RFP) with the help of the consultant and approach couple of technical vendors. Have a meeting and discuss the project. Share the RFP and collect their proposals. Call them for a pitch and choose the one with innovation, strategy, standards and the one focus on long-term relationship.

Experience is another factor to consider while choosing a technical partner but not necessarily, your consultant could help you identify the reliability of the vendor. In case of going with a fresh vendor, try to get some demo work done as proof of work. 

Do not negotiate for the lower cost, it always ends in poor quality output, negotiate for guaranteed quality of work with specifications and negotiate for reasonable cost. The quality is invisible until it causes damage. Most companies try to find cheap providers to execute the task which is harmful to the entire corporate security in later stages. Also it increases maintenance cost over a period of time. Plan your investment and find the right provider. I’m writing an article on Corporate Security and Web. I’ll share the link here once I finish the article.

Document the project execution from beginning till the end of project. The document should include the contact person, their availability, contact information from both the ends. Specify the project timeline with milestones clearly defined and penalty for extensions. Sign a SLA and NDA with the provider.

You may enter the billing agreement on hourly basis or project basis. Your consultant could help you to negotiate in this area. Mostly it depends on the service provider engagement model. However, as a customer you have the right to demand the way you want to be billed.

In a typical business model you may share 20% upfront on SLA agreement as advance, 40% on demo release and 35% on final release. The 5% could be hold for the service extension period / warranty period (say, 3 months from the date of final launch).


Post launch you need the technical provider to offer maintenance. The maintenance should include backup / restore operations, minor changes to the static content, security protection (virus attacks, SQL Injection attacks), Any application error due to non-compliance of requirements document, database maintenance, work with hardware/hosting and networks provider to ensure quality of service and manage technical tickets posted on the website.

Maintenance cost are negotiable based on the size of the website and work involved. However, in a typical scenario 30% to 35% of development cost will go in to maintenance.

It is recommended to go with CMS based solutions to reduce maintenance cost for bigger projects. CMS solutions can be used by non-technical users to update website content. However, it could limit the flexibility in development of your requirements.

Security Audit & Testing

Appoint an external audit agency to evaluate the implementation and do security testing to ensure information security. The security of information is at risk if you ignore testing procedures. Any unauthorized intrusion could lead to change in the information at your corporate website without your knowledge. It is strongly recommended to work with a 3rd party security testing company other than the vendor who developed the website.

Do proper documentation and sign an SLA and NDA with the security testing vendor. Your consultant could help identify key points to include.

Security testing should be done periodically as the internet evolves rapidly. Also perform testing for every major change in the website at application level or in the web server.

.. will be continued

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