As technology continues to evolve and advance rapidly, more of our daily lives are taking place in a digital-first context. When marketing your products and services, this means:
- Your target audience now has a shorter attention span, and less patience when browsing websites and services online.
- Your target audience also has more choice of options than ever before when choosing who to buy from.
Modern users demand the same speed and convenience they get from the industry-leading sites and apps they use every day. That means you only have a matter of seconds to make a positive, memorable connection with your visitors.
UX design, therefore, serves as a critical phase within the end-to-end process of web design. This is essentially the practice of creating a website that allows your visitors to complete a process, take an action, or fulfill their need in as few steps or clicks as possible.
Despite its ever-increasing importance, UX design is a process that many businesses, and even many agencies, still struggle to get right.
To ease this challenge, and help you ensure your own website’s UX is designed effectively, we’ve written this article to outline the process in detail. We’ll also provide advice and tips to help you ensure your website can provide your target audience with an experience that drives them towards your desired outcomes.
What is UX Design?
The aim of UX design is to make it quick, easy, and convenient for your visitors to complete a task or process, or follow a call-to-action. Your UX involves everything from functionality, navigation, accessibility, layout, structure, and even the site’s content itself.
Designing your website in a way that’s intuitive and easy-to-use will provide your visitors with a satisfying UX. It’s important to note here that UX design shouldn’t be confused or bundled up with user interface (UI) design. UI design is its own separate phase of the process that comes slightly later.
Understanding the Design Process as a Whole
Research and Planning
Earlier in the overall design process, before you approach the UX, you should’ve gone through a thorough research and planning phase with your design agency.
This is important in ensuring that every decision you make towards your UX and UI will produce a more effective website capable of meeting your business goals and your audience’s needs.
Working alongside your agency, you’ll use this research to define the full scope of your website and all its requirements. This will include the creation of user personas and user journeys. These will help you determine the most simple and efficient flow for your visitors to take through your website to each call-to-action, and this is how your UX is created.
This research will guide both your UX design and UI design processes.
Your agency partner should then produce a set of mood boards that you’ll use to create the aesthetic style of your site in line with your brand. These mood boards help you visualise the way your website will look and feel when built.
This is a precursor to your UI design, and it’s done before the UX phase to ensure the overall style is correct before any more design work is completed.
This is another collaborative process, where your agency should advise you with their expertise and experience from delivering successful website projects in the past.
Related reading: What is Visual Exploration in the Process of Web Design?
The UX Process
The information architecture of your website is devised by building a sitemap, which is a map of all the necessary pages across your entire website. You’ll likely have an existing one from your current site, but this will probably need updating based on all the new research and strategic planning you’ve done.
From the sitemap, you’ll have a list of all the pages and content required to populate your site. Your agency will then build out a content base framework, noting any content that you need support in developing.
The users’ navigation through the site needs to be tailored to the objectives you’ve set and the research findings from earlier. It also needs to be built in a way that allows for flexibility and scalability later, as your requirements evolve and your business grows.
Wireframes are used to design the user experience of your website. This is essentially like creating a blueprint of your website’s pages prior to beginning the actual design work, detailing the site’s flow and the users’ journey through it.
These wireframes are used to determine how the user can reach their desired outcome, or reach your desired call-to-action, in as few clicks or steps as possible. Remember, the purpose of UX design is to optimise that journey.
Here at SoBold, we use high-fidelity wireframes that provide a clear, detailed representation of the users’ flow to all calls-to-action. This is directed and influenced by the things we learned in the research and planning phase.
These wireframes are typically built on a standard desktop size, but they can be done on a mobile device screen size if you want your site to be designed mobile-first.
Wireframes are used to create the UX so you don’t get distracted by the visual design when evaluating the user journeys. This allows you to focus completely on the flow and the experience the user will have when visiting your site, without worrying about the aesthetic elements. It proves to be a much more effective approach towards creating an experience that will satisfy your visitors and help you achieve your objectives.
Again, this will be a collaborative process in which you’ll work closely with your agency, providing feedback on the wireframes to ensure they align with your requirements.
Once the mood boards and the wireframes are approved, all that’s left to do is apply the design to the wireframes to bring your website’s design to life. This makes the UI design process very quick and easy from here.
A Quick Word on Accessibility
Accessibility is a crucial aspect of any user experience.
Accessibility refers to how easy and accessible technology is for all users, regardless of their physical ability, location, personal background, or any other factors. While accessibility is primarily a concern for the UI design team, it’s also important in optimising your UX as well. After all, a website that isn’t accessible simply cannot be considered to have a good UX.
If accessibility isn’t included as a core component of your web design process, you should raise this as a concern with your agency.
Here at SoBold, accessibility is a key part of all our design processes, as we believe that all technology must be fully inclusive and equally available to everyone.
Related reading: You can learn all about what it takes to deliver good usability through your website in our related article here.
Finding the Optimum Balance
As touched on earlier, your target audience will be visiting your site with a goal in mind, and the UX is what enables them to achieve that easily.
Of course, you also have business objectives to achieve through your website, which must also be supported by UX design. That creates the need for balance between a UX that serves your visitors and supports your business strategy simultaneously. Your design should also play the important role of directing visitors to the calls-to-action that you want them to engage with.
Finding this balance is a challenge, and one that could have a negative impact if you get it wrong. This is where the guidance and expertise of a specialist agency partner becomes so important. All design is collaborative and iterative, and UX design is all about compromising to find the right balance.
The Business Benefits of Great UX
Finding a design agency you can trust, and investing the time to work with them to craft a truly outstanding user experience, will prove well worth it in the long-run.
UX design is complex, but the right agency can guide you by demystifying the process and helping you make the right decisions at every step. Finding that aforementioned balance between your strategic objectives and your target audience’s best interests can have a transformational impact on the performance of your website.
Providing your visitors with a great UX can deliver a wealth of other benefits as well, not only to the performance of your website but to your wider business too. For instance, a study by
Some of these additional benefits include:
- Boost SEO and brand awareness
- Improve audience engagement
- Reduce bounce rates
- Increase conversions
- Drive more sales through your website
- Accelerate business growth
- Improve customer retention and loyalty
- Gain competitive advantages.
Your UX isn’t Complete Without User Interface Design
The key thing to remember is that good UX design is really just helping your website visitors travel from their entry point to wherever they need to get to as easily and efficiently as possible.
In the UX phase of your project, you need to consider who the user is, what they’re aiming to do, and then determine how to enable them to do that with an intuitive design.
Once your UX design begins to come together, and you’re satisfied with everything, the next step will be for your agency partner to begin to design your user interface.
While UX and UI are separate, they’re also intrinsically linked. They need to work together seamlessly and complement each other in order for your website to be successful.
If you’d like to take a step back and learn more about the overall process of web design, read our related article here.
Would you like these insights straight to your mailbox?
- A fully-managed service with 24/7 support
- Automated monitoring and alerts
- Back-up and disaster recovery
- 99.99% up-time
- 100% pass-rate for data centre audits.
- A bespoke website that differentiates you from your competitors
- An online portal, either for training internal users or providing a more engaging experience for your clients
- A new platform that can better integrate with your legacy systems
- A new content management system (CMS) that can provide greater flexibility and scalability
- A way to transform time-consuming, inefficient manual processes into a unique, easy-to-use digital tool.
- Proven financial services sector experience and success
- A strong track record with complex bespoke development projects
- A long-term partner who can advise and guide you to make the correct decisions
- Certifications and accreditations
- Compliance with financial services industry regulations
- Secure hosting, with back-up, disaster recovery, and risk mitigation plans
- Security built into the core of every project
- Automated monitoring, maintenance, and support services
- Ongoing updates and optimisation for your platform
- Training and learning to help you gain maximum value from your investment.
- Improving your internal UX, creating greater operational efficiency
- Improving your external UX, providing more convenient, intuitive services to customers
- Streamlining mission-critical processes to reduce costs
- Building enterprise-grade security into the core of your systems
- Enabling real-time interactions with data
- Increasing customer retention and loyalty
- Achieving competitive differentiation
- Accelerating business growth.
- You risk going through a long, expensive discovery and definition exercise that you could’ve done yourself internally for no cost.
- You risk being given a quote that’s too expensive, or a project timeline that’s longer than necessary.
- You risk receiving a service from the agency that doesn’t align with your request or meet your expectations. In turn, you’ll then have to spend even more time and money on a new project to get your original idea developed.
- How will you be backing up the site’s data?
- What level of data encryption do you need?
- How will users’ personal details be stored and protected?
- Will you have two-factor authentication?
- What password recovery process will there be for users?
- Read our comparison between Sitecore and WordPress here.
- Read our comparison between Umbraco and WordPress here.
9 February, 2023
10 Tips to Improve WordPress Security and Minimise Risks
Cyber security and data protection should be top priorities for your business right now. Of course, this is particularly important for large businesses, and those in strictly regulated industries like financial services, where the outcome of a cyber attack or data breach can be catastrophic.
As these security concerns continue to intensify, you must be increasingly careful and vigilant about the technology solutions you use. You should also take more proactive steps to ensure everything in your tech stack is built and managed in a way that minimises your risks.
When it comes to WordPress, there’s a common misconception that the platform isn’t secure enough for large businesses. This misunderstanding tends to come from the fact that it’s free-to-use, so it was originally more popular among smaller independent businesses and B2C blogs.
Today, however, WordPress is the world’s most popular content management system (CMS), and for good reason. Considering a significant percentage of that user base includes global enterprises, you’d think such popularity would be enough proof that it’s a secure platform.
On the contrary, large businesses still ask us on a regular basis, “Is WordPress secure enough for us?”
Is WordPress Secure?
The answer to that question is, yes, WordPress is a secure, stable platform, even in its “out-of-the-box” state. WordPress’s core code is thoroughly tested and quality-checked by a team of security experts continuously. Not only that, but the same team regularly releases security updates and reinforces any potential weaknesses before they can be capitalised on by cyber criminals.
In fact, the speed at which security updates are implemented in WordPress is arguably the fastest in the world today when compared with other CMSs.
Additionally, WordPress is open-source software, meaning all its code is available to the public. Users are constantly suggesting changes and updates, often to fix bugs in the code and minimise opportunities for cyber criminals. This keeps the platform safe and secure for everyone else.
But while WordPress does have the ongoing support of some of the most talented and devoted developers in the world, it’s not immune to security vulnerabilities. No software is, unfortunately.
That’s why it’s important to be aware of, and work with, some fundamental best practices for security. Listed below are some steps you can take to further strengthen the security of the WordPress CMS.
Best Practices to Strengthen WordPress Security
1 – Secure Hosting
The hosting service you choose for your platform will determine how secure and well protected your data will be.
It goes without saying that WordPress should be hosted in a secure environment, overseen by an experienced provider who prioritises security within their services.
Some things you should consider essential for a hosting provider include:
Before choosing your hosting provider, do plenty of research to ensure they’re able to provide these measures. Most businesses will work with a development agency partner for WordPress, and that agency should be able to help you with this process.
2 – Back-Up and Disaster Recovery
Following on from the previous point, any good hosting provider should also offer back-up and disaster recovery services. These are like safety nets that will allow you to protect, save, and recover all your data in the event of any losses.
3 – Be Careful with Plugins
Plugins are a great way to enhance the WordPress platform with new capabilities and features. But you should only ever use plugins from reputable, credible sources, otherwise you could experience security problems.
It’s also important to keep all your plugins regularly tested, maintained, and updated. Again, this is an area where a WordPress agency partner will help you.
4 – Always Keep Your Platform Updated
When you’ve built a website with WordPress, you’ll often receive software updates from the platform. Any time this happens, it’s because a bug has been fixed or some improvements have been made to the software.
Keeping up with these updates is so important from a security perspective, because they’re designed to keep your site secure. By letting your site run on an outdated version of the platform, you leave yourself at risk of a known issue being exploited by a cyber criminal or some malware.
This is another thing that a good agency partner should take care of for you, so you don’t need to worry about keeping your platform up-to-date.
5 – Never Auto-Update Your Plugins
You have the option to enable auto-updates within your WordPress platform. While this may seem like an easy way to keep your CMS up-to-date, doing so can create technical issues and security risks that simply aren’t worth the convenience.
Each plugin you use will have its own button for you to turn auto-updates on or off. Any good agency will advise you to turn those auto-updates off and instead opt for a more secure approach to your updates, to maintain the resilience of your platform.
6 – Use Security-Specific Plugins
Another way to reinforce the security of WordPress is by implementing security-specific plugins like WordFence, Sucuri, or Defender Pro.
These handy tools will do a lot of the hard work for you, monitoring your platform and spotting potential vulnerabilities so you can fix them before they’re allowed to have any negative impact.
7 – Enable SSL
A secure sockets layer (SSL) is a protocol which encrypts the transfer of data between your website and your users’ browsers. Enabling SSL makes it more difficult for cyber criminals to steal or compromise data online. Don’t worry, though, as this will be taken care of by your hosting provider as a standard practice.
8 – Avoid Tools that Open Direct Access to Your Site Database from the Dashboard
Some tools and plugins will enable direct access to your site’s database from within your CMS dashboard. While this can make certain aspects of website management easier for you, it also creates security vulnerabilities. This is something you should always avoid, because these additions are often severe security risks.
9 – Encourage Your Users to be Mindful of Security
The biggest security risks, and many opportunities for cyber criminals, come from unsafe user behaviour, poor platform maintenance, and badly built sites.
Your behaviour, and the behaviour of your end-users – and your agency – should always be mindful of security. If it’s not, sooner or later you’ll encounter problems. Some security best practices you can introduce include making strong passwords compulsory for all users and implementing measures like two-factor authentication.
10 – Find a Trustworthy Agency Partner to Support You
We understand that following all these steps sounds like a lot of work. Of course, when you’ve got your own job to focus on, the last thing you need is to be spending time struggling through complex website security processes.
That’s why it’s so valuable to find a reliable, trustworthy agency partner when using WordPress to build and manage websites. A good agency will ensure everything is secure and up-to-date for you, so you can spend more time providing outstanding services and experiences to your customers.
It’s always worth taking time to find an experienced agency with a strong track record of building robust, secure sites, to give you the peace of mind you deserve. That means they should handle your secure architecture, testing, monitoring, updates, and ongoing support for you as part of their services.
Being Truly Secure is an Ongoing Process
When you’re selecting a content management system (CMS) to build critical digital assets like your website, security must be a top priority. It’s for that very reason more and more large businesses are looking to WordPress as their platform of choice.
However, it’s equally important to choose an agency you can trust, and one that has these security best practices incorporated into their approach. This doesn’t just stop at the delivery of your website, either. True security is a constant ongoing process, and your agency partner should help you through that.
Following the tips listed here will give you everything you need to build a resilient, secure website on WordPress, suitable for the enterprise.
Interested in learning more about WordPress? Discover how a global enterprise achieved game-changing results by using WordPress to build a secure, innovative, bespoke solution. Check out the story of RedeWire from Rede Partners LLP here.
Would you like these insights straight to your mailbox?
Latest from agency
3 February, 2023
What a Successful Bespoke Development Project Should Look Like for Financial Services Businesses
As a business in the financial services industry, you have to navigate a range of sector-specific challenges that make it difficult to meet current user expectations with technology. This article will explain why a bespoke development project is often the most effective way to solve those challenges, and provide guidance on how to approach such a project.
For a long time, apprehension towards cyber security and data protection, alongside challenges with decades-old legacy systems, meant that many businesses in the financial services sector were a bit behind the technology curve. Banks and other financial services companies weren’t typically known for their impressive websites or sleek digital processes, at least not until fairly recently. Those days are long gone now, though, as digital transformation and technology-driven innovation have changed the financial services industry forever.
Today, both your clients and employees alike expect a seamless digital experience when interacting with your services and processes. And meeting these expectations has become increasingly important over the past 10 years or so, as the more traditional finance businesses have faced disruption from trends like FinTech and digital banking.
But whether you’re a long-standing financial institution, or an early-stage FinTech start-up, there’s a common priority among businesses in this industry – you simply must keep up with the pace of technology in order to stay relevant with your customers and maintain your competitive edge.
Changing Demands from Your Audience of End-Users
The technology trends we’ve highlighted there will have caused you to shift large parts of your business model online over the past few years. Consequently, that will have created a range of new challenges for you.
Whatever services or products you provide, your clients now expect the same convenient, effortless experience they’re used to with the technology they use on their smartphones every day.
When interacting with businesses, most people want to be able to do everything for themselves online, ideally without having to interact with a sales-person or customer service rep. If you can’t enable this self-service in a simple and efficient way, your customers will be left frustrated.
Cyber Security and Data Protection
The amount of data passing through your business is mind-blowing. All that data can be placed at risk if any technology attached to your corporate network is not secure. When you’re working with such highly sensitive financial data and strict industry regulations, all your technology must be highly secure.
Your digital systems need to be highly intuitive, dynamic, and, perhaps most importantly, simple and easy-to-use. That should ideally be the case for all systems, both client-facing and internal.
If your current website feels clunky, unintuitive, or difficult to navigate, your clients will not hesitate to go elsewhere. While that may have been acceptable with cumbersome legacy systems in the financial services market 20 years ago, it’s simply not an option today.
People will leave a company’s website forever after one poor experience. This demonstrates just how important an excellent user experience (UX) is in retaining your user base.
Similarly, with internal systems like staff training portals or corporate knowledge bases, a poor UX will stifle adoption and usage of the technology. In turn, that will have a negative impact on your return on investment (ROI).
Using Bespoke Development to Overcome Business Challenges
In order to break down those barriers and overcome those challenges, many of the leading financial services companies have developed websites that are entirely bespoke.
Modern enterprise systems need to be dynamic, intuitive, and user-centric. Delivering on all those attributes often requires bespoke development, especially in an industry as nuanced and complex as financial services.
Your customers, partners, and clients must be able to interact with your services and access their data online, from anywhere, at any time. Not only that, but they also expect personalised content, tailored to their specific needs or challenges, at every stage of their user journey.
For that reason, it’s often necessary to take the route of a bespoke development project to ensure that your business gains exactly what it needs – and that your users get exactly what they want – in terms of both functionality and capability.
This covers all the possibilities and ensures your digital presence is tailored to your specific business objectives, the preferences of your users, and unique requirements, including:
Whatever it is your business requires, you can follow the simple, proven process outlined below to ensure your investment in new technology is a successful one.
How to Approach a Bespoke Development Project for a Financial Services Business
Understand the Purpose of What You’re Building
The first thing you need to do is reach a clear understanding of exactly what you’re trying to achieve with your website. Whatever you’re looking to build, it should align with, and support, your company’s strategic business objectives.
It should also meet a specific need or solve a specific challenge for the users it’s aimed at. This will help you begin to determine exactly what you need in terms of design, usability, and any other bespoke functionality.
Define Your Requirements in a Project Brief
A brief is a simple written document that lists all the key ideas and details you think are relevant to the website or platform you’re looking to build. Use this to list all your functional and non-functional requirements, as that will make the project as clear as possible for the design and development agencies you speak to.
Try to be as specific as possible to give yourself the best chance of having the project delivered on time, within your budget, and to your bespoke specifications. Without that specificity, you’ll likely be disappointed and could even end up drastically over-spending.
For a comprehensive guide to creating a brief that will set you up for a successful web design and development project, read our useful article here.
Evaluate Your Technology Options
In most cases, you’ll use a content management system (CMS) to build your bespoke site. This is a type of software-based platform that allows you to create, edit, and publish digital content across a range of online channels and devices.
Every bespoke development project will be different, so you should aim to select the CMS that best aligns with your objectives, requirements, budget, and other factors.
For example, WordPress is fast-becoming the platform of choice for many forward-thinking financial services businesses, because of the flexibility and fast time-to-market it offers.
To learn more about how to understand and evaluate the enterprise CMS options for bespoke development, read our helpful related article here.
Find and Select an Agency Partner
Building, managing, and maintaining a high-performance website in the current technology landscape can be very complex. It requires a wealth of expertise and experience, and also takes time. For that reason, the vast majority of businesses work with a web design and development agency to bring their vision to life.
The choice you make about which agency to partner with will have a significant influence on the success or failure of your project, so approach this decision with a great deal of care.
When you’re dealing with such a high volume of sensitive financial data, you must find an agency that understands and respects the critical nature of the work they’ll deliver for you.
You should consider the following qualities as non-negotiable for your an agency:
What Are the Key Components of a Successful Bespoke Development Project in the Financial Services Sector?
There are some key components of a web development project that you can specifically include in your requirements before you speak to any agencies. These will ensure you minimise your risks and mitigate potential problems, both during and after the delivery of the project.
You should use these as criteria when assessing your agencies and your technology platform, as they should all be non-negotiable for any business in the financial services sector.
Hosting and Performance
Hosting refers to the physical and virtual data centres used to house your website. It’s crucial to ensure your site will be hosted in a secure environment, with an experienced, trustworthy provider, because this will have a significant influence on things like security and performance. You’re likely expecting to deal with a high volume of data and a large audience of users, so it’s crucial to ensure your website or platform can handle that.
Security is not an after-thought, it’s a critical priority. From your choice of hosting services, to your data back-up and disaster recovery, right through to the frequent testing of your live site. Always place this at the very top of your list of questions when speaking to an agency or a technology provider about developing something bespoke.
Providing your users with personalised services and content is another crucial capability for modern financial services companies, but not all platforms can facilitate this.
In order to ensure your end-users are having their experiences tailored to each individual, some bespoke functionality could be necessary.
Scalability and Multi-Site Development
As business growth is likely one of your key strategic objectives, your site must be able to support that. A scalable platform will allow you to seamlessly expand your online presence as your business grows and your needs change.
Integration with Back-End Systems
Like most financial services companies, your corporate network probably includes a variety of old and new systems and applications across all your different departments. If you’re going to have something new developed, you’ll need to build it on a technology platform that can seamlessly integrate with all those relevant systems.
Whether or not a technology solution is a good investment or a bad one often depends on how easy it is to use, both for your team internally and your end-users. Usability is a key criteria
One of the great advantages of developing a bespoke site is that you can continue to iterate and improve it based on user feedback. However, you’ll want to ensure you’re able to do so quickly and efficiently.
Working with an agency, and a technology platform, that enables a fast time-to-market with your development projects is an important part of the process in terms of achieving positive ROI.
Ongoing Development and Optimisation
Following on from the previous point, your web development project shouldn’t stop at the delivery and deployment of your solution. Once your site is live, measure and analyse its adoption and usage. You can use that feedback to continue optimising its capabilities and functionality for the best possible results.
The Business Benefits of Bespoke Development
While technology does create its fair share of challenges for businesses that are unprepared or unwilling to adapt, it also presents a vast range of opportunities to those who embrace it.
A bespoke development project delivers something entirely unique and specific to your business, giving you a range of benefits and advantages, including:
Financial services has always been a highly competitive industry, but with recent technology trends and changing consumer behaviour, it’s now more important than ever to have a strong, user-centric digital presence.
Not only do your clients and partners demand their data be handled in a secure, compliant way, they also expect a seamless, consumer-grade performance from all digital processes and services they use. Unexpected down-time, poor UX, or any similar frustrations will leave your customers unsatisfied and may put their loyalty in question.
In order to avoid these challenges and minimise your risks, it’s important to find the right agency, with the right technology, to create a website tailored to meet your strategic objectives and exceed your clients’ expectations.
Would you like these insights straight to your mailbox?
30 November, 2022
How to Create a Brief That Will Ensure Your Web Development Project is Successful
If you’re looking to build a website for your business, a proven approach is to work with an agency and have them deliver the project for you. This could be a bespoke website design and development agency or solely a website or platform development agency.
Before you approach an agency, however, you’ll first need to reach a clear, detailed understanding of your requirements.
This article will provide an in-depth guide to help you through the briefing process and ensure your chosen agency delivers your project successfully, including a free template you can use to create your own brief. This template can also be used for other types of development projects as well, including anything from an online portal to an internal training platform.
Where to Start
Whether you need to design and develop a new website, or rebuild or migrate an existing site, a natural first step is to take your idea to an agency with a view to launching a web development project.
However, it’s a common mistake to go to an agency too early with just a raw, under-developed concept. Rather than meeting with an agency prematurely, we strongly suggest going through the process of defining your specific requirements and creating a project brief first.
The first thing to do is hold a discussion with the relevant people internally. Talk through the idea, and try to define what it is you need and what you want to achieve with it. Get a clear picture of what that idea or a concept will turn into, but also think carefully about what it should do from the perspective of your end-users.
Once you have a more tangible understanding of what you’re looking to build, you should begin creating a brief.
This is a document outlining the key details and requirements for the project. It’s something you’ll need to take with you to your introductory meetings with the agencies you’re considering, as it will be a very useful tool in helping you explain your idea clearly.
A brief doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s just a simple written document that lists everything you want at this early stage. However, while a brief can be simple, it’s important that it’s as specific as possible too. The more detail you provide for your agency, the more chance you’ll have the project delivered on time, within your budget, and meeting your expectations.
Why Having a Brief is Crucial
There are some potential pitfalls to be aware of that could create challenges for you if you don’t create a thorough brief.
Unfortunately, some agencies will be willing to work with you without a detailed brief, glossing over important details and keeping the expectations and requirements vague. This is a red flag to look out for, as it will likely result in one of several outcomes:
A brief is what gives you and the agency a mutual understanding of the work that needs to be done to successfully deliver the project. Without that specificity, you might end up disappointed. That’s why it’s always wise to put some time and effort in up front before taking your idea to an agency.
Once you submit your brief, you may be invited to participate in a follow-up session to further explore the requirements you’ve listed. This is perfectly normal, and actually a good sign. Experienced agencies will want to talk through each of the elements of your brief with you to help determine the best possible way to deliver those in the project.
How to Create Your Brief
When you begin to discuss and plan the requirements of your project between your team, we recommend thinking carefully about the following points.
Please note: There are a lot of things that could go into a project brief, depending on how complex your requirements are, so we won’t include everything here in this article.
The Project’s Purpose and Goals
Start by thinking about what the purpose of the project is. There’s no use speaking to an agency until you have a clear, specific understanding of exactly what you’re trying to achieve with this project. This should relate to your strategic business objectives, but it should also be designed to meet the needs of your end-users.
Ask yourself how this will allow you to improve your end-users’ experience or solve a problem for them. Answering this might involve working on user personas or developing user stories, or potentially even working directly with some members of your target audience to gather their input.
Project Timelines and Deadlines
Timing is another important point to think about, particularly how much time you have to deliver the project. Deadlines can sometimes relate to certain dates that are out of your control, so it’s better to start as early as possible in those cases. If there’s any flexibility with the timeline for delivery, make a note of that as well.
Make a list of all the stakeholders involved. This is a good thing for the agency to be aware of early on, because the project becomes more complex with a higher number of stakeholders.
Depending on the size of your business, and the nature of your site, your project team will usually be some combination of: A marketing director or marketing manager, someone from your operations department, and someone from IT.
However, if you also have people like someone from your IT team responsible for security, a content writer to provide all the written text, or any external consultants, that should be made clear in advance. If your site will need to integrate with other platforms, such as your CRM system, you may have an integration manager specifically in charge of overseeing that as well.
It’s useful to designate roles to certain stakeholders, such as project sponsors, product owners, administrators, and so on. This will help you understand who’s responsible for different aspects of the project internally.
If you plan to work with external agencies for things like SEO or branding, it’s important to note that in your brief. This is necessary for the development agency to be aware of as early as possible, because collaborating with other third-parties at different stages of the project requires a lot of coordination.
Certain processes may also have to run differently if other third-party agencies want to be more hands-on or handle some parts of the site themselves. The earlier this is made clear, the more smoothly the project will run.
If you have any preference of technology platform or any requirements related to your existing tech stack, that will be something you’ll need to decide early on. For example, would you prefer to use WordPress due to its scalability, or do you have any existing investment in any other platforms?
Think about any preference you have for the various technology choices available, why they’re important to you, and whether your agency will have to tailor their approach to accommodate that.
Try to determine a minimum and maximum budget for your project, even if it’s just a loose range for now. It will help you evaluate agencies, and will also help you prioritise the various aspects of the project as “must have” or “nice to have” in many cases.
Design Look and Feel
This is where your company’s brand comes into play. You’ll want your site to reflect your brand and that will come through in the design. Bring any brand guidelines to the table, and think about what sort of tone or experience you want to convey to your end-users.
If you don’t have any recent brand guidelines and want help updating them, or need to go through a rebranding process, mention that in your brief as well. Design and development agencies will often be able to help you in these areas too, or at least refer you to a trusted partner who can.
User Interface (UI)
How your end-users will interact with your site, and what kind of experience they’ll have, is largely determined by the user interface. When it comes to design and UI, simplicity is usually the best approach. However, depending on the function you’re providing, you might have some specific or bespoke UI requirements.
Consider your target audience carefully here as well. For example, if most of your users will be accessing your site from a mobile device, it’s probably wise to opt for a mobile-first design.
Some other important things to think about here include how you’d like your sitemap to be structured, especially if you have an existing site that you’re already happy with.
If your project will involve rebuilding or migrating an existing site or platform, it will be helpful to gather any existing data sources, such as Google Analytics, that will provide insight into your current site.
Non-functional requirements are all the aspects of your site that happen behind the scenes. These are things that allow your site to do its job properly for your end-users, but won’t be evident to those people while they’re using it.
There’s a lot of things to consider with non-functional requirements, so we won’t cover everything here.
If you have any specific hosting requirements, such as a preference for a certain cloud-based platform, or a particularly secure data centre, those will be important to identify as early as possible.
Say, for instance, that sustainability is a core value for your business, this could also have an influence on how and where your hosting is managed.
If you have an internal IT team that will be contributing towards the hosting decision, make sure you involve them in the discussion.
Security and Compliance
Security is a growing concern for all businesses today. It’s crucial to think about security as a core component of any web development project, to minimise any potential risks for your business.
If you have someone in your team responsible for security, they should begin to think about issues such as:
Robust security also involves keeping compliant with any specific security or industry regulations that may affect your business. Of course, compliance with things like GDPR should be planned for at this stage too.
Some other common non-functional requirements include things like session management capabilities to track and things like log-in time, session length, pages visited, and so on. Search engine optimisation (SEO) tools, analytics, or other capabilities might need to be built into your site as well.
Accessibility, Usability, and Responsive Design
When it comes to aspects that will make your users’ experience as seamless as possible, such as accessibility, a good agency will ensure all these things are taken care of for you. This is also the case for ensuring all major web browsers, operating systems, and devices are fully supported and compatible. Development should always be compliant with industry standards, taking into account optimum accessibility and usability.
However, if you have any additional or bespoke requirements for any of these things, those will be useful to note early on.
The term ‘functional requirements’ refers to everything that your site will be able to do for its users, in terms of its features, functionality, and capabilities.
As mentioned earlier, one of the first things you discussed was what the site will help your end-users achieve. From the perspective of building something your target audience can use, you should start to get a feel for what functionality is required to ensure they can achieve that.
Your features are the things your site will allow your users to do. These can be very simple, or very sophisticated, depending on what you’re aiming to provide for them.
When putting your brief together, think of any and all features and functionality that might benefit your users. Your agency will then work with you to explore these and find the best way to turn that into intuitive, user-friendly features for you.
What to Do Next
Once your team has been through the process of talking through all the points listed above, you should have a very thorough, useful brief to work with. The next step is to take that brief to any introductory meetings you have with agencies and ask them what they think of the project initially.
It’s normal for an agency to ask lots of questions at that stage and really dive into the ‘WHY’ behind all the things you’ve put into your brief. A good agency will even challenge you on certain decisions, to help you determine the best possible way to build what you need.
Once you’ve discussed your brief with an agency, determine which one feels like the best fit. Choosing the right agency is crucial, as it will have a huge influence on whether or not your project is successful.
As mentioned earlier, some agencies will agree to launch into a project without a brief, and that can be extremely problematic. While the main purpose of a brief is to help you and your agency understand exactly what you need, it should also be used as a way to spot partners who may not be sufficiently thorough or conscientious.
Whichever agency you choose, a detailed brief will help you ensure you’re given a fair quote, realistic timelines for completion, and a finished product that meets your requirements and expectations.
More Helpful Resources
If you’re considering a bespoke development project, our related article provides useful guidance to help you choose the right technology platform for your specific needs:
Would you like these insights straight to your mailbox?
12 January, 2023
WordPress vs Drupal – Comparing Both Content Management Systems
There are plenty of similarities between WordPress and Drupal. That can make it particularly hard to choose between the two if you’re tasked with finding a new content management system (CMS) for your business. But when you’re about to invest in a new CMS, it’s an important decision that needs careful consideration.
After all, your CMS will be the platform upon which your website is built, and the influence that will have on your business growth and success today shouldn’t be underestimated. With that in mind, it’s crucial to find a platform that aligns with your specific requirements and enables you to achieve your strategic objectives.
To help you gain a clear understanding of the differences between WordPress and Drupal, and decide which one is better suited to your business, we’ve provided this helpful side-by-side assessment.
This article is part of a new series where we’ve explored direct, objective comparisons between some of the leading options for CMSs. In the third article of this series, we’re looking at Drupal and WordPress. You can find links to the other articles in this series at the bottom of the page.
Approachability and Ease-of-Use
A CMS is a big investment, and so you’ll want to begin getting good use and value from your platform of choice as quickly as possible. Like any type of software, though, some platforms are more approachable for the average user, while others will require you to have some previous experience to get going.
How Approachable is Drupal?
Drupal is aimed at users with some prior coding skills or content management experience. If you have technical skills at your disposal, Drupal can provide great functionality once you’ve put some time and effort into setting everything up.
For non-technical users, however, working with the platform and getting comfortable using it can be a long-term process. It’s an advanced CMS that doesn’t offer much in the way of straightforward usability “out-of-the-box” unfortunately. If your team is made up of non-technical users and beginners, this might not be the best platform for you.
Even if you work with a web development agency to help you get everything set up and tailored to your preferences, the complexity of the code will make their project timelines and costs higher than the average CMS.
How Approachable is WordPress?
WordPress is very approachable for anyone, even beginners without any previous experience using a CMS.
Simplicity is one of WordPress’s greatest strengths, and many would argue that elevates it above all its peers.
This usability allows you to get up-to-speed immediately with a very fast time-to-market for your site. That means you’ll begin to achieve a positive return on investment (ROI) much quicker than most other platforms. Almost everything you need to build and manage your website will be readily available when you first begin using WordPress, making it more approachable for the average user than Drupal.
As it’s such an intuitive platform, pretty much anyone in your team will be able to use WordPress. That will make it easier to handle the daily management and running of your site as a shared responsibility.
Functionality and Customisation
As touched on above, you should be looking for a platform that you and your colleagues will be comfortable using on a daily basis. If you don’t like the way a CMS functions, you should remove it from your shortlist of options.
While Drupal and WordPress are similar at first glance, with the same fundamental functionality of a CMS, there are some unique features and capabilities that differentiate them. There’s also a wide range of ways to customise them to your own liking.
Working with Drupal
While the complexity mentioned in the previous section does require considerable time, effort, and money to get past, once you’ve got there you’ll likely find Drupal is a good CMS to use for building and editing your website.
Drupal’s user interface (UI) is fairly easy to get used to. You can publish, edit, manage, and organise content with flexibility, adjusting your page structure and site navigation. You can also lean on a large library of website themes and modules, which are additions similar to WordPress’s plugins, to tailor your CMS to your own unique specifications.
Working with WordPress
As a CMS, WordPress’s simple, intuitive functionality allows you to seamlessly launch and manage your site. It’s very convenient editing content on a page-by-page basis with WordPress with its block-based design. This allows you to create quality content from day one, with the freedom and flexibility to make adjustments to the platform as and when you require.
WordPress also allows you to customise it as well with a vast selection of plugins and themes. The difference between WordPress and other CMSs, though, is that there’s not much you’ll need to change about it out-of-the-box before you can begin using it comfortably.
Because it has a lower cost and faster time-to-market, it will free up more time for you (or your agency) to focus on higher value work, like differentiating your site from competitors or developing personalised content for your customers.
When writing down the criteria that you’ll use to select your CMS, security should be one of the first things on that list. Threats to cyber security and data protection are increasing by the day, for businesses of all sizes across all sectors, so it’s crucial to ensure you select a secure, trustworthy platform.
How Secure is Drupal?
One of the major advantages of a CMS that’s aimed at those with web development skills is that the users of Drupal work hard to ensure the platform is highly secure. Drupal regularly receives security updates and additional reinforcements to protect the platform.
Of course, you still need to test thoroughly and continuously double-check there are no vulnerabilities in your system. This is usually the responsibility of your agency, and a good partner should always prioritise security at the core of any development project.
How Secure is WordPress?
WordPress is a secure platform, but some still carry the misconception that it isn’t suitable for large businesses. To find evidence of its enterprise-grade security, though, you only need to look at the number of organisations using WordPress as their CMS of choice today.
Still, there are some potential vulnerabilities that are important to be aware of. For instance, be careful when adding plugins to your WordPress platform. As WordPress runs on open-source software, some developers will inevitably release plugins that aren’t secure, so you should only use plugins from reputable sources.
When you do use plugins, you’ll also need to test them thoroughly and keep them updated, and ideally have them working alongside security-specific plugins such as WordFence. These are issues that a good agency partner should be well aware of and handle for you.
Security is also influenced by the hosting environment of your platform. You can reduce your security risks further with WordPress if you find a trustworthy, well-managed hosting partner to look after your system.
The Global Communities
An active community of developers is a valuable asset for a CMS to have. This is a selection of dedicated users who work hard to contribute to growing and improving the platform, either by releasing new updates and plugins or fixing bugs in the software’s code.
For businesses like yours, the community could make the difference between having a small issue resolved quickly or growing into a big problem. Communities also provide resources to learn more about the technology, to further develop the digital offering you provide to your customers.
Drupal has a fairly niche, but very passionate developer community supporting it. The size of Drupal’s community is considerably smaller than more popular platforms like WordPress, mainly because of that higher degree of coding skill required to use the CMS easily.
However, that doesn’t detract from the level of support or added value you’ll receive if you do opt for Drupal. New themes, modules, and updates are often released to contribute to the quality of websites that can be built on the platform.
Most of what’s been discussed as strengths of WordPress in this article can be put down to the hard work of the community adding to the software.
WordPress’s community is truly global, with millions of users regularly producing innovative new themes and plugins that your business can pick up and begin using with ease.
No matter what issues you run into with your WordPress site, there will always be help readily available from the community.
WordPress users are renowned for their events as well, with free meet-ups and conferences often held to help users learn more about the technology. WordCamp, for example, is a non-profit event that has been run by the WordPress community since 2006 across several continents. WordPress also hosts an annual event called WordPress accessibility day, designed to help increase awareness of the importance of accessibility in modern technology.
The Cost and TCO
Another important aspect of your evaluation will be the cost of your CMS, and its long-term total cost of ownership (TCO).
The platform you choose will need to deliver good value for money and a strong ROI. How easily you can achieve these will vary depending on the CMS and how well it aligns with your business’s requirements.
Drupal’s Up-Front Investment and Ongoing Costs
Drupal is an open-source platform, which means it’s free to use. In most cases, Drupal is a good option in terms of value when compared to other CMSs.
You’ll only need to worry about costs like agency fees for development, your platform hosting, and post-deployment testing and maintenance.
However, the aforementioned complexity of Drupal often causes agency work to be more costly and time-consuming than it would be when working with platforms like WordPress. From basic set up and development to customisation, it’s possible your TCO will continue to grow over the years the longer you’re working with Drupal.
WordPress’s Low Cost and TCO
WordPress, on the other hand, is a very cost-effective solution with a much lower TCO than with Drupal.
It’s another open-source platform with no license fees, and you’ll rarely need to add on new features or capabilities because it comes with so much “out-of-the-box” already.
WordPress development is more simple and affordable, as are its maintenance and support. As mentioned earlier, the fast time-to-market helps you get a high quality website launched quickly so you can begin seeing ROI almost immediately.
Understanding the Role of an Agency
The role of an agency has been mentioned several times throughout this article. That’s because most businesses with a great website will have worked with an agency partner with platform-specific skills to help them bring their vision to life.
An agency can support you with hosting, design, development, maintenance, security, and updates, each of which can be highly complex and challenging to handle alone.
Therefore, it becomes even more important to consider how easy your CMS is to work with, not just for you and your team but for your development agency as well.
With a platform like Drupal, that has a reputation for being difficult and time-consuming to work with, agency projects are likely to be quite a big investment, and an ongoing one at that. WordPress is a platform that’s far easier to work with, meaning that the cost of releasing a quality, secure website will be much more affordable.
A CMS becomes far easier to use when you find an agency with the experience and expertise to help you gain as much value from the technology as possible. Whichever platform you choose, you’ll find it easier to achieve positive ROI if you have a specialist partner supporting you.
Deciding Between Drupal and WordPress
Both WordPress and Drupal are perfectly good options for most businesses looking for a new CMS. While there are strengths and weaknesses to consider, the most important thing is to keep your business’s specific needs in mind.
Make sure you’re clear on your strategic objectives, unique requirements, users, budget, and other factors to inform your decision. Once you’ve done that, use the comparisons in this article to see how each CMS lines up against what you’re looking for. It should then become evident which platform is more suitable for you.
If you need more help in your evaluation of the various CMS options:
Would you like these insights straight to your mailbox?
Latest from agency
8 December, 2022
Sam Phillips and Will Newland interviewed by Cloudways
SoBold has been working with Cloudways since 2019 to help host development environments for all of their clients.
You can learn more about Cloudways, Managed Cloud Hosting services by visiting their website here.
See what they had to say in the video below.