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Ten years ago, websites were largely brochure-ware and widely considered disposable. It was not uncommon for a company to roll out a new website annually. Eliminating waste is a popular topic these days, and many companies are employing strategies to get the most out of their online budgets.

Today, it is not uncommon for a website to last years. Companies are stretching their dollars by investing early and adopting the process of steady, ongoing improvements.

Spending time and money early in the life-cycle of your website has greater impact on your business’ success. Not only do the decisions you make have longer shelf life, but the process is also cheaper at this stage.

Set a winning strategy

Good web development teams approach your project with purpose.

You’ll want to reach a deep understanding of your company, your brand, and the target audience; run through a competitive analysis to set the playing field; and outline your online strategies and how they fit into your overall corporate mission. Many refer to this as the discovery phase, and essentially this is when the team does its homework. These are all great investments of your time.

The result is you will get better recommendations on what creative and technical tactics will best support your goals, meet your objectives, attack your competitor’s strengths and exploit their weaknesses.

Rally the troops

This is the time to get opinions from within your company. Before the first pixel of your website is onscreen, there will be consensus on what the team is setting out to do and why. The value of later choices will be measured against these early decisions. This will save waste, therefore minimizing costs. Anyone who opts out of participating in these early stages of web development shouldn’t get to cast votes during beta testing. If they’d like, they can cheer lead from the sidelines.

The storm before the calm

You’ve got the team dressed. You know your opponent’s playbook. The excitement in the locker room is palatable. But, you’re not ready to charge out and take the field. It’s time to wire frame the most important pages on your website and storyboard technical components. Planning is critical. Would you live in a house erected by an architect who built it without blueprints? Would you be confident enough to drive a car that rolled down an assembly line without plans?

At this point in the process, change is rapid and cheap. Figuratively speaking, it’s only on paper. Think, get opinions and feedback, work and rework ideas, explore options, and make changes as until the team is satisfied. Approving a wire frame or storyboard is not a point of no return, but it is the last time “what if…” and “hey, what about…” are cheap questions to answer.

It’s all over but the shouting.

Now it’s time to build without second guessing yourself. The team already knows the site is being built correctly, so any change will be minor. The development environment is not the cheapest place for change, but it is cheaper than fixing the live site in a panic. Additionally, any major change will negatively impact the budget and time line. Since you’re already planning on iterative improvements, major changes can be built into the game plan for later phases, or simply avoided.

As exciting as launching the site will be, for some it will be anticlimactic.

Ok, more shouting.

Once your site is built correctly, you can minimize your website expenses and concentrate your efforts on marketing and promotion. This is where the money rightfully should be spent in order to maximize your revenue. You can confidently drive traffic into your sales engine, knowing it’s built to win.

The road to relevance

New websites are no longer the key to being perceived as fresh and relevant. Today, we know that’s the responsibility for writers, bloggers and marketers and in many cases consumers themselves as we engage in two-way conversations.

Learn from the examples of some of today’s web giants, like Amazon.com and Apple. I bet you can’t remember the last time you saw a major change on either site. Both have effectively looked the same for years, but, I bet they made small improvements last week. The best websites don’t need to be redesigned unless their purpose changes.

Change is cheapest at the beginning of the process, and progressively gets more expensive. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to invest early and make improvement a steady, iterative process. After the foundation is set, you study metrics, analyze conversions, and act accordingly. Very rarely do you make a mistake through this system of checks and balances, let alone one you can’t recover from quickly. This approach is better for your brand, your budget and your customers.