Beware of These Four Enterprise Web Development Shops
There are plenty of website developers out there. Freelance dudes in their mom’s basement and large advertising agencies, both can build you a website. The important thing to think about when undergoing an enterprise web development project is that all digital agencies are not created equal, and this goes beyond just the technology they use or price and quality of work they produce. It can be extremely daunting to set off on the journey of evaluating vendors, especially to do work on something so highly technical and nuanced. How do you make sense of what’s out there and pick the right enterprise web development solution?
1. The Vendor
First and most important, make sure you pick a partner, not a vendor. What’s the difference? In short, a vendor will take a list of tasks and accomplish them, while a partner will work with you to figure out what those tasks should be, and then help you work out how to best prioritize them within the constraints of your budget, time, and internal capabilities.
This is an extremely important distinction. Think about building a website as you would building a house. There are a million ways to do things, they vary greatly in price, and scope can change very quickly. If you aren’t working with a trustworthy and knowledgeable partner, you run the risk of getting a house that’s not built to code, or doesn’t solve your problems, or blows your timeline and budget. They may not use the right materials for the job, and they may up-charge you, or sell you on something costly you don’t need.
A partner will work backward from your dream house, account for the money you have to build that house, and will help you prioritize the most important parts of the house to suit your goals and lifestyle so your money is spent efficiently. Now, this doesn’t mean you’ll get everything you want. But a partner might help you realize you can make a concession on the marble countertops for a fireplace in the living room because you live in Denver, not Miami.
2. The One Stop Flop
You might notice some digital agency websites that have a services page describing how they’re the best at 30 different services. Those that can do it all are often masters of none. When you pick a shop that can build a website, handle hosting, setup and manage a paid search campaign, SEO, social media, email marketing, branding, mobile app development, content marketing, and whatever else, you’re getting a diluted product in all areas. Likely, their staff is no larger than more specialized firms, they don’t have a deep knowledge in any one area, and they’re spread too thin to really focus on any of these things individually.
When you’re selecting an enterprise web development partner to help you with an undertaking of this size and scale, you may be tempted to work with one like this that can do it all - a one stop shop where you can funnel your entire marketing budget. Sure, there are plenty of agencies that can do it all - print, digital, paid search, social, SEO, AND build you a website. And sure, that keeps things simple, but does that mean that your result will also be simple? Yes. Dangerously so.
3. The Siloed Specialist
Recently, I came across an agency that handles only religious websites for Catholic churches and archdiocese. There’s a common misconception that a focus like this on one particular vertical will make you the best at it. That’s likely how this religious agency stays in business - social proof in the form of a bandwagon effect. In reality, a focus on religious projects doesn’t make you good at coding, user experience, or staying on time and under budget. Sure, having experience within a very specific vertical means you’re familiar with the common challenges faced by all your clients, but in this situation, development experience trumps vertical.
Making the conscious decision to work on variations of different types of projects over a group of industries will ultimately produce the best product, because of the benefit of exposure to many types of problems, use cases, and ultimately, solutions. An enterprise web development partner that can build you any website and do it well is the true indication of mastery, skill, and experience.
4. The Low-cost Sweatshop
Many website development shops only do one thing: develop. They have a staff of single-minded development robots who crank out tasks and develop a website quickly and usually rather cheaply. Often these shops will outsource large chunks of work overseas because of the repetitiveness and very low level of big-picture knowledge required.
These firms may seem appealing due to their low costs and specialization, but don’t be fooled. What you may gain in cost savings, you lose in overall value. Your website will be developed by and for web developers, with very little thought given to user experience, design, and sometimes common sense. Think Windows Vista vs. Mac OS X. Developers at these firms and overseas don’t understand UX best practices, ignore the bigger picture, and don’t share/communicate information well internally and externally to you as a client. Because they crank out sites as quickly as possible, these firms will cut corners, and make sites as they were “told” to, rather than in a way that’s actually functional. Sites built in this way are often inconsistent, hard to scale, and unfriendly to users.
The Sweet Spot
The truth is that finding a strategic digital marketing partner is a challenging and nuanced thing. Because an enterprise web development project isn’t something that has a fixed cost or can be produced in bulk and marked up to be sold at a profit, it’s important that you find a partner you can trust, is communicative and responsive, and who takes the time to do their due diligence before taking a project on. An ideal partner will be upfront with you about the uncertainty and risk associated with a project of this type, and will clearly explain potential landmines and concerns that could affect the project’s timeline and budget. If they work with outside subcontractors due to possible bandwidth issues, they’ll let you know. They’ll also keep you updated on the project as it progresses, showing you burndown on features and working with your team to remove any obstacles standing in the way of development.
The best value will ultimately come from a full-service partner who specializes in their core competency, but without putting blinders on.