Effective Web Site Management: Finding The Right Balance Between Internal And External

During lunch last week with a client, I was asked the following question:

“How much of our web site’s functionality and content should we create and manage internally, and how much should we outsource to somebody else?”

It’s a tough question.

Some businesses outsource all of it. The site is designed and built by a third party, and once it’s up and running, whenever a change is needed — even something as small as updating a phone number — a request is emailed to the web site developer who makes the change.

Other businesses choose to do everything themselves. They design it, they write the HTML, they update the content, etc. Some even host the site on their own in-house servers.

Which approach is right? Without making any specific references to this year’s presidential campaign, I’m going to suggest that neither choice is particularly appealing. In my opinion, the best option is somewhere in the middle.

The problem with outsourcing everything is that it tends to create sites that are not actively managed, and that over time, stop evolving. No matter how responsive and accommodating your web site developer is in handling your requests, if you’ve got to go to somebody outside your organization every time you have an idea for improvement, you will not make changes with the same frequency or creativity as you would if you could just get in there and do it yourself.

The other option has problems as well. Internally produced sites tend to look homemade, lacking the design elegance and intuitive navigation that a professional brings to bear. In addition, they may not function reliably, since the skills and attention required in keeping the technical underpinnings performing consistently are beyond the scope of what most of us do well (as an example, there are many companies who do nothing but host web sites, and who give them the 7/24 attention they require).

So here’s my recommendation: Outsource the framework; Maintain control over the content. In other words, hire professionals to design the look, create the navigation, build the functionality and make sure it stays up and running. But don’t give up your ability to make changes constantly within this framework (that is, to create special offers, update company information, post newsletters, etc.).

Think of it this way. Imagine that you manage a clothing store. You need a certain degree of daily flexibility and control to be most effective. You need to rearrange merchandise, put special offers in the windows, maybe even change the way you greet people who walk in the front door, all based on your daily insights into what works and what doesn’t work. You don’t however, need to rebuild the displays or rearrange the traffic flow on a daily basis, and in fact you would probably benefit by hiring a professional with that specific expertise.

One more thing. When you build your site, make sure to talk explicitly with your developer about building in sections that you can update independently. Even if it requires training somebody in your company to learn some HTML, you’ll want to manage your site’s content internally.

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