You might think that a paid discovery session is only necessary when your site has hundreds of pages or a lot of bells and whistles: events plus e-commerce plus membership plus a staff directory plus multiple complex forms, plus, plus. You would be wrong. Some of the worst cases of “Oh, but could we do it this way instead?” have been for ostensibly simple sites.
In the course of a discovery session, your developer will suggest possibilities you might not have thought about and help you determine whether you need them and how best to implement them. Maybe you hadn’t realized that you could turn those PDF forms into web forms or that clients could submit their own testimonials for you to approve and publish. Perhaps you don’t want to blog, but you do want to publish company press releases. If you haven’t started building an email list for marketing purposes, maybe now is the time.
If you’re planning to add a feature in a later phase of the site, make sure to tell your developer so she can set up your site in a way that makes it easy to add this feature. (Sort of like putting hookups for a washer and dryer into your garage even though you haven’t bought the washer and dryer yet.)
What’s the difference between Discovery and Content Strategy?
Content strategy focuses creating, organizing, and making the best use of your content, which is the most important part of your website. (If you’re not convinced that the content is the part of your site that matters most, look at Craigslist, where boring design and minimal functionality result in massive success thanks to the content.)
In the course of a discovery session, your developer learns what kind of content you have and whether you already have a content strategy in place. If you’ve gone through a content audit and worked out a content strategy, you can pass that information on to your developer before or during your discovery session. Your developer needs to know about your content in order to create your site architecture and your site navigation, and also needs to know about any custom content types and custom taxonomies she needs to create to help you organize your content.
What happens during a discovery session?
A discovery session uncovers the types of features and functionality that your site requires. Here are some examples of questions your developer might ask you in the course of discovery.
- Do you expect most people who come to your site to be using a desktop/laptop, a tablet, or a phone?
- If you sell products, do you need a full-fledged e-commerce system that allows people to purchase directly from your site, or just a product catalog? Are you selling digital or physical products, or something else like subscriptions or courses?
- Do you need an online press room, and if so, are you including news releases, links to news coverage, and assets like company logos and high-resolution photos of key staff members?
- Who in your organization needs to be able to create, edit, and publish content?
- Are you integrating email marketing, and if so, do you need to send the email from within WordPress, or are you using a third-party email marketing service?
- Do you need social profile links, social sharing links, a Twitter feed, a Facebook feed, an Instagram feed, or a Pinterest feed? How about YouTube videos? If your business is on Yelp, do you want to show Yelp reviews?
- Do you want new entries (usually blog posts, but also events, portfolio items, etc) posted to your social media accounts automatically?
- What kind of forms do you need? Who needs to receive copies of the forms? Do you need to be able to export form data?
- Are you planning to include polls, quizzes, surveys, or other interactive elements on your site?
- Do you want people to be able to schedule appointments through your website? If so, are you already using a third-party service to handle this?
- Do you need to display events? Are your events in-person or online? Are you just listing events, or do you also want people to be able to buy tickets to your events? Does your event calendar need to be able to talk to your Google calendar? How much information do you need to show about each event? Is your website the main source of information for the event, or are you just linking to events on other sites?
- Do you need to be able to restrict any of your content to paid subscribers?
- Are you trying to create an online community where people have their own profiles and post their own content?
- Do you need a forum for community discussion or customer support?
- What other software or platform does your site need to integrate with? (E.g. connecting your store to QuickBooks)
- Will you be offering online courses that require a learning management system (LMS) plugin? If so, are you charging for those courses?
- Do you want visitors to be able to comment on any of your content? If so, which kinds of content? How are you planning to manage and moderate comments?
- Do you need to pull in content from other sources (news aggregation)?
- Do you need a list of store locations with maps?
- Do you need complete sub-sites for different branches or offices?
- Do you need to put maps everywhere, or just on your contact page?
- Do your site visitors need to be able to upload files or submit blog posts/classified listings/job listings/whatever?
- Do you need a clients-only area of your site?
- Will you be podcasting or video blogging? Have you already arranged media hosting? Do you have a YouTube or Vimeo channel? Is your podcast on iTunes yet?
- Do you need additional services like search engine optimization (SEO)?
- Do you want all these website features at once, or are you going to divide the site construction into multiple phases?
That’s a pretty long list and it’s not even comprehensive. In some cases, you’ll be able to quickly answer “Yes” or “No” to these questions, and in others, you’ll need to think about it.
Keep in mind that each new feature or function you add to your site will increase the cost and development time, and in some cases may increase the server requirements for hosting. (You should always used WordPress-optimized hosting, but there are different levels of service available.)
Preparing for a discovery session
Your developer may send you a questionnaire to help speed up the process of discovery. If so, be sure to fill it out. If not, look over the list of questions above and make some notes for yourself.