Is a site redesign among your company's New Year's resolutions? Marketers who have delayed much-needed site overhauls during two years of recessionary budgets may be looking to shape up their Web presence in 2012. But like so many other resolutions, site redesigns are much easier to commit to than to actually undertake.
This year, resolve to redesign your request for proposal (RFP) process along with your site. There's never been a better time: Big changes in the digital marketing landscape over the last several years demand a fresh approach to the RFP to ensure that you end up with a site that's built to last. The risk of rapid obsolescence is real: A site redesign in early 2012 will launch onto a landscape with up to 70 million tablet users in the US alone—a trend that was entirely unforeseen just two years ago.
Future-proofing your redesign starts with the RFP itself. A well-crafted RFP vets the responding agencies' capabilities in areas of innovation, such as mobile design. But just as important, a well-crafted RFP aligns your own organization behind those needs, ensuring that IT, Marketing, and upper management share common goals for the site's evolution.
With that in mind, I offer the following RFP guidelines—first the do's, then the don'ts.
What Your RFP Should Ask For
1. Mobile Integration
A site redesign is the most natural opportunity to address a brand's mobile presence, because mobile's role in the customer journey (i.e., when customers use your mobile site, mobile app, and desktop website) is best uncovered in the user research that accompanies a redesign. If the mobile and desktop sites will be managed via a common content management system, the RFP should address that requirement as well.
2. Content Sharing Features
By now, marketers have embraced social sharing as a crucial tool in the marketing arsenal, but branded social channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, get most of the mindshare, while people neglect the site's social dimension. It's time to remedy that oversight with RFP requirements for integration of social sharing tools that'll enable site visitors to share valuable content with their social networks and to gather feedback on purchases they're considering.
3. SEO 2.0
Most site redesign RFPs simply check the box on search engine optimization (SEO) by asking responding agencies to affirm that their development processes include site optimization. Has any agency ever claimed otherwise? As the search landscape rapidly evolves to favor more recent and more social content, respondents' SEO capabilities deserve a little more scrutiny. Google has made an estimated 400 search algorithm changes in the last year alone. How does a prospective agency's solution ensure that your site will stay competitive? What role does social content, especially blogging, play in the agency's recommended SEO strategy?
4. Community Features
Marketers tend to be leery of community features: Who will manage the community? Will consumers flame us on our own site? Not every site needs them. Consumers want more direct access to their peers for high-consideration or subscription purchases, such as consumer services, automotive, electronics, etc. When brands in those industries provide discussion forums on their sites, they greatly enhance their capacity to win over prospective customers. For brands that can benefit from community features, their RFPs should articulate both the feature requirement and any ongoing agency support.
One of the side effects of the mobile and social Web is that users have become tweakers; they expect to be able to personalize interfaces to deliver the content they want in the way they want it. Brand sites can win favor with fussy consumers by giving them more control. Personalization worth considering includes homepage customization, saved searches, recommendations, and dynamic content. The RFP should vet the agencies' experience with personalization and associated technologies.
What Your RFP Should Not Ask For
1. A Fixed Cost Bid
A good redesign process uncovers the specific site requirements in the discovery phase, based on user research. So, asking for a fixed cost ahead of those requirements is tantamount to asking agencies to predict the future. Consequently, agencies may overbid to hedge their bets, or underbid to try to limit the feature set. If your procurement process allows, ask for a fixed bid for discovery with an estimated range for subsequent phases.
2. Narrow Experience
My agency, White Horse, recently reviewed an RFP for creating a mobile-based augmented reality (AR) tour of a state park. The RFP required specific experience in developing mobile-based AR for other state parks. That's casting the net a little too narrowly. Being overly restrictive about participating agencies' experience in your sector limits your exposure to fresh thinking that can come from outside of your sector, and it potentially disqualifies agencies that could be a great fit because of their broader or adjacent experience.
3. More Than You Need
Many RFPs are built on the premise that it's better to be exhaustive about asking agencies to catalog their capabilities than to risk overlooking some crucial question. The flaw in that logic is that those really crucial insights can get buried under a morass of other material, and agencies won't always give you their best thinking if they're too busy assembling a pile of content. RFP decisions are frequently delayed because the review team is overwhelmed by the responses, and a delayed RFP is a delayed redesign.
Consider a 2:1 rule in preparing your RFP: The document should be two parts sharing information about your needs and challenges to one part asking for information from respondents. Agencies will produce more thoughtful proposals when they know more about you, and they'll show their creativity (or lack thereof) in response to more open-ended questions. Agencies that don't make good use of the insights you share handily disqualify themselves as poor "listeners."
Above all, don't delay! As consumer behavior evolves, your customers will shift their loyalty to brands that give them the features that they want on the platforms they prefer. Will that be you, or your competitor? It all starts with the right RFP.