Website Forensics, or “The site doesn’t work, find out why and fix it.”
Forensics is application of scientific knowledge to legal scenarios, in particular the analysis of physical evidence as it relates to crime solving. In this case, we are going to examine how a forensic approach can be helpful in web development.
Why would you need a forensic review of your website?
- Your digital agency changed their business focus or went out of business.
- You fired your digital agency (or they dropped you).
- Your digital agency was unable to service the website in a timely or professional manner and you’re ready to meet with new service providers.
In our world, we meet clients like you pretty frequently. Here’s what typically happens and what we examine: A client shows up at our office with a website operating with insufficient functionality, and they ask us to take over the website maintenance and/or build enhanced functionality. Before we do anything, we assess the website from various angles.
We look at:
- Strategy: Do the client’s business goals match the capabilities of the website?
- Visual design: Is the existing branding and visual design professional and serve the brand?
- Usability: Is the site navigation and content organization logical, user-friendly, and effective?
- Functionality: Does everything work properly? This ends up being one of the biggest complaints of our new clients: either on the admin or the user side, something doesn’t work as well as it should, or could, or there are issues that require a technical resolution.
- Marketing: Has the SEO been set up using best practices? If not, it could actually be hurting your site ranking and visibility.
Top 5 reasons why clients come to us for a website forensic review:
When clients come to us looking for technical expertise for problems they don’t understand, it’s as if they’re walking in scarred from a bad relationship. Their sales and/or operations are suffering from an unusable website. They are wasting time and money and feel generally frustrated and untrusting of web agencies. They want their problem fixed quickly and cost-effectively, so they can get on with their business.
From our perspective, we see an opportunity to win over a new client. In these situations, we haven’t gained the clients’ trust yet and the quality of the website code is unknown. However, before we can make any guarantees, we undertake a careful analysis of the website structure and code. This is where “forensics” comes into play.
Executionists’ website forensic process:
- Meet with the client and get a detailed list of all the website issues and history as well as any documentation the client can provide.
- Get access to the hosting account and website admin credentials in order to review the code, CMS, plugins, versions, potential conflicts, and structure.
- Provide a free, limited, preliminary set of recommendations that may include a cost estimate for a deeper review of the code and associated issues.
In many cases, with simple websites, a quick, investigation may yield discoveries of out-of-date frameworks, plug-in issues, hacks, etc. Often we find a few lines of sloppy coding that need to be cleaned up.
With more complex websites, it can take many hours, or even days, of review before a verdict can be reached on the best approach for repair, or even whether we think it can be, or should, be fixed at all.
If the previous web agency executed improper coding standards or process, then the entire website framework may need to be rebuilt. Older websites can vulnerable to the inevitable drift of coding standards and it might be better to rebuild the website rather than try to patch obsolete code.
The cost for a forensic website review is based on the number of hours required, often only 4 – 8 hours for an initial evaluation ($480 – $960 based on our rate). After the initial review, we can determine how many additional hours are required to solve the website issues. Sometimes we work on an hourly basis, other times we offer a fixed price solution. We also require that the client understand that unforeseen issues can arise from plugins, extensions, modules, the hosting environment, software incompatibility, etc.. These issues, once discovered, can change the requirements of the project at any time and result in a change order for additional effort and costs.
Mini- website forensics case studies:
- Client A has large, complex startup that involves tiered membership, e-commerce, social media and advertising. Their website was managed by a US-based project manager and an offshore technical team. Website planning and documentation is poor. Offshore team cobbles together code from disparate sources with little understanding of the business. Delays, poor communication and missed deadlines cause client to sever ties with the web agency after 6 months and seek alternate help. Based on the state of the code, we recommend a complete rebuild.
- Client B has simple website that is running slow and some links don’t work. They are using an independent web contractor to build and manage their website, who takes weeks to respond. The client’s frustrations mount. We discover that the website graphics need to be compressed and a hacker has injected malware into the code. We streamline the files remove the hack and install hardened security.
- Client C says website is 90% complete and just needs a few more tweaks before it can go live. We investigate the code and find that the functionality will never work in the way the client wants it to. Poor communication between the client and the web agency as well as lack of process resulted in 3 months and thousands of dollars wasted. We recommend a rebuild on a framework that will meet the client’s business requirements.
“Coding is both an art and a science and, like both disciplines, continually evolving. Selection of a professional online agency is the best way to assure the longevity and effectiveness of your website.”
-Richard Parr, CEO & Founder of Executionists, Inc.
Website design and development isn’t rocket science but it does require a professional team that has a process. Website forensics would be so much easier if web agencies provided their clients with a user guide that contains information on the code framework, 3rd-party integrations, hardware specs and any custom components. This type of documentation would greatly assist any new web agency that may service the website in the future. If you are a website owner, we recommend you contact your agency today and ask for website documentation.
We’re here to help. Bring us your website and we’ll apply an analytical approach to an initial evaluation and work with you to offer cost-effective solutions to meet your business needs.