How To Be A Great Website Project Manager

Project Management 101

I am always intrigued when hearing about the famous director (and former actor), Ron Howard. Ron Howard’s curiosity around the SETS as a child and teenager is infamous among actors and directors. Ron always asked the director questions, he hung out with the folks working with the lighting, and also the camera crew to understand what they looked for to make a great production.

Over a decade of curiosity and questions led Ron Howard to direct his first film and a few years later, in 2001, he accepted the Academy Award for directing the movie, A Beautiful Mind.

Many actors try their hand at directing, but it takes years to understand the editing process, lighting, camera angles and specifications, storyline, and many more important aspects that make a great movie.

The same goes for website project management. After all, there are billions of websites. It takes something special to make one stand out, be useful, user-friendly, aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate. The content must be top quality, the labels and titles must be intuitive, and the site must load quickly.

This is not easy. It takes work.

My way of beginning a website project is to get as much information as possible; from the client, internal staff, actual users of the site, potential users, the online competition, best industry practices, and years of experience (success and failures).

A website project manager MUST have experience in at least three of the following:  design, branding, programming, usability, information architecture, database development, content management and search engine optimization.

In short, good project managers have some experience with the…

  • Front-End (Design and usability)
  • Actual Site Visitors (UX and User Experience)
  • Back-End (Database Development, content management, programming)

To me, designers that create original designs in less than a day are truly amazing.  A database developer that creates a dozen tables, all normalized and ready for testing in less than a week is something indeed.  Working with experts for years, being curious and building trust will help you understand the intricacies of their work.

A project manager needs to have specific experience doing the actual work required for the job. The Project Management Institute (PMI) touts that a project manager can manage any project.

This is ridiculous.

Would you hire an Event Planner to build your home?  You hire a construction project manager with 10 years of experience, right?  Exactly.

A good construction project manager had better know how to install electricity, plumbing, carpentry and when to schedule those experts to conduct their work. They need to know the regulations and standard code to prevent rework and delays.

Errors in construction schedules could keep the electricians waiting for days while the carpenters finish their structural work. All mistakes cost the customer money or reduce calculated profits.

Technical expertise is required to be a good project manager.  This includes website project managers.

Beginning A Website Project

There are two important questions that must be answered before beginning a website project:

  1. What is the purpose of the site?
  2. What is your budget?

What is the purpose of the site?

Most small business owners have expectations that exceed their budgets. This is the most difficult part of balancing the design, features, content, and popularity of a site.

My personal preference is to partner with a small business owner that wants to dominate their online competition.  A budget should be available to create a site that does exactly that.  Otherwise, expectations need to be adjusted.

Small business owners need to have a clear purpose for their new site.  This includes:

  • Increasing Visibility
  • Increasing Repeat and New Users
  • Increasing the Number of Purchases
  • Higher Average Order Value
  • More Goal Completions (Purchases, Subscriptions, Registrations, Calls, Emails)
  • Lower Bounce Rate
  • Higher Click-Through Rate
  • Additional Social Media Shares
  • Backlinks
  • Higher Ranking
  • User-Friendliness

The point is that you need to have specific goals when creating a site or redesigning a site.

How else will the client measure success?  You do NOT want the client to judge the site based on their mood or others’ opinions.

The aesthetics can be important for credibility, authority, professionalism, and hopefully usability; but if SEO is the focus of the site, some design accommodations may be necessary.  It is important to establish the goals as early as possible.

What is your budget?

The best site owners are ones that budget for success. Understanding the triple constraint is one of the most important things a business owner or marketing director can learn.

Triple constraint:

  • Project Cost (Budget)
  • Project Scope (Amount of work or deliverables)
  • Project Timeline (How long will it take?)

The scope of a project is constrained by the budget and often the timeline.

The budget determines the timeline and the scope of work

The timeline depends on the budget and the scope of work.

If the budget is $10,000, then the client will likely receive a templated design with migrated content and few changes to the architecture and usability.  Larger projects take priority, so the site should rarely have a real deadline.  Sorry, but the $80,000 project takes precedence in a shared environment.

If a site needs to launch in six weeks due to a major event or a PR announcement, their budget needs to reflect the urgency.

Asking “How much does a website cost?” is like asking “How much does an automobile cost?”

You can buy a new BMW or you can buy a used Honda Civic. The more you spend, the better the automobile, more features, and higher quality.

The same goes for websites. If you want to compete nationally in an e-commerce environment selling electronics, you need a bigger budget than a local hair salon.

A good project manager makes sure the client has budgeted for success and the company has priced their services for success, as well.

The Chiropractor

Once, I had a small business owner call to request information about a new website for the GRAND OPENING of his chiropractic office. His website goals were impressive and he seemed to understand a bit about what type of content he needed on the site. When I asked about his budget, he suddenly became quiet.

He didn’t have a budget.

I quickly discussed different possibilities regarding design, seo, content creation and the like.  He balked.

This chiropracter talked to someone who naively quoted $250 for an entire website.  I accidentally laughed, assuming he was joking.

Such is the case with small business owners. $250 would barely cover the cost of our conversation and a few hours of research on local competing chiropractors.  Professional designs, content, and marketing cost money.  Period.  I never heard from him again, thankfully.

This happens quite often with small business owners.  Websites and digital marketing are intangible.  Because you can’t hold a website in your hand and you can’t touch a marketing campaign, they are often devalued.*   Such as life.

The Martial Arts Owner

Another potential client spent over $300,000 converting a business office into a martial arts gym. He purchased equipment, 4 months of construction build-out, painting and wall art, two boxing rings and a fight cage.  He purchased wrestling mats, punching and muay thai bags, towels, a registration and billing system, new lighting and more.

When it came time for his website, there was no money left.  He was given $300,000 to make a great gym and allocated $0 to bring in clients. His business went bankrupt in less than 3 years. The owner’s original Sensei loaned him the money for a 25% partnership and both ended up with $0 dollars.  True Story.

So, let’s begin there. What is the goal of the site and how much money is budgeted?  A good project manager will ask these questions and listen intently.  It is the beginning that makes the end possible.


Find an excellent designer that understands branding & usability, give them direction and then leave them alone. This is their profession and they take pride in their work. Good designers need direction and that is all. Please trust them.

In my experience, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of the design, the designer will hate it. That is how you know you have a good designer. Men and Women that are poor designers get elated with their designs. They are pleased with the color combination, the whitespace, and the “eye flow.” A good designer struggles to look at their work – without exception.

The Trickery of the Design Racket

Most design companies contract three initial designs, you pick the one you like best (or a hybrid of two) and they move forward with the rest of the homepage, the secondary pages design and tertiary pages.

The design racket is that the designers spend more than 60% of their time with the design they think the client will choose.  The designer usually creates a slight alternative for the second design, and the third design is intentionally subpar.

This Ruse Accomplishes 3 Things:

  1. They spend less time on the contract as a whole
  2. They design the last “look and feel” so poorly it makes the other two look great
  3.  It leads the client to the design THEY like best

Designers take pride in their work, but design companies are there to make a profit. This happens no matter how much you pay for the designs, by the way. Even if you tell the design company you’ll pay for their time to make three good ones, it never happens.

After 5 years, I stopped contracting 3 designs and just spent my time creating two visions with the client and the designers. It worked like a charm and clients always loved their two choices.

When it is difficult for a client to choose between two great designs, they are happier that they are getting the utmost quality. In my experience, when a client sees a poor design, it affects the entire reputation of the design company.

I will never understand why a design company would let a poor design be seen by a client, but it happens every day.

Windows and Doors Client

I had a local client that was a model and she decided to manager her brother’s Windows and Doors business. We designed an A-class website homepage that looked better than Andersen Windows, by far. It was so good I thought I undercharged her. It was beautiful and it fit all my specifications for an SEO-Optimized site as well.

The client chose a different route. She wanted a design that almost exactly looked like a site we designed for a construction company in Wisconsin 2 years earlier.

Her budget was so small, we only designed one look and feel.  It was a take it or leave it deal and it was the best design we had ever created.  The client SHOULD have loved it.

The look and feel of the construction site design was completely wrong for her goals and the colors she chose made it look even worse.  This was the first and last time I went against my gut. I should have returned the money, but we built it anyway.

The site did well in the rankings, meaning it went to Google’s first page for some keywords within a few short weeks, but the site didn’t convert well.  It was incongruent with the expectations of the site visitors.  It looked like a construction website, not an aesthetic piece of art like the first site.

Her company went out of business a few years later. I’m sure not totally because of the site design, but likely from poor decision making.  She insisted that she “knew good design” because she was in the “Fashion Industry.”  She was dead wrong and the designer stopped working with me because of it.  I’ll never make that mistake again.

The moral of the story is just because the client thinks they know best AND they are “in the design industry” doesn’t mean they know website design, usability, branding or conversions.

Seek highly skilled designers and trust them. Good designers don’t work 9-5 for a paycheck, it is who they are, it is in their bones to create beauty and art. That is the type of designer you hire… give them direction and leave them alone.

I should have stuck with my designer and refunded the client’s money, if for nothing else but to keep a great designer.  I lost both the client and the designer.  Big mistake.

Seeing the Matrix

A Website Project Manager must know how all the moving parts of a website.

They must know the following:

  • Design Theory
  • HTML
  • Familiarity with programming languages (PHP, Java, ColdFusion,
  • JavaScript Implementation
  • Database Development and Normalizing a Database
  • SEO Website Structure
  • Information Architecture
  • Usability Best Practices & User-Testing
  • Schema Familiarity
  • Page Speed (GTMetrix)

A website project manager must have worked in the industry and have mastered at least 2 of the above skills and be competent in another 2 to be truly effective.

Programmers are highly dedicated and intelligent people. Everything depends on programmers.  They know their craft.  Programming is difficult, detailed work that can make a big difference and few people understand how they do it.   However, this can lead to hubris.

A Great Project Manager must know how all the moving parts are affected by all the other moving parts.

If a project manager does not put in the time to understand the basics of programming languages, their capabilities and best practices, a programmer they will not respect them and may even take advantage of the situation.

Programmers, like many people, play games with timelines and task estimates.  It is up to the project manager to ensure they don’t fall victim.

It goes something like this:

PM:  “Hey Bob, how long will it take to reprogram the admin section if we add these three features to the menu?

Bob: “Likely about 12 hours, I can get it done by the end of the day on Friday if I don’t have to attend the Thursday meeting at 2 pm.

The truth… it only takes 8 hours to complete the job, but Bob is programming a website for his brother-in-law on the client’s dime, 4 hours at a time.  After all, the client is the one that suffers.  It happens every day.

Good project managers know how long it takes OR SHOULD KNOW within about 10%.

My favorite game when working with a new team is to ask, “How long will THAT take?”

When I get a false time estimate, I pretend I am confused and review the requirements, point out some specifics like “Why don’t you use the code from the XYZ site, duplicate it and make edits as needed? It’s the same functionality, right?

Programmers usually reply with, “Oh, yeah that’s a great idea that will save me some time.

An inexperienced project manager doesn’t know enough to question the programmer because they never got their hands dirty, stayed up all night trying to get a FUNCTION to work only to find out an apostrophe was missing somewhere and it broke the whole application.  It takes experience and dedication.  If a project manager doesn’t have that then they are a glorified administrator with a cool title.

Do the work, read the books, ask the questions, learn a computer language, take a class.  Be better.

Working in Parallel

Waterfall project management is old school. First do A, then do B, then C and so on. That is waterfall project management. Fancy word, simple concept.

Smart website project managers figure out how A and C can be done at the same time or close to it. This saves time. The design and the database can be created at the same time, for example. There are no dependencies on those two tasks. While we are at it, the content can be written, proofread and marked up as well – that saved us 2 weeks.

Gantt Chart

* Kudos to

In a perfect agency, this is possible. The client was given a timeline based on a bit of waterfall hybrid estimating, but the real Gantt Chart shows tasks being completed in parallel to ensure the project is on time, especially in the beginning.  No one wants to be 2 weeks behind in the third week of a project.

Single Sign-On Backlog

I worked on several large association websites years ago where those sites almost always had 3rd party applications running alongside their membership-based site. Single Sign-On (SSO) was a requirement and because there was only one programmer that handled it, there was a backlog almost every week.

The paperwork required to reserve a space in the queue for SSO was enormous and the project manager almost always had to have four conversations:

  1. The Client
  2. Manager of 3rd Party Applications (often 2 or more)
  3. A Group Meeting (Skype)
  4. The PMO Manager/Sales

It occurred to me one day that the SSO requirements should be done first, to get the ball rolling. The only dependency to create SSO correctly was installing the content management system. Most other project managers waited until a few weeks before the website was ready for testing, which could be 3 months after the project started. Beginning the process early eliminated late projects due to SSO backlog. Problem solved.  Other issues always occur, but after a short while, SSO was never an issue for me.

This occurred to me only because I had just read the book, The Goal, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt.  The idea of seeking out bottlenecks and eliminating them was fresh in my mind, so I decided I wasn’t going to be a victim of this arbitrary bottleneck.  Reading is essential to effective project management.  This is how we circumvent circumstances and deliver the project on time.

Good project managers look for potential bottlenecks and plan for them. Circumvent those roadblocks to ensure the website project is delivered on time and within budget. When dealing with shared resources, this could save the project and maybe your company.

How To Create A Dedicated Team

One of the ways to ensure the entire team is on-board with the project and the project timeline is to include the team in the planning process.

A good project manager should be 80% accurate on the entire timeline. However, only a bad project manager (and often project sponsors) dictate timelines. Few things can demoralize a team more than being a victim of repeated timelines that have little relationship to reality.  Dictated due dates happen on occasion, but false time constraints and magical delivery dates will kill team spirit.

Here is what I do:

  • Create the most detailed timeline possible
  • Present the timeline to the team
  • Communicate that everyone can edit the timeline based on their estimates
  • Provide enough time for a detailed review by everyone on the team (1 week is ample)
  • Once the timeline is finalized with everyone’s changes, everyone agrees to the launch date
  • The timeline is officially submitted – the client is sent the timeline
  • The entire team will work toward that timeline and they WILL meet it.  You created Buy-In.

There is a HUGE difference between project administrators and project managers.  Project managers drive projects through strategy, experience, foresight, communication, creating alternatives & options and most of all… Caffeine.**

This is the first part of a 3-part series on how to become a great website project manager.  Look for parts 2 and 3 coming soon.

Comment or contact me about strategies that have worked for you on your website projects and perhaps we can make the world of website project management and marketing a bit easier for all the newly inspired professionals making their way through the rat race.  I know I could have used some help in the beginning, right?


*We will discuss the creation of ROI, Specific Measurable Results, and Valuation in another article

**Do not underestimate the value of caffeine

Title Tag Slide Presentation: How To Create Advanced Title Tags

How To Create Advanced Title Tags You can see the actual video posted on Youtube of this lesson. We have provided all the slides and most of the narration. We…

Template for Writing Captions to Help Your Website Reach Google’s First Page

Captions are the bit of text that describes the content on the page. Captions include internal linking and text-decoration to make it easier to SCAN, therefore providing the information needed…

What is Rel=NoFollow & When Should I Use It?

Many marketers ask these questions: Exactly what is rel="nofollow" and why should I care? Should I add a link to my other websites even if they are related/unrelated? Do I…

26 Local Directories Used By SEOs to Get Backlinks

Niche Market Directories Some niche market directories have so much “link juice” that simply buying a profile or listing your site on those popular directories will boost your ranking. Law…

The Truth About The SEO Industry

Legitimate SEO began with Google in 1999, The Year of The Matrix. Before & shortly after Google, site optimization consisted of loading massive amounts of keywords in and on a…

What is an Average Click-Through Rate (CTR)?

Click-Through-Rate (CTR) depends on several factors including: Page Type Title Tag Meta Description Ranking The smart thing to do is segment your content by page-type by downloading your Google Analytics…

26 Ways To Improve’s SEO

This SEO Strategy was created for one of my favorite companies, Bass Pro Shops. I created this SEO strategy as a free website audit, in part, to work with Bass…

Why Backlinks & PageRank Matter, A High School Metaphor

The PageRank Algorithm is like being in high school. If one person said "hello" to you 100 times that would NOT make you popular. If 100 people said "hello" to…

How To Get Backlinks By Creating Compelling Content

Compelling Content Breeds Backlinks - Period. Interesting and Useful Content presented it in an extremely user-friendly way is compelling.  Here are 13 Ways to Create Compelling Content to Build Backlinks (Popularity)…

How Do I SEO A Site With Unique Products?

When people have unique products, what they may mean is a product that is not known to the masses.  Typically an unknown product is unknown because it is not sold…

What To Do When My Website Ranking Drops?

You can't fix a problem if you don't know the cause.  Identify WHY your site ranking has decreased as soon as possible. Was there an Algorithm Update? The first thing…

Does It Hurt My Site To Have Outgoing “Do Follow” Links?

A do-follow link is simply a normal link that leads to another page or site.  A no-follow link is a link that has "rel=nofollow" inside the hyperlink code. A no-follow…

What is a Do-Follow Link?

A Do-Follow Link is a normal link:  <a href="">domain</a> Link equity or "link juice" is passed via "do-follow" links. Google made a name for themselves and eventually dominated search based…

How To Convince a Webmaster to Delete a Backlink?

Perhaps you purchased a backlink in the past and want to clean up your backlink profile or someone posted a link on a "spammy" looking site. Perhaps you received notification…

Should I Change My SEO for Duck Duck Go?

Unfortunately, Google is like New York.   "If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!" There is nothing you can do for any search directory or engine that…

What Should I Do About Spam Linking To My Site?

A site that has little to no value, but does link to other websites, is generally considered spam. Bad SEO companies buy a domain name and start a site for…

Advanced Title Tags for E-commerce Sites

This document should be used as a training tool for anyone that wants to begin or improve an e-commerce website. These strategies are designed to improve: Click-through-rate  (CTR) Ranking Conversion…

What Should Be Included in a Website Audit?

This question comes up often when new webmasters or small business owners are curious about ways to improve their site. I have provided this answer or answers similar to this…

The Ultimate Guide to Perfect Title Tags

What Are Title Tags? Title Tags are 55 character synopsis of what a page is supposed to be about that compels a person to click on it. It should include…

Can Short Posts With Less Than 300 Words Hurt Your Overall Rankings?

The answer to this question is IT DEPENDS and here is why: If a page is simply thin content that Google has determined is not useful, they will likely push…

What Exactly is Meant by NAP Consistency?

Name Address Phone Number Think about the fact that every entity needs some sort of a unique ID. When you give your phone number to a grocery store for possible…

What Will Happen If I Have Multiple H1’s?

This question comes up a lot and it is reported by Google that they only take into account the first H1 tag.  In fact, several representatives at Google have stated…

What If My Pages Don’t Have Meta Tags?

Traditionally, Google has said that the Algorithms will add any meta tags that are missing in order to serve the searcher. When I heard this I was immediately skeptical.  Gary…

How Long Would It Take An SEO Newbie To Become Competent?

This answer is easy.  SEO, like everything, takes practice and research and a desire to become good.  SEO Information is everywhere on the internet and good resources are plentiful. However,…

PageRank & Penguin Algorithm Explained in a Metaphor

The PageRank Algorithm & High School Popularity      If one person said "hello" to you in the hallway 100 times would that mean that you are popular?  What if…

Digital Marketing & SEO Blog