Taking on a website is no easy task. Whether you're a new business owner or a veteran in the industry you’re in; you know you need a website and that’s usually where your expertise with the web ends. There are so many hidden complexities to consider before you get to the stage where you’re on the phone with the right website supplier, the first steps you take towards your website project are pivotal to the potential of your online success.
Define your expectations
Before you start shopping around there are a number of things to consider and they all hinge on what you expect from your website and the company that provides it. Your expectations will affect the way you do your research, they will define your needs and wants, and they will affect the approach you take to your project --and ultimately, the costs you incur during the process. Lining up your expectations to the wrong provider will have grave consequences to your business. The same goes for unrealistic expectations!
Define your values
The amount of work you expect to put into your own website is another important variable in selecting a good match for your project. Have you done prior research and explored other sites in your market? Do you have your own content, or will you need it looked at by a professional? Do you know how you want your content to be organized? Do you even have the time to give it the attention it deserves? Content is king, and writing it is a key element of the process sometimes more suited toward a marketing company than a website development company and many website providers don’t even offer this service or it's outsourced. The words on your site directly influence your search rankings + opinions of site visitors and should be carefully crafted. Often clients lack the time and focus to generate quality content on time and site launches get pushed back, chipping away at your ROI.
If price is a core value of yours while shopping around you will need to recognize that the lower cost doesn’t mean you’re getting a deal; it means you’re expected to do + know more and be accountable for your own measure of success. What you don’t know could cost you and it’s a risk you take when comparing quotes based on price. It’s ok to ask what you’re not getting or why the price is what it is when you approach a prospective website provider that won you over with their price point. Curb your enthusiasm! Companies on the lower end of the website cost spectrum typically provide out of the box template solutions and aren’t overly concerned with tailoring a site around your business. Like freelancers, low-cost solutions revolve around volume of work and could offer a weak CMS or none at all. These website providers are over worked, busy, and prioritize new business over existing relationships because the lifeblood of their own company depends on it.
Web design firms are not mind readers, either, unfortunately ;D You get out of your website that which you put into it, and if you’re handed a worksheet: Take. Your. Time. Fill it out and write a novel if it suits you. Milestones are in place to protect you and your website provider; if a complexity or design thought isn’t mentioned at the initial worksheet level in writing and development goes forward, implementing a change after the fact can get costly.
Trust your website provider. Once you’ve selected a company and they’ve met your criteria in regard to professional design, they have a great process, an intuitive Content Management System, and you’re happy with the relationship you’ve started.. then listen to advice when given. Remember your site isn’t for you so much as it is your site visitors. What you might consider amazing web design might be passe, or a known deterrent to site visitors. Take criticism of your ideas objectively; you now serve a common goal and your website provider, if selected properly, should be just as motivated to make you successful as you are. Every web design firm loves a great portfolio piece.
Return on Investment
Know your goals. Sites are more than brochures nowadays and you should get a return on the value of your content. Spur your site visitors into action, if they leave your site with something useful, initiate a way for them to do the same; Seek out a website provider that understands the importance of lead generation. Varying types of contact forms, mailing list solutions, social media integration and value-added content sharing such as “tweet-for-download” and microsite campaigns are crucial to your success. Go with a company well versed in these areas.
How many site updates are you likely going to do in a year? How often do your services or product selection change? Have you considered blogging? If you plan on making any more than 7 changes to your content in a year, a Content Management System (CMS) is a must. A CMS will empower you to make changes on your site yourself without any threat of “breaking” your website. Formerly, site changes if done in-house were done using a tedium of various applications and a misled keystroke could bring forth unpredictable (and unprofessional) site renderings. A CMS changes all of that; images are always going to fit properly into a page, text formatting will always be consistent, and doing anything on your site can be done with little know-how in even the most hectic of timeframes. The cost of a CMS driven site is a little higher in the beginning, but don’t let that deter you. A CMS will never let your request go to voicemail. You don't have to hunt a CMS down to make changes. A CMS makes changes instantly. The cost savings in the long run will pay for themselves several times over, however in the spirit of comparing apples to apples, I strongly recommend asking for a demo on a CMS before considering the company as your website provider.
Use a Framework
Don’t reinvent the wheel and pay to do so. Frameworks are pre-existing foundations you can put under your website for a host of great reasons; they enforce quality coding, they prevent you from being locked in with one company should you choose to switch website providers, they provide cleaner site URLs which lend to healthy Search Engine Optimization, many are free of licensing fees, take less time coding which saves you money, and they’re fully scalable and comply with current standards instituted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
To wrap it up, it’s a competitive world out there and there are a lot of options when it comes to selecting the website provider that is right for you. These aren’t the only factors you need to consider, they’re just the ones often over-looked! At the end of the day you get what you put into your website relative to cost and thought.
Stay tuned for next weeks addition to this series and get a glimpse into how one might go about a successful site plan. Best regards.