You have decided you are ready to have a new website built for your business. Congratulations. Web marketing is an efficient and effective way to add sales to your business.
2 Web design questions to ask yourself
Your website will be the first impression of your business for many potential customers. The two questions you should be able to answer before meeting with any web design firm are:
1. Who is my website for?
Your website has two primary audiences: prospective customers and search engines. Yes, other parties should be kept in mind: investors, creditors, and current customers are just some of the other folks that will be looking at your website.
However, the primary goal of your website should be to convert prospects into customers. Knowing who your ideal clients are is critical to a good website design.
A word about search engines: A good web design shop will help you optimize your website for the major search engines. There may be conflicts between what you want and what your designer recommends. Balance the pros and cons of each method carefully.
2. What do I want my website to achieve?
For most small businesses, the goal of a website is to help prospective customers find the business (similar to the yellow pages) and to convince those prospective customers to take the next step toward becoming customers.
You need to know what that next step for your prospective customers should be. Do you want the visitors of your website to subscribe to your email newsletter, call you, email you, “like” you on Facebook, or fill-out an online quote form? Tell prospects what you want them to do, and make that action as clear and simple for them as possible.
How to find a web designer or web design shop
For starters, web design and optimization is one of the three main services of Winding Staircase. I encourage you to consider our web design packages. Assuming for a minute, however, that you are unsure of our team, there are several ways to identify a good web design firm.
3 Ways to identify a good web design company
Finding a good web design company is like finding a good accountant. Who you should work with depends on your budget, the complexity of your needs, and the firms in your market.
1. Ask your network – Ask other business owners who they used, and why. Please be sure to ask if they are related to or are “good buddies” with the designer they used. Look at their sites while they talk to you. Do you like what you see?
2. Look at competitor websites – Take a look at your competitors’ websites. If you find one you like, see if you can tell who built the site. Often a web design firm, if the client is happy with them, will be allowed to include a link to their website in the footer of a client website. Look for a small “web design by” link in the small text at the bottom of the page.
3. Google it – When all else fails, search engines can help solve the riddle. If you live in Cincinnati, for example, search for “web design Cincinnati” or “website designer Cincinnati,” the search engine will return several local listings, organic listings, and advertised listings. Review the website of as many of the firms as you can. Unlike Winding Staircase, most web design firms will not publish pricing on their websites. You will need to make calls and meet sales reps from different firms to get an idea of the cost.
Before you meet with any of the firms you are choosing from, keep in mind you will likely be working with your web marketing partner for more than just this “one and done” new website project.
7 Things to ask your potential web design partner
Unfortunately, web design and web marketing are similar to other business services. You don’t know what to ask when choosing a partner, and you wouldn’t know a good answer from a bad answer anyway. Think about other professional services you have hired for your business. How many people are still working with that accountant you fired years ago? That guy is costing his clients money and aggravation, and they don’t know enough to know how much better working with a good accountant can be.
Here are a few aspects of web design to ask about.
Web designer question #1: How will you determine the structure and content of my website?
Your web designer is not in your business. He is not a plumber, painter, architect, or financial planner. How is he going to know the best keywords, layout, and content for your audience? At Winding Staircase, we call this Discovery. Other firms use other names, but essentially, you need to know how much time is going to be spent getting to know your business, industry, and competition before the design process is started.
Web designer question #2: What code languages will be used? Will my site have an admin panel or other moderating/updating functionality?
Will the designer be using HTML, CSS, PHP, SQL, or Flash? Some combination is likely. Don’t worry if you don’t know what any of these things are. You own a successful business, and you can tell when somebody is faking knowledge. Does this guy know what he is talking about? RUN, not walk, RUN from any designer that wants to build your site using a lot of flash animation.
I recommend all business owners use a framework that includes a content management system (CMS). You might never use it, but it should be made available to you, even in limited function. You will want a CMS if you plan to blog, add pages, or update content on your site. (If you publish pricing on your website, you will need to update that pricing eventually.)
Web designer question #3: Who will be creating the content for my website?
The text and pictures on your website are referred to as your website’s content. Most programmers are poor copywriters. The designer might be expecting you to provide the content, and you need to decide if you have the writing and layout skills to do so. If the web design firm is going to write the content, ask about the qualifications of the writers they will be using. Do you have images and photographs, or will you need to hire a photographer or buy stock photos? Are the photography and writing charges included in the web design estimate?
Web designer question #4: Who is going to provide graphical design?
Many small businesses do not have a comprehensive brand stylebook. A website, however, needs more than just a two-color logo. Your website should have a complete (yet defined) color palette. If you have a brand identity with defined colors – the web design firm should have a graphic designer that can apply those colors appropriately.
Often a website is the most interactive branding element of a small business. Make sure you are not letting a salesman or programmer make these decisions.
Web designer question #5: How will we measure success?
Most firms charge to install analytics packages on your website. It might be that you decide to simply measure impact by the number of phone calls your business gets after the new website is launched.
Whatever you decide, you are investing your marketing dollars into this project. You should ask your web designer how they recommend you measure the results.
Web designer question #6: Will my website include any search engine optimization (SEO)?
Your web designer should be including basic “on-site” optimization as part of the design. Some items to ask about include: title tags, meta tags, and load speed. You can pay your designer or an SEO firm to determine the best keywords and phrases to target.
Do not be surprised if your web designer charges extra for improved on-site SEO work. You need this done, however, so you should be sure you are comparing apples to apples when comparing web design services and prices.
For a quick SEO review, read my article “The 10 Simple Rules for Solid SEO.”
Web designer question #7: Who pays for implementation and hosting?
I have yet to meet a web design firm that did not sell domain and hosting services. Do you want to manage these aspects on your own (and save a little money), or do you want the web firm to handle this?
Often a web design firm will include some period of hosting as part of your web design price. Find out what the costs will be after that first year. Know that if you change hosts to another service, you will need to pay the web designer, or someone capable, to move the site to the new host and point the domain to the new server.
Your business needs a website built to help you sell. Your website is not a defensive investment, but rather you should expect your website to help you generate sales.
If you have additional tips for business owners searching for a web designer, or if you have a question about finding a web designer, please let me know in the comments.
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