Many businesses and organizations are still figuring out the process to get a professional web presence on the web. With social media now firmly in the mainstream, it’s harder than ever to understand what’s needed and what’s not as you build out an online web presence. These new layers mean that many businesses are returning to web “designers” to help them. Even though there is less and less design involved. More on that later.
Here are seven things you need to tell your web designer to make sure you are getting what you need.
1. I’ll Have My Domain Name Please
Before anything, either set up a GoDaddy account or have your designer do it with your email and buy your domain name yourself. I have lost count of the number of times a client has come to me wanting to update their site or to switch designers, but their domain is locked up with another designer on their account. Your domain is the car keys to your entire web presence, you never want to have them in someone else’s pocket.
2. Make the Hosting Simple
To tell your web designer to use a Content Management System shouldn’t even need to be mentioned. Paying a designer to make small content changes is so 1990’s. The site should be set up using a common CMS so you can make easy edits.
The next level though is to make the hosting as easy as possible. While CMS’s are great, they often need upgrading and can be the victim of hacking. The solution to this is to get your designer to use a hosted and managed CMS. One example of this is wordpress.com, they take care of all the updates, hosting and support. It can be a little more expensive, but it is very much worth the additional monthly cost to remove these potential headaches.
Sometimes a hosted solution might have the exact feature you want, but that is usually not an issue, see 80-20 below.
3. Use a Template Rather than a Custom Design
The strange thing about hiring a web designer is that there might not be much design involved. These days you can get very high-quality designs called “templates” for under $100. They look just as good as a custom design costing $500-$1000. A few years ago unscrupulous designers would use these as “custom” saving themselves the work. Now clients are savvy enough and should ask designers to tailor an off the shelf template rather than make a custom design.
4. Let’s Not Argue About Color or Design
The biggest time sinks in developing a website can be in needless discussion about design and color. The reality is this is all wasted time and money. For some time now there has been reliable research (mostly out of Stanford) that the specifics of design and color do not really matter.
One of the main conclusions of the work is that a credible website can significantly influence customer decisions more than branding or name recognition. The upshot is that a “credible website” can help smaller and newer businesses and organizations be more competitive.
The Stanford project lists ten things that will make your website, and thereby you, more credible:
- Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site.
- Show that there’s a real organization behind your site.
- Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide.
- Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site.
- Make it easy to contact you.
- Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose).
- Make your site easy to use — and useful.
- Update your site’s content often (at least show it’s been reviewed recently).
- Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g., ads, offers).
- Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem.
So the design is only one of these ten factors. But here is where is get’s complicated.
You need a professional design, but you don’t need a specific design. You do need a site that looks clean, color-coordinated etc, but the fact that it doesn’t include your favorite shade of blue or green does not matter one tiny bit. In fact, the thousands of site visitors you hope to get might be color blind, or reading on an iPhone, or not even like that shade! You are not designing the site to meet your tastes, but pitching it to a broad middle in a spectrum of users.
I expanded on this in a related blog post about the difference between your logo and your brand when it comes to your website.
5. Help me Decide on the Important 80% of Features I need
Websites follow a simple 80%/20% rule. The first 80% of the features will consume 20% of your budget. The chances are that a feature your designer thinks you need might end up being very expensive. You should ask your designer to advise you how critical it is, or, are there other features that could be implemented easily that could duplicate most of what you need to achieve. Make sure designer is working to make your website credible rather than full of expensive “features”.
This is especially important bearing in mind point #2 above. Most hosted CMS’s are feature rich, but might not have the exact features you want. Combine this with #4 and there are many more important things your site needs to achieve than perhaps a widget your designer is fixated on.
6. Set me up with Google Apps for my Email
Your website is only part of your web presence. It also includes your communications platform. Your designer should be setting up your email, but you never want him or her to use some clunky self-hosted system. Controlling your email is like controlling your domain, you want to do it yourself.
The best solution is to have them set you up with Google Apps for Domains. It should take them under an hour, and you’ll then have state of the art email, calendar etc from Google. If you can live with a few ads, it will be free for unlimited email accounts.
7. Automate My Online Tools
By the time you have finished working with your designer, you might have several online systems. Your site, facebook, a shopping cart, perhaps an email list. There are many ways that these can be tied together. For example, a post on your blog is automatically posted on your Facebook account. You should ask your designer to look into helping you automate. This can be especially important when you are building an email list (which you should be) as it should be possible to set up simple ways to add emails into that list from other systems.
8. Prepare all Your Content
Yes, I realize this is an eighth, but it can be the easiest way to save a lot of time and money as you develop your project. Besides, the best blog post titles always have an odd number of items! Before your designer gets to work creating the site, you should have already identified and written your main pieces/pages of content. It vastly speeds up the designers process and will save you significant money in the project.
If you have things that have cropped up when working with a web designer, please share them in the comments below.