If you are serious about your website and want real financial return from it, then here are some basic things you must know and do before hiring a web developer and spending thousands of dollars on a website.
- Understand your website is a marketing tactic. People go online to find almost anything. This means that you have to have a plan in place for your website prior to getting one coded. How will you attract visitors to your site? What are you going to say to them? What do you want them to do when they visit your website? Do you want them to call you, find our more information, find out where you are, read about your products, make a purchase, sign up for your email list? Your website has to have goals. Then you need to prioritize these goals. Here’s an example, if one of the goals is to have the visitors call you then your phone number must be highly visible and not on the footer of the site, on 6 point font! Write down the 3 most important goals, and make sure they’re reachable from your home page.
- Define who do you want to visit your website: new people, current customers, do they know your brand, did they find you online searching? Where do you want your visitors to come from? This answer should make a difference in how you present the content on your website. For example, if you want your current customers to visit the site, then using terminology particular to your business (like marketing names of services for example “Diva” for a service a make-up artist provides) is ok. A current customer probably already knows the “Diva package”, but a new visitor might want to have additional words like “Diva Make-up Package”. If you know well who you want to visit your site, you will be able to present content accordingly.
- Define your customers’ needs. Similarly to the value proposition, you need to have very clear why people visit your website as we mentioned earlier. When you know why people are visiting your site, then you will be able to speak to them in terms of their needs. For example, I ran into a plumbing company that had this on their home page: “In 1985, my dad moved from the East Coast and started a plumbing business…blah…blah… blah… “ To tell you the truth, most visitors don’t care if your dad or your uncle started the company, at least not as the first intro to your business. It is much more effective to start by asking a question for example “Do you have a plumbing emergency?”
- Figure out the basic website architecture. This sounds complicated, but it’s really not. Basically you should lay out the menu structure of your site. Each page on your site should have a purpose and a hierarchical order. A good architecture is the basis for good Search Optimization, but even if you are not sure about optimizing your site for search just yet, a good architecture helps your visitors navigate through the site. Think of this as the blue prints of building a home. Sure, a true architect will actually draw the detailed plans for building a home, but you must have an idea of how many rooms, bathrooms, closets, even size of lot, etc. you want on your home. Having this in writing will allow the developer and the graphic designer understand your needs.
- Your website must “convert”, which means it must have the ability to turn a visitor into a conversion. Defining the conversion might require a bit of though. For example, in an e-commerce site, the conversion would be a purchase. In the case of a service, a Conversion could occur when a person calls the place of business, or maybe you consider a conversion a visit to the location page on your site. You can have more than once conversion goals on your site, but it’s critical that you are able to measure the conversion rate of your website after it’s live.
- Decide on these conversion elements: Call to action and offer. Before you go to the developer, you need to have very clear in your mind what you want people to do on your site (not just the home page, but as many pages as possible) and how you are going to present the call to action. For example are you going to say “Call Today” or “Browse our Products” or “Visit our Nearest Location” or maybe “See our Specials”? Having this clear in your mind will help the graphic designer/developer highlight the goals of the pages on your site.
- Develop your content. Content will be needed for your website and must be developed by you. Many times, a developer will tell you they can do the content for you and charge you a fee, but the content of your site is the presentation of your business so you must be very involved in its creation. Also, you want to avoid having plagiarized content on your site. This is a no-no for search (if you ever want the search engines to find you) but it also can subject you to copyright infringement. You need to be aware of the content that your site will present. I don’t mean you personally have to write the content for your site, but you do have to outline what you want the site to say (and this means every page on your site). Many times you can hire a copy writer to make sure your content is written well, but even a professional writer has to have guidelines as to what those pages need and should say. There are several websites that offer writing services for example Textbroker.com. Check them out. They are very affordable and I’ve found the quality of their work to be very good for the needs of most small businesses.
- Gather images. Images and other media are part of content, but I do want to specifically touch on images. Many people leave it up to the developer to find stock photography that fits the content. I believe it’s best to find and purchase your own stock photography. Copyright infringement is very common and can be costly for a small business, and truthfully, is a headache than can be easily avoided by purchasing stock photography rather than “just finding pictures online”. The best option for some people is to have their own photos on their site (maybe their products, their staff, etc), but if you need to add stock photography, just purchase it. You can buy pictures for about $1 on sites like iphoto.com or fotolia.com.
- Be cognizant of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) basics. You do not need to be an SEO expert, but make sure you hire a developer that understands search optimization and therefore codes your site with basic best SEO practices. If you’re really serious about Search Optimization, then you need to consider hiring 2 companies, one for developing the site and another one to develop the search optimization strategy. Think of it this way, if you were building a home, the website developer is the general contractor and the SEO company is the Real Estate agent who will get the home sold. Generally speaking I can trust that an SEO company can develop a good website, but I’m not sure I can say the same thing for a website developer being able to do SEO strategy. These two functions are clearly different. (here’s a related post that provides a checklist to maintain SEO if you’re doing a website redesign and want to maintain your SEO rankings)
- Understand the platform that will be used to build your site. There is no excuse for a small business owner not to have an open source content management system. This means that you need a way to make changes to your site without the use of the developer. I know you might feel that you are not technical enough to do this, but maybe someone in your staff is. The bottom line you need to have a content management system and run for the hills if a company offers you a proprietary system. Stick with the well known popular content management systems like WordPress or Joomla or such.
- Beware of cheap month-to-month website services. Many companies are out there offering cheap “website solutions” especially on verticals like Dentists, Lawyers, or Real Estate companies. They tend to charge cheap monthly fees and offer you a “great, customized” site. However, the moment you stop paying their fee, you no longer have a website. A website is an asset of your business. Sure, at the beginning it might not seem like it’s helping you much in terms of business (especially if you don’t spend efforts on Search Optimization or Search Marketing) but it is still an asset that can be worth a lot one day. You must be the owner of this asset, the URL, and the site itself. It might seem like a large investment at first, and the monthly fee might seem like a better deal, but don’t be fooled by it.
- A graphic designer is not the same thing as a developer. Larger web developing companies will have graphic designers on staff, but the smaller web developer practices might only have developers that know a bit of Photoshop and fell they can get by without a graphic designer. However, big word of caution, Graphic Designers can be too artsy. If I had to choose between an artsy graphic designer and a web developer cognizant of SEO, I would choose the developer in a heartbeat.
- The graphic design can be a detriment to success. Yes, a detriment. Once again I will bring my house example. You have to remember that you are building the home to sell it, so you have to appeal to a wide majority of people. You’re building a home in the suburbs of San Diego, so you’re not going to be smart by building a log cabin with an A-shaped roof in the middle of an average southern California suburb built by Lennar. I have had customers tell me they want a big picture, because “a picture says 1000 words”, and put a big picture (headshot) of a smiling lady on their home page. When I first saw the site, I was certain they sold either lasik surgery or dental implants … when they in fact were selling massages. You have to remember, just because a particular picture moves your senses, it does not mean it will move your customers. Remember, your customer is visiting your site because they have a Need. Make sure you understand the need and use the graphic design of your site as the supporting pillars, but not as the main attraction.
- Most of the work of a good website comes in the planning stage, not in the actual programming. If you’ve done your homework, the developer will have very good plans before getting started. And the development process should run smoothly and on target (time and money). However, if you do not have these things figured out ahead of time and you are serious about an online strategy, then I highly recommend you hire someone to assist you in this process. Many times I’ve had to tell customers that the $10,000 they just spent on their website will not allow them to achieve their online goals…. Trust me, this is not something anyone wants to hear.
Redoing a website is a serious investment, and one that will certainly payoff if done right. Make sure you do your homework and become a “knowledgeable buyer” so that you get the most out of your digital marketing strategy.
To read more about actionable steps you need to take prior to hiring a developer visit our blog: Essential-Steps-to-Take-Prior-to-Hiring-a-Web-Developer