Have you been thinking about getting a website built for your business, but you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed with working out where to start? You know you need a website to help your business grow, but you don’t really know what it is you should be looking for?
You’re not alone. I’ve been talking to business owners lately, finding out a bit more about their experiences shopping around for a website designer they can trust. Some common themes have emerged from these conversations:
- How much is a reasonable price?
- Should I be able to edit the site myself?
- How do I go about learning to update the website without paying for assistance?
- How do I articulate my vision to get a site that looks how I want it to look?
If this sounds like you, I want to help.
I’m doing a series of posts around some of these concerns, to help you understand how the web design process should work.
This post today is going to deal with the design and layout stage of your website.
Branding and planning consultation
Before diving headfirst into your project, your web designer really needs to understand your business. And beyond that, they need to find out what you’re going to be using your website for, as well as what your marketing approach is going to be.
A good conversation will include questions about your marketing plans and possibly budget. Talking money can be a little bit tricky, but your answers will inform the design process a bit further down the track. Why? Here are a couple of examples.
- If you want to spend your marketing time or money on an email campaign, you’re going to need a design that pulls your visitors to a place where they are happy to hand over their email address to you. It might include a landing page, and strategic calls to action
- On the other hand, a business that is going to work on a strong and regular SEO campaign would need a site that showcases their content. The layout of blog pages would be crucial, as well as strategic ways to then share the content on social media
- Knowing how much your monthly marketing spend is, the designer can then help you work out which are the best ways to invest that money (or your time, if you’re more a DIY type) based on your business goals
- Most good designers don’t work in isolation, and should have a network of professionals they can recommend to you for assistance with areas that are outside of their expertise
Talking about your website in a marketing context from the very beginning will help you to clarify WHY you want your website built, and HOW it’s going to support your business growth. It’s the one aspect of website creation that’s ignored (or minimised) by both designers and clients. And that’s crazy.
Your business marketing in relation to your website should be the foundation on which everything else is built.
The look and feel of the site is where most designers focus their energy and creativity. Clients too, can also get caught up in getting the site to look a certain way.
Here’s a little secret. The look and feel is important, but only up to a point. Equally important is the user experience of your website visitors, and how you want them to navigate your website based on your marketing aims.
Good web design is a bit of a balancing act. On the one hand, the site needs to look unique, and match your business and branding. On the other hand, the layout needs to be simple and recognisable to your visitors. Good market research will help the designer to understand the type of site your visitors might expect to see based on your industry.
Does that mean your site will look like the same as your competitors? Of course not. Colours, icons, photography and illustration are all elements that are used to create a branded site unique to your business.
However, a good designer will create a site that looks familiar and contemporary, and free of gimmicks.
If you feel unsure about any aspect of the design of your site, just ask. If there’s a good marketing or business reason for having something done a certain way, and it makes sense to you, go with it. If you get the impression the designer is flexing their creative muscles just for the sake of it, ask for a rework.
A website built with a Content Management System (CMS) gives you the ability to update your site without ongoing assistance. A CMS puts you in the position of being able to make lots of changes and updates yourself. Independence and control over your own website is a big deal, as paying someone to make every little change for you will add up very quickly.
If you spend any time talking to different designers and developers, they will more than likely argue the corner of the system they like the best, and are most familiar working with. And that’s absolutely fine. As with everything, there are pros and cons to all the different options, and no one solution is perfect. However, if you do insist on one thing, it’s that your site is built using a CMS.
I use WordPress for my site builds, because its the platform I’m most familiar with. I also think its pretty awesome because:
- It’s open source (which means it’s built and maintained by the people for the people) and has been around for quite some time now.
- There is a vast network of WordPress experts, developers, templates, plugins and resources that you can lean on to help with the development of your website as your business grows.
- Using WordPress means if I build a site for you today, you’re not tied to me going forward.
- If you need updates in the future and for some reason don’t want to enlist my help (sob!), that’s fine. You’ll have no trouble finding another designer or developer to help you out.
Bear in mind, although WordPress is a generic platform, each website is set up differently behind the scenes. Different templates are built using different logic. Whether your developer uses a template, or creates a custom theme, you will still need help in working out how all the pieces have been pulled together.
The WordPress platform and templates have made it easier for you to be in charge of your website, but you will need to invest some time in learning how it all works, if you want to take over the reigns.
Once your site is built, ask for documentation that explains how to make the updates you want to make. If the designer you’re talking to is a bit cagey about offering you that sort of information, you might want to think twice about working with them.
If you’re having a new site built in 2015 (or beyond), it needs to be mobile responsive. No ifs, no buts. If you like stats and graphs – I put together information here on some of the figures behind mobile device usage, and what it means for your business.
What is responsive design though? A responsive website should resize well on different devices. It’s also about thinking through button sizes and text size. If someone is scrolling through their site with one hand on their iPhone, are they able to easily press your carefully crafted Call to Action? Can they call you directly from the site, without needing to type your phone number?
The way the content is laid out is also crucial – a design the works well on a big screen might just not make sense when it’s stacked up to scroll through on a phone or tablet.
Before your site is launched, make sure you look at it across a few different devices, so you can feed back if you notice anything weird.
When shopping around for someone to build your site for you, keep the following points in mind:
- Has the conversation touched on any of your marketing aims?
- Is the designer helping you to understand how you can use your website strategically?
- Will the website be built on a Content Management System?
- Will your website be mobile responsive?
- Does the design match your business and brand?
- Is the design layout simple to navigate and understand?
I’ll continue with another post next week around some of the technical red flags you should keep an eye out for. More than ever, your website needs to be SEO friendly, and not all designers and developers approach their website builds from this perspective.
Are you looking for some help with your new or existing website? I’m offering a great price on website design and builds through to the end of the year. Click the image below to find out more information, and book your spot.