So it’s finally time to finish that website that’s been ‘coming soon’ for an embarrassingly long time. Or the one you’ve been meaning start when things slow down a bit. Or, how about the one you already have but you can’t edit it yourself, the web guy is nowhere to be found, or it’s so old you prefer to not share your URL. Planning a new or revamped website shouldn’t be difficult or overwhelming. Here are some tips for getting a website you will be proud of and completed in a reasonable amount of time.
- This is most important tip—work with a professional website designer-developer.
- A professional web designer should have a collection of sites to share with you.
- They should be able to provide you with references if asked, or you could just take it upon yourself to ask the website owners whose examples you are shown.
- Their business should seem stable and solid, like they’ve been around for awhile and intend to be around for awhile more.
- If you have something in mind tell the designer. It’s very helpful to share a list of sites you like and why, especially ones from your industry.
- Make sure the designer knows who your audience is. Day spa customers are much different than computer network engineers.
- Let the designer know before making a commitment if there are technology requirements like ASP, PHP, mySQL, and Cold Fusion. Most web designers are familiar with certain technologies but probably not all of them. We work mostly with PHP and mySQL plus some Flash.
- Use a designer-developer who can build a site that is easy to update. You may want to handle most of the updates yourself if you have the time and/or staff or the designer can do it. Either way it should be an easy process. The major search engines (Google, Yahoo, and MSN) like fresh content.
- If you’re concerned about search engine optimization (SEO), you most likely should be, choose a designer who is familiar with the innumerable ins and outs of SEO.
- As hard as it may be, try to have a starting point outline and maybe even some content. You and the designer-developer will refine your site as it develops so it doesn’t have to perfect or final. But it’s very helpful to have at least a rudimentary site structure (home, about us, contact us, services, products, sitemap, blog, etc.) and perhaps a rough draft for at least some of the pages. The designer should be able to help you with the site structure. FYI: as of this writing Google likes to see 300 to 600 words per page for SEO purposes.
- Use excellent photography or illustration if you plan to use it. Good imagery will make or a break a website. Hire a professional photographer or use high quality stock images if you need to.
- Of course, get an estimate. Before getting an estimate you might consider asking the designer if there is a base fee or minimum for website design. If the base fee is more than you are willing to spend tell the designer thanks but no thanks. There’s no sense in wasting your time or the designer’s.
- After the designer has enough information and the initial materials to get started they get to work. The first step is to design some initial layouts so the designer, with your feedback, can develop the look. Some designers show one layout, some show more. We usually show two or three layouts, each consisting of a home page and one interior page. Sometimes we do them as working web pages and sometimes as PDFs or JPGs. It depends on the budget and time.
- Once a layout is finalized, the designer creates the web pages. It can help avoid miscommunication and errors to use a designer who is willing to let you see the work at stages during the development. Once we have something presentable we give the client a URL so they can check on progress. It’s not so different from peeking through the plywood wall at a city construction site.
- One caveat… let the designer do their job. There will be times when the site doesn’t look like you think it should or there’s a nasty error message instead of a beautiful web page. That’s all part of the development process. Missing images, the page not looking right and error messages could appear because the page has been uploaded but supporting scripts or other files have not been yet.
- Good preparation will minimize changes and make the project go more quickly. However, there will almost certainly be changes from your side and maybe from the designer’s side as well. Language that you thought sounded right or the site structure that seemed logical on paper didn’t quite work on the web. Or an approved layout didn’t translate to HTML and CSS (cascading style sheets) as well as expected. Changes are always part of any web design project and should be expected.
- Test. As the site is being developed the designer should be checking to make sure the web pages work in the major browsers on both PC and Mac. No one wants a nasty surprise at the end where the page doesn’t display right on a prospect’s computer. Also test that everything functions as it should, especially forms and shopping carts, on a variety of computers. You and/or the designer-developer should get colleagues, friends, family and the guy on the street to make check your site.
- When everything is ready to go the web designer-developer will launch the site. There are number of ways this happens but it usually only take a few minutes.
- Have another good look at the site to make sure everything is still working.
- The major search engines (Google, Yahoo, and MSN) like fresh content, so try to update the content on your site every so often, the more frequent the better. Having a site that is easy to update, either by you or the website designer-developer, is a consideration that should not be overlooked.
- Track your site. Your designer-developer may have set-up a Google Analytics account. This is a very powerful, free tool that provides excellent visitor analysis.
I hope this helps clarify how to work with a website designer-developer. Please add your suggestions and comments below.