My hairdresser told me that a customer earlier in the day had had such a bad experience at another salon that she had worn a wig to her appointment. Underneath, her hair colour was patchy and the hair itself was coming out in clumps. The client was terrified and distrustful of having her hair styled again and it took all the longer to calm her down and try to repair some of the damage.
As a freelance web developer, I often feel that I am looking at the web design equivalent of this experience. So many companies, especially SMEs, are duped into buying web design or CMS (Content Management System) packages which are costly and do not fit their business. Others pay top dollar for design and then find out it isn’t workable on the web.
You may think that sounds like a gift to a trusted web developer like me who then gets the business, but I don’t like it. It makes people distrustful of the whole industry and makes SMEs despair that they don’t understand their website or how to make it work for their business. That’s not good for my business. So, here are my top tips: five pitfalls to avoid when considering a website design or web redesign.
1) Budget, budget, budget
During the process of designing and developing your website, there will inevitably be some to-ing and fro-ing between you and your web developer to get things the way you want them. When you ask the developer to quote for the project, make sure you get the quote broken down into specifics. Find out exactly what is included in the quote and whether this is a flat fee or an hourly rate. What happens if the web project overruns? Is web hosting included? What about Search Engine Optimisation? Ongoing maintenance?
Every web developer or web design company is different, but once you have your quote, get a second and third one from other sources, just to check that it’s about right for the web development work you want done. There’s no harm in letting the web developer know that you are getting other quotes: this will mean you get their most competitive rates or package.
2) Specify that your end product needs to be in valid HTML
The web developer or web development company you choose should be able to produce code, run it through HTML and CSS validators and show you the results. Many graphic designers who also claim to produce websites work in Photoshop, so they produce images not code. Other developers use Flash which will look very pretty but will be completely unreadable to Google and won’t work at all on some browsers and the iPhone. It’s a bad idea to overuse images or Flash on your website, because they damage your Google ranking.
If you have a graphic designer who is going to produce images which then need to be translated into HTML, that’s fine, but be aware that the cost will increase as a second professional will be required.
3) Ask for in-built Content Management System (CMS)
So many web designers and developers offer CMS as standard that it shouldn’t be adding to your bill to make this request. Content Management means that you will be able to update your site to meet your requirements in future. This is especially important for blogs and news pages which will need to be kept up-to-date.
4) Ask what measures the company is using to secure you a good place on Google and Bing
In other words, investigate Search Engine Optimisation. By far one of the best ways to do this without even needing to contact the web developer is to Google likely keywords for their site and see if you can find them. If they can’t optimize their own website, are you going to trust them to optimize yours?
Bear in mind that SEO is a game of two halves. The first is on-page: your website needs to be designed so that the content is working for you, not against you. The biggest considerations here are the use of images and Flash (see above), but valid CSS and HTML and a clean site structure are also important. Your website designer needs to ensure that your text content is relevant for your keywords, that headers are the right size to give prominence to the right keywords and that images are correctly labelled for text readers, to name but a few SEO design considerations.
The second stage of SEO happens once the site is up and running and primarily involves promoting your site via other web sites, social media etc. This part of SEO may be more within your control and remit as the business owner, but if you are asking the web development company to do this for you as well, ask for evidence of previous success and get a bulleted list of actions the web developer is going to take on behalf of your web site.
5) Take ownership
When you agree on a price for the web site redesign, establish whether or not you are purchasing the copyright to the design as well. Will the web developer want a backlink to their site and is that OK with you? If bespoke features (e.g. custom web hosting, CMS, SEO tools) are being used, do these tie you in to buying certain products or services from the web design company in future?
Bear in mind that you might want to change things around in the future so keep things as flexible as possible. There are plenty of open source programs out there which will help you keep your independence so that you can keep your costs low.
There is, of course, a thread which runs through all of this advice. Employ a web developer you can trust and establish a good working relationship where both parties expectations can be met.