If you are in business then 95% of the time you need a website. If you’re not online you may as well be essentially not in business. I read recently a blog with 5-6 tips to ensure your new website went well and clearly it was written by a website designer. The tips were clearly geared in the industry’s favour and simply educated the business community on how to make their life easier. Now, may I say that I’m all for education, but I just couldn’t help myself and write this piece. May I start with saying, I don’t do websites. I don’t own a website business or have a finger in the pie of one nor earn commissions from any designers. I am a business coach and I hear about some absolute disasters which make me cry. Ok, maybe not cry, more a case of grinding my teeth with frustration. Thank goodness I have a great dentist! : )
So here are the honest, and I hopefully useful tips that WILL help you avoid a website disaster.
Local or Offshore?
This is often the first question people wonder about. Yes, via Upworks you can get a US$400 website. I had a client who did this and I worked with him on the project. It was hard work. You might think, that’s ok, I’m new to business and have the time. The challenge is, are you a marketing expert? Do you know what looks right? An Aussie website is often between $2000 to $3000 (five-page brochure site, no bells and whistles, such as shopping carts or eCommerce and you provide content). Remember, the longer your website is not up, the longer you are not at exposure capacity and being seen by your prospective customers. Pay a bit more and get an expert who knows what they are doing and does not need to be spoon fed.
Do your due diligence.
Even if the website company has been recommended to you – check them out. Look at their website and their gallery of samples. Even ring a few of their customers and ask about the building experience. Meet with the designer (in person or via Skype/Zoom) and be sure the fit is right. Clarify with their price what is included or not. For example, hosting is almost always an extra but basic SEO is sometimes included. Don’t just talk to one; talk to at least two – but no more than three. Talking to 10 designers is just going to muddy the waters, waste your time and waste their time. May I suggest you don’t begin discussions until you know you’re within a month of being ready to start. Pricing will vary if you’re still a year out.
Ok, I love WordPress and I’ll tell you why. It’s popular; the majority of new websites are on WordPress now and they themselves say they have 28% of the overall share market and some designers believe it’s closer to 70%. My why is because, with so much usage, it’s easy to get someone to update your website. The person who created doesn’t have to maintain – that is often an expensive option. You may wish to have your staff upload your blogs or change ‘this week’s special’ on your site. Because the back end is so user-friendly (and so many people now know how to use it), that makes it easy for us to do simple edits and adds. WordPress also comes with a free add-on, Yoast which is a free SEO plugin. It also has a heap of themes, all which look great and are super affordable (only US$57-62 as a once-off cost). Also, Google likes WordPress. Some other sites are not Google-friendly and therefore will forever struggle with ranking.
Remember that SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is not always included on a new website. Think of your website as a page in a book. SEO is like the index … which helps people find that page quickly. No SEO and it will take forever to get found. Don’t assume (even with a WordPress site) that the SEO is included. It has to be ‘turned on’ and that can be an extra. Keywords, meta tags and labelling images are all part of SEO and may or may not be included.
No Hard Coding.
But here is my warning; make sure your designer does NOT hard code your site – essentially programming. Using one of the trillion (ok, bit of exaggeration) themes means there is something for everyone. Insist on this in writing, although I admit, until you get another designer in, you probably won’t know it’s happened. Why am I anti-coding? Well, because every coder is different and does it differently and for someone else to work out what the heck they’ve done … well, very hard. Coding is one way to ensure you don’t go elsewhere for maintenance and can’t work on your website yourself to keep it fresh and current. I appreciate for complicated sites, some coding may be necessary but for a basic brochure website, don’t get talked into this. Insist no coding, and insist on that in writing.
Don’t be a pain in the butt.
To help your designer or developer, but it’s important to say. Don’t be painful. Know what you want and give them all the content as quickly as possible; ideally in a single batch if you are in a hurry. Don’t change your mind. This is not locked in concrete; websites change, but don’t keep changing your mind every day during the construction phase. So, if you are unsure, take longer up front working out how you want this to look, so that once you have a plan the designer can hit the ground and work effectively. Do pay promptly when payments are due. Do respond to questions and emails promptly. Do be respectful. Remember, there is an element of creativity which goes into these. If someone doesn’t do what you had in mind, did you communicate that clearly enough? Don’t vent or take out your frustrations in a nasty way – I can assure you, that cranky will not achieve more results than sweet.
Avoid large deposits.
You should not (in my opinion) pay more than 25% deposit. They are building a website, not building a kitchen that they spend thousands on materials up front. If they are concerned about their cash flow, suggest instead progress claims. Once they reach milestones, you release a progress payment. Why am I saying this? Well, I know one business owner who 11 months on is STILL trying to get his website finished. If they have a large chunk of funds up front; where is the incentive? It’s a buyers’ market; you can set some of the rules – as long as they are fair. Remember, until they are paid they control your site, so they know you can’t do a runner without losing your site and your domain name.
Clear contract or terms.
If they present a contract, READ it. Seriously, I think some people do not, plus if the supplier gave you the contract, you can bet it works in their favour. Don’t be shy asking for amendments to the Agreement or contract. I once had a contract where the supplier said that anything I learnt which would improve his business had to be relayed to him. I’m a business coach, that is what I do – but not for free (unless you’re one of the charities I do community work for). If there is no contract, confirm the arrangement in writing with what you are paying for and expecting.
Different designers provide different packages. Some will write your content, provide your images and basically, you get a turn-key site. The advantage of this is that it’s saving you a heap of time and it may be keyword rich, but does it really reflect you? The images will likely be stock photos that every man and his dog can access. However, whichever way you want to go, be super clear up front in the quoting process as to if you or the designer will be providing content and images. If they are providing, I’d ask to review before it’s put on the site. You need to be happy with it and know it’s an accurate representation of what you do.
Check out How to Create Incredible Blogs.
I would be expecting that all links, functions and actions are tested by them and if they are not working (you will also test) then they fix as part of the project. No one should ever hand over a broken website and expect extra to fix it. Clarify this up front, that they will test and correct any errors on the site. Having said this, if you provide wrong content or didn’t take the time to spellcheck or have your content proofread first, then that’s on you. They often copy and paste content, so as long as you gave it to them right … if they make an error in the transfer, then it’s on them to rectify. For that reason, as soon as you have access, be sure to thoroughly proofread (and even get someone else to also proofread) as sometimes things do come across skewiff, such as sentence breaks in the wrong spots.
So you’ve provided the content, paid the designer and you assume you now own the website. Wrong! This is an assumption and some designers retain ownership of the site always. Not many these days, but it does occur. Clarify in writing up front, that once paid for, you will fully own the site. This can have huge ramifications for you down the track – don’t get caught with them owning the website that you paid for.
Get your passwords.
Once the site is done, be sure to get (and store) your passwords. In fact, usually, after it’s been running well for a couple of weeks, I will change the passwords, unless I have retained them for additional work, such as maintenance or SEO. It’s a good procedure to keep passwords limited to those who need, keep them current and keep them stored securely.
There are so many website people out there … and some absolutely amazing ones. I know some exceptional website designers and I know some, well, not so great ones. If you are looking for a website and are super stuck on who to use, I can give you a couple of recommendations. From this article, you can essentially build a checklist (or scorecard) to help you with the selection process. All the best with your new website! If you know of someone starting out in business, please share this with them; so that they can have a great start to their new business venture.