You've decided that you need a new website. Great.
Would you like to do what you can to see that it meets your needs? Gets delivered on schedule and on budget? Doesn't waste a lot of your time?
Building a website is like most projects—up-front planning can pay huge dividends.
But you probably don't buy new websites very often, so you might not know how to approach it.
A good web designer will spend the time to understand your needs before starting the project. But you can help the process along by doing some thinking before you ever talk to a designer.
In this article we'll cover some of the most important areas you should think about. If you'd like more detail, see my Web Design Client Questionnaire.
1. Understand Why You're Doing It
Why do you want a website (or a website redesign)? Good reasons might be:
- Provide a way for people to get information about my products and services, my location, my business hours, etc.
- Sell online
- Generate calls/contacts
- Help customers have a better experience with my products and services.
The following are examples of not-so-good reasons:
- Everyone else has one (not helpful in deciding what kind of website you need)
- I expect it to double my sales (not necessarily realistic)
- XYZ Corp. has a great (whatever) on their website, and I want one just like it (focuses on a feature, rather than what will make the website successful)
Thinking this through carefully will not only guide your web designer, but will also help you clarify your own needs.
2. Focus On Your Customers
A key to website success is keeping your visitors' needs in mind:
- Who is your audience? What can you say about their demographics (age, gender, education, interests, etc.)? Are they likely to be located in a specific region? If you are selling to businesses, do your customers come from a specific industry or a specific company size?
- How are they going to find you? If someone who isn't familiar with your company does an online search in your space what words are they likely to search on?
- Why do they come to your site? For example, if most visitors are interested in your line of widgets, your website should make it really easy to get information about widgets.
- What do they want to do? The actions your visitors will take can have a big influence on how the site is organized.
3. Know What You Like (and Don't Like)
Style is a tricky aspect of web design. If your designer has no idea what styles appeal to you, then it may take lots of trial and error to come up with something acceptable. On the other hand, it's almost always a bad idea to say “I want a website just like XYZ Corp.” Your website will be more successful if it reflects your own style.
Think of a some websites that you like, and why you like them. If it's easier, think of some websites that you don't like. Either (or both) will give your designer some guidance.
Also, remember that your website will be more successful if its style fits the audience. For example, a website for middle-aged accountants would probably be a lot different than one oriented towards teenage girls.
4. Match Your Budget To the Project
This can be a tough, as you might not have a good idea of how much websites cost.
The short answer is that even a small, professionally-designed website is going to cost several thousand dollars. Big sites or sites with online stores cost more. Relatively minor changes to an existing website can cost less.
Can you get a website for less? Yes, if you're willing to make compromises. There are design outfits that will do a quick generic-looking website for a modest fee. For a review of the options, see "Do Your Really Need a Web Designer?".
5. Be Realistic About Schedule
For most website projects, the exact completion date is not critical. On the other hand, if there is some time constraint (for example, a product launch or grand opening), you need to make sure the designer knows this.
It doesn't usually pay to demand quick turnaround if you don't really need it. A good designer is often working on projects for multiple clients and won't want to take on new work if they aren't sure they can complete it on time. If you demand an unnecessarily short development time frame, they may simply tell you that they can't take the job.
If you're anxious to get your new website up and running, consider whether you need everything immediately. If you've got a tight schedule and can identify some features that are only "nice to have", consider splitting the website development project so you get what you really need sooner.
6. Think About Who's Going to Keep the Site Up-to-Date
How often is the content on your site going to change? When your site needs changes, do you want to call in the designer, or do you want to be able to make the changes yourself?
For certain types of content, it's almost mandatory that you be able to make the changes yourself. For example, if you have a blog, you or your staff are going to have to be able to publish new blog posts. The software used for your website (for example, WordPress) should be set up to allow this.
Another example is an online store. You're going to need to be able to update the products, handle orders, etc., yourself. Again, the software used for your online store should make it easy to do this.
What about general site content (home page, about page, descriptions of products and services, etc.)? It's possible to set up your website so that someone with little or no technical expertise can make basic changes to the content. If you think that this is what you want, make sure your designer knows in advance.
If you expect your site will require ongoing changes and you don't want to do them yourself, then you should probably arrange a maintenance arrangement with your designer.
7. Be Realistic
I've mentioned it already, but I can't stress enough how important it is to be realistic. Everyone would love to have a beautiful professional-looking website, loaded with features and available by the end of the week. For $100.
If you're realistic, you can get what you need, when you need it, for a fair price.
If you're unrealistic, you'll probably have a hard time getting a good designer to waste time on you.
Let me know what you think. Did I help you evaluate your web design project?
Image from www.projectcartoon.com