Website Design from a Business Perspective

21/12/2011 14:38

Website Design from a Business Perspective

Thinking of hiring someone to create your website? Before you do so, you may want to consider the following advice. Offered from a business perspective (i.e., we are all here to sell something and make money), they'll help you guide your chosen webmaster to your desired result.

1. Know Your Visitors

Define who your clientele are and insist that your webmaster designs around their needs and expectations.

I've yet to leave a website because it didn't have enough bells and whistles. I have, however, turned away in frustration from websites because they either required me to install some third party tool in order to see their wonderful content, or they insisted on making me wait for some elaborate animated sequence to unfold before I can even access their content. Of course, this is just me; no doubt some people have all kinds of time on their hands and just love sites like these.

The point is, will your visitors react like me, or like those other people? It may seem like a simple question, but the internet is littered with sites whose owners have hired so-called "web gurus" to design something for them, without any consideration for the real people who visit.

Build it and maybe they'll come. Chances of them sticking around after they come, however, are much better if you have a concrete idea of who they are and what they'll want — before you build.

2. Take Part in Planning

Your website ultimately reflects you and your business — don't let it be dictated by an outsider.

Unfortunately, this requires treading an extremely fine line because while you're the expert regarding your company, the web designer is — hopefully — the expert regarding what works on the web. What typically results from an uninformed client imposing dubious requirements on his/her website developer is a Very Bad Site (emphasis intended). Trust me, you don't want to spend your hard-earned money on this kind of website.

On the other hand, if you don't take an active role in planning your site (and by that, I mean you need to ask questions; don't blissfully dismiss your participation with the excuse that "I know nothing about this stuff"), your very capable web developer may end up delivering you a site built entirely on his or her assumptions of what you need. You may not want that kind of a website either.

3. Spend Your Money on Content

Your bottom line goal is to convince visitors to do business with you; if you can achieve that, whether or not they admire your website is inconsequential.

I'm of the opinion that while both are important to various degrees, as long as a site is clean and functional, substance without flash is a better trade-off than flash without substance. If you're under a tight budget, dispense with the high tech notions and focus your efforts on saying what you need to say in order to sell what you want to sell.

If you have to, hire your web resources separately to achieve this. A talented web designer may have questionable writing skills and a decent content developer may know nothing about HTML. If this is your desired route, however, ensure that you nail down the required content first, before calling in the designer.

I recently encountered a company who had just spent a lot of money revamping their website. Upon close examination, it turned out that what they had paid for was a new skin for their existing site; i.e., the revamping was just a simple facelift. While the new look is definitely a vast improvement over the old, the pages and navigation remain the same as in the old site. Unfortunately, it did not seem to have occurred to anyone that the upcoming content overhaul — which I was subsequently called in to help with — might produce new links and new pages. By the time they realized that they needed to incorporate additional material, they were basically handcuffed by the site's established structure, not to mention the already spent budget. (The situation is similar to building a new home and deciding after the framing stage that you want yet another bathroom: technically do-able, but costly and time-consuming.)

4. Avoid Unfinished Business

"Something" is not better than "nothing"; be thorough and be complete before opening your door to visitors.

It's better not to have a website at all than to have one that's out there and unfinished. After all, what do non-existent links, missing graphics, incomplete sentences, and visible HTML code say about you? Traditional bricks and mortar operations don't open with half-finished ceilings and unpainted walls. It's equally unacceptable to do the online equivalent.

[This leads me to bonus tip #4.5 — don't bother uploading a page to announce that your site is coming soon. When it comes to surfing the web, there are few experiences worse than arriving at a "website" only to find out that it doesn't yet exist. A simple but informative splash page is acceptable if that's all you have, but be assured that people will not bookmark an "Under Construction" page in breathless anticipation of your launch.]

Take this valuable piece of free advice for everything that it's worth: don't allow your incomplete or "test" website to be accessible by the general public. Those who know you might simply cringe and move on, but those who don't — i.e., potential new customers — could be lost to you forever. You might actually be the best plumber, photographer, or home renovator in your corner of the world, but someone's first impression of you via your website won't be a positive one.

5. Protect your Investment

Ensure that you know enough about your website to be able to arrange for future maintenance.

This relates to #2 above. While you may not know anything about developing websites now, be prepared to learn if you decide to have one created for your business. Not only that, be prepared to take ownership of the result. Treat your website as you would any other corporate asset: ensure that the keys are protected and that you have control of them.

This does not mean that you have to be capable of maintaining the site yourself. You do need, however, to be able to provide pertinent information to the next individual who will maintain it, and to be at least somewhat knowledgeable about your requirements.

Therefore, after everything is up and running (and before your web developer has departed to another project), ensure that you have some basic pieces of information. How do you access your web pages? Do you own your domain name or does your developer? What is the user ID/password required to upload files to your site? What is the name of your hosting company in case you lose this information? Don't let your web developer go away without providing you with these details. Ask for a written document that specifies all of the above in clear, concise terms.