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Website design a black art?

I recently helped a friend out, who is setting up a new venture with a couple of colleagues, all of whom have an entrepreneurial streak  in them.  They are young, enthusiastic and determined to make a success of their  new business and asked a designer to create a new website for them.  They thought that it would start working for them straight away, so you can image their disappointment when they didn’t instantly show up on Google.  So what went wrong, were they dabbling in a black art, or should their designer looked after them better?

Setting expectations

We often talk of setting expectations as it helps people understand what they can and cannot expect from any project, but a new website is a particularly difficult one to handle.  So many people think that whacking up a website will solve all their problems and then wonder why new clients don’t come flooding in once they have paid a designer a few hundred pounds to knock up a website.  A website, like anything has to represent you, your business and your products or services and isn’t going to address any short comings that the aforementioned aspects of your business have.

Website designers should make sure they explain what is possible with the resources (time, money, etc.,) and set the expectation.  Websites don’t sudden hit the top of the search engines and certainly don’t start pushing new clients to you in their droves unless a significant amount of time has being spent on understanding the following: "

  • What is your competition?
  • How is your target audience?
  • What do they expect?
  • What do they need / want?
  • How can you fulfil their needs / wants?

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but hopefully you understand where I am coming from (hopefully).

Website design isn’t all about design

I know it sounds counter intuitive, but unless you have worked out what you want your website to do the design is essentially redundant.  At best you might be lucky and hit on a design that looks great, but unless you have set objectives for the site it is unlikely that it will meet them.  All too often people start with the look and feel of the site without taking into account any of the above.

Start with working out what you want your site to achieve and why; then look at what you competitors are doing and make sure you are presenting your business in a language that your clients understand.  There are two views of the world; the first is your view; the second (and perhaps more important) is the view of your prospective and existing clients.  They will often see you in an entirely different way and will certainly think in different terms.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

When using a website designer " be they a freelance designer or an agency " don’t be scared to ask questions.  A good designer will be more than happy to explain anything you don’t understand.  Most people within the sector understand that you will not necessarily understand all the various aspects of getting a website built, which is why most good designers go out of their way to guide you through the process.

Personally, I like it when clients challenge us and ask questions as it shows they are investing their time in the project and helps us provide a better solution.

What went wrong

Returning to my original theme, our young entrepreneurs didn’t ask any questions and didn’t have their expectations set so didn’t know what to expect.  The first thing I knew was was one of them asked me why their website wasn’t on Google.

When I looked at the site it was a typical low cost brochure website, but the basics had not being covered: "

  • No keyword / phrase research had being done.
  • No geographical optimisation had being done, despite the services being provided within a 30 mile radius of the business offices.
  • No meta tags had being added to the pages (this is used by search engines to determine the relevance of your website against search criteria).
  • HTML and CSS had not being validated and contained  numerous errors.

In short, the website designer had done the minimum and had not put the client first.  I am sure the designer would say he was not paid enough money, but the site as it was, was a complete waste of money.  The client may as well have not bothered at all, for all the good it was doing.

To compound the issue, the designer recently converted the website from a static website to a dynamic website using WordPress, telling the client it was due to him having to change hosts for the website. Whilst moving the site to a content management system such as WordPress will enable to client to update the website without having to go back to the designer, the hosting requirements for WordPress are actually greater than those required for a static site. So changing hosts is not a reason to upgrade.

Conclusion

The client should have done his due diligence, so it isn’t all the designers fault, but this is a sorry tale and one I and other friends within the sector hear all too often. Nine times out of ten it was because the client was trying to do it on the cheap.  The old saying " you get what you pay for " hits the nail on the head!

Date: 04/07/2011

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