What I Wish I’d Known Before I Built My Website, Part I - Design a Business Website

Last week T324 owner David Daniels gave a Learning Lunch, “What I Wish I’d Known Before I Built My Website”, at the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce.

The conference room was standing room only, because although business owners come in many flavors of tech savvy, they all know mistakes are expensive.

The introduction to the talk includes a round-robin of questions about the needs and concerns of the business owners at hand, and a familiar pattern of hopes and fears emerged. Everyone wanted to know how to design a good business website.

Business owners know that their website is crucial to the survival of their business, but they don’t always know how or why. And they definitely want to know “how much?”

Knowing what your business needs and can afford is crucial to starting the website design process. Gathering this information about your specs will inform the process of creating a budget and choosing a designer or developer (site builders are described as both). Here are the typical issues we hear in the round robin:

  • How do I know what to look for a website designer, so I can tell if they do a good job?
  • I need to update my site for SEO, social media, and a blog – right now it just sits there!
  • We have a 60-year-old family business with no website
  • We need to be able to update our own site- right now we can’t even touch it
  • We need to add forms or registration to the site and export info from the forms
  • We have several people who need to be able to make changes to the site
  • We want to add ecommerce
  • We want to be mobile-friendly

What do I look for in a website developer/designer?

David starts out by considering whether website creation has moved past design as an initial concern. That it, is the technology and functionality of a website now so important that we must consider those capabilities in our web developer and those costs in our budget before we consider a pretty design? At the very least, a properly coded site is so important that a site builder who doesn’t have the most current skills shouldn’t even be considered.

Thus, beware of designers who don’t know technology.

A site that looks great when you view a cached copy on the designer’s monitor at their office may load slowly or not at all on a potential customer’s ancient PC running Internet Explorer, or on the latest Android phone. And when it comes to SEO, much of your SEO value is still coded right into page names and image titles, but many “brute force” SEO page practices have changed, so the designer needs to understand the Post-Panda, Post-Penguin search reality.

Another consideration in choosing a site builder is your needs.

Most websites these days are built on an existing Content Management System (CMS), and often a site builder has a preferred CMS. But not every CMS can do everything. So make a list of what you need your site to do before you interview designers.

  • Every site needs social sharing buttons, for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest etc.
  • Do you need a gallery of past work?
  • A shopping cart for e-commerce?
  • A registration form for students?
  • Do you want a blog? (A blog is a great traffic driver, but don’t start if you can’t keep it up)

We’ll talk next week about the capabilities of the various CMS types such as Drupal and WordPress.

How much can you spend- not just to build the site, but to maintain it every year?

Building your site isn’t a one-time expense, and you will have to invest in maintaining it as technologies change. So consider whether your site builder mentions this, and if they offer ongoing support. You don’t have to get your support done by the person or company who builds your site- but it can be efficient, since they’re already familiar with the site.

Don’t forget to commit your inhouse resources to the process.

It’s a common complaint of web designers that they can’t get timely feedback or urgently needed content from clients. When you begin building your website, you will need to make space in your work schedule to do things like respond to the developer’s questions, generate content for pages and create keyword lists specific to your industry. Use your professional expertise to provide information that tells the story of why your business is special, and your designer will have quality material to work with.

Next week: To WordPress or not to WordPress?