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5 things you (the client) need to know

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I’ve been creating websites for about 12 years now (almost 6 years professionally), and there’s something I’ve noticed: clients never seem to be fully prepared, especially the ones who are getting their first website. After a client asked recently for a checklist of what they needed to do, I decided to make a list of the most common things I’ve noticed clients learn the hard way.

1. Involvement

Making a website takes a lot of involvement on your part. From creating the design to choosing the domain name, it’s up to you to call the shots. Quite often I’ve had to help a client because they didn’t know what decision is best, so don’t worry about getting stuck, that’s what you’ve hired me for. And if you need help, just ask.

2. Content

This includes both text and images. This is when you figure out what exactly you want on the pages of your website. If you are a good writer you could write all the text for your site. If you aren’t the best writer, or don’t have the time needed to put into writing the content for your site, ask your web company if they can take care of it. Often if you provide a rough outline along with some information you want included your web company will either have someone on staff or freelancing for them that can create polished copy for your website. Remember, if you have something that you think would work on the site but aren’t 100% sure, send it anyway. It’s better to only have half of what you send end up on your finished website then have a website that looks half finished.

3. Time

A quality website takes time to build. In fact, you will probably want to stay away from companies that promise things quickly (generally hours or days), since they tend to focus more on the number of projects completed than the quality of those projects. Instead, find a company that will take the time to figure out what you want before starting on your project, and take the time to make your project what you want. After all, you are the one paying for it. But don’t go nuts. Often companies will cap the number of revisions so people don’t have a design revised 2 dozen times before settling on the second revision.

4. Long Term

Your site is live, and you have a steady flow of traffic. But you’re not done yet. Your website needs to be kept up to date. We’d like to see our clients update their website once a week or more, but often that’s just not possible. Either they don’t have the time to update their website weekly, or they just don’t have anything to update. So, we like to see updates at least every few months, and at a minimum once a year. Make sure that you keep track of the traffic to and on your website. Often this will help you figure out what on your site needs to be changed in the next update.

5. Cost

By now you’ve probably figured out that building a website takes a good chunk of your time, but it also takes a lot of time to actually make the website. And time = money. How much a website costs is a simple matter of how much time a web company puts into a website and how much they charge for that time, along with other costs such as hosting and domains. Something to keep in mind is higher cost does not always equal better quality, and lower cost doesn’t always equal lower quality. I’ve known people who spend thousands on a simple site and end up regretting it, and others who spend a few hundred and walk away with exactly what they wanted. Don’t base your decision only on cost.

A website takes both time and money, and it’s often something you’ll use for at least a few years. Don’t rush it, don’t cut corners, and go with someone who will work with you to create the website you want.

Websites and Small Businesses

webIt should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway:

Small businesses need a website.

And not just “a” website, a website that actually works. The days of throwing a site up on a free host with animated gifs, scrolling text, bouncing clip art, and a few pictures is over. That just won’t cut it anymore. These days, your site needs to be able to be accessed and navigated on virtually any internet-connected device, provide useful, current information, and make it easy to find that information. And by ‘information’, I don’t mean an electronic version of your brochure. A website needs to be well thought out, easy to use, and time-saving for everyone involved. And it needs to look good.

But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the why. Why should a small business have a website. Even if they are busy enough without a website.

You stop being invisible.

Think about it: you need a leaky sink fixed. Where do a majority of people go? The internet. A quick search later they’ve found someone, read reviews on that person or company, and found a phone number. But how many people weren’t considered because Google didn’t know they existed?

You help control your rankings.

You know what you do, but do search engines? While you can’t just list the search terms you want to show up as #1 for and magically show up there, you can bump your rankings up with the proper use of keywords, relevant links, etc.

You create another sales tool.

A website is an excellent way to increase sales and close sales started using other methods. You can provide answers frequently asked questions so customers don’t have to call you to get answers. You can create easy ways for potential customers to contact you (ie: a quick and easy form). You can essentially provide everything potential, current, and past customers need in an organized, easy to use format, that can also save you countless hours on the phone answering the same questions over and over again.

You create an after-hours office.

Your office is closed, but a potential customer needs information. They can come back the next day during business hours to get the information they need, if they remember to, or they can go to your website and either find the information they need or send you a message. Which way do you think they’d prefer?

You create a personal billboard.

A website will create a way for you to provide updates and news to five people or a thousand people, once a month or every day, without costing a cent more. (Just like this blog.)

All this is great, right? It is, but your website has to be easy to use, easy to update, and actually look good. You remember those animated graphics from the 90s? And how sites from that time had the tiled backgrounds with all the text in a single column? Well, if I’m a customer, and I see that on your site, I’ll either figure you went out of business years ago or assume the information on the site isn’t current, and continue looking for someone else.

In other words, an bad website can make you lose customers. You want your website to make you gain customers and help the ones you already have. Is your website doing that?