What makes a good website?
Before you begin searching for someone to build your site, fully understanding this type of workflow will help you to keep the project on course and manage expectations for a beautiful and functional website. If this is your first foray into having a website built, it’s advantageous to have an understanding of what will occur and when. We cover the eight most important things you need to know before starting your website.
Pay attention to what is shown to you at the beginning of the process. The strategy and site map are the blueprint of your site and will drive how it looks in the end. Get those changes in and have those conversations with your designer early. Be picky at this stage, as it will be much harder (i.e., added time and cost) to make changes the week before launch. Custom websites are like custom houses. If you build the model house package, it’s challenging to go back and customize things at the very end, as it changes the scope of the project. If you are not clear on something, raise your hand and ask. Now is the time to nail down and share as much detail as possible about what you will need – forms, functions, layout, security, or other requirements.
Content does not mean building a page. Web content is the images and words that make up the information on each page. Determine up front if you are providing all of this in a final format, or if your web person will also be handling copywriting. Writing for the website is a particular skillset, so if you are understaffed, we recommend leaving that to a professional that understands the process.
All sites are not custom. There are thousands of WordPress templates available to give website builders a leap forward, and most sites today are based on a pre-made template with minor adjustments for color and font. Using a template keeps your costs down, as time spent does not need to be focused on building the framework. In the old days (not that long ago), this was not as common as most sites were built from scratch and required extensive page mockups to show where the information would live and how it would look, meetings to approve these mockups, and sign-offs. Then a programmer would work up against that design from the framework.
Less expensive sites will not have the extensive SEO, font selection, or specific formatting that you see on a custom site. If you need this to represent a brand specifically, you will need to supply that information at the start when you are scoping out the project. Expect to see a proposed page layout for approval before the site is built.
All programmers are not necessarily designers. And vice versa. If you are selecting someone yourself, be sure that you know the difference and work with someone that has the training to help you make decisions.
If your site requires heavy back end work, such as an e-commerce site or automated database management, you will need to hire a programmer that understands how to build this type of website. Ask for past portfolio samples of complexity.
Web designers are typically people that are focused on how the site looks and how a user will move through it (UX designer). It is up to the web programmer to figure out how to build that functionality.
Occasionally, you will find someone that is nicely adept at both sides, but it’s less common. Ask lots of questions so that you have a comfort level regarding their abilities, and take a look at their portfolio. Ask for recommendations from past clients.
Beware scope creep. There are extensive tiny (and important) details surrounding even a 3-page web project. Stay organized and track what needs to be completed to finish the project. Many times, groups find new things they want to add or create for the site that surface as they go along. Some of these should be put on a waitlist or mutually agreed upon that it will expand the project X hours and costs to accommodate. Stay clear on the wants vs. the needs, as this will impact your timeline.
Adding to an existing site vs creating a new site. If you are requesting additions to a current website, be articulate about the details and expectations. Do ask lots of questions and never, ever assume something is covered. Projects are built around time to execute and can be easily subject to scope creep.
Do you need additional pages of new content to explain what you offer in more detail? Does the site need advanced SEO? A refresh or reskin means that the site theme is updated on every page. A reskin is not the same as asking for e-commerce, which is a separate function.
Allow time for debugging and testing before launch. Like anything with code these days, your site will not work identically in all environments and will need to be tested and adjusted accordingly. Usually, this takes about a week.
Keep in mind that any site will not render the same from iPhone to Samsung or Chrome to Explorer. New plugin updates may not be designed to include older browser versions. Build in the time (usually a week) to allow the fix to be researched and implemented/retested. This is crucial for sites that rely heavily on animation or online sales.
Have a post-launch maintenance plan. Don’t forget to ask about maintenance until there is an issue down the road. WordPress sites need regular updates for the platform as well as plugins, themes, and backups to avoid hacks and other problems that could bring your site down. Talk with your builder to see if they can handle this for a small monthly fee or recommend someone they trust.
With open communication throughout the build time, you will avoid running into last-minute concerns right before a scheduled launch. By being prepared, your new website will be a success.