Why would you hire a Marketing Consultant and a Web Designer to create your website?
After all, isn’t adding an additional person to the chain just an additional cost?
On the face of it … yes. It adds some cost to the project.
But it also adds something else … something essential.
A question worth considering before you start creating your website is this … if you are not sure where exactly you are going, does it really matter how quickly or cheaply you get there?
Last year I undertook a project to change some internal walls in my house. I could have tried to source a labourer, plumber and an electrician myself using recommendations, quotes and online sources to inform my decision. For a really complicated change I would have needed an architect but this was relatively straight-forward. At the time I was running my business from home and expecting a baby in a month so I didn’t want any surprises and wanted the job done right. I got a recommended local builder who helped us refine our thinking and gave us a plan for the job. He had experience in the area working on similar houses and budgets. He explained what needed to be done and why. He highlighted key pitfalls with our initial plan, gave us a step-by-step on what was to happen, when and who was involved and finally gave us some rough costs. Once job was agreed he then engaged the necessary subcontractors who understood what exactly what needed to be done as explained by him. They turned up when they were supposed to and completed the job.
This process is not too dissimilar to that of a business owner embarking in online communications.
For projects outside of your daily business expertise, there’s a need for market understanding and planning. There’s a real benefit to working with a third party who has the overall interests of the business at heart, who has experience of the issues and tasks at hand and in getting results on similar projects. There’s a real benefit to getting this advice or input before any contractors or web developers are engaged in the detail of actually doing the job.
Why is an experienced, strategic, business opinion important before creating or re-designing a website?
- You need to know this new online investment will grow your business. Getting a website done quickly, in a format that looks good isn’t always enough to deliver results for your business. You need the phone to ring more, enquiries to arrive. Otherwise, it’s just an vanity exercise. An expensive and time consuming one at that.
- As a business owner or senior manager you don’t always know what gaps you have in your market understanding. You can be too immersed in the busy day-to-day of running your business. External mentors view your business from an experienced, independent standpoint.
- You need to know your online messages have meaning with their intended target and will spur prospects to action.
- You want to know you are paying for features and services that will deliver a return for you.
- You want an independent view on who to work with and what exactly to expect.
After all, online communications is relatively new to you.
I recently wrote a blog on creating an effective website which asks SMEs to consider 10 key things at the outset.
By working with a web designer or developer directly on website creation the job can often seem simpler to manage, quicker and cheaper. In some cases it works very well like this. I’m not saying that by working with a developer only, that your website will always have problems. In fact, this is the approach used by most in the market. It’s just that the online marketplace is becoming increasingly competitive and has recently become saturated with suppliers for all kinds of goods and services. The bar has been raised. Just being online is not enough anymore. You need to be marketing your business effectively online. You need to stand out and connect with your audience meaningfully and in a way that really connects. Websites can appear slick, but many deliver little value to a business. They aren’t making the phone ring. They aren’t attracting the enquiries in the numbers the business needs. Or worse, the website is damaging the business’s reputation, turning customers away, coming across unprofessionally, having a confusing layout and messages etc.
If your market doesn’t connect or identify with what you are telling them, then it’s a missed opportunity. There needs to be a moment where they see themselves in what you are saying, as a potential client or customer of yours.
Web developers and business owners range in terms of their market know-how, their copywriting expertise and their willingness to go the extra mile. In my experience here is where the possible friction can lie. I collaborate with a number of experienced web designers and developers in the work I do, and frankly couldn’t do my job without them. I’ve spent a significant amount of time working on online projects and vetting their expertise. Ask yourself, is this something you will get to do?
To aid website planning and your goal of market differentiation, I’ve set out 7 questions that would be worth asking yourself before engaging a developer. These are based on my experience of mentoring clients of government agencies and advising SMES who have digital and website requirements.
7 key questions you might consider asking yourself before choosing a web developer.
1) Have you shopped around enough? A good web developer is crucial when creating a new site. It takes a lot of the pain out of the process. Did you get a vetted recommendation or are you using a friend-of-a-friend or a student doing it for almost nothing? Always source 3 quotes from different web developers or designers. Find out what each is good at. What they’ve done before and what they charge. When reviewing quotes ensure you are comparing like with like. To ensure you are doing this write a written website brief using a checklist like this.
2) Do they require the web content to be 100% finished or ‘ready-to-go’ so they can create the website or will they work with you bit by bit while you develop sections as you go? It’s much better if you are clear on your website content before going to the developer. You can either prepare this content yourself by laying it out on a word document and plan it section by section or engage a third party marketing consultant if you feel you’ve lost your way in terms of business communications. Here’s some thought starters in terms of business storytelling online.
3) What questions is the web developer asking you up-front about your business? Are they keen to get under the skin of your business? Do they ask you who your audience is, about your key competitors and what the purpose of the site is? Do they ask what you want the key takeout of the site visit should be? (ie enquiries, sign-ups etc) Do they ask you for a written brief for the site? A written brief is something I would highly recommend to ensure there is no misunderstandings or stress at a later stage in the project. This website checklist will help in writing the website brief.
4) Are you asking your developer to go beyond the call of duty? Be clear about what they understand as the scope of what’s been quoted for. You might be expecting opinion/feedback from your developer that he/she is unable to supply. They might not have the time or expertise to examine your content for sense or value. From my experience most will be happy to chip in and give some opinion based on experience, others will be more focused on getting the job done to an agreed spec as quickly as possible. If you are relying on their feedback to critique content, are you expecting too much from your developer? Many have technical backgrounds and not business ones. They execute the plan, but you need to be the one who is clear about who is driving it. You need to have a clear plan in order to communicate effectively. Persuasive communications is the responsibility of the business owner or senior management of an organisation, not the web developer.
5) Getting found on Google/SEO – There’s no point in having a website if it can’t be found on Google. You need to understand how Google searches work, what SEO is all about and how to make it work to generate traffic for you. If you leave this to the web designer, you might find it doesn’t get the focus it deserves. Knowing your keywords, and how to use Google’s Keyword Planner tool is important.
- Is SEO or ‘being found easily on the search engines’ required? If not why? There’s no point in having a website if it can’t be found.
- SEO keyword research is hugely important as it affects what sections, pages and titles/headings you will have on your site. There were a lot of SEO tricks in the past – and still used today – where site content was written purely to be found by search engines like Google. Best not to do this. Write your content for your audience, what problems they have or services they need. Keep SEO strongly in mind, but don’t let SEO drive your content completely as you will loose the interest and attention of your targets. A key metric in tracking your engagement from Google Analytics is how long visitors are spending on your site and of course how many lead to sign ups/enquiries/sales/downloads. Visits are vanity if they don’t lead to sales.
- You need to understand how Google searches work, what SEO is all about and how to make it work to generate traffic for you.
- You need a Gmail account first.
- Knowing your keywords and how to use Google’s Keyword Planner tool is important.
- You should be able to see what search terms or keywords that your target market is using to look for services in the regions you are checking. Examples of keywords used in Google searches are ”web designer Galway” or ”personalised baby gifts”or “hairdresser in Swords”, or “affordable marketing advice SME” or “emergency plumber Cork”.
- You should also be able to see how searches are made on Google using these words and how ‘competitive’ these terms are (ie if many or few businesses are trying to get their websites to rank highly on Google for those exact terms.)
- NOTE: A decent designer/developer should be able to give you some basic pointers here. If this is not an agreed part to your brief, you need to educate yourself before you start the job. More detailed SEO work may require an SEO specialist but this isn’t usually required for a modest online website launch. It is also noteworthy that You Tube contain lots of educational videos ‘how to’ videos on Google Keyword Planner and WordPress SEO if you ever need additional support.
- Have you considered the SEO implications of your domain name? Eg are you choosing a name for your domain that sounds good or that will help you get found? There’s no hard and fast rules – for example I chose www.inspiredthinking.ie but names like webdesigndublin.ie or physio.ie do support overall SEO goals.
- Do you need a WordPress SEO plug-in? WordPress have reasonably priced ‘All in One SEO plugin’ for approx. under $50 which should be given serious consideration. This means you can optimise the site yourself with some basic training from the developer.
- How is the success of this keyword research and optimisation (SEO) measured after the website build ? Will you as owner be able to track using Google Analytics? Will the designer install this for you? Is there a charge?
- A decent designer/developer should be able to give you some basic pointers here. If this is not an agreed part to your brief, you need to educate yourself before you start the job. SEO keyword research is hugely important as it affects what sections, pages and titles/headings you will have on your site. More detailed SEO work may require an SEO specialist but this isn’t usually required for a modest online website launch.
6) Content Management System – Open Source or tied to Developer?
- A Content Management System is the platform that allows your website content to be published. You need to ask what CMS your developer is planning to use. Are they planning to build the site using a specific coding language? I’ve heard from SMEs and clients who were disillusioned about their ‘after sales’ service. Some of them I know paid too little for their site and were not entitled to much after care. Others just didn’t understand that if they use a certain content management system, or language, they may have trouble in the future getting other developers to work on it. Or may need to pay that specific developer every time they want to make changes to a site. Business owners can enter unwittingly into lockdowns with a particular developer. It has to be said, this is sometimes because a business owner doesn’t always know what he or she wants or may have difficulty explaining it.
- SMEs or organisations may not realise that with some content management systems that they need to pay extra to have the site to appear properly on mobiles. Having your site appear well or responsively on mobiles is becoming a basic requirement now that Ireland’s Smartphone penetration is not far off 70%.
- To solve all of the above, one of the best ways to ensure any developer can work on your site in the future is to ensure you use an open source publishing platforms, like WordPress.
Benefits of WordPress
- It’s widely a recognised platform globally, it’s simple to understand and easy to use
- Either you or any future web developer should be able to make changes to your site.
- The text and image changes are as easy to make as on a word document, anyone can make them with the password and login details. Changes can even be made from your mobile when you are out an about!
- You can add in standard plugins for SEO which Google really likes. I’ve seen first-hand how easy they are to use and what results they get.
- These days you don’t need to pay extra for mobile friendly sites. WordPress has a wide selection of great, responsive website designs all ready to go so all your developer needs to do is add in the content in a way that works with the templates. The shape and presentation of the website content responds to what it’s been viewed on (mobile, tablet or PC). Some nice WordPress templates on the links below;
7) Third Eye – Extra Proofing
It’s very hard to create the website content and critique it properly as well. You need a third eye or independent party. This is so important and it won’t matter how many times you read it yourself. You may not realise at the outset but creating your website content will really test your patience and resolve by the end of the process. You will tire of looking at it and miss mistakes that others will see straight away. You may have a friend or 2 who may help with spelling mistakes, grammar or copywriting on your site. But who are you asking to ‘vet’ your message clarity or the overall layout of the site? Great if the person you ask to give feedback has good judgment, is commercially tuned in and digitally savvy.
Better if they can motivate you to make some difficult choices.
What choices you ask?
Instead of letting you create a bland website that says you are all things to all men, or a website that could easily pass for one of your competitors. You need to be challenged to make a stand, to have a market position. To speak meaningfully and clearly to you targets. Your content should attract and connect with prospects in a way that makes you stand out from all the rest who say they do what you do.
A nice, willing-to-please friend doesn’t work so well here. You need straight-talkers. Preferably seeking some viewpoint from your target market (Goes without saying that your husband shouldn’t be the only reviewer for your baby gifting website!)
If you don’t have a network or mentor with these competencies or feel the work needs a more professional touch … find a consultant.
Create the website or online presence that attracts the sort of customer you need to drive your business. Like the builder I hired, it can reduce the headaches in the long run.