A website for your business (however small or large) in today's world is a must, you probably know that already, but what may not be so clear is what is actually involved in the process of setting up a website. A website can be a big investment, so it's important to understand where your hard earned money is being spent and to make sure you are getting best value.
This is my top ten checklist of things to consider and questions to ask when hiring a web designer to build your website. I hope you find this both informative and helpful. But if anything is unclear, please do get in contact.
It's by no means a full guide to web design, but it covers what I consider to be the most important factors, from my 15 years of commercial web design experience, in simple to understand terms. It will also help you get a better understanding of the costs involved in the creation of a website in 2016 and any on-going costs once your website is live. The ranking of this list isn't necessarily in order of importance, but rather in order of the process of setting up a website.
If you are considering using my services, this will serve as a close insight into how I work and the high level of service I pride myself in.
So, what has 15 years in the web industry taught me? Let me share with you.
This is the difficult bit and ultimately most important choice you will have to make throughout this whole process. You need a web designer who you can trust and believe is up to the job. You want to see value for your money and a return on your investment.
The deciding factors for who you go with to build your website will likely be budget, recommendations/reviews, their experience/portfolio and the general impression you get from talking with them.
Your budget is one of the first things you need to consider and will probably be the deciding factor between hiring an independent web designer/sole trader or going with a web design company/agency. If money is really tight, then you could consider building your own website, but if time is not on your side then this is probably not a good plan. It takes many years of learning and experience to understand the full concept of building, running, maintaining an online business and making it a success, which is why it's generally a good idea to seek professional help. It may be more costly in the short term, but you will reap the longer term benefits. Even after 15 years in the industry I am still learning new things and adapting to ever changing web technology and methodology.
If you go for an agency, the likelihood from my own experience of working for one, is that an average sized website of 10-50 pages, will likely be given to a single designer within that company who looks after the full design and build of your website. With this in mind, and if your budget isn't great, then you may find it more beneficial to go with a lower charging sole trader, whose overheads are not as high as an agency - you still get an experienced individual but at a cheaper cost. You may feel that by going with an agency you will get a more professional service, but at the end of the day, a sole trader/freelance web designer will be just as competent building your web site (as long as their experience and portfolio is true). Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against agencies, I worked 15 years for one. But in my opinion you can get just as good a service, if not better with an independent designer because they can dedicate more of their time to you and should want to make a good impression for you and their portfolio.
In terms of the differencing costs, your location will play a factor but to give a very rough figure from my 15 year's experience in the industry, on an average sized website of 25 standard text and image pages (e.g. homepage, about pages, portfolio, blog, articles, galleries, contact form, etc), built on a content management system such as Wordpress, plus implementing a theme, SEO, security and in-page features such as sliders, tabbed areas, image popups, social media integration, etc, expect to pay an agency anywhere from £3,000 to £15,000 (sometimes more) and a sole trader web designer anywhere from a few hundred pounds to £5,000.
If you want a website, then you need somewhere to store it, just like you need a computer to store your documents and photos, you need a special type of computer (called a server) that is connected to the Internet to store the files that make up your website. In the web design industry we call this hosting a website and it is common practice to use 3rd party companies for this. The large and most popular hosting companies will have an abundance of computers (servers), located all over the world all connected to the Internet.
The cost of hosting in 2016 depends on many factors, the cheaper solutions share resources amongst many websites. By resources I refer to things like storage space, memory and processing power (just like your own computer specification). Sharing resources means that one server (computer) will potentially host/store hundreds of websites, this is usually fine for websites that receive low to medium amounts of traffic (web visitors, in their thousands, but up to around 10,000 per month) and the resources are shared equally. If you expect your website to receive high amounts of traffic, then you should consider a dedicated server or Virtual Private Server. These types of server store only your website, meaning its resources are all yours for supporting the expected larger audience. With some types of server you can increase your resources if you find your website has slowed down or have them automatically adjust to meet demand as it happens.
You of course want the best possible experience for your website visitors, which ultimately means fast loading pages! Tip - Google also looks for fast loading websites and uses this as a factor for ranking your website (more on this later). Your web designer will usually look after the whole hosting process for you, but for their time involved and cost to them (hosting companies are not free) this will form part of your on-going costs between you and your web designer.
Before we can host your website, we need to register a domain name for people to be able to find your website using their web browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox). A domain name also links together your hosted website files to the Internet. Your domain name is the text (sometimes with numbers) between the www part and the bit on the end, e.g. com or co.uk. This is a very basic description and it goes much deeper, but all you really need to think about is the actual name you pick.
Finding a generic domain name these days can be difficult, especially on a .com or .co.uk. Using a business name improves your chances (depending on the number of words in your business name) but you may still find that you have to add or remove something, e.g. a location or hyphen. If you are a UK business then having a co.uk extension is important for not only your customers (it's the obvious thing they will type if trying to find you outside of Google) but also in terms of Google listing you for local search results. Some companies will also register the .com version to protect their brand and stop others using it. This can sometimes be sensible, but isn't required if you are UK based (.com is more commonly used for US companies and large businesses) and is an additional on-going cost. But if your budget allows for it then I would suggest buying a co.uk and .com.
The costs of the domain name registration in 2016 are pretty cheap, with a co.uk on average costing £5 and a .com around £10 a year. It is important to renew your domain name every year, otherwise you risk your competition getting their hands on it! You can usually set this to automatic renewal, with a saved method of payment, so check with your web designer that this is the case. Domain names can be registered and renewed through the website hosting company so you can usually rely on your web designer to look after this for you and add the fee to your on-going costs. More on on-going costs later.
The design of your website is important, it's one of the first things that people will notice when they visit your website, so it's vital to make an immediate good impression if you want that visitor to take a look around.
When planning your design it needs to consider the industry your business is in, your brand and who your customers are. You may also need to consider a logo design, which your web designer may or may not be able to help with. To save costs you could have a basic logo which is simply text of your business name, but in a nice professional font.
To help your web designer they might ask you to provide them with a list of websites that you like the look off, perhaps in the same industry - this helps the web designer get an idea of who your target audience is and form a general look and feel.
There are many design options to consider: Single page websites that just scroll (with carefully placed navigation buttons or links) - these are good for websites with low amounts of content. The average small to medium business will probably have enough content to fill 10-20 pages and so a navigation menu will be required. Navigation menus are usually found at the top in an area known as your Header, or they can also be placed in a side section. Navigation menus may also contain sub-pages if you have a category or section that contains many articles - these can be shown as drop down menus. Many Wordpress websites also display a right hand column containing extracts of recent Blog Posts (with a link to the full article) or social media streams. It is also advisable to place your social media icons (links) at the top in your header.
Design is a key area to research when choosing your web designer, look at their online portfolio to see if you like their previous work. Once you have picked your designer and they have offered you some suggestions, make sure you ask them whether it covers a responsive layout.
Responsive is a term used in the web industry to ensure that a website displays correctly in both desktop view (your PC, Mac or Laptop) and on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. By being responsive, your website structure responds and readjusts its display according to the device browsing it. That's not to say a non-responsive website won't function on a mobile device, but if you have ever accessed one you'll know you need to pinch and zoom in on the screen to read the content - not much fun and you'll probably end up looking elsewhere.
With mobile web browsing now over taking desktop web browsing a responsive layout is a must when planning your design. Google also now uses a websites mobile friendly status as a ranking factor for visitors searching for your keywords on a mobile device. So if your website is not mobile friendly then you risk losing out to your competitors who are.
I'm including photography not only because I'm bias being a professional photographer myself (and it's gives a me great USP to go with my web design service) but also because I believe it is important to make your website appeal to your local client base and stand out from your competition. Great looking photography sells, as long as it's of the right type. Whether it's attracting visitors to your area, perhaps to stay in your bed and breakfast, or just decent photography of your products - where the correct lighting makes things sparkle (not hide in an under exposed mobile phone shot). Photography, video, illustrations and graphics are also good for your Search Engine Optimisation and make your content more likely to be shared on social media.
Using a Content Management System (or CMS for short) is a wise option to consider if you would like to be able to update your website yourself. This is usually a cheaper option in the long run, rather than asking your web designer to do your updates for you - this of course is an option if you don't have the time yourself but it depends on how often you think your website needs updating and your available cash flow.
CMS websites are generally quicker and easier to setup than a custom build website and therefore the setup costs are usually cheaper. I recommend to all of my clients, one of the most popular CMS - Wordpress, which various sources now suggest powers over 25% of all websites worldwide.
In a nutshell, Wordpress is an administration system, behind a secure login. The administration system consists of a series of screens for building and maintaining a website. You can create pages for your standard content such as Your Homepage, About Us, History, Portfolios, Galleries, etc. Or you can create posts if you plan to write a blog (Great for keeping your content fresh, which Google loves!). You can also use some great plugins to sell your products online and take payments through safe providers such as PayPal.
As part of your set up fee, your web designer will usually install Wordpress on your domain name, install a theme for the design and then construct your pages (I use the word construct rather than code as Wordpress provides an editor, similar to that of Microsoft Word, although an html editor for tweaking is available). Depending on what you have agreed with your designer, once your pages have been produced, they may be empty templates for you to fill yourself, or they will contain content that you have previously sent to them to insert for you. If you are not familiar with Wordpress then it is often more practical, sensible and faster to pay your web designer to fill your pages with content - this is where the majority of a setup cost comes into play. It takes an experienced Wordpress user to create a decent website from scratch, that not only looks good, but also considers many other factors such as how the information is presented, the flow of your pages, accessibility, readability, in-page SEO, and any features you might require (eg Sliders, Tabbed Areas, Buttons, Forms, Galleries etc.)
Once your website has been built, you will usually receive some training from your web designer on how to use Wordpress. The training needn't be complicated and should usually take an hour or two to give you the basic understanding and confidence to start maintaining your website. Extra training or refresher lessons are an option for later and you may also wish to pay your web designer to add new features or updates that are outside your comfort level. Wordpress doesn't cost anything to use so you shouldn't expect any renewal costs for using the software.
Search Engine Optimisation (More commonly known as its abbreviation of SEO) is important to plan and implement correctly if you are relying on Google and other search engines to send traffic your way. SEO is a huge subject, with constantly changing methods and too large to fully describe in just a few paragraphs but there are basic strategies that you (or your web designer) need to consider, whilst planning and building your content.
Query your new web designer on SEO and find out what they will include in your set-up costs, at the very least they should offer to set what is known as your meta data. Some designers will ignore SEO completely so it's vital to ask. Some web designers will offer an on-going SEO contract, where they dedicate their time, usually on a monthly basis to work on SEO strategies. This could be tweaking the content you have written, or writing content for you, sourcing you back links (links from other websites to yours - preferably in the same locale or related subject areas), website structure and navigation modifications, plus a whole host of other factors that Google uses for ranking your website. The cost of SEO is difficult to answer as many factors have to be taken into consideration, but for an small to medium sized website, expect anything from £50 - £500 per month. But this varies greatly depending on the number of web pages, length of the content, and the type of SEO being worked on. Ultimately it all comes down to what budget you have.
An alternative to paying for SEO is Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising, through companies like Google. No doubt, you will have already seen advertisements on Google and perhaps even clicked on them without realising - these are located at the top of the search results and have a green 'Ad' icon next to them. Using PPC, If you have the budget, then you can almost guarantee that number 1 spot in the search results - something that no SEO expert can guarantee, what ever they say. PPC is exactly how it sounds - you pay every time somebody clicks on your advert and visits your website (sometimes called a landing page if for example, you want visitors to go straight to an offer page).
PPC can be expensive if you are in a crowded industry. Everybody is fighting for that top spot and willing to spend whatever it takes to be in that prime position. In some industries, companies are willing to spend up to £100 for a single click! But these are more than likely selling goods or services worth thousands of pounds. The Cost of PPC therefore varies depending on your line of business, but can be as little as a few pence per click. If you are in a niche area or you know for a fact that your competition is low then you can probably expect PPC to be affordable. Setting up PPC is something you can do yourself, but is worth considering asking your web designer to assist if they have experience in this area - it can be complicated to get your head around.
Ranking simply means the position your website is returned in the Google Search Results based on the phrase that has been searched. Google doesn't shout about its ranking factors much, but SEO experts know which methods work and those that don't any more - such as stuffing your keyword as many times as you can in a page. Google is a very smart cookie and wants to give its customers the best possible service, which is why it will only return results it believes are relevant, have authority and of decent quality.
On your content pages aim for a general subject and try to stick to it, plan your content for the main keyword phrases you are hoping people will find you in a search, but keep the readability user friendly, don't write it for Google. The best advice is to attempt to write unique content that has relevancy to the general subject you are aiming for. Keep your website fresh with new content and update existing content on a regular basis.
You have probably seen a lot in the news recently about hacking and Bit coin ransom demands. In today's advanced technological world security for your website is of vital importance. Hacking some websites is quite frankly (and scarily) easy to do if you know what you are doing. It can also be automated meaning a single script can potentially hack hundreds of websites in minutes. Fortunately there are tools and software available to help.
It would be impossible for any web designer to say they can prevent all hacking because this underground world is constantly updating and coming up with new methods every day. But we can go a long way to preventing some of the most common forms of hacking from taking place on your website.
Explaining the prevention technology involved is a whole other post in itself but my clients can be rest assured that I am doing everything I can to make their websites secure to the best of my knowledge. I apply SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) to all of my clients websites. SSL encrypts the connection between a web browser and the web site, preventing any outside party (hacking) from interfering or viewing your data. In the past, this used to be more commonly used for online money transactions, but in today's world where users are communicating all sorts of data online, it also serves to protect the transfer of personal data. You will notice when a website is secure by looking at the internet address in your web browser and checking the start for https://. Unsecured websites will use only http://.
Tip - Google now sees secure SSL websites as a low ranking factor for your website. The benefits of using a Content Management System like Wordpress are plentiful, which is why I highly recommend it to my clients but like anything it does has some pitfalls and it can be easy to hack. However, if set up correctly these security floors can be avoided or plugged.
Backups follows on from Security and provide a means of restoration if the worst was to happen. Taking regular backups of your website is of vital importance. The interval between backups depends on how often you update your website, but at the very least a backup should be taken after every sizeable update.
If you are using a Content Management System (CMS) for your website, then not only will you have your website files to backup but also a database that stores the content data that makes up your pages, posts and products. Your web designer should be able to assist you with regular backups, or provide a way for you to do it yourself.
My clients all receive my backing up service by default, which includes me personally taking a full backup of the website and database once a week. For my time involved, my storage space and allowing for time for restoring backups, I include this in my setup cost and on-going costs. My on-going charge for this is £30 per year, which I hope you'll agree is a small price to pay for peace of mind, that if the worst did happen and you lost your website, perhaps through hacking, a backup is there to restore quickly.
Don't forget to budget for on-going costs. The two main ones that you cannot avoid are domain and hosting renewals. Your domain renewal cost should be similar to what you paid for registering it. Hosting renewal will vary depending on what you set up in the first instance, but even the most high specification hosting should not cost any more than a few hundred pounds each year.
The average sized small to medium company website with low to medium traffic (1000 to 10,000 visitors a month) should expect to pay around £50-£100 a year for hosting renewals. Your web designer may ask for your hosting fee monthly, or it may form part of an overall service package.
If your web designer is building you a website using a Content Management System (CMS) such as Wordpress, then you should expect some training included in your setup costs - it's worth checking beforehand if this is included or not. If not there are plenty of useful tutorials online or videos on YouTube. Even after training, you will probably find yourself needing one or two refresher lessons or having to ask your designer to assist you with a layout issue - Wordpress is great and easy to use, but even the most confident users will get it wrong from time to time. For these events (especially if it effects the public side of your website), and for peace of mind it is probably worth paying extra each year for guaranteed support with a quick response time.
Other on-going costs you may wish to consider are backups and security (as covered earlier) and assistance with social media marketing - it's likely an area they use themselves and have good experience with. If you don't have a Facebook page or Twitter account then you are likely missing out on potential new customers, or at the very least people wishing to share your content and spread the word about our company.
It is also worth asking your web designer to assist you with setting up a Google Plus page and if you are confidence, to try videoing yourself or your company and adding to a YouTube channel dedciated to your company. Both of these social sites are considered favourable with Google when ranking your website, plus like Facebook and Twitter provide another avenue for visitors to find your website.
I hope you have found this article useful, especially if you are currently thinking about a new website for your business. If you would like to talk to me about the possibility of creating a business (or personal) website for yourself, then please get in touch by emailing me at: [email protected] or calling 01603 449109 between the hours of 8.30am and 7pm. Thanks, Daniel.TOP