A huge bill from the developer doesn’t guarantee a good website, but what does?
Horror stories abound of overpriced websites that don’t deliver even the basics, or on the flip side, have been completely over-specified for what is really needed.
We’ve seen Rolls Royce-sized invoices and then a bog standard Mini delivered to the business. Albeit one with lots of unnecessary bells and whistles on. All flash, no favours.
We’ve seen Minis that would be the perfect size, spec and operating costs for a business except underneath the bonnet beats the insipid heart of a reconditioned Reliant Robin. A hit and run renovation.
Under-delivery, over-specification, under-performance… the potential mix of mistakes be costly and occasionally calamitous.
So where do you start?
1. Understand your audiences’ needs
If you’ve got a website already, look at your user data via tools like Google Analytics. Explore the users’ journeys. What are they missing that they need to see? Where are the hot spots and the cold areas? What routes are taken through your website? Where are the calls to action and interaction? How are you engaging them? What are the key questions you need to answer quickly and easily?
Knowing what customers are searching for helps you brief your developer properly to create a site that leads with your strongest hand, always.
Don’t over think the things that are way down both your priority lists. If visitors spend less than 2 minutes on your website, visiting 3.5 pages, make those ones matter most for your budget.
If you have more than one type of user demographic (prospect, customer, naïve browser, internal staff, stakeholders) map out their individual needs. Weight how much time, effort and budget you’ll spend catering to them through the web build.
TIP: Don’t buy the developer’s spectacular sizzle when you only need a simple sausage.
2. Choose carefully, manage well
When it comes to choosing your developer and/or designer, look at websites from companies in your area (as you’ll probably want someone local). Contact the company whose website you like before going to the developer/designer, to see how the process (not the outcome) was for them – and how much it cost. Knowing the spectrum helps define a suitable budget expectation to negotiate with.
Then invite three companies in, with a guide ready for what you want. See where they challenge you and particularly where they add value to your basic wish list. Websites are a joint collaboration of expertise and knowledge.
In these initial meetings, suppliers should ask marketing and business questions first, try to quantify and qualify facts and figures with you, and have done their research. They should come armed with examples of good and bad websites within and external to your industry. They should be able to demonstrate knowledge about how to stand out, and what functionality might help. Look out too for be knowledge about your customers’ needs, research into “buying decisions”, demographics of your users, and so on.
They should then be able to plan short-, medium- and long-term goals with you, listening to your concerns and requests and summarising well throughout. Ideally they should explain things in layman’s terms, so you as the buyer are involved in decisions in an informed way. Before you sign a contract, ask for three clients you can call and speak to independently as references, rather than just reading testimonials.
Once you’ve chosen your developer/designer, have regular meetings at milestones throughout your relationship. Agree invoicing only at sign-off at each point. Ensure you get copyright on designs and access to the finished project, and have an idea for how the relationship will work and what you need to do after the website launch. It’s a good idea to review successes, issues and results after the first four to six weeks after launch. You can then adapt the website to better suit your customers’ needs. Get support built into your initial contract/costings so you can get help on content management, tweaks, and other issues.
3. Research to reduce wasteage
The clearer the brief, the less a designer or developer can get it wrong. Time is money, and you don’t want them to have to endlessly re-do things.
It pays handsomely to bring your development team closer to you and your business from the start. Communication is king, so pick someone who can ask relevant questions, listen and interpret.
Look at competitors and “hero brands” within and outside your industry. Understand why their brand or website works well or not. Nick ideas for what might work for you, and avoid the rest. Make lists of the little features, functionality and finesses you have seen elsewhere, especially on the websites of major players. Consistencies in their layouts will be based on the best marketing practices, research, psychology and millions of pounds. Adopt, adopt, adopt. (And pop on your spec list in case your designer isn’t as well informed as you.)
TIP: Always run through your final shopping list with your developer and ask how much every item might add to project timescales and costs, to see if the value vs cost ratio is worth it.
4. Design for use, not awards
Convoluted website architecture takes time to build and can overcomplicate sites, eating away your budget as well as your visitors’ patience. There are infinite ways to drive to Edinburgh from London but you would probably only recommend going via motorway or major A roads (scenic route).
The easiest navigation on websites is almost always the best. Be helpful and provide clear signposts and shortcuts to critical information to break up a potentially long journey for website users.
Challenge a website specification. Make every page earn its keep. Kill it if it’s not relevant or visited, unless it’s got SEO, legal or other reasons to justify its existence.
Like of your website as like real estate. Give every inch a value based on its location and power – home page, scroll line, internal pages, top right – and decide what messages, products or services warrant top dollar positions. Focus is fundamental.
TIP: Ensure your site is SEO-friendly. Be prepared to optimize later using an expert, as these things are a precise science.
5. Design for longevity
A good website should be relevant, enticing and flexible. You want to be able to self-manage updates to it, to some extent. Businesses often get stung by developers who have sneakily tied companies into expensive long-term support for every tweak and change. Hidden costs are, quite frankly, hideous costs.
Have a view of what you might need or want to change in the future, and make sure the ability to change it from the start is built in – might you need to update product prices or add new staff profiles, for example?
If you were to start with a beautifully designed house but every month had to add on mismatched sheds, outbuildings and other unsightly carbuncles to your, you’d end up demolishing the whole lot at some point to start again. It’s a costly lesson to learn.
Work with your developer to understand the various “languages” and technical platforms available, and their advantages and disadvantages, so you can take an informed view. Fit for purpose is also fit for purses.
TIP: We’ve only a few times met a superb designer who is also a gifted marketer, talented technologist and incredible developer. They are a rare and beautiful thing so if you find one, keep them forever. Otherwise, on larger projects, consider a multi-skilled team.
Good websites get good engagement. Superb ecommerce sites see superb sales increases. Great companies get more-than-great recommendations.
Now you can go out and order exactly what you need, no more, no less.
Whether a Rolls Royce, Mini or Reliant Robin, your final vehicle will hopef
ully look, work and cost exactly what you planned.
Helen Buteux, is the director of D3 Marketing
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