Selecting a web developer is no-doubt one of the most challenging decisions to be made when starting a new business. There are so many options that it can be overwhelming to look at. There are also a growing number of free or very cheap options that can be tempting to the budget conscious. Then there are the over-priced options that do not make sense for most business owners regardless of budget. That is why I decided to write this article to go over what you need to look for and what you need to try your best to avoid.
I know some very smart people who have made unfortunate mistakes in this area that has cost them time and money. Read these 6 tips below so that you do not fall into the same trap!
Tip 1 – Resist the temptation to make your decision solely on price
We all love a good deal and most of us looking to get a website designed are no different. I also see that many times there are other expenses eating up the budget which puts even more pressure on getting the website done for as little as possible. Even understanding all of this I have another way I want you to look at this.
You are going into business to make money. Among all of the tools you have to make you money, your website is your most valuable. It is the face of your business and how you can communicate what you do to your prospective patients, customers, or clients. To put it simply, if your website is costing you money, then something is broken and needs to be fixed ASAP.
An effective website allows you to effectively connect with visitors while informing them about your services and/or products. It should be the primary way you make money.
You should be asking designers and agencies how & who they have helped do this. Specifically, how will they help you bring in more business than the cheaper options. Once you understand the difference between two things it is easier to justify paying more (but not too much) for better.
Below are some of the free and cheep options available today and the challenges that they present.
As of April 2016, Google trends shows that Wix is the most popular of these 3 options. All of these companies have free (ad supported) plans that allow you to quickly build your own website.
- Have your website up in ~15 minutes
- Many templates to choose from
- Hosting and domains can be managed in 1 place
- Free options come with unprofessional looking ads
- Websites are basic with limited functionality
- Limited customization options
While there is no doubt that these websites do work for some, the biggest problem is they are one size fits all solutions that do not work for many business owners who badly need to stand out from the pack. I look at these as nice toys but not a great fit for most of my clients.
Using GoDaddy’s website builder (and similar)
These builders were originally created so that a novice could have a website with no knowledge of HTML or CSS. They are basic in nature and that is a good thing for someone who is uninterested in a more complex (read functional) website. I personally do not like the wbesite builder as they have fewer themes than the options I mentioned above and the websites really feel cheap.
Large web development firm that advertises custom websites cheaply.
If you have been searching for a web developer you probably have come across these large companies that claim to do custom designs for less than $1000. 9 times our of 10, these companies are making minor changes to a template. The key to their business is volume. So the more of these $1000 templates they can squeeze out the better.
As you probably can imagine, the websites they provide are not personalized for your specific business or unique business challenges. It is also not uncommon that you will be charged extra for any requested personalization which adds to the bottom line price.
Tip 2 – Look out for big national brands that will treat you like a number.
In the world of dental website design there are a many large national brands attempting to get your business. A company like PBHS is a great example.
Companies like PBHS will sell you what they call a “semi-custom” template like the one I have pictured below for $5000. They essentially replace pictures and a couple of words and phrases from a template. See an example below of a website done by PBHS for a doctor here in Houston. The template is on the left and completed oral surgery website is on the right. Not very unique at all!
Another problem with this that many people do not think about is the problem of duplicate content. Copy any text from a PBHS designed website into google and you will find 100’s of websites with the same content. Google does not like this and penalizes websites that do hot have unique content.
Tip 3 – “Designers” care about looks.
Website designers are artists at their core and care primarily about how your website looks. These designers tend to be concerned about making your website unique, and visually stunning which in most cases is a good thing. Left alone, designers can take this too far.
In the process of trying to be as artistic as possible the whole point of your website can be missed. Did you decide to get a website because you wanted to see something pretty? No, usually not! You need a website because you want to showcase who you are, who your business helps, how you help them, and how they can get in touch with you.
More simply, your website should help you sell your product or service. Focusing on design too heavily causes you to loose focus of this core purpose. This doesn’t mean that visual design is unimportant. It does however mean that your visual elements on your website should not take away from what we know hurts the user experience.
For example, many people love picture sliders on their websites. They feel that these sliders allow them to show large beautiful pictures on their homepage and provide the ever so important “pop” we love. The truth is actually sliders are almost always a bad idea. Study after study have concluded that they are an annoyance to your visitors or at the very least, completely ignored. So why are we frustrating our visitors and wasting the largest amount of space on our homepage with a slider that will be ignored?
Having a website that is beautiful and unique is a great thing. Just remember to hire someone who is balanced.
Tip 4 – Make sure your website will be easy to update.
When you are making your hiring decision, you should ask how easy it will be to update small things like content and images in the future. Ask if they will provide a simple tutorial on how it is done. You do not want to have to call or email someone every time you need a small change or notice a typo.
This is made very simple today with the use of Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress. Your developer should be able to take all the ideas and inspiration that you have for a website and bring them to life. Once complete, you should be provided with a secure way to login to the backend and make changes.
Just as it is important to backup data on your computer, regular backups of your website is essential. This will protect you in the event you unintentionally break something.
Again, this is something that is assumed in most cases and only the most questionable of development firms will require you to contact them for every change. It is no doubt something worth bringing up just to be sure.
Tip 5 – Hire an agency that understands Internet Marketing
Having a website that no one knows about is like winking at someone in a dark room. You know what you are doing but nobody else does.
The most common problem that I come across when speaking to new clients is they do not have visitor traffic on their website. Over 70% of Americans look online (Google) to find businesses. In order to appear in the search results when someone performs a search you will most likely need to perform Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Part of SEO is how you organize and categorize your webpage so that Search Engines (like Google, Bing, and Yahoo) can present you appropriately. Naturally, the more competitive your industry, the more work you will have to do to outperform your competition.
Another method of getting traffic on your website is to utilize your existing connections though Social Media. Creating a business page and sharing pictures, videos, and information about what you are doing is essential in todays business world.
This tip is probably the most important of them all. Make sure you are working with developer who understands On-page SEO and Social Media integration from the beginning.
Tip 6 – Know what you are buying & watch out for hidden fees
A reputable developer will be clear about how they charging you and for what. There are many different ways you can be charged but the following 2 are the most common.
Monthly Lease: This is when you pay a monthly fee to your development company to host and maintain your website. In this model you never really own the website. The advantage to this model is the price will be significantly less expensive than the other options. The obvious downside is your website disappears if you stop paying your monthly fee.
1-Time Website Fee: This is when you pay a 1 time fee (or broken up into payments) to develop your website. In this model you typically own the website, content, and full rights everything. The advantage is you have total control of the website. You can move it if you like or even hire a new firm to manage it for you. The downside is this will be more expensive than the monthly lease.
Make sure you understand what you are being offered and what you own vs what you do not.
Another thing you can do is to follow up with some of the clients the developer has done work for in the past. They are a great resource for finding out what the experience will be like.
WARNING: I recommend that you NEVER loose control of your domain name.
No obligation & No Cost Website Offer
I would love to help you out if you are looking for a new website.
Let me make a mockup of your new custom website for free. There will be no pressure to sign or commit to anything.
This will give you a great idea of what you site will look like. If you love our design then we can work on the next steps.
If you do not love it, you can simply walk away and at least have a better idea of what you want (or do not want).