What do you want your website to do (and do you actually need one!)?
It’s almost a given that if you have a business, are starting a project or interest group, that you’ll need a website. However, before making a start, you should consider what the purpose of the site is. Does it need to drive sales or fundraising; does it need to raise awareness of your brand or project; is it to show that you or your organisation is professional? It’s probably a combination of these elements.
Before diving headlong into the process of creating a standalone website, with a personalised domain, you should consider if there are other alternatives that would fulfil your requirements. For example, many businesses, individuals and charities successfully engage with their markets using only a Facebook page, a Google My Business page, a LinkedIn Business page, or connect using other social channels such as Instagram and Twitter.
Quite often though, it’s a good idea to use these channels and compliment them by having a more static, solid base of information and your own website and domain will add authority to your brand or message. For example, I personally will often look for someone’s website information when viewing the ‘About’ section on their Facebook page. Without this, I can feel there is ‘something missing’ – particularly if it’s a business or charity. Sometimes, there isn’t time to maintain social channels and without constantly updating and pushing these, your message can get lost or your business or concern seems inactive.
What are the choices?
So, if you’ve decided you want to develop and online presence, what are the options?:
- Self-build websites such as Squarespace, Wix or WordPress
- Web and/or Design Agency
- Individual Designer
- None at all and use social channels (Facebook/Google business pages)
The self-build options are often advertised as ‘easy’, ‘drag and drop’, quick and simple to use. The reality is not always the case. You still need a reasonable level of technical skill and learning new systems can be time-consuming. While this option can be liberating and seem cost-effective there are things you should consider with this option. For example, from a technical perspective, I’ve come across Squarespace websites that have had no image optimisation applied – this means for poor load times and can potentially jeopardise user experience and can negatively affect your SEO. Additionally, while financially these options can seem attractive (£180/year for a Squarespace business package), you have to consider how much time you’ll be spending creating these websites. Is this the best use of your time?*
*I realise this all sounds a bit negative and the self-build option is definitely a consideration. I’ve seen plenty of great-looking self-built websites but the technical and time aspects are key factors. I’ve had a number of clients come to me who began down this route who realised it wasn’t for them.
- Relatively affordable
- Puts you in control
- Domain and hosting usually included in the package
- Will need a certain level of technical knowledge
- New users will face a learning curve
- Can be time-consuming
Finding the right web agency or design agency, and a correct match for you, is probably the biggest challenge with this option. When reflecting on a choice, you should consider if the agency has experience in your sector; what kind of costs or day rate they charge (making sure this is within your budget); whether you like the designs they’ve created within their portfolio; who you’ll be dealing with on a day-to-day basis and how easy it would be to communicate your ideas and any changes that might be required.
It’s also important to understand exactly what you’re getting for the money you’ll be paying. It will be necessary to receive a detailed breakdown of costs and services and for both parties to understand the process as well as what is and what isn’t included. Without this, you may feel dissatisfied when an agency pushes back or an agency may get disgruntled if they feel you’re taking advantage. Having a clear breakdown of services, costs and timings can help prevent misunderstandings as the project progresses. A good idea is for the agency to build some contingency into costings for unforeseen amendments and updates.
Depending on the size of the agency, one positive is that they should be able to provide all aspects of your web design. This could include creating content, providing the designs, hosting and managing your domain and email/IT as well as providing website and technical updates.
- Should be able to offer a full range of services
- Should have the capacity to handle larger projects
- Agency websites should give a good idea of creative abilities
- Could be the most costly option
- Knowing who’s actually creating your site
- On-going costs
Web Designer (individual)
Many of the considerations in finding an agency are also relevant when seeking an individual web designer. Obviously, you’ll be looking for someone who can both fulfil your technical requirements but also have a good eye for design. Through looking at their portfolio you should be able to see where their strengths lie, the scope of their projects and technical abilities.
With an individual it would be good to know their background and how they came to web design. Meeting with the designer means you’ll be able to get a personal feel for the individual and have any questions answered.
- Likely to be more cost-effective than an agency
- You know that their portfolio is a reflection of their work (with an agency there might be different designers with varying styles)
- Only one person to deal with means you can more easily get your ideas, messages and feedback communicated
- May not be able to provide a full package and might have to outsource
- You’re reliant on one person
- Will have less capacity for larger projects
The above choices and descriptions broadly deal with how to choose the path for how your website is designed and created. Presuming you’ll be creating a new website and not just a social presence, there are some other things you should consider before deciding on one of these routes.
Who will maintain and update your site?
If you’ve chosen to create the site yourself using one of the self-build options, you shouldn’t have a problem with the technicalities of updating the site. However, you need to be aware of how much time this might take and, again, whether this is the best use of your time. If you’ve chosen to create a site through an agency or web designer, are you easily able to use the technology used in the build of the site? For example, I build my client websites using WordPress and a theme that includes an intuitive page builder. However, I quite often have to provide some level of training in order for my clients to update the content. Another option would be to pay a retainer to the agency/designer to maintain and update your site.
Monitoring your site
Will it be a requirement to keep an eye on the traffic to your site, the kind of visitors and locations, sources?
Using a tool like Google Analytics should give you all the information you require and it can be integrated into SquareSpace or a WordPress website.
Is your site effective and are you open to feedback?
Once you understand where your website visitors are coming from and how long they’re spending on your site it might be a good idea to understand their experience. Were they easily able to find the information they required? Were they impressed or disappointed? Would they come back? Understanding their experience will help you to implement improvements to your site. You might contact your clients with these questions or automate something on the site itself.
Driving traffic to your site
Once you’ve got your site live you’ll obviously need to let people know about it! As well as publicising your site through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc you may want to consider paying for Google Ads. Your new website isn’t likely to be visible in natural results (see SEO below). However, you are able to target certain ‘keywords’ and get your site visible in search engines. Depending on the popularity of the keyword, you’d then pay each time someone clicked the keyword search ad link to your site. A similar technique can be used in Facebook with a scary amount of demographic targeting available. Looking to attract well-earning vegan vets in Vauxhall? Not a problem!
Another option to stay engaged with visitors and sign them up for updates, blogs or offers. With the permission of the visitors, you can then build a database of followers and more easily stay connected.
Optimising your site
As well as making a website that looks great and is functional there are also considerations with regards to speed and security. You’ll want a site that’s fast (for user experience and SEO) both on desktop and mobile devices. This can involve optimising images, code and choosing a suitable hosting package. The self-build options will include hosting and will automatically create image size variations. However, optimising the output of your images before uploaded is recommended. A web agency or designer will be able to offer or advise as to the best hosting for your requirements. You should also make sure they offer an SSL certificate (meaning your site will appear as https and not http). This is now common practice and should be implemented by default. It is particularly important if you’re creating an eCommerce website.
This is obviously relevant to the initial design as well as an ongoing consideration. Will you be providing the images and text yourself or will you require the services of writers, illustrators or photographers? This is also relevant to SEO (below) as the content of the site needs to be considered when targeting certain keywords. If you approach an agency they’ll either have staff members who can provide these services or have outsourced contacts. Similarly, an individual web designer is likely to have experience collaborating with other professionals to provide these services. As well as the initial content for the site you’ll also have to consider who’ll be responsible for keeping the site up-to-date and whether the site will need regular updates such as a blog or news section.
As mentioned, your new website won’t initially rank highly after its initial launch. However, there are some key strategies you can put in place to help begin to gain natural ranking.
An initial step would be to carry out some keyword research. There’s no point ranking well for a particular keyword if no one is searching for it! For example ‘vegan vets in Vauxall’ is showing 0-10 monthly searches, whereas ‘London vet’ is showing 100-1k monthly searches. There are free tools to research keywords including Google’s available for free with a Google Ad account.
Making sure your site loads quickly; is optimised; secure; has a good structure; is marked up with good titles and meta descriptions; is linked to and from relevant and authoritative websites and is connected to social channels are all considerations. Here’s a useful beginners guide that outlines the basics.
If it’s extremely important to gain position in the natural rankings quickly, you may have to consider employing an SEO expert. Again, agencies and individual designers may offer this service. If not you should be able to search for one!
A shorter version of this item has appeared on Brighton’s Good Business Club blog.