Who should build your website?
Building a website is easy. Painfully easy. Anyone can do it. That’s a fact. Tools like Jimdo, WordPress, Weebly, SiteKreator and Synthasite provide everything you need to ensure your business has a professional web presence.
Building a website that’s easy to maintain and helps your business meet its long-term goals, though? That can be a completely different animal. It’s not to suggest that these tools won’t work for you. They will, at least for simple sites. But what separates the men from the boys regardless of the development tool is a professional approach focused on you, your customers and how to benefit both.
So what should you look for in someone to build your site? Here are the things that matter most:
Your business needs
- Does the person you’re looking at understand your business needs? Have they worked with your type of business before? While it’s not critical that they’ve built sites in your industry before (and sometimes it’s preferable to get a fresh approach), what is important is they have a process for learning about your business needs. It can be called discovery, business analysis or – my personal favorite – “uncovery.” But the process matters.
- Does the person or team you’re working with understand user behavior? Worry about folks who say, “all customers act exactly the same way.” While it’s true that there are common types of behaviors and common types of purchase funnels, without detailed knowledge of your customers, of your business, they could be heading down the wrong path. I have seen many similarities in the behaviors of customers on such diverse sites as web-based training, financial services, hotel reservations (economy through luxury), retail, news, blogs and restaurants. Don’t be surprised if your customers act just like those in a completely different industry. But sometimes subtle differences have huge business impact. The discovery process should take into account the needs of your customers as much as the needs of your business. (And if you think your business needs outweigh your customer needs, you might want to rethink your business).
- Does the person or team have the time, resources and knowledge to accomplish your project? Getting off to a strong start is important, sure. But finishing is better. Make sure you – and your vendor – leave enough time for (regardless of what they call it) project definition, design, development, testing and deployment. For a simple site, this can take as little as a few weeks. For a larger one, you might be looking at months. But the process takes time to do it right. Give yourself that time and you’ll reap the rewards.
Your technical needs
- Does the vendor understand meaningful analytics for your business? Obviously, your vendor needs to know web analytics. But do they know how to apply those to your business?
- Does the person or team you’re working with understand search engine optimization (SEO) practices? Search engines often represent significant sources of new traffic for business – if your site is set up correctly to capture that traffic. Creating an appropriate site structure, finding the right terms, and writing quality content and page titles all represent the types of activities necessary for ensuring your site shows up in the right searches. Does your vendor know how to do this? (Don’t just ask them if they do, get them to show examples of work that ranks well. And run away if they “guarantee the first position.” They’re lying).
- Does the vendor use web standards? Have they even heard of them? Following web standards – whether industry standards like building valid HTML and CSS, or legal standards like Section 508 compliance – help ensure that your site will work for the longer term and make it easier for you to switch vendors later if you’re unhappy with their performance.
Your financial needs
- Does the vendor charge a reasonable amount relative to the return you’ll receive? A (very) rough rule of thumb is that a well designed site should cost anywhere between 0.5% to 2% of the revenues it generates. The cost of your site depends on several factors:
- How much content needs developing
- How many customers the site needs to support at one time
- How many back end systems the site needs to integrate with
- How much research you put into the discovery process
- How much custom work your developer does vs. how much “off-the-shelf” is available
Make sure you understand what you’re paying for in each step of the process. If the person claims “it’s too complicated” or “you wouldn’t understand,” send them packing.
Your human needs
- Do you like the people? While you can definitely get good results from people you don’t like – unfortunately, the reverse is also true – why accept the heartburn of working with people you just don’t like? Ideally, the developer of your site is as invested in its success as you are. If they don’t care, if they don’t accept that responsibility, if they rub you the wrong way, keep looking. Life is too short to waste with people you don’t like. And your business is too important to trust to those folks.
- What support do they provide you when things go wrong? It’s a sad fact. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we’d like them too. What levels of support is the developer willing to provide you? Make sure you each have a clear understanding of what is – and is not – included. Nothing contributes to changing “I like these guys” to “I hate these guys” more than misunderstandings around how to handle the unexpected. So answer that question right up front.
Your brand/aesthetic needs
I saved this one for last. It’s very easy to get “wow-ed” by a pretty design. But a pretty design doesn’t always work as a website if the designer can’t meet the standards above. Definitely look for people who get your brand, who reflect your vision of the site. But save that as the final test. Then you’ll be sure you get a brand-focused and attractive site that also works for your business.
I realize this is a long list, with lots of detail. But your business is worth it. In fact, is there anything missing from the list above? Are there things that have worked for you? Please tell us about it in the comments.
Note: Really large, high-volume sites requiring significant overhaul could take a year or more to redesign. Do yourself a favor. Chunk that development into components or “phases” that can roll out every 3-6 months. Release early. Release often. Drawn out development processes don’t work. So don’t do that. ;-)