Overview of the Website Design Sector
As more firms become dependent on sales leads generated from their website, so good website design becomes more critical. Business websites need to be simple, clear, search engine friendly, functional, compliant and usable. Yet, finding a good website designer to achieve a good design can be challenging for business owners with limited knowledge of web design issues and Internet technologies.
A typical 'brochure-based' company website is one that summarises and illustrates a companies products and services. There is no shortage of online business listings of website design companies to create these sorts of websites. Virtually anyone can advertise and advertise themselves a web designer. So to help you qualify which company to contact, here is our guide to how to choose a good website design company and what good website design involves....
The first step should be to invest at least some time defining your business needs and requirements. Written goals and success criteria will help you explain to potential suppliers what you are looking for and what you expect from them. Do you need e-commerce shopping basket capability or perhaps even a bespoke application developed? Many suppliers will advertise website design computing and IT services on a 'packaged basis'. Lots of business owners use this easy option and do not always bother to qualify what they want the website to do. Packaged deals are fine for new business start-ups who simply need someone else to take away the hassle of sorting out hosting, domain name transfers and the setting up a database or connecting a content management system.
What happens when things go wrong? Is it clear who is responsible for the maintenance process? Does the web designer expect you to write all of your own content or do they provide a copywriting service? Having direct contact with sales and support staff is helpful to answer these sorts of questions. Finding a trustworthy, local designer can be hugely beneficial when agreeing and documenting a requirements specification, proposal and quotation.
Before you visit a potential web design company, check out any online reviews and look at their own website. Be sceptical of glossy sites that offer huge discounts. Look for feedback from other clients in forums to help avoid rogue operators. Bear in mind many online forum posts tend to be negative and may not give a balanced picture. Take a bit of time reading through the list of services they offer on their website. Look for customer testimonials and links to reference sites. Make sure there is a postal address, registered company number and support telephone number. Without these basics, it is likely their support capabilities are weak or ad hoc. Web designers may need to be contacted out of hours and be able to access your hosting account and content management system.
Once you have a clear idea of your marketing objectives, and you have short-listed a couple of credible and well-organised web design companies, the next step is to agree the design itself. Web design is a highly creative and subjective process. Most graphic designers or flash designers can advise you on aesthetic multimedia designs that compliment or enhance any existing company colours, logos, slogans and corporate branding you may have. Yet effective web design involves a lot more than making the website look 'pretty'. When speaking with potential suppliers, quiz them on the following web design issues...
To rank well any website needs to be 'search engine friendly'. This is accomplished by being designed using the latest website standards to make it accessible for modern browsers across different platforms. A website must be usable and easy to navigate. The home page needs to have a clear call to action with key information summarised using bullet points. The overall page layout needs to be consistent and familiar. Most modern web design uses cascading style sheets (CSS) to provide a flexible and fast loading experience. Indeed, page loading time is one major search engines use to measure the quality of the end-user experience. Uses hate slow loading web pages.
Ask your potential supply how they test their design against W3C and HTML5 standards. This helps to ensure the HTML source code will render across multiple browsers and on different sized platforms (such as tablets and smart phones). Similarly, ask suppliers whether any proposals they offer includes a responsive or 'fluid' web design. Responsive web design includes having a layout that can adjust itself depending upon the screen resolution, platform size, browser type and orientation of a handheld device.
More tablets sold now than personal computers. So it is vital users can view any design on a smaller screen with a different resolution using any browser they choose. Ask suppliers about whether any HTML templates they offer include Schema.org mark up. Schema mark-up helps identify the nature of your content so that search engines can make sense between topics and sections of textual content.
If the marketing goal is to generate leads from the website, ask potential suppliers what search engine optimisation services they may offer. These may or may include writing highly relevant and unique content. For small firms, it may be tempting to employ the services of a professional copywriter to ensure appropriate use of English grammar. Yet only you know better than a copywriter or marketing consultant what your business can do and why it is special. If you plan to turn out all of the text yourself, make sure it is unique and highly relevant to your business. Never copy and paste from somewhere else on the web.
Similarly, many web designers may offer a links management services. These may involve attempting to increase the number and quality inbound links to your website and generating conversation and interest across social networks. These are important ranking factors that form the basis of creating a search engine friendly design. However, be especially sceptical about claims from potential suppliers regarding 'guaranteed' rankings. Instead, focus ruthlessly on the end-user experience. It is just as necessary that your prospective customers can access and navigate around your company website and have a clear understanding what it does. Depending upon your business you may have a lot of imagery and graphics to include in the design. Image and video are great at capturing the imagination of your customers. Therefore, check with potential suppliers how they intend to optimise your images so that the images load and render effectively and can be understood by search engines. Images should have a Title tag and an ALT tag, physically condensed, resized and positioned sensibly amongst highly relevant textual content.
Lastly, there is usually a lot of overlap between the services offered by web designers and online marketing firms listed in an online business directory.