You’ve hit that point. You keep hearing about how important your web presence is to your brand and your marketing, and you know it’s time to build a website or revamp your current one. But, you feel like it’s hard to get a straight answer about what’s involved.
What does it mean to build a website for your business?
Let’s get the elephant out of the room first. Why not just sign up for a Squarespace or Wix account?
The short answer is that it depends a lot on what you’re looking to get out of your website. If you’re on a tight budget, mostly need a website for the basics (like your contact information and your hours of operation), or aren’t too worried about how distinct your site looks, then a website builder like Squarespace or Wix may truly be be a great option for now.
Buuuut…let’s say it’s time to make your business stand out. Maybe you launched your last website when Netscape was still a thing. Maybe you’re tired of being on the third page of Google search results. Maybe you never quite found the time to build a website at all.
But now you’re ready.
You want your website to demonstrate what sets you apart from your competitors. You want it to say something about your business ethic and your brand. Surely if you build a shiny new website, the business is going to come rolling in.
It’s time to ask your niece to build something for you, right? Or your buddy knows this great freelancer, why not give him a call? They’ll know all about SEO and sitemaps and design and Google Analytics and copy and —
It’s straight talk time. While it’s true there are some really great people out there doing work for hire, there are a lot of things going on in a well-constructed website, and each of them requires a good deal of time and expertise to master. If you want a website that’s going to look good AND be easy to use AND rank well on search, you’re looking for a unicorn to find one person who is an expert in all of those.
If you’re aiming for a website that’s distinct, professional, easy for both you and your clients to use, flexible across devices, and well-ranked on search engines, this is where a digital agency with a well-rounded staff really shines.
So, what should you expect when you sign up for a professionally-built website then? Well, here’s some highlights.
A needs analysis
This will figure out what purpose the website is fulfilling for your business and how best to structure it to reach your base. Depending on your situation and need, this could include a website audit (if you have a site already), keyword research, competitor research, and so on.
A site map
This details how the new site will be structured. It’s usually a chart showing the top-level (most important and prominent) pages planned, plus all key sub-pages presented where they would appear in the site’s menu.
The wireframes will show how each major page type will appear on the final site, including user experience details like the how the navigation will function. Wireframes determine the UX (user experience) of the website — what the hierarchy of information should be so they can find what they need, where (and what) elements should be included on a page, and what key messages need to be featured.
Visual Design/User Interface Design
This is where the aesthetic elements of the website are created and applied. The skeleton defined by the wireframes is dressed up with brand colours, typefaces, imagery, iconography, and any other assets that are required to define the overall look — and feel — of the website.
Hosting and domain registration
If you don’t already have these in place, you’ll be set up with a domain (the address of your website) and hosting (the place where all your site’s files live to produce a functional website).
This is all the content that will appear on your website, from what to say on your pages or what blogs posts to write, to what kinds of images or videos to put up, to how to say it all in a unified way that best represents your brand.
SEO (search engine optimization)
This is all the little details that affect how search engines read your site and decide where it should appear in their rankings.
The website build
This is the ‘code stuff’ where the design is turned into a fully functional, interactive website. Depending on your needs, it can include a custom theme, custom plugins, interactive details, or business-specific functionality (like a shopping cart, live chat, or region targeting). It should always include responsiveness so your site will work well no matter what device or web browser your audience uses to view it.
Once the website is built and you’ve pulled together all your content, then it’s time to combine the two.
A launch plan
This is all the things that will make sure everything goes smoothly at launch. If you already have a website, it will include a migration plan to ensure all the links pointing at pages on your old site still work and that you don’t lose any organic search traffic in the changeover.
This is where tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console come in so that you can measure search traffic, collect information about how people are interacting with your site, figure out conversion rates and all that good stuff.
This takes place in the days and weeks post-launch to ensure your new website is performing as expected.
A guide to your website
Because what good is a shiny new website if you can’t make heads or tails of it?
That’s a lot to keep track of! The good news is, if you hire the right agency, all of this will be documented in a detailed plan, and you’ll have regular check-ins to measure progress. In addition, they will help you identify the appropriate next steps to make sure your business can continue to build on your new digital foundation.
But let’s say you’re still leaning toward a DIY solution or a freelance web developer. These are valid options, though they do come with some risks. If you do choose to go that route, here are some considerations.
- Is the platform you choose (such as Squarespace or Wix) easy for you to use?
- If you’re going with a freelancer, is their preferred platform (ex: a content management system like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla) friendly to non-developers?
- Or does the freelancer use a CMS at all (ex: the website can only be updated by accessing the server and site files)?
Ease of Use
- At the end of the process, can you update the website yourself (ex: add pages, update text, post pictures or PDFs)?
- Or has the website been constructed with the assumption that the developer will be on retainer for routine updates?
- If you’re redeveloping your site, do you know how to set up redirects and prevent dead links so you don’t lose organic search traffic?
- Does the freelancer you’ve chosen?
- Are you, or do you have on staff, a person who is comfortable writing and is knowledgeable about what your base is looking for when they come to you?
- If you’re going with a freelancer, how are their writing skills?
- Are you confident they will ask the right questions about your audience to target them effectively?
- Platforms like Squarespace or Wix use templates, which means websites built with them will all look similar. Is that a drawback for you?
- If you’re going with a freelancer, do they have a diverse design portfolio? Or when you look at their previous clients, do their websites all look alike?
- How does the Squarespace or Wix template you’re considering look on a mobile phone or tablet? Is it still easy to use?
- How about the websites in a freelancer’s portfolio?
User Experience (UX)
- Do you know how to make a website easy to use for your clients?
- When you explore websites built by a freelancer, how easy do you find their websites to navigate?
- Do those websites anticipate questions you have about the business and put the answers front and centre?
- How do you plan on measuring how successful your website is?
- Are you comfortable setting up tools like Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager so you can collect performance data and adjust accordingly?
- Is the freelancer you choose comfortable with them?
- If someone else is setting up these resources for you, will you own the accounts or will they?
- If you need help interpreting what these tools are telling you, where can you go?
Living in an age where anybody can create a website is great (and let’s be honest, pretty empowering), but if your new website doesn’t create the right experience for your audience, it can be worse than not having a website at all.
Before you start throwing all your time and resources into a website, think about your goals. Equally importantly, think about whether or not you have what you need to create a site that will help you achieve those goals. Websites are one of those things that can be more expensive to fix than they would have been to do right in the first place. Why take that chance?