The world of web design and development can be confusing, and at first glance it often appears to be extremely overwhelming. It can be difficult to determine where to start, and how to go about developing a plan of attack for your business' website. If you prepare yourself before hand then it will make the task a lot easier. Believe it or not, you might actually have fun and learn a few things along the way. As a web developer myself, I have put together a summary of the process that I hope will help you out with your new online venture.
Do Your Research
As with any business venture, you should always do your research.Some of the best research you can do is to simply browse the web and see what websites you like.
What do you like about these sites? What don't you like about these sites? Pay attention to all the different features the websites have as well. Do they have an online store? Do they have a News or Blog section? Think about all of the different pieces that you could possibly use on your own website.
Determine Your Needs
In order to make the web design process as smooth as possible, determine and outline exactly what you need. There are countless types of websites, and having set goals in mind will help you and your web designer create a website that accomplishes these goals.
Websites can be simple, with just a few pages, including what your business does and how to contact you. On the other hand, some websites are extremely in-depth and can feature online stores (eCommerce), forums, blogs and news among other things.
If you work with a tighter budget, you might want to opt for a simpler site. However, if you are more flexible with your budget then there are plenty of additional options you can incorporate. If you want to sell physical goods then talk to your web design company about creating an eCommerce site. If you want to update your site with News, ask about including a blog section on your site.
Gather Your Content
Now that you have determined just what you need to include on your website, you should start gathering and organizing all of your content. Break it down page by page.
For example, do you want to include an intro paragraph on your homepage? Start writing it out now.
Do you want to include a section about your company history somewhere? Start writing that down as well, and also don't forget to gather pictures and images that you might want to include too.
More Research – Web Design Companies
Now that you have some goals laid out, you need to do more research (I know, how exciting, right?). There are thousands of web design companies out there, and for every good one, there are probably several that might not be your best choice. Things to consider when looking for a good company include the following:
- Reviews – Does the company have a lot of positive reviews? Try typing their name into Google and see what you can find. If they seem to have a lot of good testimonials from existing clients, then that is a great sign. If they have mixed or mostly poor reviews, you should probably consider a different company.
- The Company's Website – Does the company's own website look and function well? Does it appear to be up to date? If so, then that is a good sign. If the website seems out of date or their are parts that don't seem to work correctly, then this is definitely a bad sign. If they can't even keep up with their own website, how do you expect them to manage yours?
- Their Portfolio – Take a look at their Web Design portfolio. Do they provide links to the sites they have built? If so, take a look at the other sites they built and see if they are quality sites. If they don't provide links to the sites in their portfolio, you can contact them and ask for some live examples before choosing them.
- Pricing - Some companies offer upfront pricing, however a lot of them require you to contact them to receive a custom quote. Never be afraid to ask for a quote. Also, beware of companies that promise to build you a custom website for extremely low prices. If you see a price that seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. Don't get stuck with a $99 website that doesn't fulfill your needs.
Now is the time you should review all the information you have researched about the various web design companies. Contact as many as you would like, and talk with them about your needs. Never be afraid to ask a question and always provide them with as much information as you can. Good communication between the client and the web designer is essential to creating a successful website.
Moving Forward with a Company
Once you are satisfied that you have done enough research and have found the company to work with, there are still a few considerations. Do you need to register a domain name? A domain name is the actual address of your website, your-site.com. Registrations for Domains should be around $10/year. You also need somewhere to store your website so everyone can access it. This is called hosting. Hosting prices can vary quite a bit. If your web design company doesn't supply you with hosting, then you should shop around and compare prices. And as always, read the reviews!
Okay okay, enough with the technicalities… Well, almost. The first step to actually working with a company should be: sign a contract. The web design company should provide you with a contract that includes a cost estimate and breakdown, the deliverables, and information regarding revisions, changes, etc. Read the contract very carefully, and make sure everything that you need and agreed upon is included in writing.
Now the fun part finally begins! After talking with your web designer, they should have a clear understanding of your wants and needs, in both design and functionality. The hard part for you is over, and the work now rests in the web designer's hands. Although every company handles the design phase a little differently, there are a few things they should provide you with. They should be in contact with you in regards to the design, and supply you with proofs. These proofs will be non-functioning designs for your website. You can then review these and give feedback, until you are satisfied with the overall design. Once the design is approved, the web developers will start putting it all together and making everything work.
The company should keep you updated throughout the process and let you know the current status of your project. Upon completion, your website will be live!
SEO, HTML5, Social Media… What is all of this stuff??
The web is an ever changing place with constant new and improved technologies. Along your journey you'll probably encounter a lot of terms, phrases and acronyms that leave you scratching your head. I will cover some that you are likely to encounter.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
We all use Search Engines (Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc) to find things we are looking for on the internet. When you create your own website, you want people to be able to find it in the search results so that way people will visit your site. SEO is the practice of helping your website appear higher in the search results for your desired keywords and phrases. Many web design companies will also offer SEO plans or packages to get you started. If not, they can usually refer you to a reputable company. A good website should be built so that it is already "search engine friendly." Ask your web designer if they build their websites with SEO in mind.
As with web designers, there are also both good and bad companies to deal with. SEO is a term that a lot of people use loosely. If you do decide that you want someone to help you with your SEO efforts, again, do your research! Find as many reviews as you can about the company before going with them, also check to see if they have any case studies. Make them prove to you that they will actually help your website do better in the search results!
I'm sure you have heard the buzz about Twitter, and you probably already have a Facebook account to keep up with your friends and family. These two services are the tip of the Social Media iceberg.
By utilizing Social Media, websites like Facebook and Twitter for example, you can help communicate with your clients and customers and receive valuable feedback. You can also help build and strengthen your business' brand online.
One important thing to watch out for is people trying to upsell you on these types of services. Not every site necessarily needs a Twitter account. If you have someone helping you with Social Media, be sure to ask them why you need what they're telling you and exactly how it is going to help your business.
HTML5 and CSS3 are all the rage right now in the world of web design and development. HTML and CSS are the basic building blocks for a website. They determine the actual appearance and layout of a website. HTML5 and CSS3 are the newest versions. Unfortunately, not all web browsers can display all the goodness that HTML5 and CSS3 can provide. If your web design company uses these two technologies then that is a good sign that they are keeping up with the times, but also be sure to ask if your website will still appear and function correctly in older browsers. Testing a website in all of the current browsers is referred to as Cross Browser Compatibility, and it is a necessity when building a website.
Web 2.0 is a term that has been around for a couple years now and although you don't hear it as much, you still might from time to time. The funny thing is, there is no such thing as "Web 2.0" or "Web 2.0 compatibility". It is a term that was first used to describe how the web had changed and grown over time. Old websites used to be static, with limited to no user interaction. The web of today allows users to not only interact, but also supply their own content, leave feedback and really be a part of this entire network of information known as the internet. You may hear designers throw around terms like "Web 2.0 Style" or "Web 2.0 Design," but to be honest, there is no such thing. So if you hear someone using this phrase over and over, it might be a warning flag that they are trying to pull one over on you.
As I mentioned, way back in the intro, the world of web design can be a very intimidating one. However, if you arm yourself with knowledge then you should have nothing to fear. There are a lot of wonderful website design companies that would love to help you with your website. So take a deep breath, do your research, and start working on your very own web presence today!
Do you still have any questions? Did I forget to cover something here? Use the comment section below!
Ryan Cowles is a WordPress / Front End Developer living in Los Angeles, California. Along with a passion for building creative websites, he also enjoys photography, design, travel and the great outdoors.