Remember the infographic we did a while back on the pitfalls of web design and development? Well, we feel so passionately about the subject that we decided to flesh it out into an essay. It highlights some very important steps which are often overlooked by first-timers but which are very important to the success and longevity of your new web site – not to mention keeping that luscious head of hair you have a grey-free zone.
So you’ve got your business up and running. Congratulations! The supplies are stored, the feed is on its way and you’ve got your little cousin in charge of grooming and tending the stock. But the live ferret home delivery industry is a competitive one, and your company is going to need a strong web presence in order to stay ahead of the opposition. At the core of your online presence is a commercial website and so like everyone else at this point in the game you start looking into web design. Having dealt with literally hundreds of new enquiries from new businesses and startups, there are a few things you hear too many times to ignore. Unfortunately most of the time people are telling what a hard time they had with their last designer / developer / friend. In order to hopefully mitigate some of these issues we thought we’d write about some of the most common web site pitfalls we hear about and hopefully before you know it, Ferrets 2 Your Door will be a household name!
Ready to get your hands dirty? Good. The first step begins before you even turn on your computer. Establish the purpose of your website – determine why you need it, who is going to use it and how you can make the layout of the website appeal to your target market. Remember that your web site is both a tool for your business and the face of it, which should project professionalism and relevance to your clients. This means that it is imperative to balance good design with core functionality, ensuring that everything works smoothly and intuitively. If you get this balance wrong, you’ll end up with the model home from Arrested Development, a site that looks good but lacks plumbing that works and appliances that do what you need them to do. How this applies to you is whether you’re speaking to a designer or a developer or both and understanding each role.
The first thing to be wary of is what we call the $500 website, offering to build you a site for a small upfront payment. While these can be tempting, especially for small businesses with limited budgets, these companies often make their profits through hidden contracts and ongoing fees and charges while offering you limited to no back end access. The last thing we want is for www.ferrets2yourdoor.com to be owned by a third party who is charging you through the nose every month. Thankfully there are less of these all the time but it still happens. The bottom line is own your IP and your IP (intellectual property) applies to every aspect of your brand and web site.
Done? Excellent, let’s move on to safety and security. It’s a big, scary world out there and there is no shortage of people that would like to take your money. One way to avoid a lot of hassle is owning your own domain name – letting someone else handle it is like giving them the security code to your office, or the keys to your ferret farm. More than 70% of people who have tried to change their domain’s ownership have encountered problems, so it’s worth your while to own the name from the outset. Crazy Domains, Go Daddy, or Net Registry are some options of domain name registrars when setting up your new domain name – they are all straightforward and reliable, as well as competitively priced.
Okay so your domain is set up, you’ve got a design (or at least a concept) and you’ve chosen a reliable hosting plan within your company’s budget. It’s time to get stuck in to choosing who will handle the technical side of creating your site from the ground up, and the tools that they are using. You’ll find after only a little bit of Googling that you’re confronted with a few options here. This step is crucial to making your new website commercially successful and here are a few general tips:
Avoid using your IT-savvy friend from university who you met when he took Ferret Marketing 101 as an elective. Using someone new to the market will be cheap, but you’ll generally end up with a site that is quite basic (if it ever makes it off the ground) and lacks the potential to reach a greater market online. Even if the website is ship-shape, just wait until something goes wrong in peak ferret sales season and your developer is taking a holiday in the Bali. A better option (should you choose this path) would be hunting down a professional freelance developer, but make sure that you have provided clear guidelines and have agreements in place to stop them going AWOL. It also pays to see who else they’ve worked with and by all means chat to some of these people and see how their experience went.
The other option is a development team, which may sound like a more reliable option, but has its own set of challenges. What is their development process? What sites have they developed in the past? Do they outsource overseas to a country that doesn’t even have ferrets? Take what the sales team say with a healthy dose of skepticism, and find out as much information as you can before giving them the green light. Even the best web development teams might miss some aspects of the interface, so make sure you test the ‘finished’ product thoroughly yourself before you give the orders for the site to go live.
As you probably know, trends and fashions on the world wide web travel at breakneck speed, and as your business grows it’s important to keep your clients updated on your latest offers, services or products. If you want to be in charge of updating your website’s content, then you’ll need to wrap your head around the different Content Management Systems (CMS) out there and whether the development agency you have chosen uses an open-source or proprietary CMS. Being stuck with a developer that uses proprietary CMS means that the development team are the only ones that can make deep code changes to the CMS which can limit what you can change in the future as well as cause delays in getting new content out there.
The far better alternative is an open-source CMS such as WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. These services provide a surprisingly powerful tool with a wealth of free support documentation for all users and are very simple to learn to use. One in five sites on the world wide web currently use WordPress and the percentage is increasing every year – check out the site for your favorite café or small business, there’s a strong chance they’ve used WordPress.
Cool! You’ve now got a website, and if you’ve listened to us carefully, it should flow intuitively, it should look good, it should be easy to update and it shouldn’t be costing you an arm and a leg to maintain. Now is the time to take a break from development and form a long term strategy which will keep your site looking fresh and that integrates social media marketing – which is a whole other world to try and wrangle. A good place to start is looking at your competition’s presence on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook, which each require unique strategies to maximize your reach.
Designing and building your first commercial website needn’t be arduous. It’s an adventure and one that you will probably repeat with more confidence each time you do it. Ensuring that you take some time to think about the long term when starting out, you can set yourself up for a solid online marketing schedule in the future. By reading this article, you’re already a few steps ahead of most would-be first time website builders and hopefully you can stay a few steps ahead of the classic traps and pitfalls out there.