by Susan Murphy
At least a couple of times a week, I am contacted by someone who is in dire straits with their web site. They have fallen victim to a web designer who has turned their online presence into a downright mess. They are stuck with low quality design, obsolete technology and a ton of extra, hidden expenses.
Now, I know plenty of great web site designers and developers. Jester Creative is proud to work regularly with many very talented and highly skilled web professionals. But I’m astounded at how many so-called “Web Design Companies” are still getting away with shilling out high priced, substandard web services.
If you’re in the market for a new web site, or you’re looking for someone to help you freshen up your online presence, then I hope the following guidelines will be useful to you in choosing the right web professional for the job.
Always get an estimate in writing. Any reputable web company will offer you a free initial consultation (by phone or in person) and a complete estimate. Be wary of companies who try to sell you on a fixed price without understanding your full requirements or worse, tell you that they work on a “per page” rate. Every web site is different, and it’s important that you work with your web designer from the beginning to create a comprehensive set of requirements and features for your site.
Watch for Hidden Costs. There is nothing wrong with paying your web company to perform maintenance and update content on your site. It can save you plenty of time and worry, and be worth every penny. But be wary of companies that want to charge you every time you need to update your site. I’ve even heard of companies charging up to $100 per update, just to update simple text! A proper maintenance package should be based on a monthly fee that allows up to a certain number of hours of the web company’s time for maintenance and content updates. Be wary of anyone who wants to charge you per update.
These days, there are lots of terrific tools that enable you to have a really great web site that you can update yourself. These tools are called Content Management Systems (CMS). Many CMS systems are free, like WordPress and Drupal, and once your web designer has programmed your site on a CMS, you can easily go in and update content yourself, without having to be a web site programming expert. This is a great option for business owners who want to be able make simple updates on their own, like adding a blog post, updating contact information, or even adding a new page to the site. You should have the option to modify your own content when you want to. Be sure to ask any web company you’re considering if they have experience with industry standard Content Management Systems like WordPress and Drupal. If they don’t, then you may want to look elsewhere.
Search Engine Optimization is part of the deal. Sometimes I get in trouble for this one, because there are a lot of self-proclaimed “SEO Experts” out there. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a set of techniques that assist in getting your web site to rank higher in search engines like Google, when people search on related keywords. It’s important to the success of your site, but it isn’t some big expensive mystery.
For the average small to medium sized business, doing SEO goes with the territory of producing good web site content. If you are paying your web site design company to develop content for you too, then SEO should be included in their service. If they are trying to pitch it as an “add on” service that costs a lot more, then be sure to ask lots of questions about specifically what they will be doing for your SEO. If it seems at all gimmicky or overpriced, use caution. It never hurts to get a second opinion, either.
Have a budget in mind. Web site prices are extremely wide-ranging, from a couple or few thousand dollars for a simple site right up to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for a large scale site. Don’t let that big price range scare you, but do put some thought into what you can afford before you start calling for quotes. We tell our clients that a web site is always a work in progress. We like to take a phased approach to web projects, to get you up and running for what you can afford now, and then look at what features we can add down the road once the site starts to pay off for you. Most reputable web companies will do the same. A phased approach not only allows you to budget more easily, but it also keeps your site fresh for your customers – adding new, exciting features and content over time.
The bottom line. A web site is a big investment, so it’s important to feel comfortable that you are getting your money’s worth. If you’re looking around for a good web design company, start by talking to people you know whose web sites you like. Get referrals. Go to the company’s web site and look at some of their past projects. Is their style in line with your vision? Contact the company and ask questions about their specific development process – what will be the steps involved in putting together your site? Ask for a written estimate, and always ask for references. Work with a web company that you can establish a long-term relationship with, one that you can work with to grow, expand and manage your online presence as your company grows. That will ultimately benefit your bottom line AND your customers.
[photo credit: lastquest on Flickr]