Why not use a template based website instead of hiring an expensive designer?

Why use a template based website?

Good question, actually there are good reasons for each of the above options. I encourage people to use low cost template solutions all the time even though I am an “expensive designer”.

It really all comes down to business priorities related to the following two items

Business Image

A well designed, custom website really goes a long way towards establishing you as a successful, professional business, while a template website always looks like a template website.

Budget

Sometimes the custom designed website is out of your budget, and in that case a template based website is better than no website at all.

We can approach this question from the other side as well and ask “when would a template based website be the best solution for me and my business?”

Top 5 Indicators That a Template Based Website Is For Me.

  1. I print my business cards on my desktop printer using perforated sheets.
  2. I have been known to show up to business meetings in flip-flops.
  3. My business is just starting out and we barely have enough money to turn on the lights.
  4. Our competitors strive to be the best, our goal is to be the cheapest.
  5. My 12 year old designed our logo in MS Paint.

Okay, that was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the point I am making is that sometimes business image takes a backseat to other, more important priorities like budget. Many very successful businesses never think twice about business image and who am I to argue with their success? But if you are interested in standing out from your competition and making the best impression possible, then a custom designed website is the way to go.

Real Cost

When you put it in perspective the price of a custom designed website is not so much for an item that you buy once and own forever. The cost of the average custom designed website amortized over 5 years comes out to around $60 a month, many businesses spend much more than that every month for print advertising.

Feel free to use our “Get a quote” tab above to see how our prices compare to a template based website. There is no obligation or high pressure sales tactics involved.

Set your website on fire

5 Tips to Increase Web Traffic

All too often businesses get their new websites designed and then forget about them and expect them to do the rest. Business people sometimes assume that if a website doesn’t take off, that the web designer hasn’t done his job correctly, that may be true in some cases, but for a website to really excel it needs to be treated like a high maintenance girlfriend. Here is my list of the top 5 things you can do to set your website on fire and increase web traffic.

  • Blog – This brings us back to the old cliche about content being the ruling monarch or some other such drivel, the point is that your content is everything. Good wordy content drives search engine ranking up, it also encourages people to spend time on your site and it motivates visitors to return to your site again and again. Blogging is the best way for a website owner to add content to a website regularly and tools like RSS help disseminate that information and increase web traffic too. Set a schedule and stick to it, one new entry a week, or a day or whatever works with your schedule.
  • Inbound links – Probably as important to website ranking as good text content is inbound links, that is links on other sites that point to your website. There are a myriad places online where one can get linked. Online directories related to your local area or your particular industry, reciprocal links, blog comments and discussion forums. It takes more time and patience than anything else to find these places and get linked, but your efforts will be rewarded as your search engine ranking rises. Search engines aside, inbound links are good for the traffic they naturally generate too.
  • Social networking – Another great way to increase web traffic is to get your business on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and other social networking websites. Be aware though that simply creating a presence on these sites is not enough, you need to contribute to these communities by connecting to others and posting relevant information. There are tools available now that will connect many blog systems to your social networking account, so for example, when I post this article to my blog it will also appear automatically on my Facebook and LinkedIn account. This saves time posting to a lot of different sources and makes short work of keeping all your online marketing efforts up to date. Other tools of use in this area are sites like hootsuite that can post to various social networking sites at once.
  • Email newsletter – Implementing an email newsletter is another good way to increase traffic. This is fairly inexpensive to add to your website and can bring great returns because once you are set up it costs you nothing to send out as many of these as you have names in your database. If you are going to set an email newsletter up on your website take the time to schedule a time each month (or whatever schedule you want to keep) to write and send out your newsletter, a newsletter system that doesn’t get used is money wasted.
  • Mix things up – A static site does not encourage repeat visitors, update your website frequently. This is especially true of your home page, at least once a year you should change the look of your home page. This gives the impression that your company is active and will encourage people who have been to your site before to spend some time digging deeper to see what else has changed often times reading information that has been there for a long time.

A well designed, well thought out website can do a great deal on its own, but to really excel it needs care and nurturing. This doesn’t need to be expensive, in fact all of the above suggestions you can do yourself, you just have to make the time. The time spent will pay off when you see an increase in your web traffic.

Any other ideas? What have you done to make your website take off? Leave comments below.

Is your web designer right for you?

Is your web designer frustrating you?

Take this simple quiz.

  • Is your web designer offering you a custom design?
    Some web designers charge you like you’re getting a custom web design, then give you a template. There is a huge difference in price and quality, if you are getting a template design the price should reflect that.
  • Does your web designer create web standards compliant code?
    Designing your website to meet current web standards ensures that your site not only looks good on current web browsers, but will most likely continue to look great on future web browsers too.
  • Will your web designer’s code be search engine friendly?
    Not the same as search engine optimization, but in some ways more important. Search engine friendly code means your website is built in such a way that search engines are able to easily index your site and can determine what it’s about.
  • Will your web designer stand behind the website for the long term?
    Like any piece of software, many problems with a website may not crop up until after you take delivery. Will your web designer continue to provide support for any code they wrote? For how long afterwards? At what cost?

We would be happy to talk with you about these or any other web design related questions, free of charge. We never charge for consultations or just friendly conversation about our industry and what you should expect.

10 Things Your Web Designer Should Have Told You

Your web designer needs to tell you something...

It’s been my experience that most clients enter into a web design contract knowing no more about what they’re doing than they do about molecular biology. I wouldn’t hire a carpenter to build onto my house without some knowledge about what he was doing so I could know what I was paying for. Furthermore I wouldn’t go into surgery without reading up a little on the procedure first. It is generally true that an educated client is a happy client, and for every happy web design client there is a happy web designer. Therefore I present my list of 10 things you should know about web design.

  1. You get what you pay for
    Your nephew said he can design your website for you. No doubt he can design that website, but it will most likely be like the Rolex that you buy from a guy on the street, it looks nice but later you find out it doesn’t work. The same goes for web design firms or freelance web designers with bargain basement prices. If they are offering to do it cheap, chances are they are not giving it the necessary time and attention to create a quality product, which leads me to my next point.
  2. Designing a good website takes a lot of time
    A reasonably decent website today must do many things well. A website needs to work on all browsers and platforms, download quickly, perform well on search engines, meet current web standards, look great and be easy to navigate among other things. Getting all these items right will take any web designer a great deal of time. In addition a really good website won’t be done quickly partly because of the next point.
  3. There’s a lot of code behind a website
    When you look at a website you are just seeing the end result of a whole lot of code that the web designer has written, try viewing a website’s source code sometime to see what I mean. And that is just the HTML portion, there may also be many additional files included in a web page such as scripts, style sheets and images. The point is, don’t judge a book by its cover, a web page has much more to do than just look pretty and chances are some web designer has spent many hours getting it all right.
  4. Your web designer has trouble with mind-reading
    It’s helpful if you approach your web designer with some idea of what you would like in your website. Look at your competitors websites and make notes about what you like or don’t like. Some brief notes about features you would like to see, colors you would like to use and things you hate about other websites would be a big help. Your web designer will find it much easier to be creative with some initial ideas to work with.
  5. Every browser will render your website differently
    There are more different web browsers available now then ever and each handles things a little bit differently. What your site looks like on your browser is not what it looks like on everybody’s browsers. There is no way your web designer can make your website render identically on every web browser. The goal is to make it look great on all browsers, not to make it look the same on all browsers.
  6. Every screen resolution, monitor and device will make your website look different
    This is related to the previous point. Depending on the screen being used to view your website, the screen resolution, and a variety of other settings like color depth, your website will look very different from one device to another. It is often a game of compromises to make it look as good as possible on all and the best on the most screens.
  7. Fonts will look different on different computers
    Windows and Macs handle fonts very differently, furthermore the individual fonts on a computer vary widely. So this is yet another example of what may look one way on your computer may look different on another. Your web designer looks for a compromise that looks the best on most computers.
  8. You need to play by Google’s rules
    Google has about 65% of the web search market, its nearest competitor Bing has a mere 15%. This means that any website hoping to be at least mildly successful online needs to do well on Google which means playing by their rules for search engine optimization. The guidelines that Google offers provide some limitations to what you can do with your website, but the benefits of following these rules are many.
  9. Visitors will not flock to your site when it’s done
    The road to internet success is littered with the remains of websites that have failed to make an impression in the market. The key thing to remember is that a successful website does not just happen. People need to be able to find your website on the search engines when searching for relevant keywords, for this to happen you will need at least some basic SEO services. You will need to promote your website to current and prospective clients, put your web address on all your marketing materials. And one other thing is required to make it successful, our next point.
  10. Your website will need to change… often
    People will return to a website that changes often, but not to a brochure website. The most successful websites are those that are more than just static information about your company, consider incorporating a business blog, discussion forum, RSS news feeds, photo gallery or at the very least have the ability to go in and change things around occasionally.

Now that you’ve completed your crash course in web design basics you are ready to go out there and hire a web designer. You will be a better educated consumer and your web designer will be happy that you have done your homework and can carry on an intelligent conversation on the subject of website design.

6 Considerations When Choosing a Web Designer

Choosing the wrong web designer can be costly

Web designers are more like mechanics than doctors although it should be the other way round. Let me explain this statement and how it will help you when choosing a web designer.

Everyone knows somebody who has been ripped off by a mechanic, you know, that slick talking mechanic who really sounded knowledgeable when he told your wife she needed blinker fluid. That’s not to say all mechanics are bad, but there are enough dishonest ones around to make you cautious about where you bring your car. Doctors on the other hand, are mostly reliable. You may hear the story of the person who went in for a tonsillectomy and ended up with a vasectomy instead, and about malpractice lawsuits, but usually these are stories you read about in the newspaper or see on television, they don’t generally happen to people you know because they just don’t happen that often.

The difference is that doctors are licensed, not just anyone can go out and start practicing medicine, mechanics are not, they may be certified but there is generally no government agency or other authority regulating mechanics, anyone could open a shop if they wanted to.

Web designers are like mechanics in this way, anyone can buy “Web Design for Dummies” and Adobe Dreamweaver and start churning out websites, but that doesn’t make them knowledgeable or good at what they do. Web designers are not in demand as much as doctors or mechanics therefore you don’t hear as many stories circulating about the bad web designer, but believe me, they are out there in abundance. You might not have heard about them, but you have no doubt seen their work, and there are many unhappy customers around too. Because some people have been taken advantage of by disreputable web designers or know someone who has, they think the web is not an effective place to promote their business or that the internet has little to offer a business like theirs. The truth is that there are very few businesses that can not profit from the web, if done correctly. Therefore, in an attempt to keep my occupation from sliding into the morass of shady auto mechanics and used car dealers, I offer the following 6 considerations when choosing a web designer.

  1. Design ability: This goes without saying, but you would be surprised how many people choose a web designer without really looking at much of their previous work. You don’t have to be a design expert yourself to judge this, use your intuition and gut feeling about the design. When looking at previous work by this designer what is your impression of the design, is the information easy to read, does it have a professional feel to it, do the colors work well together?
  2. Programming skills: Most designers are not programmers and most programmers are not designers, but any web design firm worth its salt will have programmers they work with and if you are looking at a freelance designer, he should either be able to do programming or work with someone who does. Not all websites need programming, a static, brochure type site does not need any, but are you positive that’s what your business needs. The point to keep in mind when choosing a web designer is, a web designer who can get programming done is going to be able to give you an honest evaluation of your needs, while one who can’t is going to steer you away from anything requiring programming skills.
  3. Satisfied customers: A good indicator for obvious reasons. If you’re in the same city as the web designer in question, ask around, has anyone you know heard any good or bad stories about this designer? Look up some of the websites they have produced, can you email or call to ask about whether they were satisfied with their website? Remember that a satisfied customer does not necessarily indicate a good web designer as the following story illustrates. I was once approached by a man who was interested in getting me to make some minor changes to his website. The site was a circus of colors and movement, it had an annoying music loop that played and took forever to load, it was really terrible. The thing was, the man was very satisfied with his website. Now the case could be made that this was a successful website and the web designer had done his job as long as the customer was satisfied, but I would disagree. The web design must meet not only the needs of the business owner, but also the needs of his customers, if they are not happy with it they may not return, and in time the lack of response from his website may cause him to conclude that the web is not profitable for his business and in turn to shut it down. It was initially successful, that is the business owner was happy, but the long term goals of any website has to be satisfying the customers of the business owner, only in that way will a website be profitable and successful.
  4. Reasonable load times: One of the primary objectives of any web design project needs to be keeping file sizes as small as possible. Of course there are media rich sites that have very long load times, but is the load time reasonable given the amount of pictures, animations, music or whatever? There is a great deal to learn about image optimization for the web and an inexperienced web designer is likely to not know all of the tricks, so unreasonably long load times may be a good indication that a designer is not very knowledgeable.
  5. Crisp graphics: This is the other side of the previous point, image optimization for the web is a tricky subject and ones ability as a web designer shows in the quality of their graphics. When choosing a web designer, remember this tip; an image that is not optimized enough may have an excessive file size and long load time, on the other hand, if it is overly optimized, it will load quickly but the images will be blurry or unclear. A good web designer will be able to create crisp graphics of relatively small file size.
  6. Intuitive navigation: Who hasn’t been lost or confused in a badly designed website? Confusing, inadequate or nonexistent navigation is the hallmark of poor web design. Good design will feature intuitive navigation, think of this like getting into a vehicle you’re not familiar with, you don’t have to think about where the gas peddle is, you just put your foot down where it’s supposed to be and it’s there.

When you take your car to the shop you no doubt make sure the garage is reputable, no less care should be exercised when choosing a web designer. Even if you are satisfied with your website, if it does not do what it was meant to do, that is bring in business and leave satisfied, happy customers, then it’s not a successful website.