How Not to Waste Money on Your Website
An introductory note
- The website you want may include particular colours, fonts, styles and features which you may like on a personal level but are not appropriate for your professional website. Comic Sans is not a good font to create a professional ambiance; you do not need a discussion forum if you are selling plastic widgets; red is not a good colour for a website selling medical equipment.
- The website you think you need may be close to perfect, however it may include features that are costly, time-consuming and unnecessary to develop. A wish list is not necessary if you sell carpet tiles; a 100-page portfolio is not necessary because visitors will simply skim it; a 10,000 line essay is not necessary to explain your car valeting service.
- The website you actually need is the perfect Savile Row suit, cut to hug every angle and curve of your company. The colour is right, the style is flattering and the presentation is perfect. People will take interest, you will impress and be taken seriously. You will invest in just the things you need to attract visitors and convert them to customers quickly and efficiently.
Listed below are 21 searching questions which, when answered honestly and candidly, should uncover needs of which you previously may not have been aware. They will also help you reveal helpful details about your company that you may neglect to tell your chosen web company.
The benefits of asking these questions are three-fold. Firstly, this will help a third party company get a good understanding of exactly what your company is, does and stands for. Secondly, if you are getting quotes from several web design companies, you can give them all the same brief allowing you to make accurate judgments about their offers. Thirdly, it will help you get the website you actually need so you can extract every drop of value-for-money from your budget.
Answer all the questions that apply to you and your company, miss any that don't and try to be as honest and considered as possible.
- 1 - What is your company called, and what does it do?
- Are you in the service industry, manufacturing, public, private, etc.? Describe what you do and how you do it
- 2 - Who is the person responsible for overseeing this project?
- Always try and have just one person at the helm, capable of making the decisions and judgments on the ongoing work. If a management structure needs to be followed then they should be referring to their superiors at regular intervals, and not just at the 11th hour. Late stage vetoes are never productive.
- 3 - What is the estimated budget for this project?
- Be realistic as to how much you can afford to invest in your website. If you want a good, professional website that shows your company in a good light, it's going to cost money. A good web company should be able to offer services to fulfill a range of budgets from a starter pack to a full e-commerce or CMS solution.
- 4 - Are there any proposed deadlines for this project?
- Why are these deadlines in place? Do you have any upcoming trade shows? Is your end of year budget due? Are the deadlines realistic? Remember that good work takes time so, if the deadline is too tight, perhaps you need to consider moving deadlines around?
The Design and Content
- 5 - Does your business have a brand?
- Perhaps you may need to consider freshening up your corporate identity and bringing it up to date. Perhaps you don't have a brand identity at all. A brand-conscious company tends to do better than one less willing to invest in good design.
- 6 - Are there any particular websites you like the look of?
- Although you should try not to let personal taste interfere with professional decisions regarding your website, it certainly helps if you actively like the finished product your web design company returns. Have a look around at other websites, even in different market sectors, see what you like and what you don't like. List any websites you like the visual design of and explain why these might be good directions for your company website to go in. Sites like cssdrive.com, unmatchedstyle.com, or designfridge.co.uk can be good sources of inspiration.
- 7 - How you would like users to perceive the new website?
- First impressions are essential. The immediate message your website conveys is purely through its design. Do you want to appear stayed or progressive? Modern or traditional? Professional or friendly, etc? Try listing keywords which describe the feelings you wish to convey, in an instant, to the new website visitor.
- 8 - Who are the big hitters in your market?
- Who are your main competitors, and what are their website addresses? Look around and see who else is out there doing the same as you. Can you outline what you like and don't like, and what you think works and doesn't work?
- 9 - Why do you need a new website?
- Think about the objectives you need to meet with your new website. Do you intend to improve your sales? Sell products? Provide better customer service? Reinforce brand identity? Increase your company's presence in the market? List your objectives in order of importance. How will you measure the success in these areas?
- 10 - Why will people choose your site over others?
- What will make your website stand out from the others in your industry, if indeed there are others? e.g. biggest choice of loans, easy to use, friendly advice etc.
- 11 - Do you already have a website?
- If so, what is the address? This is always a good start!
- 12 - If not, do you already have a domain name you would like to use?
- If you do not already have a website, have you registered a domain name for it or do you need it registering on your behalf? If people know your company name, or you have a proven track record in your industry, you could opt for a domain name that name-checks your company; AugustusPertweeDesign.com, for example. Alternatively, you could opt for a domain name that reflects the search terms that people may use to find services or products like yours on the internet. For example, CheapWoodenWidgets.com.
- 13 - Which aspects of your current site work well and why?
- Point out to your web company the aspects of your current website you would definitely like to keep. Make sure you are being objective about this and point out sections that you know to be successful through some degree of market research.
- 14 - Which aspects of your current site are unsuccessful and why?
- Know when to quit. Website fashions change quicker than the weather in most areas, and what worked 3 years ago may not work now. Identify which areas of your website are just menu fodder and cut free the dead weight.
- 15 - Who visits/will visit your website?
- What is your demographic? Is you audience young or old? Time-pressured, or relaxed? Professional or visiting for fun? The target audience impacts everything from the look and feel through to the information architecture and even tone of voice. Every element needs to be made with consideration to the type of person using the site. Describe the different types of visitors to your website in as much detail as possible.
- 16 - How do you think people currently see your company?
- Honestly, how are you perceived in the market place? Is it all good? Are there some things that need improvement in the eyes of the public? Do they think you are market leaders or young upstarts? Good or poor customer service? friendly or cold? Are they right, and would you like to change this?
- 17 - What do you want visitors to achieve when they visit the site?
- When a visitor lands at your website, you want to try and funnel them through and convert them to a customer. What is the nature of this conversion? e.g. sell particular products, become more aware of your brand, gather e-mail addresses for a mailing list etc.
- 18 - What are visitors actually trying to achieve when they visit the site?
- Often, what you hope people are doing on your website, and what they are actually doing is quite different. e.g. They could be finding a good price on a particular product; information on a particular topic; advice; or entertainment. Remember, website visitors are seldom just “browsing” so it's very handy to identify specific user goals. This is best answered if you have an existing website.
- 19 - What functionality should your website offer?
- Outline any ideas you may have for your site. How would these features support your business goals and the goals of your user? Any ideas that would set you apart from the competition? Perhaps a "recommend a friend" incentive, "Live Chat" help, a white papers section, or selective portfolio? Perhaps you need to commission a bespoke catalogue for a unique product line?
- 20 - Would like to be able to update your website yourself?
- With the advent of Content Management Systems (CMS), you now have the ability to maintain and update parts, or all, of your website yourself. Think about the features you would like to be able to update on your website. e.g. latest news, multiple administrators, stock control, comments and comment moderation, e-commerce, discussion forums, gallery, etc.
- 21 - Is there anything else?
- Every project is unique and it is impossible to establish a generic set of questions that covers every eventuality. If you think there is anything else you need to say, or anything else that has occurred to you during your brainstorm, then get it out on paper. The more information you can give your web design company, the more accurately they will be able to fulfill the brief.
Doug Scard has been involved in designing websites since 2000 and is a Director of Sputnik Web, A Web Design Company creating useful Web Solutions for companies large and small.
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