1. Web Development is Not a “Once and Done” Project
“When will our website be finished?” It is one of the most common questions posed by small business owners eager to consider this item on their to do list complete. Yet it is not one that has an easy answer and indicates a lack of understanding of how dynamic your online presence needs to be to continue to compete and grow.
In fact, the initial creation of your website is just the first stage in it’s lifecycle. As your business scales and evolves your website will need to adapt to fit growing needs. You may need to incorporate additional functionality, split the site into different segments, or offer new ways for your visitors to find and interact with content.
The website will also need to be developed over time to meet the ever-changing digital demands and trends. A website that was designed to meet cutting edge specifications 15 years ago looks pretty out of date now! Not to mention technological changes to devices, browsers and multi-media formats that all have an effect on how your website will be viewed by visitors.
What is considered to be best practice now may be ineffective, dated or even non-functional in a year’s time.
For this reason, beware of selecting a web developer based purely on price for the initial website creation! Selecting the lowest bidder can often result in paying a higher price in the long run. You want to find a designer that is passionate about what they do, knowledgeable about current best practices, and has their finger on the pulse of changes on the horizon. They should be familiar with multiple platforms, CMS and types of code, and be able to clearly explain why they recommend specific choices for your website.
However, it’s not just about the code. Don’t overlook the importance of the human element. At the end of the day you want to be comfortable talking to your web developer about your ideas and vision for your website and business. Make sure you choose a team who you feel comfortable with, can easily communicate with and who understands your core goals and objectives.
Your relationship with your web developers is probably going to be a long-term one, spanning multiple projects to keep your website up to date. Be sure that they will offer you full support for ongoing maintenance and improvements.
2. Keep User Experience at the Heart of Web Development
Don’t be fooled by looks alone! When viewing website designs it’s easy to be drawn to the sites that look slick and stylish – especially if moving from an older website.
However, appearance is just one part of the whole picture. Your website needs to perform if it is going to bring you customers.
While it’s undeniably important for your website to look great and reflect your overall branding, be wary about focusing too much on aesthetics at the cost of performance.
Watch out for:
- Fancy animations that can slow page load times. What is the point of beautiful and stylish effects if your visitors lose patience and leave before seeing them?
- Large file sizes, for example videos or code, which can also cause your website to lag. Your web development team should be able to advise you on how to keep bloat to a minimum and apply some tricks to ensure that items only load as they are needed.
- Innovative browsing options. While interactive videos, pictoral menus and horizontal sliding tabs can all add flair and make your website stand out from the crowd, they need to still be intuitive and inviting enough to encourage visitors to keep browsing to different areas of your site.
Functionality matters, and it matters a lot. It should be easy for your visitors to navigate to what they are looking for, and the site should guide them through any transactions or marketing funnels in an intuitive way.
Your website should be able to handle all of the business activities that you need it to. To that end, it is important that you are clear when communicating these needs to a web developer. Think carefully about the different purposes that your website will have.
If you are selling online, what shopping features do you want to include? Will your site connect with your stock management system for real-time inventory counts? Do you need to assign barcodes to your parts or products? Will you need additional security or encryption to keep customer information safe?
Perhaps you will need interactive elements on your site, such as allowing customers to design their own products or add a personalized message. Maybe you have complex product variations that customers will need to choose during their purchase such as size, colour or materials.
Don’t take it for granted that your web developer will automatically include the features that you need in your website. Be as specific and detailed as possible when explaining your needs to avoid any confusion, frustration and unforeseen costs.
Always remember that you know your business better than anyone else – including the web developer.
While they know websites, they don’t necessarily have a clear picture of what is best for your website unless you tell them. They will be able to design a website that can work for your business needs but it is very important that you communicate this to the web developers and go into details about the objectives and workings of your business.
3. Have a Management Plan
Having a web development team you can rely on for support is great, but you will get more value out of your website if you can manage ongoing content updates in house. This will give you more control over your costs and ensure that any money you invest in your website is spent on more technological issues. It will also let you make quick changes without depending on anyone else’s schedule.
For this reason, it is important that you choose a content management system (CMS) that your team can use comfortably and confidently to regularly add new content such as blog posts, products, and web pages. Similarly, it should be straightforward to manage and update existing content, letting you stay in control of keeping information up to date and fresh.
Have you ever visited a website in July only to see a message about their Christmas holiday hours? Or seen a promotional message for Mother’s Day when you visit in October? Maybe the last post on a website is from 3 months ago… or even longer! These things don’t give the impression that anyone from your business is monitoring your website. A lack of recent, up to date and current content on your website can make visitors question the accuracy of all information. Even a small amount of doubt can be enough for them to choose your competitor. Don’t lose customers this way!
Although adding and editing content to your website can seem daunting, there are many popular CMS platforms available that are easy to use. Some of the most widely used platforms for small business sites are:
Your web developer will likely advise you on what platform is best suited to your website. Ask them to explain the pros and cons of any recommendation they make. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, with some CMS lend themselves to specific types of businesses, such as Concrete5 for designers, while others, such as WordPress are strong all-round choices.
Larger, established CMS platforms such as WordPress also mean that there is plenty of training and support available to help you and your staff to learn how to manage the website.
4. You Don’t Need to Start from Scratch
As we just noted, there are already a range of high quality CMS platforms available on which to build your website. Although the core platform is the same, websites built on a popular CMS can look and act vastly different from each other. The first level of customization is generally the theme – the overall look of the site. Themes can be customized to give you the look, feel and functionality that you are looking for. Web developers can also create a new, unique theme for your website.
Your site can further be customized by using plugins and apps to add extra functionality.
With so many ways to customize a CMS there is really no need to reinvent the wheel, and in fact, creating a website custom coded from scratch has several drawbacks:
- more expensive
- difficult to manage, maintain or upgrade without the help of the original web developer
- no support community
On the other hand, content management systems such as WordPress have been used for hundreds of thousands of websites for many years, meaning that they have been thoroughly put through their paces and are robust and well tested.
There are also existing communities and experts ready to offer advice and help for just about any issue that may crop up.
These CMS platforms will also reliably adapt to ongoing digital changes, allowing for future scalability to meet the needs of your growing success!
5. Ensure You Maintain Ownership
This final point is one of the most important, yet unfortunately one of the most commonly overlooked by business owners during a web development project.
You should always make sure that all elements of your website are in your name. This includes:
- domain name purchase
- domain registration
- website hosting
- any purchased software, plugins or apps
- stock images, videos and audio elements
- licenses for the CMS or other software used to build your site.
If your web developer handles these purchases and then bills you, just ensure that the purchase is done in your name and that you are given any receipts and license agreements that accompanied the purchase.
Not only will these documents allow you to prove ownership of the elements, but will let you easily upgrade or renew any items as needed in the future.
While you may need to delegate management of these more technical aspects to your web developer, they should always be acting on your behalf and you should ultimately be able to own all aspects of the website.
This is not a trust issue, it’s about retaining control of your business property. Imagine if your web developer has registered your domain name in their name and then falls ill and cannot provide you with the necessary details to renew? Or perhaps their business is sold or stops trading – what happens to your website? An even more sinister scenario would be if you have a dispute with them and they decide to withhold access to your site. Sadly, it’s not unheard of.
Understanding these five important elements of web development can save you time, money and frustration as you embark on a new website project.