A Beginner’s Guide to Web Design
Creating a new web design is a bigger decision than most people realize. On the surface it seems like a simple undertaking, but as most people quickly learn, there are many decisions that have to be made. This can be a daunting task for those who are not familiar with what goes into the development and maintenance of a website. To make matters worse, there are many unscrupulous businesses out there preying on those unfamiliar with the landscape.
This guide is designed to give you an idea of what you need to consider in the development of a website and what to look out for when signing a contract. We’ll also introduce you to some of the technical topics you need to be aware of so that you can make the best decisions for your web design.
What Will The Website Be Used For?
The first question that must be addressed is: what will the website be used for? The answer to this question will have a significant impact on the type and cost of the site you need. Here are some of the more common reasons for building a site:
Building Your Brand
A website is terrific marketing vehicle allowing for a rich variety of media to be presented to the site visitor. The content can be changed as often as the site owner wants allowing coupons and promotions to be added. A more colorful, detailed description of the business can be provided at a fraction of the cost of the Yellow Pages.
Sell Products or Services
You may want to sell your products or services through your website – either exclusively or in addition to traditional sales channels. E-commerce (ie accepting money on the Internet for products or services) is very common in websites today. While there are many security concerns, the convenience of e-commerce seems to outweigh the concerns of most users. Work with your web designer to ensure security has been considered for your site.
E-commerce sites are more complex than an information only site because of the added security requirements, transaction processing (credit card etc…) and database functions. It is reasonable to expect to pay more for a well designed e-commerce website.
Provide Customer Service and Support
With so many consumers now on the Internet, it is almost a mandatory requirement to provide some form of customer support on your website. It may be as simple as soliciting feedback on your product or service or as complicated as a database driven online customer support service. Many site owners start out with a simple customer support function and gradually add more features over time.
Save Time and Money
Websites can save money in many different ways. Processing orders directly online can save money and eliminate costly data entry errors. Having an online catalog saves a tremendous amount in print and distribution costs. Communications with customers can be made more efficient through e-mail and online forms resulting in time savings. For example having a FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) page can solve many customer questions online thereby reducing the amount time and cost of customer support.
What Will You Have on Your Site?
After deciding what the site will be used for, you will get a better sense of what kind of content you want or need. The pages you need for your site will depend on what kind of business your site is for. To get some ideas, go on the internet and look at other sites that are in the same line of business as you. Decide what type of presentation you find appealing. Here are some common pages that can be found on most websites:
The Home Page is typically the first page a visitor sees so it should make a good first impression. You should be able to link to any of the major information areas on you site from here. Eye catching graphics can be a good idea but don’t get carried away with too much animation or slow loading graphics. Many visitors will leave if it takes too long to get the information they are looking for.
About Us pages are used to give some background or history on the business and is a good opportunity to convey a sense of what the business owner’s philosophies are. You don’t want to get too wordy as the visitors have a short attention span.
A Contact Us page is essential if you need to interact with the site visitor. This page should be easy to find and contain any relevant contact information including address, phone and fax. If you want your visitors to have the option of contacting you using email, provide a simple form for them to fill out. This eliminates exposing your email address to spammers while allowing a convenient option for your visitors.
A Portfolio page is used to display samples of the work you have done. Often in the form of digital images, this is a great opportunity to show off your products or services. Be careful to use high quality images – poor photo quality can sometimes have a negative effect.
A services page is where you document what you do. If the visitor has made it this far, it usually means they are interested in what you are selling. If you can describe all your services on one page that’s fine, but don’t short change yourself. You can add links to other pages describing your services in greater detail. Remember, at this stage you have the visitor’s attention so don’t hold back.
Mobile Web Design
With the proliferation of smartphones and tablet devices, there is no escaping the need to provide an engaging user experience for mobile users. Techeffex (and Google) recommend a design technique called Responsive Web Design (RWD) for any new web design. RWD allows a website to automatically adapt its layout based on the screen size it is being viewed on.
What to Look for in a Contract
Price is an obvious element of any contract but with web design one has to be extra careful as to what is included in the price. Typical pricing for web design averages around $70/hour or $100/page. Of course, these rates will vary depending on the complexity of your site. Other considerations:
- Is your site hosted by the developer? Many website developers charge low rates for development and make it up on hosting fees. As a reference, the monthly hosting fee with Techeffex Web Hosting is $3.95/mo for their economy package which is suitable for most small business informational websites.
- Do you own the code? This issue is often tied with the hosting strategy: you get a low cost website and pay a nominal amount every month for hosting. If you choose to go to another hosting company to save money you would have to start a new website. Make sure it is stated in the contract that you own all the code for your website.
- Support. Web designers should guarantee their code to be bug-free for at least a year. Most will guarantee the code forever as long as no one else modifies it.
- Updates. Does the price provide for any modifications down the road? Normally specified in terms of update support hours with 2-3 hours being the norm. This allows an additional page or two to be added should it become necessary. Many websites are being designed with a Content Management System (CMS) allowing the site owner to make modifications through an easy to use interface.
Scheduling a web design can be difficult because a website tends to be more art than science. For example, you may start out thinking blue is the best color but once you see it on the screen you may decide red is better, or maybe brown, or yellow etc…
It is still reasonable to expect the developer to adhere to certain milestones, particularly in the absence of any changes. If your site is expected to be over 10 pages, ask for some form of schedule or milestones so you can track the developer’s progress. Just be aware that if you keep changing requirements, it will delay the project. That’s not necessarily bad; you want to get a site you’ll be happy with. On the other hand, you don’t want to get bogged down with details that will be lost on your customers.
Most developers will want a portion of the cost up front and have the balance paid at the completion of some milestone(s). Never pay the whole cost up front. If a developer asks for this – walk away. It is reasonable to pay as much as 50% up front, but no more. Larger, more complex sites will typically have multiple payment milestones. Most small business sites will have the up front fee and the balance paid on completion.
A website has become a mandatory part of any marketing strategy. Yellow Pages are all but dead and are not a particularly good use of your marketing dollars. Websites involve art and science and are not just simple HTML pages anymore. Like any technology, they continue to evolve and what might be state of the art today may become “old school” in just a few short years.
This guide introduces some of the concepts involved in getting a web presence established. Your next step is to find a web designer that will develop a great site for you and be there to help you as your internet needs grow.