When you’re starting a business, one of the first items on the agenda is putting together a website. But it can be really tricky to figure out who can help you get it done.
Luckily, I managed to snag some time with the very busy Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media. I asked him some questions about how to hire and work with a reputable web design firm. (Thanks Andy!)
Every entrepreneur starts out thinking they can cobble together a decent website with HTML, spit, duct tape, and the design knowledge they picked up in college. How do you know it’s time to get professional help?
You know your website is bad when you hope that people don’t visit it. It sounds like a joke, but it’s not uncommon. You tell people the address, but add a disclaimer: I’m still working on it… I made it myself… I’m planning to redesign it soon…
If it’s not obvious from a lack-of-pride, it may be obvious in your Analytics. If traffic isn’t up from last year and if it’s not turning 1% – 3% of visitors into customers and leads, something is probably wrong.
What are some critical indicators that you’re talking to a rip-off artist rather than a professional web design shop? Some of them look pretty convincing.
If you connect with the company through a referral, that helps. Beyond this, I recommend asking some specific questions:
- Can I meet the team? This will tell you if they’re a company of full time people, or a collection of freelancers. There’s more risk of issues if they’re all freelancers or if they outsource the work.
- Have you ever done a similar project for a similar company? Ideally, the answer is yes. Ask about the return on the investment and the results in Analytics.
- What kind of support do you offer after the site goes live? If they have a team dedicated to helping clients post-launch, you’re more likely to be happy in the long run. If their support team is the same as the project team, they may not be great at service over the long run…
They should be really excited to answer your questions. You should be able to feel some passion. If they sound worried about your project, you should probably be a bit worried about trusting them with the project.
What should we expect in an initial consultation with a web consultant? Do we need to have anything prepared in advance?
You should expect to get a demo of their process. Most web companies have a process that they believe in. Seeing this will give you a sense for what to expect. The process should emphasize the people, the scope and the timeframe.
Listen for evidence that the process and the projects are focused on results. Listen for signs that they understand Analytics. They should talk a bit about search engines, visitor psychology and future updates. This shows they care about the three most important things: traffic, conversion rates and easy updates.
How often should a website be re-designed or refreshed? If it’s working well, do you still need to change it periodically?
Website content should be updated regularly, but that doesn’t mean you have to blog everyday. In a recent post about how often to blog, we suggested that blogging and email frequency be aligned to the sales cycle in your industry.
But if the site performs well, it should be years before a complete redesign is necessary. The lifespan of a great website is three to five years!
What’s the most common web design mistake you see small businesses making right now? You don’t have to name names.
There are so many common mistakes! Here’s a quick list…
- Generic Navigation
If the navigation looks like this… “About, Services, Blog, Contact” …then you’re probably missing opportunities to communicate quickly to visitors and indicate relevance to search engines.
- Contact Pages Without Forms
If the contact page doesn’t have a form, it doesn’t have a thank you page, which means you can’t easily track leads in Google Analytics. A contact page with an email link is a problem.
- Long Paragraphs
Remember, visitors are busy. They want to scan. Be concise.
- The Home Page Title Tag Says “Home”
This little bit of text is the single most important piece of SEO real estate on the website. You wouldn’t write a book and call it “Book” so don’t make the title of your home page, “Home”
- Abandoned Spaceship Syndrome
The about page should have names and faces of the team. Better yet, make a page for each person. People buy from people, so add personality to the site. Small business have an advantage here, but a lot of small companies miss the opportunity.
There are a dozen other common mistakes, but these ones are pretty easy to fix. Hope this is helpful!