It seems like everyone is all of a sudden “A Web Designer” everybody knows someone down at the pub or a friends brother who can put a website together in exchange for a few quid or a couple of pints. So what is the difference between different web designs? Why pay a web designer to make a website for you when you can have one for next to nothing? Are all websites the same? Do you find yourself asking “What kind of website do I need?” Let’s take a look at the difference between a website that works and a website that doesn’t.
First of all as I’m sure you’ll agree, a website should make a good first impression. We’ve all seen websites that look less than amateur, tacky flashing images, terrible photographs, mismatched text, spelling or grammatical errors and a general look of chaos!
Not only do such websites scare potential clients away, they also don’t score so well with search engines that can spot shoddy code, poorly optimised pages and yes, they can even spot spelling errors and poor grammar!
A good web design should look clean, the content should be original, engaging and easy to read. The sections or pages should be easy to navigate. There should be clear contact information and effective calls to action, a call to action is something that asks or prompts the viewer to take action such as “pick up the phone”, “call us now” or “book online today”. In addition to these basic things the website should be easy to edit and also have the ability to be added to and improved with more content, more function, such as social media integration (Facebook, Twitter, Linked in etc). There should be a blog, this really isn’t an option any longer, it’s a must. Regardless of what the purpose of the website is, be it an ecommerce website or a brochure type website it simply must have a blog in order that the website can evolve and create new, relevant and engaging content that attracts more and more traffic. Blogging is crucial to any website that wants to rank high in the search results. Find out more about blogging here.
In a word yes, let’s consider however your reasons for needing a website first.
Are you hoping that your website will attract new customers? If so then let’s consider something. I’ll assume that you have a local business, you only want enquiries from your local town, how hard can that be? Let’s look at a local Google search, if you were to search for “Web Designers St Helens” for instance, look what comes up in the search results.
As the screen shot below shows, there are over 1.4 million search results for that particular local search, not as easy to get on page one of Google for a local search as you may think then, let alone getting to the top of page one!
Of course, you could use Google Adwords to get to the top of the page and into the paid results but have you any idea how expensive that can be? Just a £10 per day budget soon runs into hundreds of pounds per month. My listing as you can see is at the top of the page and is usually in the top two and it doesn’t cost a penny to be there.
Why am I telling you all this? well what I’m getting at here is that in order to rank high you need a website with as much functionality as possible. You need to be able to edit every aspect of your website, your photographs, the description of the photos, the on page structure, the content, the link text, the code that both makes the website look good but also that communicates with the search engines so that they understand what your website is about. Very often, web builder software such as those advertised on TV simply don’t give you that functionality. They are budget websites that you build yourself (after much pulling out of hair, swearing and kicking things) and more often than not they are about as much use as a one legged man in an arse kicking competition.
Another thing to consider when you outgrow a DIY website is actually the trouble you will have upgrading to a better package. I’ve dealt with countless people who have used these simple web design packages only to find out just how poor they are, they then have tremendous trouble reclaiming their own domain name and getting out of the contract before they can have me design them a professional website.
There are countless companies offering these so called easy websites, some are better than others but none are ideal. Some really are appalling and have no morals or interest in their clients websites being successful. Everyone seems to be jumping onto the web design package bandwagon, 1&1, Vistaprint, 123reg, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mc Donalds offering them free with a happy meal soon.
This is perhaps a question that a lot of business owners will ask, I’ll try to keep to the facts and be totally unbiased. This article may be read by many business owners from around the world, businesses who no doubt will find a designer in their own area and wont ever have the need to contact me or use my services so you can rest assured that I am writing this from an unbiased and ethical viewpoint. It is quite a complex subject but I’ll work on the assumption that you are wanting enough information to enable you to make an informed choice so here goes.
You’ll see websites advertised from all different kinds of web designers, you’ll see very pretty websites that cost thousands, you’ll see the appalling websites that we spoke of earlier that should be illegal! Somewhere in between however you’ll find websites (usually at the top of search results) that look nice, work well and are uncluttered and informative. Chances are, these websites are built using a CMS (Content Management System). Now this sounds complex but it really isn’t. In simple terms, what a CMS does is create a website on the fly. Let me explain
A Content Management System is software that allows website content to be created by people with little or no web design knowledge. It stores this content in a database. The content is displayed in a number of ways usually by means of a template that is created by the web designer when the website is designed. So, for instance, Imagine the template is like one of those photo frames that displays 6 or so photographs of different sizes, a large one in the centre with smaller ones around it. Anyone can come along and change the photos or “content” if you like. This is similar to a CMS, The database stores content (pages, posts, videos, photos, etc) and the page template dictates how the content is displayed. Take this website for instance. The template knows that I want my logo at the top left. It knows that on the right I want some information about previous articles that have been written. At the top it knows to display a menu that will take people to articles that fall into various categories (that I can easily edit) and at the bottom of each article there are several buttons for sharing the page on Facebook or Twitter etc. Below that is a box that displays information about the author and then there’s a call out with my contact details.
All this information lives in the database and the template dictates where on the page it’s displayed. If I want a bigger logo but on the right I simply upload one and tell the template to display it on the right. If I want to add a little box in the right hand bar with a youtube video in it then I simply add a widget to the sidebar to contain a video and then upload the video. When I add more articles, the list in the sidebar automatically adds them to the list. If I want to let a customer do a “guest blog post” for me then I add them as a contributor and they can add an article without me even getting involved.
There is so much more that a content management system offers but I think you get the point that a content management system is by far the most flexible choice for a website. It is infinitely editable and can be finely tuned for SEO (search engine optimisation) purposes. Lets move on then.
This is like asking what is the best chocolate, Cadburys or Galaxy? There are a few main players and I’ll tell you in a moment why you should choose from these main players.
The main three CMS systems are Joomla, WordPress and Drupal. at this point any web designers reading this may be jumping up and down as there are a handful of other good CMS systems out there. The reason however that I’ve chosen these three is simply because:
I should at this point make something clear, WordPress as a company also offer a free blogging system, this isn’t what I’m talking about here, that system is ideal for anyone wanting a free blog (but without their own domain name) such as hobbyists or people who want to create a blog to keep as a personal diary etc. What I’m talking about here is installing the WordPress CMS onto your hosting space and using it as the software that powers your website.
Yes of course! Building a website isn’t rocket science but it will take some degree of learning. Luckily WordPress has an excellent support forum. If you’ve never built a website before then it will be a steep learning curve but the results will be worth it. It may well take weeks if not months to design your own website but at least then you’ll be in the driving seat and you will fully understand how to update it in the future. Remember, with WordPress you can build a professional industry standard website and save yourself quite a bit of money!
If you want to incorporate an ecommerce section on your website, by that I mean if you want to sell goods directly from the website and receive payment automatically then WordPress can also accommodate that too. If your sole purpose is to sell goods however then I’d perhaps recommend looking at an alternative such as EKM Powershop. For now, let’s get back to WordPress.
You’ll need to find a host that offers linux hosting and a one click install for WordPress, this will save you a lot of time and potential headaches. The company that I can wholeheartedly recommend is Bluehost, they offer a package designed especially for people who want to build a WordPress website and they have a one click install facility. Their prices are the lowest around costing $5 (about £3.50) per month and they have excellent helpful customer support. To visit Bluehost and see their offers click here.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to design your own website then read on.
How to spot a good web designer from a bad web designer? Ok, first off, you can discount the offers that you’ve seen on ebay that go something like “5 page website for £49 and free hosting for life” I’m sure, given that you’re in business you understand that nothing of any worth is free!
Do you remember earlier on I asked your reasons for needing a website? Well if you are a business then you’ll want your website to be found in the search results, you then want your website to represent your business and act as a silent 24 hour a day salesman on your behalf. Isn’t it worth then investing a little money into something that can achieve this for you?
I’d say that first of all you want to find a web designer that uses either WordPress or Joomla. The reasons for this are mainly that if your web designer falls under a bus in a years time then you can easily find someone else who can take over from him / her. Both these systems are widely supported worldwide. As I’ve already mentioned, for me, WordPress has the edge and is my weapon of choice but in the interests of being neutral I’d also recommend Joomla.
Secondly, I’d ensure that your chosen Web Designer is also well versed on SEO. By this I don’t mean that he offers dodgy ways of getting to the top of the search results but that instead he/ she understands the changes that have happened with Google over the past couple of years. You don’t want to hear him or her talking about building ridiculous amounts of links from dubious sources, this is poor and unethical. You will however want to hear good advice on relevant content, page structure, keyword research, local search SEO, social network integration and so on. I know this may sound confusing and I really don’t want to appear too technical however a website should be one of your most important marketing tools and so I’m trying to give you as much information as possible to empower you to make the right choice.
A good measure is to actually question how you found the web designer in the first place. If you found him in the local paper then it may be worth jumping onto the computer and trying to find him on Google. When I say “find him” I don’t mean type the company name in, instead, type in a phrase that you’d expect him to rank on page one for (and not in the paid adverts at the top) for instance, if you want to find me, search for Web Design St Helens or SEO Merseyside and you’ll find me.
Be aware of anyone offering silly low prices and free hosting. Good hosting costs money, not a lot of money but certainly somewhere in the region of £5 per month ($7 for you crazy people reading this on the other side of the Atlantic) A good host is important to ranking high as Google pays some attention to how quickly a page loads amongst other things.
This is very subjective and I’ll not attempt to create a war by suggesting a fair price. I can only for my part signpost you to my web design price guide page if you are interested in having me design your website for you. There are Web Designers who will charge slightly less, there are designers who will charge slightly more and only you will know what fits with your budget. A good web designer will be able to complete an average 5 page website including content, optimisation and submission to Google within around 2-3 days. Don’t get me wrong, I could “throw” a five page website together in less than a day, It would perhaps never rank well on Google though. The F1 teams spend months if not years fine tuning their race cars so that they can be that split second faster than the competition, it’s that attention to detail that wins races, that puts them above the competition. That is how you should consider your website and your choice of web designer. Your website should be found in the search engines, once found it should present your business in such a way that people want to do business with you.
I hope that this article has been of interest and has helped you to gain an understanding of the options available to you when asking “What kind of website do I need?” Hopefully now you can avoid the pitfalls of just settling for a cheap website and instead can go out and find a WordPress Website Designer who will be able to create you a fully functional state of the art website that is within your budget.
This article was written by Gwiz
SEO Geek, Web Designer and Online Marketing Advisor. Steve works with businesses of all sizes across the UK and blogs about small business, marketing, web design and SEO at http://stevegrady.org