Clients have a variety of needs when it comes to websites. A new business, generating buzz, an outdated website, or looking for revenue and lead generation. Any of these scenarios can make it difficult to wrap your mind around what exactly you want out of a new website.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way. If you go through this 7-step checklist, you will be able to go to a website design/development agency with confidence, OR you could take the steps to begin the project yourself. Whatever path you choose, these steps will help you get started.
1) Website Design Research
As website designers, we hear the phrase, “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” This communicates to us that the client doesn’t have a firm grasp on what direction they want their website to go in, but they’re picky about whatever it is they’re looking for. While this isn’t a deal breaker, it puts a lot of pressure on the website design team to try and interpret every bit of communication into specific design preferences. We catch ourselves reading between the lines of every email, phone call, and description for clues to what the client is wanting.
To get an idea of what it is you want from a website, take 20 minutes to look at competitor websites. What are they doing well? What do you like? Dislike? Be as specific as possible. Color scheme? Fonts? Imagery? What message are they communicating when you first come to their website? You may not even have to go to a competitor website, but simply ANY website that you think looks good. If you’re able to take the context out of the design, you can look at any website out there and picture your imagery/language in any design.
Keep in mind that there’s a fine line between “I like these styles,” and “Make a copy of this website.” Many times we end up with clients trying to design their own website and not letting the professionals do their jobs. It’s important to know what you like, but it’s also important to allow a designer to have a little bit of flexibility at least. Certainly don’t “settle,” for anything less than what you want, but know that when you start giving input for font kerning or adjusting opacities on a sliding scale, your project will take significantly longer than you may have anticipated.
2) Domain Name Access
This should be 1A instead of 2., because getting access to your domain name can prevent a project from happening at all. Your domain name holds the keys to the castle. If you don’t have one, get one, because domains are a scarce commodity – there’s only so many of them out there. Get a .com when possible, and avoid hyphens in your domain. If someone else gets the one you want, there’s nothing you can do to make them give it to you.
If you already have a domain name, make sure you have access to it. Many times, established businesses will have their domain name in another development firm’s account, which means that development firm holds all of their keys. Depending on the relationship with that firm, it may be difficult to get people to cooperate when they are thoroughly unmotivated to do so. Our recommendation is to send an email saying something similar to “Good morning ____, we’d like to transfer our domain name into an account that we can manage. Can you please transfer it to our Godaddy account #XXXXXXX with the email (email on Godaddy account).” That way you get control of your own domain.
3) Establish Website Goal
Not every website is designed to do the exact same thing. Many organizations need an attractive site to appear more professional, while others drive e-commerce sales, and others still want lead generation. Knowing what you want your website to DO for your business will help a design/development team better serve your needs. Typically, this infomation is gathered from our clients over time through meetings and phone calls, but if you’re able to wrap your mind around your website’s purpose before getting in the door, everything will go more smoothly.
We always prefer to help clients find their place on the spectrum between “brand story” and “revenue generation.” While some clients want huge emphasis on their brand, messaging, or imagery, others may not care as much about the aesthetics so long as revenue is generated through the website. While these two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive, understanding where your priorities lie can help a development firm know where you want the most time spent.
4) Think About Budget
This may seem like a no brainer, but have a budget in mind when you’re thinking about hiring a development firm to build your website. There are thousands of options out there, from website builders like Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly, to development platforms like Shopify, WordPress, Joomla, Magento, and more. The development shop you speak with will likely have specific platforms they recommend for various reasons, but each one will have its own price tags associated with them.
Most website builders or theme-based platforms like Shopify/SquareSpace will have a lower upfront cost but higher monthly costs. With additional modules and functions on a Shopify website, you may end up paying $400-$500/mo to keep your site up and running, and when you quit paying, your website goes away. However, a WordPress website, you may pay $10,000 – $20,000 over the course of development, but only pay $10/mo to host it. Thinking through what revenue you’re able to generate from the website may influence your decision for your expected budget.
5) What's Your Deadline?
Is there a trade show coming up that you need your website live for? Is there a conference or specific season that generates the majority of your revenue? Thinking through your deadlines will have a dramatic impact on what kind of development agency you decide to go with. The length of your website’s build will be affected by the complexity of the build. Some firms may require weeks and others months depending on the scope of your build.
6) Content Production
This can be a big one, and it usually doesn’t become an issue until the end of a project, but content production is oftentimes what keeps a website from going live on a target date.
Content production is referencing the text, videos, pictures, and any other “meat” of the website. Who is going to take all of your product photos? Are you able to articulate what your business does? When was your company founded and what are your founding principles?
While many of those items may be addressed with your existing website, businesses that are creating new websites from scratch may find content production to be a difficult task. Even though we at V3 plan on writing most of your content for you, some items will be required to come from your business. We usually send a content questionnaire to get your creative juices flowing, but when it comes to images, you’ll need to think through each piece of your website and plan accordingly. Do you want team photos? Stock photos? Office? Products?
7) Plan Your Go-Live
Even when you have a new website doesn’t mean anyone will know about it. We always recommend having a gameplan for what you want to do when the site goes live. You could use social media as a tool to promote your upcoming site, use email newsletters to time out the site launch, or set up a countdown times for your holder page. Building anticipation for your site, especially if it targets the general public, can make a huge difference for your reach in the long run.