Why Your Website Sucks (or Didn’t Even Happen)

I know what you did. You hired someone’s cousin’s friend to do your website. They were cheap. You told them you liked blue and your company name/domain and they told you they would build you a website. Maybe they emailed you a few times. Maybe you even had some cell phone photos of your store/product that you sent them.

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Months later, you don’t have a website, do you? Or maybe you have one, but the blue isn’t the blue you like, and come to think of it  your logo (if you even have one cuz you started with a website instead of with your branding which is a bad idea) is actually red and black and it looks kind of cartoon-y with the blue.

Or now you have a website, but you recently decided to change your hours and you can’t get ahold of them to update that on your website. And the products they put on there you don’t even carry now. And you haven’t updated anything on the news/blog/etc page for 3 years. The page has narrow margins, borders, the photos aren’t lining up, and there isn’t a link to your social media (but you don’t really update that either, do you?).

I’m not putting blame here, we all try to save money where we can. But hiring the cheapest or easiest option isn’t generally the best idea.

When seeking a website designer, make sure you get multiple referrals from businesses that they have worked with, not a relative, not someone from your church who knows them. CLIENTS OF THEIRS. Recent clients. Ask them how responsive they were, did they get things done on time? Did they answer questions? Did they teach you something? And look at their work. Compare it to your favorite websites. Obviously Nike and the national sports teams have bigger budgets than you do, but you can see what an updated design looks like and functionality.

Sit down and make a list of all the things you need the website to do now and in the future. Not ready for a shopping cart? No problem, but put it on the list for later. Do you have social media? A blog? Well, you should, but that’s another article.

The biggest thing here: YOU HAVE TO PARTICIPATE. You can’t just give them a check and a website turns up. You have to provide background of your brand, you have to provide your logos, photos (or hire someone to get professional pics!), and content. A stranger can help you write your content, but they can’t get it right. You need to also hit deadlines. They aren’t going to keep going if they need content or photos and you don’t provide them. BUT, I also don’t recommend paying for a whole website up front, either. Half deposit to get started and show that you are committed, and half when its done (number of revisions/deadline should be included in a contract agreement).

Steps to getting what you want from a website:

  1. Don’t start with the website. You need to know your strategy: brand, positioning, competition, and what you are trying to accomplish first to save yourself from backtracking or starting over later.
  2. You need a logo, tagline, colors.
  3. You need photos. Depending on what you are selling, that may be of products, your store location, or pictures of you doing what you do. Don’t skimp out here, a picture is actually worth a thousand words. It can make or break you. You can probably find some stock photos if you don’t have a store/product but don’t get generic ones, they make you look generic!
  4. Get referrals from other businesses whose websites you like. Web designers can be virtual/remote to you. Talk to many clients, look at their portfolio, and even ask for a client referral that wasn’t a happy client the whole time. See what they say to that!
  5. Find someone who is reasonable to your realistic budget, but isn’t the cheapest option. Set agreeable timelines and deadlines for various parts to be completed ON BOTH SIDES. If you agree to have content to them by a certain date, stick to your end of the bargain.
  6. The designer should get to know you, your business, and your product, potentially your competitors, as well as ask a lot of questions about functionality for now and in the future.
  7. I like WordPress. It is an easy to understand platform that you can add on plug-ins later. You can also UPDATE YOUR OWN PAGES. This is very important. Find out what platform they use. Anything proprietary I tend to shy away from. They don’t play well with others, are usually harder to figure out, don’t have as many options to add features, and if the designer flakes on you, its hard to have anyone else fix things.
  8. Pay a deposit to commit, not all up front.
  9. Get a contract to protect both sides, where deadlines and deliverables are spelled out in detail, as well as what is included or not. How many revisions to design? Who does content? Are stock photos or themes included or extra? What is the budget for those items? Is hosting included? Do they work with only certain hosting companies? When will you get the files? (Make sure you get all the files).
  10. Make sure the site will be MOBILE OPTIMIZED and checked to work on multiple browsers.
  11. Ask for updates throughout the process. Don’t wait until months go by. You don’t need to bug them every day or even week, but they should provide you with status updates and samples as you go along, to get your feedback and stay ahead of any backtracking.
  12. I provide a website layout of which pages lead to where, and what items will go on each page to make sure the flow works for my client.
  13. Provide everything they need as soon as you can. You are only delaying yourself having a productive website!
  14. PARTICIPATE! You need to see where they are in the process, and provide valuable feedback in a timely fashion. If you aren’t sure about something, speak up. They can’t read your mind, and 2 weeks from now isn’t the time. Now they will be really upset that they have to go backwards 10 steps.
  15. Ask questions if you aren’t sure about something! A good designer can explain why they think something is the right option for you.
  16. If you add things, understand that it is going to change the scope of the work and ask how much it will cost/time it will take.
  17. When you are happy with the website, make sure you learn how to update it. A stagnant website is not good for value to your clients/customers or search engine rankings. If you don’t have the time or inclination to update your site, ask them if they offer that as an hourly option or monthly retainer and how long will it take them to update/post something after you send it to them? Are they coming up with relevant and not generic content for you or do you provide that to them and they just update/post?
  18. Refer them to others! Promote them and their work and they will be happy to help you when you have problems or want updates later.

Getting a great website doesn’t have to be a daunting experience, but you have to participate in the project and be proactive and plan ahead to make sure your website is on brand, looks great, has valuable content, and helps build your business.