Choosing the Right Web Designer

So, you’ve finally decided that you need a web site for your business? Well, there are a few key-points to remember BEFORE you make one of the most crucial decisions for your business.

Choosing the right designer for your new business web site:

When it comes to choosing the right web designer for your web site, you should always shop around first to check out all of the available options. There are many web design companies out there to choose from. And most of them are pretty good at what they do.

Always ask to see samples of a web designer’s previous work and examine their portfolio. This will help you get a better feel for the style of sites any particular web designer is capable of doing. Most of the time, web designers have their own unique style and you can easily spot which designs they’ve done in the past. I mean, it’s similar to any other artist’s style; you can definitely spot their previous works based on the general layout, color scheme, and over-all visual appearance of the sites.

Experience is also a key factor here. Just like any other craft, web designers get better with experience. So naturally, you’ll be better off by choosing a web designer who has more experience under his or her belt.

Another key point you should define is whether or not the web designer can make you a 100% custom web site. Or will it be just a basic template web design that 100’s or even 1,000’s of people already have across the Internet. Pretty much anybody these days can create a basic HTML web page in Microsoft Word or Publisher and change the title of it to reflect their Branson business. But you must ask yourself: “is this really what I’m looking for”?

Web sites that are truly custom built will stand out more the rest of the basic template web designs that so many people are using these days. A custom web design will catch the eye of your potential customers and show them that you have a really professional web presence and you mean business.

A lot of web designers these days choose to do the template web sites for one of 2 reasons:

It’s cheaper to use a basic template web design. They might be lacking the necessary skills needed to develop a fully custom web site. Whatever the case may be, make sure you go with a designer who is capable of creating a custom web design for you. It will inevitably cost you more for a custom site. But it is totally worth the extra money spent. Trust me, in the end you will be much happier with your web site if it is a site that’s unique and created for just your business and not everybody else’s.

Communication with a potential web designer is also critical in the development of your web site. You need to be perfectly clear and define your goals up-front, before you actually sign a web design service contract with a designer. Make sure you know what you are getting for your money and make sure you get it in writing! I have a 9-page web site design contract that I use every single time I design a new web site. Included in this contract is an itemized list of all work that is to be performed during the development of the web site. Things like the exact number of pages, the exact number of graphics to be designed, whether or not I need to create a logo, the estimated time before completion, whether or not routine site maintenance will be performed after the site is 6 months or 1 year old, etc.

Defining these things will help you in the long run and will also make sure you and the web designer are on the same page.

I also use what I call my “web design planning worksheet”. This worksheet gives “milestones” or deadlines for each phase of the web design project. Things like “In 2 weeks the general layout will be done” and “2 weeks after that, the site will be coded and launched” and then “In one moth after the web site is launched, we will evaluate it to see what needs to be adjusted”, etc. (these are just examples, by the way. the details included in one of my actual worksheets gives exact dates and more specific milestones).

And what about the web hosting for your new web site? Usually, a web designer will provide some kind of insight as to which hosting company they recommend. Web designers in general have a preference for a hosting company that they know will be a good choice for your web site and they should assist you in making this selection.

Fortunately, we have our own web server here at Digital Spiral Web Design so we can do all of the hosting ourselves. This is very beneficial because we can make sure the web server stays up and running and if there is any maintenance that needs to be performed on the server, we can do it ourselves in a timely manner. Plus, we will always cut a deal for our web site hosting services to any new business who chooses us to do their web design.

Will your new web site require any specialized web programming? Well, the answer to that question is based solely on the needs of your Branson web site. What kind of site will it be? Does it need a shopping cart for e-commerce? Will you be implementing any special web applications or online forms for your viewers to fill out? Will it be a web site that requires your viewers to fill out registrations and sign up so they can login? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then chances are you’ll need a web designer who can also program.

Web developers and designers must be skilled in the art of web PROGRAMMING (something that is very different from regular web DESIGN). Web programming involves the implementation of different web programming languages like JAVA, PHP, Flash, SQL, or.NET. All of these web programming languages need highly skilled individuals to code them and develop web programs with them.

I personally love PHP! I use it for pretty much everything. I won’t go into the details of PHP in this article (I would have to write an entire book about it to cover all of it). But with PHP, I can create pretty much any web application that is logically possible.

So, make sure you choose a web designer who is also capable of coding any special functions that your new web site needs. This decision needs to be discussed and gone over by any potential web designer you might use to create your Branson web site.

And finally, you should always check with the potential web designer’s previous clients to make sure they give him or her a good reference. Remember: it just like any other service. You need to verify a web designer’s references and make sure they can do what they say they can do.

So, just to summarize all of the tips I’ve mentioned:

Ask questions, questions, and more questions before you choose a web designer. Clearly define your goals from the beginning. Ask to see the web designer’s portfolio and samples of their previous work. Make sure they can help you with choosing a web hosting provider. Get documentation to show exactly how many pages will be included in the project and the estimated time before completion. If your Branson web site requires special web programming, make sure the designer can handle it. I hope this article helps anybody who is getting ready to have a new web site designed. A good web site can really do wonders for your business!

Here at Branson website design, we specialize in affordable custom web design for all businesses! We also offer very affordable pricing for our web hosting services. If you would like to know more about our services or to see our web design portfolio, visit our main company web site at the link below. We offer affordable custom web designs!

Would Our Web Designer Sell Us A Junk Design?

Junk just gathers dust
Web designers are in the business of selling web designs. That is the first principle of business for a web design firm, as it is for many other types of businesses. There is nothing new here except that the whole purpose of a web site is to create business for the owner, and a site just gathering dust does not do that.

No one says that a web design needs to create direct sales for any business but it must connect with the business owner’s market and engage that market. If the site doesn’t connect with the market it is just junk collecting dust. It may be a beautiful piece of work but it’s still collecting dust.

Part of this problem is our responsibility as small business owners. We didn’t go to a web designer and say, “I need a web site designed for my web market.”

Instead, most small business owners say, “I need a web site designed for my business.”

Our market doesn’t care about us
The difference is about the focus our words create and the intent that gives to a project. And when the focus is on our business it is not on our market. Thus, we end up with something we are thrilled with even though our market is not impressed and doesn’t care.

What our market cares about is their problem, not the looks of our web site. They are not going to share our web site with others because it looks cool, but they will share when our business web site helps them and educates them about our industry and how to make the best choice for their needs.

Are we being educated on our marketing options?
The chances are that our web designer doesn’t really want to go there. Instead they jump right in to giving us a good look at their portfolio and suggesting how they could customize and come up with something totally original for us.

And our fault is that we go for this – not knowing any better.

But it’s not really our fault. We go to experts to get the best information and all too often we are talking to a professional that has a conflict of interest. This is where the web designer is advising us about the very product they sell. We may never get clear information about what all our choices are.

For instance:
If the conversations never touches on the low cost, or no cost, of “Pull Marketing” then we are not getting all of the available choices.

If the conversations never come around to discussing the differences between a demographic market and a virtual market then we are not seeing our real needs.

If the conversations never get around to discussing how to define a marketing profile for our web market (not just guessing about our virtual market) then we are not getting to use the best of what a web site can offer our business.

And there are more if’s that the web design industry does not talk about. Web designers don’t talk about our market other than to ask us to describe them. It is so much easier for them to design something for us. So most small business owners end up with a beautiful site that is headed for the scrap pile from day one.

To design for our web market a design firm would need to know how to discover things about our virtual market that even we don’t know. They would need to know about virtual markets and why they are different. Web designers need to know our market’s shopping habits, what our market values the most and which values we have in common with our market. But web designers, trendy or not, don’t give us any of this.

The solution is in market segmentation
This is just another term for psycho-graphics. Segmentation divides a whole geographical or national market into 7 segments where each has a psychological profile that describes the segments shopping habits, values, likes & dislikes as well as general beliefs. These are better tools to work with on the web.

Reverse engineer
We could also stand back from our own business and ask that business a few questions to discover things about the market it serves.

  • Doesn’t our business provide solutions for a market?
  • Doesn’t our experience include the pain and distress our market feels?
  • Can we name our market’s biggest problem?

Once we have put words to the solutions we provide and for who we provide them for then we are well on our way toward knowing who our web site should be designed for.

We do not have to accept trendy web designs that have no appeal to our market. These just sit and gather dust. We want a site that engages our market and this means engaging our market.

Read that last line again. It’s like saying, “If nothing changes… then nothing changes.”

If our web site doesn’t engage our market it’s just junk

No matter how beautiful and pleasing it is to our eyes.

And it is our job to make sure that our web designer is going to think about our market and what would be best for our market but we shouldn’t really expect this to happen. The reason for this is that there is no one that knows more about our business than we do, but we need to stop listening to the professionals who are only thinking about us.

A professional web designer may not deserve all the blame for junk web site, except that they are the self proclaimed experts and they expect that we will listen to them. Therefore, the first rule of hiring a web professional is to not let them design our web site.

There is, of course, a great deal more to learn about our virtual market and how they think, what their shopping habits are, what their values are and what they believe in. There isn’t room in one article to cover the web as a virtual marketplace or market segmentation to develop a market’s profile. You will find this information in other articles.

Marketing Your Small Business Online

To keep the edge over competition many businesses are finding that marketing their small business online can open up opportunities that are not available in a regular brick and mortar business that is just marketed using traditional advertising and marketing methods. Consumers are constantly researching and comparing products and services online which can give your small business exposure to a much larger and more targeted market than traditional marketing methods are able to.

It has never been easier and more cost effective marketing your small business online. There are many internet marketing advertising agencies to choose from.

Here are 4 steps to follow when choosing your online marketing campaign.

1. Choosing a domain name is the first thing you need to set up a website. A domain name is the internet address that allows other computers to find your website. Always use the extension .com because it is the most common and people will type it in from habit, so it your website ends in .net or something else your traffic could be going to the .com version of the name and your traffic is going to them. It is best to own all the available extensions of a domain name and either build different sites or redirect all extensions to the .com name. Try to use the target keyword in your domain name if possible for organic search engine optimization.

2. Building a website comes next. Remember your website is actually your business online, and first impressions can make or break you. Always remember your goal for the site and the traffic you will be driving to it. Design your website with the prospect and goal in mind, just as you would do your brick and mortar business. You have to get their attention before they will buy anything.

3. Now you are ready for business, but the old saying “If you build it they will come” does not work. There are millions and millions of websites so you must drive traffic to your website to be found. Pay Per Click and Search Engine Optimization are the 2 top ways people drive traffic. There are many other ways like text ads, links, articles, press releases, etc. This is where an experienced internet marketing agency can be of help.

4. Remember just because you are on the internet you cannot forget customer service, this is how you keep the customers you acquire. Many small businesses use the internet to obtain the customer then they begin to use more traditional marketing methods to market to them for future sales.

Follow these simple steps and you will soon be marketing your small business online and setting up an automated lead generating machine that will increase your ROI for years to come.

Good Web Design – Why There’s So Little

Most small website owners rely almost entirely on themselves or their web developer to create a good website design without them actually knowing what good web design is. Based on my 8 years experience in website design and optimization for visitors and search engines, I can say with a good deal of assurance, many web developers don’t know what good web design is either.

My views are based on the detailed evaluation of hundreds of websites which in many cases look good on the surface to the untrained eye, but when evaluated more closely, are either average to poorly designed websites, bad websites, or just simply suck.

After all, anyone can call themselves a website designer after just creating one website, either their own or for a friend or relative. Most website designers are self-taught and have no qualifications of any kind that relate to the job. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with being self-taught, but a lot depends on where and from whom you learn and what length of apprenticeship you serve in web design.

Bestwebgallery.com a showcase website typical of many showcase sites for good website designs has defined what quality design is to them (according to the statement on their site):

Quality web design = Visual + Technical + Creativity.

The problem with a definition like this is it focuses on the creative and visual aspects of design which is really only of interest to other website designers aspiring to create something that pushes the boundaries even further in the same direction. It also completely ignores whether the website is fit for the purpose for which it should have been designed. Most websites don’t need to be stunningly beautiful to serve a purpose and they don’t need to be “technical” either.

Many web developers think they have to be “creative” and set out to design a website never seen before, or one that behaves in an entirely new and original way. This often leads to an overly graphical and sometimes technically complex website design with an unconventional layout and navigation, that actually creates more problems than it solves.

All these “quality web design” features may impress another designer, but it generally wins no prizes or favours from the public website visitors who generally don’t come to a website to admire the design. Many web developers seem intent on re-inventing the wheel instead of observing the established design conventions that visitors to a website are familiar with. They also seem to have forgotten the basic K.I.S.S. rule of design which is Keep It Simple Stupid.

So, having said quality or good website design is not about Visual, Technical or Creativity just what should it be?

Good Web Design = Satisfying Visitors

There are two distinct groups of visitors to a website that a good website design needs to satisfy and they are people and search engines. Some website designers will argue that designing a website for the search engines is not necessary, or a waste of time. Although I prefer to design websites with search engines in mind, I don’t have a problem if other web designers don’t, providing they have an alternative plan.

If a web designer doesn’t design for the search engines, then they need to have an alternative plan to get traffic to the website and they should explain this plan to the site owner. There is no point in designing the greatest website ever, if there are no means for attracting visitors to the site.

A good web design also needs to satisfy the people who visit the site. If a web designer creates a website that attracts visitors through search engine optimization ( SEO ) or other methods, this will be wasted if the site fails to satisfy enough of those visitors when they arrive.

By satisfying visitors, I mean providing visitors with the information, products or services they came to the website looking for and doing it in way that is satisfying to the visitor. If the website is meant to sell products and/or services the design should also be designed to convert enough visitors into sales or leads to satisfy the site owner.

If it doesn’t do all this then it’s NOT good website design!

When deciding what is, or is not good web design, I use two checklists. One checklist is for evaluating a web page and the other checklist is for evaluating the whole website. The web page evaluation checklist examines over 150 aspects of good page design and the website checklist examines over 120 aspects of good website design.

In an effort to find some good quality website designs in 2011, that meet my standards for good web design, I launched a good web design award with a $500 prize for the winning entry.

Finding a Job in Columbus in Web Design and Development

Columbus, Ohio is a great city in which to get a start as a freelance web designer or web developer. Columbus is one of the leading technology cities in the US, being the home of such widely renowned technology companies as Accenture, AOL, and the Battelle Memorial Institute. There are also hundreds of small to medium sized web design and web development companies peppered throughout the greater Columbus area.

Being a Columbus freelance web designer can be achieved by telecommuting, so you do not have to live in downtown Columbus, but being close to the city to do the occasional face-to-face meeting is highly recommended. Some web design companies will not give you a job without meeting you and some web development services require a face to face meeting, which is much easier when all web designers and project members are involved. Columbus, Ohio is a great place to live, and has enough web design job opportunities that you will not need to pitch outside of the city. It makes sense to live there. Although freelancing website design may seem like a terrifying prospect, it is not too hard as long as you have the bravery to go out on your own, and the work ethic to stick to it.

Calling web design companies in Columbus is one of the best ways to begin getting web design jobs. Calling companies takes away the potential clients ability to ignore your presence. Emails are easily erased or forgotten and direct mailing gets lost in the shuffle of bills. Write down a short speech introducing you as a freelance web designer, asking whether the company you are calling works with freelancers regularly. Although some web design companies use freelancers, while others prefer to use an in house web design team, you will find a few web design companies in Columbus that will be interested in your services. The secret to success when cold calling companies in Columbus is doing so in numbers. How many jobs you get depend greatly on your pitch and your experience, but expect to get one out of ten. With there being so many web design companies in Columbus, one out of ten is still a large amount of potential website projects.

Setting up a toll free phone number and getting a fax number will help you land more web design projects also. Toll free numbers allow clients who are outside of your area code to reach you free of charge. Prospective web design clients will need the ability to send agreements and documentation to you via fax. You’re right in thinking that most documents can be sent by email, but it is guaranteed that you will run into an old school client that still faxes documents the old fashioned way.

Setup an auto-responder on your email. This will help land more web design jobs in Columbus because people who email you will automatically receive a response. This could be beneficial because you could setup the auto-responder to include sales copy or your resume or both. If you send out mailers or business cards or advertisements with your designated auto-responder email address and get a reply from someone at that email address, that person will automatically receive your resume and sales text.

After getting a website design job, it is important that you stipulate what is required of you and your client. Make sure to draw up a contract or agreement of some sort just so that you have everything down on paper. Include your fee, the work to be done, the time period the work should be completed in and when you expect to be paid and in what forms (credit card, company checks).

Have a look around on the Internet for web design and website development companies in Columbus and write down the ones you are interested in. The best way to find web development companies in Columbus is to Google them. Search for terms such as “Columbus web design” or “web development companies in Columbus, Ohio”. Some day you may just get their attention and become a successful freelancer!