Thinking about a new website?
You’ve had look round at your competitors and surfed the internet to the point where you’re sure you have RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) in your two mouse operating fingers and now you feel sick in the pit of your stomach. Your website is so inferior, everyone’s looks better than yours and you begin to wonder what to do next. Fear not! Here’s a guide on what to ask, and what you should know, before getting a new website.
Make a list
Begin by answering the following list of questions. We know it may seem a little less exciting than jumping back on the internet and looking up some fantastic creative agencies that can wow with you their skills and general web wizardry. But bear with us here, you know more about your business, and your dreams for it, than any other person. Make that list!
If you can answer the following questions then you will be able to present a clear and thorough brief to any coder or creative that you employ to do the job.
Who are you/your organisation?
This could be as succinct as your company’s mission or values but also it’s important to have a view of your long and short time marketing strategies.
Who is the decision maker?
It’s critical that the decision-maker is involved at key stages as it’s not realistic to push a project to near completion before revealing it to the person who matters.
Do you have brand guidelines?
A website is your online shop window and should be branded as such. Are there brand guidelines that need to be adhered to? If not, do you have certain brand assets that are set in stone? Logo? Font? Colour palette? Or is this a good opportunity to look at fresh branding?
Who are you targeting?
It’s imperative to identify and understand your target audience – and maybe not just the audience you have today but the audience you want in the next five years. Remember, in terms of design and functionality, it must appeal to them. The design is not necessarily to satisfy your own taste but it must satisfy theirs.
What is your offering?
Know you products/services and what is special about them. Try to define your offering in two sentences without using the word ‘service’!
What are your unique selling points (USP’s)?
In simple terms, what makes you better than the rest? Why should customers use/buy from you? What can you offer that differs from your competitors?
What are people’s opinion of your company or product?
Do not be shy in exploring both your strengths and weaknesses. Strengths can be emphasised, weaknesses may be addressed, resolved, redressed or downplayed but it’s better that they are known.
Who are your competitors?
You should know who your competition is both on and offline. What are they doing well? Are they doing anything poorly? Can you learn from them?
Where do you want to be in 5 years’ time?
Generally, the average lifespan of a website is 5 years. Technology moves on, people’s habits change, but the question is: Will your newly-designed and built website take you where you need to be?
What functionality and features does the site need in order to deliver the information required by visitors?
If there is anything that is an absolute must for the website, now is the time to identify it. Do you need an events calendar or news blog? Are you planning to sell products online and need an e-commerce shop? Do you need a members’ directory or a secure resource area? Your web agency should be able to help identify website features and functions for your business’ requirements.
What platform or coding structure will the website be developed on?
How transferable will the technology be? Can you move the site to a different server if required? Do you fully own the site on completion?
What is your call to action?
So the user has visited your website, you have traffic. Now what do you want that visitor to do once they are on your website? Contact you? By phone? Email? Buy a product?
What is your time frame for launching the website?
Make sure whoever you task with your website build can deliver the website on time. Maybe you want it to coincide with a new product launch or an AGM?
What is your budget?
You may be reluctant to disclose this information but we can assure you that it doesn’t make a difference to our quoting process even if it does to other agencies. The reality is if you buy flowers, a bunch can cost £5 or £200. The budget dictates what the florist would recommend. The same applies to website functionality. How much is a website we are asked? How long is a piece of string? It depends on the size of the site and the complexity of the build but being open to a frank discussion as to what ‘x’ will buy may save a lot of time for everyone. If you don’t want to say what you will spend at least make some enquiries as to how much this website (show a good example of what you would like) may cost. Then you will know if the agency fit your budget.
It’s important to know the answer to these questions as they will guide the solution. And if your creative/agency isn’t asking these or similar questions but leads with something like “So, what’s your favourite colour?” I’d run a mile.
Make an informed choice
Take a good look at some of the jobs your creative agency has completed. Ask them questions like, “What is the call to action on this site?” or, “Who is the target audience?”, *What platform is the site built on?”
Proving they had these thoughts in mind when designing the site is far more important than seeing multitudes of their work examples from your sector – as is seeing a good creative solution that is clean and tidy with clear, easy-to-use navigation, and is responsive on multiple devices. A good designer can design for any sector as they will research and understand your requirements thoroughly before delivering them.
And finally, check who will actually be working on your website’s design and build. You’d be surprised how many companies describe themselves as ‘full service’ agencies but actually outsource the build.
Do you need hosting for the website or have you already got this in place? Is there an ongoing support or maintenance for your site? What backup proceedures are in place just in case the worst happens?
What are their terms?
We do not charge anything up-front for website design and quite frankly we do not see why anyone does. Now we’re sure some agencies would argue, ‘”What if we start work on the website and the client pulls out, leaving us high and dry?” Well either through luck or judgement we can honestly say that since 2009 when we formed Identity Studio, that has never happened.
So we say that you shouldn’t be asked to pay a lump sum up-front for a new website. Depending on the size of the project, the agency may request that staged payments be made as each project goal is reached.
Generally we would ask for payment only at the end of the project, once you are satisfied with the newly-built website. And we do this because we think that’s reasonable.
Set clear goals
Agree a timeline between yourselves and the agency as it is important to understand what you are getting and when you are getting it. Our own processes have changed over time as technology changes but some things are fundamental to the design process:
- Discovery – At the first meeting you will be asked many of the above question plus more, to discover your requirements.
- Quote – After the initial meeting, we will quote for the job.
- Research – Once given the go-ahead, we will look at your sector and research the competition, as well as investigating current design trends and what brands your audience responds well to (and why).
- Sitemap/Schedule – We then create a proposed sitemap so we can start structuring your content for the website build. Our plan would also include timings. This may include deadlines for yourselves if you are providing text or images.
- Information Architecture (IA)/Design – At this stage we provide a wireframe or design proposal for the site. This would include key IA such as where does the navigation sit, where is the call to action, where is the hero image situated. Sometimes, especially for smaller websites or where there is a very short lead-time, we may wrap this into the website’s build as the WordPress platform is such that we can quickly adjust the design using the cascading style sheet (CSS) and the IA by moving modular elements.
- Build – Once the sitemap and design is approved by the client, we build and develop the site ready for launch. This may include full population or it may just be the framework for you to then populate with your content.
- Testing – This is carried at throughout to ensure that each element works as it is supposed to as we go along.
- Training – Once you’re happy with the website, we provide training to empower you to manage the site’s content going forward.
Stay in touch
Communication is key to getting the results you want. Staying in touch throughout the project means you can see how things are progressing and ensures that the end result is as you expected. That way, when you reach the conclusion of the project, there are no nasty surprises for you or the agency involved.
Finally, have fun!
Creating something new for your business is an exciting process. It should be fun. It might be hard work and sometimes design can be challenging or simply not initially what you had in mind. Maybe your own preferences do not marry with your audience’s but never forget that the website design is more for them than for you. Ultimately though, it should still be an enjoyable, rewarding process so have fun!