Over the last several decades there have been anywhere between 400,000 to 600,000 new businesses formed each year. Most new business owners are rightfully concerned about providing their service or product to customers. Marketing and advertising may not be high on their radar, but it should be. Unless your business is in a niche market, it will be difficult to get any exposure without a concerted effort towards advertising.
In today’s age, if your business doesn’t have a website, you’ll be at a huge disadvantage. There are many free and cheap solutions for having a website built. However, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Your business might survive for a little while, but eventually, it will get lost in the competition. Similar to buying an older used car, you may end up paying more for repairs than if you spent more upfront on a new car.
When searching for a website design company, it is important to factor in an ROI (return on investment). Because that’s what it is, an investment. You want your customers to have an easy and pleasant experience while browsing your website. A place where they can refer friends, relatives, and acquaintances. A poorly structured and designed website will hurt the chances of getting new business.
Managing Expectations Against Cost
One of the first steps you should take when researching a website design company is determining what size website you want. When you have that figured out, the next step is to determine a realistic budget to spend on your website.
For example, let’s say you’re an electrician. At the bare minimum, you should have a home, services and contact page. Don’t expect to rank really high in the search engines. You’ll need many more pages loaded with useful information and content to even begin the ranking process. But if you’re on a tight budget, it is a good starting point. I would recommend having an image gallery page to showcase your work if you go with a small website package. That way, you can at least direct potential customers that were referred to you to something of value.
Responsive design is a must
You’ll absolutely want to make sure that the website has a responsive design. Allowing for visitors on any device to view your website in a properly formatted manner. You should be able to find a decent website design company for that will offer a small site package for between $500 and $1000. That is excluding hosting. Any reliable company should be willing to upgrade your website for a fee when you are able to do so.
Now, perhaps you have more money to spend up front. Using the example of an electrical business, you’ll want to really break down the services you offer. What might be bullet points on a small website, should have their own page. For example – recessed lighting, electrical panel installation, ceiling fan installation, etc. All of those pages should explain each individual service you offer in great detail. Of course, this won’t lead to instant rankings for SEO. But it is a good start and has the benefit of answering questions that might not need to be asked over the phone or in person.
Eliminating the Bad Website Design Companies
I really believe there two mindsets when it comes to running a business. Those that value their customers over their bottom line and those that don’t. Below is a list of things you should consider avoiding when choosing a website design company.
Watch out for these warning signs
If you’re getting pressured to sign a contract outside of the initial build… don’t. Having a contract or agreement for the build phase is fine. However, if you are asked to make a long-term commitment of a year or so, that is usually a bad sign. Good web designers and companies will stand by their work. You shouldn’t be promised the moon and then only to find out you’re locked into a contract. At Precise Online Management, you own your website and are free take it to another web hosting company if you wish.
This should be a no-brainer. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the company is awful. A lot of times customers will ask or expect things that are out of the scope of what they ordered. You should carefully read these reviews. Reputable companies will often respond in great detail to explain what happened. If there are a lot of negative reviews without responses, stay away.
No SSL (https)
You really shouldn’t come across this too often. Every website design company should have that green padlock next to their domain name. Especially if they accept payments online. I want to take it a step further and suggest that you should go with a company that will give you a FREE SSL certificate. There really is no reason this shouldn’t be the standard. If you think this might be too good to be true. It’s not. Over the past couple of years Let’s Encrypt has gained a lot of traction. You can see they have some major sponsors backing them, and soon, insecure websites will be a thing of the past.
Most likely you’ve already reviewed the portfolio of a web design company. However, you should really take a look at how those websites perform. Benchmarking tools such as Google’s PageSpeed Insights, Pingdom, and GTMetrix give great insight on how well a website is optimized. If you’re seeing multiple websites from that company’s portfolio have a bad or failing grade, most likely they don’t care about performance. How a website is optimized not only affects the user experience but also has an impact on the search rankings.
Hosting Your Website
You should have the freedom to host your own website and domain. It should be clearly explained, that unless an arrangement has been made, if you host your own website you’ll be responsible for maintaining it. The company that builds your website should be able to determine if the hosting plan you currently have or want is adequate for your new website.
Shared hosting plans might be okay for some smaller businesses. For larger businesses, it is almost certain that your website will suffer loading and performance issues on a shared plan. Your website is basically fighting for server resources with other websites. The more concurrent visitors your site gets, the harder the server has to work.
Why your website should have its own resources
Any reputable website design company should be hosting your website on a dedicated server or virtual private server (VPS). If configured properly, this will allocate a certain amount of resources from the server such as memory and CPU power. Administrators of these types of servers also have great flexibility for installing certain applications and extensions. For instance, you might have a plugin on your website that requires a specific PHP extension. If you’re seeing an error like that on the backend of the website, it should be an easy fix for your web hosting company.
We charge a modest fee of $25 a month to host our customers’ websites. This does much more than just provide a space for their website. It includes maintenance and site backups. Websites powered by a content management system (CMS) are a lot like cars in that they need updating of core files and extensions. It is extremely important that they are updated on at least a somewhat regular basis. This is necessary to help keep the website secure and running as efficiently as possible too.
Hosting fees should also include the allowance of minor website changes. For instance, if you wanted to change some text on a page or add a picture or two. Our hosting plan makes it easy to request reasonable changes. Keep in mind that if you want additional features or pages added to your website, you should expect to pay an additional one-time charge.
Getting the Most From Optimization
I touched on performance and optimization earlier. To truly appreciate and understand just how crucial it is to have your website optimized, I feel it necessary to explain some of the more prominent optimizations. A good website design company should at the very least have the following optimized:
One of the most neglected but easier optimizations concerns image size and compression. PageSpeed Insights will let you know if your website images are fully optimized. You might scoff at the estimated savings (usually in the kilobytes) for an image. However, if you add up all the unoptimized images together, the total savings becomes more clear. Loading speed might not be an issue for someone on a fast high-speed internet connection. But the goal is to accommodate every visitor to your website. Including those mobile users that have a weak signal.
It isn’t a difficult fix if the images are unoptimized. One of the best plugins for WordPress makes it very simple to correct this problem. EWWW Image Optimizer will scan your existing media library and adjust the compression to a setting of your preference. Furthermore, it allows for the implementation of the WebP format. Most modern web browsers support WebP and it offers greater compression with no loss in quality compared to JPG. Chrome users can see if WebP is working by right-clicking on a page and choosing Inspect. From there, select the network tab and scroll through the list of assets. If image files have a Type format of WebP, there’s your answer.
Leverage browser caching
If your website design company doesn’t have GZIP compression on their server, scold them! Seriously! Instead of having it enabled on a site-by-site basis it is much simpler to implement it server-wide. Much like a zip file can compress data making it more compact and smaller, GZIP again, helps the saving of bandwidth. The tradeoff is the server has to work a tiny bit more during the compression process but not enough to make performance suffer.
By plugging in a URL on checkgzipcompression.com, you can instantly see if GZIP compression is working. It is a good way to test, and has helped me greatly when troubleshooting server conflicts. You can read about my Struggle with GZIP due to a settings conflict on our server.
As a designer, the one thing that irks me the most when loading a page is dealing with FOUT/FOUC. Better known as flash-of-unstyled-content(& text). I’m not of fan of using a preloader. That’s when the page is covered with a blank background and you usually see a circle spinner of some sort. When the page has fully loaded that spinner and background fade away. I’d rather have a brief pop-in and alignment of assets. You’ll see that mainstream news sites feel the same. They have a lot of content to structure. Externally loaded fonts can be especially tricky to deal with. Typically they require being fetched first to avoid an unsightly font change in the navigation or body text of a page.
Going With Your Gut
Now that you know what to look for and avoid. It’s decision time. You don’t always have to sign up with a large website design company. You should be able to share your vision of your websites’ design and the goals of your business. Guidance should be offered on what to do but never forced. After all, it is YOUR website.
When you decide on a website design company you should have a clear idea of a short-term and long-term plan for marketing your business. The design is just one part of building your online empire. SEO and other marketing techniques, if not being considered already, should be planned out in the near future.
I appreciate the time you took to read this article. If you can spare a few more moments I would like to show you why Precise Online Management offers one of the most feature rich online marketing solutions around!