Practical Tips When Commissioning Web Design

We’ve been building a lot of client web sites recently and its prompted me to write this post to give some general advice as to what you should be thinking about before you start talking to an agency. As the downturn kicks in we’ve had a number of enquiries where people have baulked at the cost of bespoke web design and build, comparing our prices with others, and I think its important that we make sure prospective clients look at things on a level playing field and understand what they will actually get for their money. 1. Filter out the part time and bedroom businesses There are lots of agencies around that offer ridiculously low prices for so called professional web design. Think about how much you would expect to charge a client for the build of something like a website, in terms of the time it would take. And if the costs seem too low, then they probably are. Ask yourself questions like, will I be able to get hold of a real account manager when I need to? There are some great small businesses around that operate from home, but they will still charge you a fair market rate for the work required. In our case we can build a simple web site in a day, and our low end pricing reflects this and the ongoing support that clients need once they launch their site. 2. Decide at the outset what your budget is for design and build – and the marketing… It makes sense to set a budget for your web design project. This allows you to compare the investment against other forms of advertising such as printing of brochures, paper advertising , Yellow Pages, TV and Radio. Key things to consider in the budgeting process are:
  1. Do you want to be able to edit your content once the site is built?
  2. Will your agency use SEO best practice in the build process?
  3. How will you drive traffic to the web site?
  4. Will the build be cross browser compatible and render correctly in older browsers?
  5. Do you want to have quality bespoke design work or will variations of a template suffice?
  6. Who will provide the copy for the web site, and will it be written in the right way, including testimonials and USP’s?
  7. Where will photography for the site come from? Will the agency provide photographic services?
  8. Do you need to sell products online? Will the checkout systems be secure for both you and your customers?
  9. Do you want to Blog or incorporate Social Networking tools such as RSS or Twitter Feeds in your site?
  10. Will you need bespoke database development work? Will it be guaranteed post launch, and will it be in a recognised format?
The design and build of the web site should be considered in the same way that you budget for the design and print of a brochure, and once you’ve got it built, you have the same costs of marketing it. ie; for a brochure the cost of putting it in an envelope and posting it to a prospect. For a web site you may have the cost of online advertising such as Google Adwords which will typically cost a small business just under a pound per click or view of your web site, or email marketing out to a list of email addresses that you may have gained in the course of doing business or rented from a reputable (DMA Affiliated) provider. When you ask your agency to pitch, make sure that their quotation is comprehensive, and fully mathces your brief, and that you know exactly what your getting for your money. 3. Make sure you have an Account Manager or Project Manager you can meet with Don’t put up with form filling for the build of your web project, make sure you have a human account manager that you can scope and discuss your build with. Make sure you know what deliverables are expected from yourself, and by when in order to meet your launch deadline. Make sure there is an online management system that allows you to input your copy directly onto a writeboard and tracks copy edits. Ensure that you have an online timeline for your build that shows the major milestones, showing tasks with their owners and transparent documentation of each process as it is completed. The system should be linked to email so that all communications on your project are contained in  one place, and not lost amongst everything esle in your inbox. At STAR Digital we use the online system Basecamp from forty seven signals to manage client builds, as do most of the major online agencies across the world. As the internet matures as a marketing channel, your web site is often the first impression that people have of you and your business. You can’t afford to give a poor impression. 4. Ensure that Web Analytics are at the heart of your build I can’t stress it enough, analytics is the most important part of the build. It tells you exactly whats going on, which pages work, which don’t, how well you are performing on the search engines, how long your prospects stay on your site, and how many pages they view. Your goals should be tracked and recorded so that you know how many people complete a marketing outcome such as filling in a lead form or making a purchase. We’ve worked with large clients who haven’t had analytics at the heart of their internet strategy, and once we’ve underpinned their sites with it its made a huge difference to the return on their online investment. (ROI) The thing to remember is that all sites built by us have at the very least the free Google Analytics tool pre-configured with standard auto-reporting set up to email visual reports through to you every week. 5. Beware Hidden Extras – They’re everywhere Most of the companies that we come up against have great offers on all of the time, with web sites starting at £499 or the like. One national printing franchise is famed for its hidden extras both on print and web services, that by the time you’ve placed your order, the £300 or so pounds you thought you’d be paying has quickly escalated into £1500! Remember point 1, if it looks to good to be true, it generally is. We believe that a personalised quotation is the only way to fully understand what you’ll get for your money. It needs to outline all of the deliverables, and how much iot will cost if you change things or require further work out of scope. Where prices are quoted per page, and this is fairly standard in brochureware, make sure you know what a page consists of. It certainly won’t include bespoke navigation or a Flash Banner, make sure you know what these little extras will cost. 6. Open Source or Licensed? As the recession bites we are working with our clients differently. To explain, open source is basically free licensing on very robust software platforms. The main ones that we work with are WordPress, Joomla and Magento eCommerce. Using these platforms doesn’t need to stifle creativity, this Blog was built in WordPress. Joomla is a very capable content management system and is used by thousands of corporates to build their web sites, Magento is a stunning eCommerce system that boasts a fully documented user guide over 200 pages long. Using these open source platforms saves money, typical licence costs for a full blown content management system such as Activedition, the one we re-sell, is around £10K set up with hosting and support typically running into £3-400 per month. Now these are acceptable costs for larger SME’s that want total security, but you can have an open source solution in place for a fraction of that monthly cost, enabling you to devote more budget to a better quality build. The same is true for eCommerce, we use ePages as a licensed solution, and for a single pro license it costs £4500 and hosting costs will be similar to those of Activedition. There are cheaper options at about £75 per month but there is a trade off between functionality and design.  The Magento open source solution has no licence fee and hosting prices start out at £25 a month! You do have to decide between open source and licensed based on a number of factors:
  1. Do you need someone to be responsible for security? If yes, you probably need licensed software, although quality hosting on open source should be as reliable
  2. Do you require a highly bespoke build? If yes, you probably need licensed software, although there are many plug-ins available for Open Source solutions
  3. Do you need a guaranteed upgrade path? If yes, you probably need licensed software but there are no gurantees that individual developers will continue to provide updates.
Find out more about the licensed solutions versus their open source cousins by reviewing the feature sets on their web sites. Activedition is our professional content management system, versus Joomla! our open source solution. You decide which is best for you. Epages is our professional ecommerce solution, versus Magento our open source version, and for Blogging we customise WordPress. In Summary There is quite a bit to consider before commissioning your web site design, we believe that our approach is thorough, and we can still offer attractive pricing and complete customer satisfaction. Our marketing led approach looks at your web site not just from the perspective of design, but also from its abaility to achive your desired marketing outcomes, be it lead generation or sales. If you want to know more just call us on +44 1604 696385 and we’d be happy to help you understand the nuances of scoping out your web build.