The right Website designer
1 April 2005 | 0
When the Internet began to grow in popularity a few years back, many companies rushed to get online as quickly as possible. The general consensus was that if your organisation didn’t have some kind of Web presence, then your business would be left behind.
However, the rush to establish a home on the Internet meant that many SMEs spent vast sums of money developing Websites without giving proper consideration as to the site’s primary audience. This resulted in a host of badly designed Websites that did little to raise the profile of individual firms. Moreover, given that few companies had much idea about how to market their sites successfully, many organisations found themselves in the position whereby neither they nor their customers could find their online home.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the initial euphoria over the Web has subsided in recent years, in part because of some companies’ negative experiences in trying to establish an online presence and also because people haven’t embraced the Internet in quite the way that was once imagined.
Despite this, there are many important reasons why firms need to have a home on the Net. Put simply, a properly designed Website can do wonders for your business. Not only can it allow you to trade with firms from overseas at any time of the day or night, it is also a wonderful marketing tool that enables you to get closer to your customers without having to break the bank. On the flipside though, a badly designed site is more likely to do your business harm than good because if your Website is unprofessional, then your audience is likely to assume that the company is as well.
Cons of cost cutting
Given the plethora of off-the-shelf Website packages and the large number of amateur Website designers around who are looking for gainful employment, there can be the temptation to cut costs and develop a basic site. Depending on the line of business you’re in and the type of clientele you are hoping to attract, a ‘bare bones’ site can be sufficient. But if you really want to impress potential customers then there really is no substitute than a professional Web design company who will not only ensure that you look good on the Web, but will also help your organisation develop a successful online marketing strategy.
Many firms fail to realise that Web design is a mixture of a number of different elements. Obviously the look and feel of a Website is important, but that in itself is not enough to ensure your firm will succeed online. As well as creating a smart professional Website that will impress your audience, Web design companies also spend a lot of time on administrative tasks, such as indexing sites for search engines so that people can easily find you.
As Ian Smith, director of Noise Multimedia, a company that has developed Websites for a large number of Irish firms says, ‘the important thing to remember about going to a good Web design company is that you’re paying for their expertise. Nowadays, people can design their own sites, but to do this they’ve really got to know what they’re doing. A good Web design company does much more than just creating a Website, they work as a consultancy, telling you what type of Web presence your organisation needs. Over the years, we’ve come across so many people who have put together their own site. But the danger with doing this is that a Website is not an end in itself. If you want your Website to work for you, then you have to spend a lot of time developing it, and if you’re doing this then that’s time spent away from looking after your business’.
However, while a professional Web design company can do all the hard work, that doesn’t mean that you can simply sit back and wait for the final product to be presented to you. After all, a Web designer may know how to create a smart looking site that will wow your customers and suppliers, but no one understands your business more than you and therefore organisations have an important role to play in ensuring that the message you want to send to your audience is put across correctly.
Garett Carr, managing director with Web design company Doodlebomb, says, ‘it is vital for the Web designer to understand the message that their clients want to put across and the fundamental role of the designer is to translate that message into the medium of the Internet. You don’t have to know anything about Websites, but you do have to envisage the effect that you want to achieve, therefore its essential to spend time with the designer so that he or she understands what you are looking for.’
Carr points out that these things aren’t always easy to put into words; firms need to think about how they’ll help the designer to get to know their business. ‘This can be done in a number of ways. For example, a few years ago I helped design a Website for Dublin Castle and before we began to develop the site, the Castle’s general manager brought us on a tour of the place, which he was right to do because we had to understand the subject ourselves before we could make a Website that would enable other people to.’
Many Web designers also believe that it’s important for organisations to sit down with designers in order to decide who the site is aimed at. Conor Stanley, marketing director with Clearscape says, ‘once you’ve identified who you’re trying to target with your Website, whether its customers, suppliers or the media, you’ve then got to decide how to match their needs online and work from the basis of the target audience. This can be done in partnership with your designer and from there its easy to build the Website up.’
Au fait with design
Another advantage of opting for a professional Web design company rather than opting to do it yourself is that Web designers are au fait with design conventions that amateurs aren’t. ‘People can try and design a site themselves,’ says Stanley, ‘but if a company has a corporate brand or image, then its important that it is presented properly. Think about it like this: would you design your own brochures or business cards or would you give this over to an expert?
Companies need to ensure that their sites are well designed and easy to navigate and that all the best design conventions are used. Most individuals aren’t aware of these and so it makes sense to go to someone who does.’
The reasons for choosing a professional Web design company are manifold, but just how do small businesses go about deciding which one they should opt for, particularly when there are so many of them around? Ennis Information Age Services, a commercial venture that grew out of the Ennis Information Age Town Project, has advised some 600 companies in terms of their IT strategy. Gavin Whittaker, the firm’s head of marketing has some advice on choosing a company to design your site. ‘Obviously you should look at what work a company has done before for other organisations. However, in doing do, people should be careful not to confuse the design of a site with the actual detail on it,’ he says. ‘Ultimately, the Website should be about the information and not about how good it looks. Furthermore, companies need to look at Websites as long-term investments. They need to consider things such as online marketing as something that can help generate a return on investment and in doing so, draw up a strategy.’
Whittaker points out that online marketing is essential. ‘You’ll get no return on your spend if people can’t locate the site or find the information they’re after on it. It’s essential that organisations thinking about going to a Web design company should ensure they ask questions about marketing, especially with regard to search engine listings. You should ask what sort of process a Web development company is going to do in terms of optimising your Website for a search engine because if your Website isn’t coming up in the top thirty results then no-one’s going to be able to find you.’
One stop to online
Most Web design companies now operate as a one-stop shop looking after everything from site design, to registering domain names, updating site content and marketing of a Website. Many companies also offer scalable packages specifically for SMEs. Gravitate has recently launched a new product which costs EUR30 per month (plus a once-off setup fee of EUR500 ex-VAT) which includes design, content updates and email, while Storm Web, a design company based in City West, Co Dublin, currently offers a product known as WebStart which includes a five-page Website, a domain name and Web hosting for EUR650 ex-VAT. According to Storm Web’s director John Lehane, the WebStart package is perfect for SMEs because many prefer to play it safe and set up a basic Website initially. ‘We find that many companies tend to opt for a simple Website at first and then once we’ve developed this, they’ll start looking at adding functionality to their site.’
An important area for consideration for any company considering developing a new Website or revamping their existing one is the issue of updates. Companies should budget for content updates and should talk to their Website designers about how to proceed with changing content on a site. Gavin Whittaker points out that companies should look at ongoing maintenance costs and costs for updates when they are pricing a Website.’ Usually if a company hasn’t had a Web presence before, they’ll be changing content often and updating the Website can end up costing more than the actual design costs,’ Whittaker says.
Some Website designers include a Content Management System (CMS) in with a Website so that individual firms can update information themselves. While this is one option that organisations can consider, CMS’s do add more to overall costs. Alternatively, firms can ask Web design companies to update content for them. Either way, organisations should consider their relationship with a design company as a long-term partnership.
‘A CMS is good because it allows firms to update their Websites when they want too and it also gives them the ability to put out email newsletters and have mailing lists,’ says Ian Smith. ‘However, many SMEs don’t have the type of budget that a large company has and therefore they may not be able to afford one. Even if they do have one, it’s always worth going back to your Web design company for a bit of consultation now and then to keep the site finely tuned. The relationship between a firm and a design company is obviously very important and its one in which the design company aims to grow with the client, something that’s achievable because the longer the partnership, then the better a designer is going to understand a firm’s business.’
Things to consider before choosing a Web design company
Do your homework first – think about who your primary online audience is and what information it is you want to convey to them.Check out Web design companies’ portfolios online to get a feel for the work they can do for you.When budgeting for a Website, don’t forget to include costs for site maintenance and content updates.Before opting for a particular company be sure to ask them about how they will market the Website for you.Appoint someone within your organisation to liase with the Web designer.