Business | Web Design & Development
“How did I ever get myself into this mess?” Who in the private or public sector has not had that painful thought? We sometimes develop partnerships based on first impressions and early conversations, only to face costly nightmares later!
Of all the horror stories we have heard since starting our family of companies in 1981, many complaints (and regrets) surround technology, especially Web design. The following comments were made by angry readers and customers who partnered with unethical, unprofessional Web companies:
- “My Web designer never calls me back. I feel like I work for them!”
- “I need to make small edits to my site, but it takes weeks of pleading for my Web business to make changes.”
- “When I wanted to change Web designers, I learned I don’t own my Website or domain address – they do! I’m trapped!”
- “My Website looks great, but no one can find it on the Internet.”
- “My Website is down and I get a recording when I call for help!”
- “I got a good deal, but my Website is useless!”
The technology field is similar to other professions in that customers can easily be pressured into paying for overpriced, ineffective Web services. Because there is no licensing authority to certify Web professionals, many consumers who rush to select a Web designer without conducting a thorough investigation end up with the wrong one.
How should I begin the search for good Web designers? Perform all of the following cautiously: inquire with friends, colleagues, business owners, and non-profit staff; contact Web designers listed at the bottom of appealing Websites; consult the Yellow Pages; search the Internet (for example, Google “Columbia SC Web Design”). As in any field, Web companies’ philosophies, ethics, work quality, knowledge, experience, financial security, pricing, and customer service vary significantly. Solicit proposals from several Web businesses to find the best fit for your needs. Before making a final selection, check with your local business bureau to see if there have been complaints filed against the business.
What should I look for? Competent Web companies that create great Websites will often have these characteristics:
1. Employs customer-driven, friendly staff — Selecting the right Web design company is like choosing a partner for marriage—don’t rush into it! First impressions are important, but be aware of companies that “over-promise and under-deliver.” Jack Welch in Winning and Malcolm Gladwell in Blink both suggest that if you don’t feel good about something, don’t do it. Base your decision on facts and impressions.
2. Develops professional Websites —Customers are less likely to do business with companies that have poorly-constructed, unprofessional-looking Websites. Your Website must have the “WOW!” factor, be easy to navigate, contain helpful content, and include clear contact information. Quality Web design companies will carefully assess these factors during your Website development stage. Be sure to study a Web design company’s portfolio—if their clients’ Websites look mediocre, assume that yours will be similar. Contact their customers to learn firsthand about their professionalism and the quality of their work. Look beyond provided references.
3. Offers a content management system (CMS) —This is the ability to make text and picture changes in-house, instead of waiting for (and paying for) your Web design company to make them. Designers must still make major structural changes, but having CMS allows you to easily update your Website’s content, offering customers up-to-date information without costly delays.
4. Provides a plan to increase your Web traffic through Search Engine Optimization (SEO)— This unique process allows your Website to be found quickly when potential customers type your services into search engines like Google. As technology advances, Internet searches are becoming more common than traditional information sources like the Yellow Pages, radio, and print media. Therefore, your company should be easily found on the Internet when consumers search for your services. If searches do not find you on the first page of results (usually, in the top 10 listings), potential customers are going elsewhere! Competent Web professionals will guide you in maximizing your Website’s marketing potential.
5. Helps you stay in front of your customers—Once your Website is operational, it is important to keep in touch with your clients. Since 350 million people frequently use social networks like Facebook and Twitter, consult with your Web designer to determine effective ways to utilize these sites. E-newsletter and e-mail campaigns are other economical ways to provide your customers with updates, specials, and important information. Quality Web companies can provide a custom program with an e-mail address database for you.
Also, look for a company whose staff members:
- Are customer-driven, friendly, and interested in learning how your organization works.
- Listen to your needs, answer questions, and provide suggestions.
- Are college-educated in business, marketing, and/or technology areas.
- Focus primarily on Web design and not a host of other services—or else your Website development may be subcontracted to another company whose staff you have never met
- Speak to you in understandable terms (not techno-babble).
- Are quality-driven and honest about what they can do.
- Have proven graphic design, coding, business, and marketing experience.
- Educate you on the Web process.
- Develop realistic, understandable action plans with timelines.
- Maintain a philosophy of doing fewer projects really well versus serving many customers fairly well. You should be treated as if you are the only client the Web design company has.
- Provide Web services and ongoing support at reasonable prices. Don’t go too cheap—remember that it takes money to make money! However, don’t pay for expensive services you won’t need.
- Give you Website rights and ownership.
- Work for an established, financially-strong business that maintains high-quality offices (no fly-by-nights!).
- Provide copywriting services and catch grammatical errors. Ask if they have technical writers on staff with degrees in English or journalism.
- Offer monthly traffic reports to assess how visitors interact with each page of your Website.
- Your project is a substantial investment, so read written bids and contracts carefully. Agreements should be mutual and must be more concrete than a simple handshake.
Expect to wait in line for quality companies that focus on a few customers at a time. It is best to select a turnkey company to provide all Web services so there aren’t “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Your Website reflects your organization, so don’t rush the process. Depending on your objectives, a realistic timeline to field test and put your Website into operation is 60 days. Updates take less time.
The bottom line: The more work you conduct upfront to select a great Web design company, the less frustration and loss you will experience down the road. You want a professional Website that works, draws clients, and generates profits; a customer-driven Web company whose staff exceeds your expectations; and competent Web professionals who will support you and your Website well into the future.
Remember: you get what you pay for!