Choosing a web designer

Choosing a web designer can be a most difficult decision to make. Is this the right company? Will they listen to you, will they understand what you want, and can they produce it?

And what the heck is that language they speak?!!

I've helped to coach hundreds of new and experienced web designers and, while this is a little long, I think you may find it of help.

What's needed in a web designer?

There seems to be a distinct lack of information about how to start an online business, much less how to choose a web designer. But let's start with one thing: expectations. Yours.

Casting about for help, one may find someone who knows something about building websites. Or find that there are computer programs that can help you build a website without knowing a thing. This, however, gives the idea that just about anyone can make a website, which would be true ... sort of.

But does it follow that those great websites that you see take no more than a day or two to build and cost no more than, say, $50. Or that you'll get rich overnight, like those television commercials and uninvited emails promise. If you have a sneaking suspicion that this isn't the way it really is, you are right.

First, a professional-looking website is not created at the mere press of a button after talking to you and gathering ten minutes of information. It's a matter of planning, what to include and what to exclude, good design, appealing text, how to sell, what business plan to follow, and more. There are plenty of people who can turn out professional websites, but few who will volunteer to spend dozens of hours consulting with a client, designing a clear and unconfusing website, and sweating over ad copy, pictures and all the major and minor details — in essence, creating a commercial marketing vehicle — for less than the cost of a Yellow Pages ad (also a useful advertising method).

That said, and with the understanding that a cheap-looking website is not the best way to represent yourself, or that you do not have unlimited funds to throw at web designers on the off-chance that you'll get something that resembles what you want, there may exist good web designers with reasonable rates, you have two choices: build it yourself or have someone else build it.

If you opt to build it yourself, you'll find help here.

Otherwise, the question is: how do you identify the web designer who will give you the most bang for your buck?

How do I find the "right" web designer?

Look at their work — their clients' websites. Do they look professional? Are they logical, easy to use, and provide what's needed to help customers achieve their (and the clients') goals? That means that a bit (actually, a lot) of business development has gone into them. Do they rank reasonably well in search engines?

Professional websites require an understanding of actual design — and what presentations and approaches might be pertinent to your industry. Images must be pertinent and professional; ad copy should appeal to your customers. This is a matter of marketing know-how. Even if you write the text, it's best if your chosen web designer understands and is able to implement these functions. The pages also have to download fast, and work in a variety of browsers (at a minimum, various editions of Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, etc. for PC and Mac). So far, so good.

The search engine issue. The website should be built to place well in search engines — because it's no help to have a website that places #2,003 for your chosen search terms. Since search engines are a major source of website visitors, are the designer's websites built to gain good search engine rankings? Actually, this is difficult for most people to tell — but you can ask the web designer. He'll either know and be able to show you some examples, or he won't. This becomes more and more important as search engines begin charging for listings, but whether your pages rank well is up to you.

Shouldn't a web designer know all this? Not necessarily. This is an entire study in itself. Web designer is a catchall phrase in an industry that has grown very fast in a relatively short time. To be fair, "web designer" typically means someone who can design and build a website. If search engine rankings are important to you, ask.

Find out, too, if he's going to submit your website to the search engines. If he isn't, then it'll be up to you. Don't discover years later that nobody put your website in the search engines.

So, that's: design, marketing, search engines — at a minimum. Good.

Can he work with you — and vice versa? This is an important point. Designing a website is an intense endeavor, and the designer will need to work with you, to get a feel for your business and industry, and to ascertain your preferences and goals. At the same time, you'll have to feel comfortable with him, and to know that he'll give you the benefit of his knowledge of the Web and marketing. Does he get super-touchy when you ask for changes, or does he listen, learn and give the benefit of his expertise? All this you can only find out by talking to him ... a few emails aren't going to do it — and you'll be able to get an idea of what he knows, whether he can help you, etc. A phone call or meeting is a must.

Does he speak English — or geekspeak? This is not a slur of any kind. By this, I mean: can he explain Internet and computer terminology to you in plain English (or in your language) ... or worse, does he not explain anything at all? The truth of the matter is that (a) Web terminology is simply horrendous — computers, electricity, technology, even light (for pictures).

Moreover, the plain truth is that you may need to understand a little more of it than you do now. Does he take the time to explain it so that you can easily understand it?

Long-Term Relationship? Find out what his plans are after your website is completed. Many clients appreciate an ongoing relationship, the ability to follow up, get website maintenance, plan future expansion strategies, or just kick ideas around. Some design houses just design; others are available to help with marketing strategies. Will he be there when you need help setting up your email program to get your website's email?

Is this the right web designer?

The savvy, experienced web designer can implement your ideas and enhance them, spotting possible pitfalls and making recommendations along the way — and he'll help you to understand the procedure and give you the benefit of his experience and understanding of the Web, so that you come away not only with a website, but with an enhanced understanding of the Web and online business. In short, he'll work with you and be effective.

And you can only find out by doing a bit of homework yourself, and talking to him.

On the other hand, if you've opted to design your website yourself, you may have a little ways to go ... but you can shorten this through reading our articles and e-books, and consultation with a good web designer.

Just my opinion; I hope this helps.

Diane Vigil founded DianeV Web Design Studio, has served as a consultant to numerous companies, as a moderator and administrator of the JimWorld SearchEngineForums and Cre8asiteforums, on the Site-Report Experts Panel — and has designed and built numerous websites since 1997.

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