Need a Web Presence?

Tackle the task yourself or call for help? A look at the options.
Photo Thinkstock

The Internet is a huge part of our daily lives, and the fact that most people consult the web when shopping for goods and services is no secret. A recent survey by media research and advisory company BIA Kelsey found that 97 percent of consumers use online media before they make a decision on where to spend their money.

As that number continues to rise, businesses without a strong online presence are at risk of becoming invisible. Knowing you need a website and making it happen are two very different things. Even though most of us use the Internet on a daily basis, shopping for a business website can be intimidating. The options can be overwhelming and there will inevitably be new jargon to learn. Despite this, the process does not have to be confusing.

Should I Go it Alone?

The first step is deciding whether you want to take the do-it-yourself approach or hire a professional. As a small-business owner myself, I often hear advice that I should outsource anything that isn’t part of my core competency. Unfortunately, real budgets don’t always allow for this, so making decisions about what we can do alone and what needs to go to a professional are crucial to success. If you’re considering using an online template to build your website, ask yourself these three questions:

• How much time do I have to spare? Even a simple website can spiral into an 80-hour project if you have to learn a whole new software, come up with a design and create content. Think about how much your time is worth, set an amount of time for the project, and be willing to abandon the task if it becomes too overwhelming.

• Do I have a good design eye? DIY website builders can be a lot of fun because they give you loads of options for colors, fonts and designs. But if design isn’t your strong suit, it’s probably best to keep it simple or consult a professional designer. Too many homemade websites end up as a confusing jumble of fonts and colors with no cohesive message. Even unsophisticated Internet users recognize a badly designed website, and this will send the signal that your business doesn’t take itself seriously.

• Am I technically savvy? Even website platforms with good user interfaces can be tricky to navigate at first (think about how confusing it can be when Facebook implements a platform change), and there will inevitably be new jargon to learn. From domain names and hosting, to responsive design, and search engine optimization — if you have to teach yourself a whole new field from scratch, you may be getting yourself in too deep.

Photo ronstik

Finding the Right Web Designer and Platform

If you decide to hire a pro, make sure you find someone you can trust. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and steer clear of folks who try to confuse you with jargon. A good web designer will be willing to talk you through the process in plain English and show you examples of previous work. A contract is essential to any working relationship, and this is no different with your web designer. Make sure you establish the project scope — exactly what is included in your site, and the timeline, before you get started. This way, you can also compare quotes fairly, and there won’t be any big surprises down the road.

A few things to look for in your contract include:

• A content management system (CMS): Buying a site with a CMS means you will be able to make content changes in real time without having to pay your programmer every time you want to make updates. WordPress is our favorite CMS platform, and its popularity means that other programmers will find it easy to use if you have to change web companies down the line. It’s usually best to stay away from a custom CMS since the code may be proprietary, which means you may have to from scratch if you decide to leave your web design firm.

• Mobile-friendly site: Google recently changed its algorithms to prioritize mobile-friendly sites in mobile searches, and at least 50 percent of your website views can be expected to come from a smartphone or tablet. This makes a mobile-friendly website a necessity.

• Content creation: Professional photography and text will really make your site special, but you may already have copy and photographs that you can provide. Many web designers require you to provide text and images for your site so be clear about whether or not they are included.

• Ongoing fees: All websites need to be maintained on a regular basis. Don’t expect this to be included in the original cost of your site, and ask if your designer has a plan for ongoing maintenance. Be prepared to pay yearly fees for hosting and your domain name, and budget either time or money to create fresh content on a regular basis, which will help with organic SEO.

• Search engine optimization (SEO): SEO is a specialist field and will not often be included in simple sites; however, experienced firms can include software and a plan to make the site more visible to search engines from the start. If you want your site to appear at the top of SERPS (search engine result pages), expect to pay a good bit extra and plan a budget for ongoing expenses.

Whether you decide to do it yourself or hire a pro, establishing a robust and attractive online presence will be beneficial for your business. Do your research, consult people you trust, and be prepared to keep your site fresh and relevant. Remember, the Internet is always changing, and your business needs to change with it. Best of luck, and see you online.

Wendy Dolan is a Louisiana native and founder of Get Online NOLA, a locally-based firm that provides affordable websites, branding and marketing for small businesses and non-profits. She teaches regular workshops to help business owners take control of their online presence.



Categories: Technology, The Magazine