We are often approached by clients who know they need a website but who know nothing about what this actually entails or what to expect from their web company. We’ve even had the occasional client come to us after being sold the world by a web company (and being charged for it too!) and receiving a substandard product or a disastrous project!
These clients tend to agree that they would have fared better had they been better informed before approaching a web company. So we’ve put together a list of the most important things to know before you go ahead with a website.
We’re not trying to teach you to build the site yourself here, just give you some idea of the things you should know and the kind of information you need to gather so you can go to your web company prepared and armed with knowledge!
1. Objectives, Sitemaps and Content
Before starting any project there needs to be some sort of planning that takes place. The same goes for getting a website built. Even though you are outsourcing the technical stuff, you still need to be prepared with your plan before hand. This will help you tremendously when you start out with your web company because you will know exactly what you want.
So here’s what you need to do:
Define your goals for your website
Your objectives are the building blocks of your website – without them you have no direction and no real plan. So spend a little time thinking about what you want from your website.
- What are you building a website for? Is it just meant to be a simple brochure-type display of your services for your company, or do you want it to be an information resource that you update regularly?
- Do you want to have a blog on your site that you can use for news and views?
- Do you want to be able to add video to your site? Do you want to have social media links that send people to your social accounts?
- Write these goals down so you can tell them to your web company!
Draw up a rough sitemap
This is not as complicated as it sounds and doesn’t require any drawing! A sitemap is simply a list of the pages you want your website to display. An example of a simple, common corporate sitemap is as follows:
- About Us
- Service 1
- Service 2
- Service 3
- Contact us
You can add in anything that you feel your site needs. Some other commonly used examples are:
Gather your content
This is an important step. If your web company is going to help you with your content then it doesn’t need to be perfect, but you need to have some basic stuff to start with. Try to use what you have and break it up so that you have some content for each of the pages you have defined in your sitemap. If you aren’t sure what to say, have a look at some other sites to help you.
Having this information ready and set out when you get together with your web company will save you money and help your project along more quickly.
Remember – it doesn’t have to be perfect (your web company can help you with that) but you know your business better than anyone so you will be able to say it right!
2. What is hosting and a domain
Web hosting and a domain are vital for your website. Your web company should manage this all for you, but it’s nice to have a little bit of background on it so you know what they are talking about.
Your domain is the address of your website. For example, www.chocolateshoebox.co.za is our domain. If you don’t already have one, you should decide what you want yours to be and ask the web company to find out if it is available. Your domain name should be your company/service name or at least something closely relating to it. An unrelated domain name will just confuse people. If you are a South African company, it is nice to keep a .co.za address so people can identify you as South African.
A .co.za domain should cost between R50 and R80 per year to keep and a .com domain between R100 and R130.
Hosting is the place the files for your website sit. When someone types in the address for your website, these files are accessed so that the visitor can see them. Hosting packages come in different sizes for different needs, and the costs depend very much on the size of your site and the hosting company. The hosting for a small corporate website should be somewhere between R50 and R150 per month.
3. The different kinds of websites (Custom coded vs. CMS – Joomla/Wordpress)
There are really two different kinds of sites available to you both with certain pros and cons.
A custom coded website is a site that is created by using a specific kind language (code) that can only be changed by someone who knows how to write and update the code. This was how all websites were created before the advent of CMS systems.
- Usually cheaper upfront to build
- Content is usually more static
- More expensive in the long term
- Content cannot be updated by you – you will have to contact your web company when you need updates (this accounts for the long-term expense)
CMS (Content Management System) websites, for example WordPress and Joomla, are websites that are built on a predesigned system. They have a user-friendly ‘back-end’ that you as the owner can get into to update your own content (the interface is much like Microsoft Word – with a bit of a learning curve). This is very useful to have if you plan to do regular updates like blogging or news.
- Content is usually more dynamic – allows for video, sliders, galleries etc.
- Cheaper in the long term
- Content can be updated by you so you don’t gave to contact your web company when you need updates
- Usually more expensive upfront to build
4. What a website should cost
This is a lengthy topic so we’ve dedicated a whole article to it. Check out What a Website Really Costs for more information about it.
5. The different types of web companies and their services (What to look for when choosing a web company)
There are two different kinds of companies that build websites. Marketing companies (like Chocole Shoebox!) and development houses.
If you are looking for a big website (think Amazon) then a development house is the way to go. However for smaller websites, development houses are not suited because they don’t deal much in design and content. They will not be able to help you with your content and advise you on best practises for design etc. They will build your site exactly as you tell them to.
Marketing companies deal more in front-end design. That is, they build smaller sites but focus on the design, functionality and content. They will be able to help you to put all of your ideas into your website and advise on best practices for your content.
Questions to ask your potential web company:
- Are you going to design something for me or use a pre-made template?
- Ideally you want someone who is going to design a website to your specifications – you want to be happy with it!
- Are you able to help me with my sitemap?
- While you have already created your own sitemap, you want to be able to discuss it with your web company to see if they have any thoughts or suggestions for the best layout.
- Are you able to source images for me – or will I have to get my own?
- Copyrighted images are a major problem on the internet. If you don’t already have your own pictures for your website, you are going to need someone to source pictures that you can use safely on your website without any copyright infringement.
- Do you have copy editors to help me with my content?
- If you are not 100% happy with the content you created for your site, you will need the help of a copy editor. A good web company will be able to advise you on your content and adjust it for best practice on your site.
- Do you include SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) as part of your service?
- This is a biggie. You want at least the minimum search engine optimisation done for your website or you have no chance of Google and other search engines finding you! A good web company should include at least the minimum in their cost, but going the whole hog will obviously cost you a little more.