Need a new website? Know where to start.

Need a New Website? Know Where to Start

Do you need a new website but aren’t sure where to start?

It can be a daunting prospect to know you need a new website but not know where to start. Many companies are in the same boat. You’ve got a tired old website and know it needs to be re-done but aren’t sure where to start. You might also be wondering if it really needs to be done. Or, you are starting from scratch with a new business venture and a blank slate is staring you in the face. Here are some factors to consider and advice about where to start.

Do we really need a new website?

You need a new website if your current site is not responsive, meaning it doesn’t look good and function well on mobile devices such as phones and tablets, then yes, you need a new site. Period. It simply isn’t acceptable these days for your site to look bad on a phone or tablet. You also need a new website if your current site looks outdated and tired. Your website represents your image to the world. If your site looks old and tired then your services or product won’t be perceived as up to date either.

Can we make our existing website responsive?

Really the best approach is to start over if your site is outdated. Start with a platform and theme that offers a responsive design and start fresh. Trying to re-purpose old code into new browser and technology requirements is a huge headache and won’t likely lead to a happy outcome. If you need a new website it’s better to start with a current, clean slate and build out from there.

Which platform is right for us?

There are a handful of options out there. Personally I develop exclusively on the world’s most popular platform, WordPress. There’s a reason it’s so popular. It offers a huge bang for your buck because it’s been around for a long time and it’s built on an open source theory, meaning contributors are constantly adding to a vast library of what you can use for free or inexpensively. Companies who need a new website which is responsive, modern, clean and built for SEO goodness find WordPress to be a good fit much of the time. Don’t underestimate what can be done in WordPress until you really evaluate it.

Isn’t WordPress for bloggers? We want something more professional and custom.

WordPress started as a blogging platform ages ago. It has since matured into a very versatile and reliable website platform for the average range of company websites. Why would you try to custom build something yourself which you can immediately use for free or inexpensively which has already been developed, tested, updated and tweaked to work well. It makes no sense. The vast array of plugins for WordPress allow you to have all kinds of bells and whistles which would be prohibitively expensive to develop just for your site. That being said, it may not be for your company if you have complicated requirements. There are certainly many cases where WordPress isn’t the right fit and a more custom coded approach is the right option. It just has to be evaluated. You’d be surprised how robust the WordPress platform has become and how many things it can handle right out of the box with the right plugins and custom post types.

Can we do it ourselves?

Of course. If you have a lot of patience and the time to learn WordPress, security issues, plugin compatibility, design, SEO and hosting. Sure. I generally find that when people do it themselves though, that they are frustrated and not delighted with the outcome. It just depends if you want to invest the time and energy into doing it yourself. If you do, the two platforms I see people doing it themselves on the most are Wix and Squarespace. WordPress takes more time to get your head around but it’s by far the better platform whether you do it yourself or not.

Do we need a theme? Doesn’t that make it look like a cookie cutter site? We want to be unique.

I can’t tell you how often I hear this from potential customers. Yes, you need a theme and here’s why. Themes are just a jumping off place to define the general layout and backbone of the site. They are infinitely customizable to look unique. However, you have to be really careful about which theme you choose. If you buy a theme which isn’t maintained and updated regularly by a capable theme developer, you will find yourself in a precarious position whereby when requirements change from say Google or current browsers, your theme will either break or not perform in the way it should be be current. So, choosing the right theme is absolutely crucial.

Which theme should we choose? How do you pick one?

I often use Elegant Themes for my theme choices and really like the theme called Divi. They have been around for a long time, they update and maintain their themes regularly and it offers an out of the box ability to get up and running quickly while allowing for infinite customizations to look unique. Also, if you have designers or webmaster come along after the initial built, you will never have a hard time finding someone who knows how to work with the code. It’s a very popular, mainstream theme. Yes, you can choose something more blingy and creative but keep in mind that you want it to come from a company that isn’t going anywhere and will be maintaining the theme for updates down the road.

Who should we use for hosting?

I’ve tried almost all of them. All hosting companies have their challenges and strengths. I used to use Bluehost but have become disenchanted. Long wait times to get to support folks bogs me down and annoys me. I’ve recently started using Hostwinds and so far am ridiculously delighted. They pick up the phone within a ring or two and the person on the other end is capable, efficient, friendly and gets it done. Prices are really reasonable and service is fantastic. So far, I’ve experience zero downtime as compared with say Arvixe which a client is using where our downtime has been extreme. I monitor my clients sites for downtime and Arvixe and Bluehost have had issues. You can also used managed WordPress services, which are considerably more expensive, but I prefer to do it myself and have a familiar cPanel interface.

How do we get or stay visible on Google?

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the craft of making your site show up on Google and other search engines such as Yahoo and Bing. It’s a funny animal because it’s really pretty straightforward but also can be really complicated. The short answer is that SEO has many steps that need to be taken to do it right and if you take shortcuts, you won’t get the results you want. The big picture is to write and deliver solid content which is actually what someone is looking for. If your site is all photos, such as a portfolio, without written content to go along with it, it won’t do well. Google likes a combination of images and plenty of text. If your site is currently not doing well on Google, then let someone who knows what they are doing analyze it and make suggestions. If you are worried you will lose visibility, that is a totally valid concern and should be handled carefully. If you take the exact same content and repackage it in a WordPress theme, you shouldn’t lose visibility. If you are changing the content dramatically then yes, you are rolling the dice. At the end of the day you want a site that looks clean, modern, is responsive, is a high quality experience for your user and represents your company well. If it means you take a temporary hit in Google visibility to get there, it’s something to factor in.

Social media seems overwhelming to mange it and do it right. Where do we focus our attention?

The current social media players are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, Reddit and Youtube. Many companies hire someone to manage these channels for them. My colleague handles my clients’ social media needs and I focus on the web and graphic design, content writing, messaging and branding. There are tons of tools out there to help you manage your social media campaigns like SproutSocial.com. At $59/month it’s a pretty reasonable expenditure to manage your social media efforts. It just takes time and expertise to make sure you are sending the right message. Each platform has a different vibe and you’ve got to hit the right tone on each. At the end of the day the point is that it takes time and consistent effort to be and appear current to your customers.

We know we need a new website. How much should it cost?

Of course this depends on your site.  In general I tell people you get what you pay for. If you choose to use a freelance web designer who is charging low prices you are likely to get low quality. You want someone who can handle all aspects of your site efficiently and competently and who can deliver a site you’re happy with for a reasonable price. I charge anywhere from $2,500 and up depending on the project. An average company site of say 10 pages or less usually lands in the $5,000 category. If it’s more involved, for example if I am taking custom photos, there is a large store or specialized functionality and interaction or I’m doing extensive SEO research, then the price goes up to the $10,000 range. We also offer social media management services for an additional fee. It just depends on how deep you want to go with your efforts.

How long will it take?

I can usually get it done in 30 days or less, depending on how the communication flows between my client and I. If I have a responsive client who is working with me on content and approvals along the way it can be faster.

It seems like there are so many cheap designers available. Is it worth spending more money?

If someone says they can do a site for you for $500, you are highly unlikely to end up with a quality product. You want someone who understands your business, can write or improve the content with you, has a solid design sense, understands and can implement the SEO aspect and can build a secure, quality site. There are many moving parts to a successful site and you want to work with someone who has a strong grasp of them all. I take pride in what I do and work hard to make sure my clients end up with a product they are happy with. I highly recommend you don’t settle for less.

We want someone to look at what we have first and make recommendations. What’s working, what’s not, what do we actually need and not need?

I offer site audits. I can evaluate your site in detail, make recommendations and point you in the right direction. If I’m not the right fit for a project, I am the first to say it. Sometimes the framework is there but it needs improving. Perhaps you aren’t getting the traffic or results you were hoping for and are wondering why. Or, it’s an older site and you want to know what you can keep and what has to go. I offer detailed site audits for $500.

If you need a new website please feel free to reach out to me at laura@raindancemedia.com to ask a question or request a site audit for recommendations about how to improve or re-do your site.