Where to start? What to include? What to do? Are these common questions among the do-it-yourself web developers? Only when designing their own web site. EZ Website Builders, offer the do-it-yourself web developers some advice for when the site they're building is their own.
I have received several e-mails over the past several years from people telling of their woes while building a web site… not knowing where to start, not knowing what to include, not knowing what to do. The e-mails to which I refer all have one thing in common: The designers were trying to build their own web site.
It is rare to have problems figuring out what to do when building a client's site. You simply sit them down and ask them what they want, how much do they wish to pay, and when do they want it done. Those answers will usually dictate a direction in which to proceed. But to build one's own site is somewhat different, although the process should be quite similar.
I don't advocate that web designers interview themselves aloud, at least not in public, but it does begin with them asking themselves similar questions. What do they want? How extensive a site is needed? When does it need to be done?
The other thing that must be done is decisions must be made… and then the do-it-yourself web designer needs to stick with those decisions unless there is a technical reason to alter those plans. Don’t make the site so flashy and complicated that it takes an act of Congress to get it open, and the site just lays there like a dead fish.
The dead-fish syndrome also appears when a company is small and has too much business for the staff to take time and work on the company website.
Where to Start if you do not have a site
The easiest way to start is to look at sites located in your area that are in the same business. You can easily see mistakes of others, even though you may not be able to recognize your own. By reviewing this cross-section of sites, you can get an idea of what topics they include, what they don't include, and what topics you think should be included. Make notes. How fancy were those sites? How fast did they load? Was the content adequate? What makes your business different from those you reviewed? Where can you get a competitive edge?
Next is to take a look at similar businesses from around the country or world. Again, notice the content, the design and the differences. Are any of those things pertinent to your area or your business? If so, make sure you include them.
Once those questions are answered, you begin making an outline of what you wish to produce. It comes down to what you like or dislike.
Where to Start if you do have a site
Perhaps the best way to tackle your own web site is to get an opinion from someone you respect. EZ Website Builders has been approached several times to do such studies, and it proves to be interesting for us, too. Such services should not destroy your company's piggy bank.
What we try to do is get five sites in the designer's locale area and five of the better sites we can find from around the country or world. We work from an extensive list of topics and rate each site on a 1-to-10 scale for each topic. We then can average out those scores and give a general ranking of those sites.
Among the areas we examine are:
URL: If possible, it is important to have a Domain Name that is as pertinent to a business as possible. It is also important to have a Domain Name such as www.YourName.com, rather than a sub domain name with an address such as www.somewhere.com/yourbusinessname/, because that shows a lack of professionalism and commitment on your part by not investing in your business.
Visual Impact: First impressions are always important, and nowhere more so than on the Internet where viewers can go somewhere else in seconds. Nothing is a substitute for content, but to get viewers to see that content, it is important to have a site that is visually attractive so they will stay long enough to see it.
Load Speed: No secret here. We figure you have about 15 seconds to get something worth reading on the screen, if not have the entire page loaded. In today's design market, the use of Flash and other animations can delay the total loading of the page, but at least get something for the viewer to read on screen within the first 15 seconds.
Navigation: Viewers can't see it if they can't find it, and that's why it is important to have obvious and effective navigation. As a viewer, it is more than a little frustrating when you know a site has something you want to see, but you can't find it.
Originality: Recently a potential client came to us and showed us their web site and asked what we could do to improve it. The first thing I told them was that we would eliminate the template used for their web site. To demonstrate, I did a web search for the name of the template and turned up several thousand sites using it. They all basically looked alike. The person was not happy to see that, after spending about $7,000 on their site.
Professionalism: A web site should reflect properly on the business that owns it. In other words, if you are building a web site for a funeral home, avoid making the site look like it was built for Comedy Central. That would seem to be an obvious thing to do, but it is surprising how many sites are so inappropriately designed.
Readability: Nothing can chase potential clients away faster than seeing incorrect language use, and text that never seems to stop. Say it and go on with your life. Say it correctly, get the client, and get on with your life!
Scope: It is important that a site covers the entire scope of a business, services and products. That doesn't mean it has to have unlimited details about everything, but it should at least tell viewers what the products and services are and how they can get more information.
Contact Info: One of the biggest surprises I have found is the number of sites that make it difficult for potential clients to get in touch with the company. That is one of the most important things needed on a site. Some sites tell viewers how to get in touch with the Webmaster, but that is not necessarily the person they need to talk to for information. Make it clear.
Meta tags: Meta tags consist of "Titles, Descriptions and Keywords." While search engines are using these less than before, they remain important for those that do use them. Too many sites do not even make an attempt to use Meta tags.
Page Builders: By using page builders, you are telling your users that you are interested in not wasting their money. That is because page builders enable changes or updates to be made quickly. The website will work for a reasonable amount of time before needing changes or updates.
Freshness: Your web site should undergo frequent change… not complete redesign… but enough change to offer something new when viewers come to visit. That is important because it can also be a selling point for the designer who wishes to sell the client on a maintenance contract or periodic updates.
Browser Compatibility: It is important to know how browsers handle various items. For example, while Internet Explorer and Netscape will show bullets, Opera will display them as empty boxes. Because potential clients find your site in all types of browsers… it is important to make sure your site looks its best in each type of browser.
By reviewing the items that made the sites score the highest in particular areas, we often can spot patterns and make recommendations that the designer or site owner may wish to include when redesigning or correcting a site or when having it done. It also gives the evaluator ideas for other sites, including his/her own.
A lot can be learned from people out of the business, too. They can tell you if they think it's easy to navigate the site, whether or not your content is enough to keep them interested… or better yet, to keep them coming back.