Having a new website built is an exciting experience. You momentarily become the author of your destiny. You have the opportunity to shape your immediate future and put in place the plans you’ve had running through your mind for weeks, months or even years. But it also comes with a wealth of potential pitfalls and problems. We’ve seen and heard many horror stories throughout the years. Thankfully, not too many of our own clients! But in this post I want to outline the most common issues we see people getting stuck with, in the hopes it’ll help you avoid them.
In most cases the issues aren’t huge ones. But unless they’re tackled properly, they can easily halt your progress and make you feel like giving up. So let’s take a look.
1. Issue: Not Designing For Your Audience
When you have a concept or idea in your mind it can be very troubling to find that someone you’ve hired hasn’t designed the website you envisioned. You know exactly how it needs to look, why can’t they just design that?
This is a common problem that is the result of two things. Firstly, no designer – no matter how much experience or how many magical powers they claim to have – can read your mind. When you think about something as subjective as a website design for a long period of time you become attached to it. It’s something your mind has created from nothing and you start to think there’s no way it can be bettered. It’s your product after all. And nobody knows your product better than you.
Secondly, and more importantly, your web designer isn’t trying to read your mind. At least, if they’re doing their job properly. No web designer worth their salt should simply aim to recreate what a client has in mind. A web designer’s job is to interpret a client’s objectives and couple it with their knowledge of the industry to create the most effective end product they can.
As much as we’d all like to be completely original and stand out from the crowd, there are still generally accepted rules and best practice for designing websites that depend very much on the content. Simply painting a digital representation of what you wish to see isn’t guaranteed to bring you success. If you’ve picked the right web designer they’ll have the advantage of perspective that’s very difficult to master when the product is your own. Just ask any designer how hard it is to design their own website!
Don’t get tunnel vision. Keep in mind that’s it’s your users who will decide if the website they’re using is beautiful or not. If it’s convincing or not. If it’s credible and relevant. If it answers their questions. Not you. Building a website should be a collaborative effort. Work with your website designer rather than dictating to them precisely what you wish to see and try not to let personal tastes get in the way. You’ll end up with a better product as a result.
2. Issue: Poor Choice of Software or Service
This is a big one. Particularly with startups and small business looking for their first website. Often budgets are tight and they regard a website as something they need, but aren’t particularly interested in. For whatever reason, we see many people opting for cheap, online website builder services like Wix or Weebly. It’s sad to see.
It’s understandable that smaller business want to keep a tight handle on budgets. But a website is one of the places you should look to invest. If you work with the right web design company you’ll make your initial outlay back and then some. At the same time you’ll gain a partner whose interest is making you successful. When you use a cheap website builder, you’re inadvertently signalling to your users that you aren’t fully invested in your business. Remember, it’s their first impression of your business and you aren’t the only one they’re looking at.
Cheap template site builders also suffer from issues you may not consider until you run into them.
- Limited functionality. Systems that are designed for mass consumption have a fundamental problem. They’re incapable of covering every single use-case. You have to work within their limited set of functions and designs. The moment you want something ever so slightly different or custom, the system you’ve chosen has begun to limit your progress.
- System lock-in. You can unintentionally lock yourself into these services. Not all of them provide a way to export your content (I’m looking at you Wix). So when the time comes that you need some new functionality or something custom that the system doesn’t provide (and it will come), how do you get your website content out if it? You may have years of blog content that is now tied to a system that’s limiting your progress and that obviously doesn’t want you to leave. Ouch.
- No personal service. Websites aren’t set and forget. They occasionally break. They need updating. They need protecting. They need optimising. The same goes for your content. With templated site builders nobody is going to tell you your website isn’t doing a good job for you. It’s left to you to decide if your website is fast enough, if it does a good enough job of selling, if you’ve set up the contact forms properly, if the call to action is in the right place, if your images are optimised for mobile and a multitude of other questions a professional web designer would be answering for you.
- Damaging Future SEO Efforts. There’s been a long-running debate about the of quality of link structures template site builders use. What do I mean by this? Let’s say you have an About Us page. Because of the way they’re built, site builders automatically create URLs for your pages and you’ll often end up with a URL that looks something like this:
www.yourdomain.co.uk/#!blank/c1ktj. Why does this matter? Well aside from the fact it looks ugly as hell, if you decide to move to a professional website further down the line, your designer will undoubtedly want to tidy this up. In doing so they’ll create something like this:
www.yourdomain.co.uk/about. But you now have a page that’s listed by Google under the old link structure and that no longer works. Everywhere you’ve listed that website page as
www.yourdomain.co.uk/#!blank/c1ktjwill now be broken. A good web designer would put some code in place to redirect those old links to the newer, more SEO-friendly
www.yourdomain.co.uk/aboutpage. Great. But because of the way Google ranks pages this redirect feature will result in an slight initial loss of ‘SEO juice’ – Google brownie points as it were. URL structure is so important and, for obvious reasons, it’s not something everybody thinks about. But it is absolutely something you should be concerned with. A good web designer will be happy to talk to you about developing a nice, flexible link structure that won’t hinder your future SEO efforts.
The concept of these builders is great. But in reality they’ll only take you so far. Resist the urge of going for the cheapest option out there. Try not to regard a website as a checkbox list of features you can get for x amount of money. A website is something you’ll be working on over a long period of time so it’s worth investing in. You want to start on solid foundations, not whatever gets something resembling a website up quickly and cheaply.
3. Issue: Not Researching Your Web Designer
The web design industry is pretty easy to get into. There are plenty of free tools out there that make knocking up a basic website very easy. This means there are lots of self-proclaimed web designers out there. Hopefully by now you’re aware of the dangers of asking a friend’s brother’s mate who does a bit of graphic design on the side to design you a website. Yet still we see this happen.
Not all websites are made equal.
And their quality and effectiveness are directly correlative to the experience and skill level of the person or company you choose to design it.
Be picky. Don’t immediately settle for the company that offers the cheapest quote. Consider the reason they offer such a low price. Don’t settle for the guy who says all the right words. Ask questions. Google your designer. Check his work. Does he have any? Are there testimonials? How long has he been doing this? Does he use contracts, quotes, proposals? Does this all feel legit? Can you talk to him or will he only respond via email? What about after care and support?
The relationship you are about to enter into could last for multiple years if all goes well. Make sure that person is who they say they are and gives you good vibes. Would you be happy to consider this person a business partner? Because that’s essentially what you’re signing up for. Too many small business and startups looks for the cheapest option when starting out. But when you end up with a product that doesn’t fit the bill, doesn’t hit your target market – you’re immediately losing time and money. Sooner or later you’ll have to start again. Our advice – don’t rush in and do it right first time.
4. Issue: Poorly Written Content / Not Enough Content
Not everybody is totally comfortable writing website content. It’s not easy an easy balance to strike – accurately describing your business, using enough keywords to satisfy search engines and being persuasive enough to tempt users to make contact.
The two biggest content deficiencies we see are content written from the website owner’s perspective rather than the user, and content that is simply not long enough to be credible and persuasive or be of any use to search engines.
Website content should aim to answer questions. It doesn’t have to be overly complex and wordy. At the most basic level it should be accurate, descriptive and make the user feel comfortable they are browsing the website they intended to browse.
In terms of length, this is entirely dependent on the type of website you have. There are no suggested amounts of text required for good body copy. But common sense should tell you that two sentences is likely not enough to describe your entire business on your About page. We always suggest clients aim for a minimum of around 300 words for something like this. That gives you ample room to describe what you do in enough detail to prospective customers, as well as offer enough opportunities to slip in some relevant keywords so Google can work out what you’re about. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’ll give you an idea of what to aim for.
5. Issue: Cheap Hosting / Slow Site
Website speed is becoming increasingly important. People not only expect your site to load quickly, but Google will soon actively penalise slow loading sites, especially on mobile devices. Armed with this knowledge we have recently invested heavily in new, robust, super-fast hosting for all websites we build going forward. Your customers will simply not tolerate slow loading websites. So neither will we.
A common trait of newer web designers is to use cheap reseller hosting services. Essentially, they get unlimited hosting space for a fixed fee. This is great for hosting lots of websites. Unfortunately it usually comes in the form of shared hosting – web space used by many other companies. This means all server resources are shared…..as are any issues caused by anyone on the same network. Not ideal.
Slow websites can also be the result of poor coding and development. Think tonnes of unnecessary image galleries and fancy effects. These also slow down your site and it’s down to your designer to only use them when absolutely necessary.
Ask what type of hosting your designer uses. If they can’t tell you, be worried. You’ll want to hear “VPS” or even “Dedicated” but ideally not “Shared”. Play with their websites. Do they feel slow to load or snappy?
Fast, optimised hosting is often an indication of a company that takes their work seriously. Well coded, optimised websites also separate hobbyist website designers from professionals. You want both with no compromise.
6. Issue: Not Investing in SEO
Like it not, if you want more traffic to your site you’re going to have to consider search engine optimisation. People often dislike hearing this because they tend to think once they’ve paid for a website the job is done and the traffic should roll in by itself.
The fact of the matter is this: traffic is extremely hard to come by. There are businesses out there who have been doing this longer and better than you for a long time. If you want to compete, you have to either do a helluva lot of research yourself or pay a professional to help you. The tricky thing about SEO is it crosses a plethora of boundaries. It looks at whether your content is human-readable and useful, whether your website is technically optimised, what kind of social signals you’re giving off and literally hundreds of other factors.
Implemented correctly, a well-crafted SEO campaign can do wonders for a business. Implemented incorrectly and the results can be seriously damaging.
Before you do anything, give yourself a primer on what Search Engine Optimisation actually is and why it’s important to you and your business. We wrote an introductory post to SEO a while ago, but the underlying concepts are exactly the same today, so you may find it useful. You can also check out our glossary definition.
Next up, talk to people in the know. Quiz your designer on what they can do for you. If they know what they’re talking about they should feel comfortable explaining the concepts of SEO to you. Under no circumstances should you agree to a contract that guarantees you a top spot for a given search term. When it comes to search engine optimisation nothing is guaranteed and if people are suggesting they are – they are most likely indulging in black hat techniques such as paying for backlinks. This is extremely poor practice and frowned upon, often actively penalised, by search engines.
Be prepared to be landed with some huge quotes. SEO is extremely competitive and therefore expensive. Costs also vary greatly in this area, but expect to pay an absolute minimum of around £300 per month if you’re dealing with a professional SEO company. That may sound a lot. But as with everything, it’s all relative.
Also, don’t expect instant results. It’s a lengthy process. The average SEO campaign usually won’t render visible results within the first 6 months. Yep, that’s a long time. But if you don’t start now, in 6 months time you’ll be another 6 months away from improving your search presence.
7. Issue: Underestimating the Work Involved
We all want to be independent, self-made beings. We don’t like to admit that we often need help and sometimes we simply don’t understand how to move forward. Owning and running a successful website is a tough gig. For instance, I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been asked to build a blog section into a website, only for it to be left completely untouched for months on end. Blogs in particular are an extremely useful way of staying relevant in your industry. They show you’re on the ball and Google loves fresh content. But they’re not easy to commit to. They take time, effort and ideas to work. Not only in writing the content itself, but sourcing appropriate imagery too. Then you have to promote it.
What about when you can’t find the right image to complement your blog post or service? You know Paint well enough but you just can’t seem to create what’s in your head. And only something very custom is going to work alongside that list of services.
We can’t all be highly skilled in everything. Some people are naturals with words. Others with graphic design software. It’s important to identify your blind spots and outsource if necessary. You’ll save time and ultimately money that way. Otherwise you run the risk of burning yourself out and feeling demotivated. Whether you choose to do it yourself or invest in help, you should be prepared to put the work in.
The job isn’t finished once the website is published. The job has just begun.
8. Issue: Doing it on the Cheap
The most common pitfall we see time after time. Believing that everything can be done on a shoestring.
As human beings, we tend to think that with enough options we can find a bargain if we just look hard enough. And sometimes this is true. Sometimes you’ll hit upon the right person at the right time who’s interested enough in what you do to drop their prices just enough to suit your budget. Those are perfect connections and those are the ones we strive to find.
But more often than not in the web design industry, you get what you pay for. Good designers cost more – that’s an undeniable fact. Good designers cost more because they know the work they do makes a difference. There will always be someone willing to do it cheaper. But you only have one chance to make a first impression. Personally, we’ll always take our chances with somebody who has a good reputation in what they do, than somebody who simply offers the service cheaper.
When we discuss costs with clients who are against spending money, usually their thinking is along the lines of:
“We don’t need anything fancy, just something simple.”
The problem is this idea is flawed at a fundamental level. Lets look at it in detail.
When we say “something simple” we think “basic, but does the job”. But something simple doesn’t necessarily mean effective. If your objective is to have a basic website that “does the job” it still needs to perform in multiple areas. It still needs to look professional. It still needs to be fast loading. It still needs to be search engine optimised. It still needs to be mobile-responsive. It still needs to be easily editable by you. These factors alone require a lot of skilled labour. Skilled labour costs somebody time. That time therefore costs money. Either you pay for that time and gain the advantage or your competitors do. Sometimes it really is that simple.
9. Issue: Non Mobile-friendly Website
We’ve written about the importance of having a mobile-optimised website (responsive) website before. Simply put, this has become a fundamental aspect of modern websites. The percentage of mobile internet users has surpassed desktop and it’s not slowing down. Users expect your website to work on their phones and tablets. That means your website needs to be built a specific way – ie it changes shape and order to suit the size of the screen your device has. If your website doesn’t do this, you’ll be suffering in search engines from Google directly penalising your website. How can you tell if your website is responsive? Enter the URL here and find out instantly.
Ask your local professional web designer about a responsive re-design.
10. Underestimating the Importance of High Quality Design
Finally, we reach the most subjective topic of all. Good design. Good design makes the difference. Good design is the cherry atop the functional cake. Good design is what triggers the brain’s dopamine production. Good design talks to the tiny voice in your head that urges you to pick this service, not that one. Good design is what separates you from your mediocre competitors.
But what makes good design? How can you tell if one thing is better designed than another? Well….you can’t. At least not definitively. So how do you determine if the web design service offered by one company is superior to another?
This is one of the trickiest areas to navigate and it largely comes down to your instincts. Browse the portfolio of each of your web designers. Look at each of their projects in detail. Look for signs of a polished finish. Does the imagery make sense? Do the icons accurately represent the words they sit next to? Are the fonts legible and do they lend themselves to the tone of the product offered? What are the site’s colours saying? Does this website make sense when I look at it on my mobile?
You don’t need to be connoisseur. You don’t need to understand line height, typographical flow or grid-based layouts. If nothing else, you need to ask yourself a single question:
Does this website feel professional?
If you’re surveying the work of an experienced, professional web designer who takes pride in their craft and looks to improve their work with every project, the answer will more often than not be ‘yes’. And yes, they may cost more to hire than others. But the quality of their work reflects on the quality of your business. You’re paying for those feels. Don’t skimp on them.
So as you can see the business of having a new website is littered with potential pitfalls. Hopefully after digesting this post you’ll at least be more aware of those traps and how to avoid them.
It may seem like in many cases we’re simply suggesting you spend more money. We’ve tried hard not to do this because, in many cases, it’s simply not feasible. But it’s also hard to avoid the fact that in the majority of cases the higher the budget you set for a project, the better the results, in both the short and long-term. You just need to be careful of where you spend that budget and who you spend it on.
We’re also not blind to the fact that this can easily be seen as a self-serving post. Yes, we would like you to consider working with us. But no, we don’t guarantee to work with you. As much as we’re always on the lookout for new business, we also only wish to work with the right types of clients – those that are truly invested in their product/business/passion. Those that are genuinely interested in working in partnership to create beautiful things. And those that we genuinely believe we can help.
More than this though, we like to talk about what we do :)
So whether you’re interested in talking to us about a website you’ve been considering, or you simply want to carry on the conversation about avoiding the above mistakes, we’ll happily chat with you. Drop us a message and we’ll talk it out.