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So, imagine two shops on either side of a road, Shop A and Shop B, both selling exactly the same things. The owner of Shop A spent a bit of cash and had a painter spruce up the front of the shop, got a modern new sign, had the windows cleaned regularly and propped the door open. There was a nice welcome mat in the doorway and a spot for your umbrella on rainy days, plus a place to tie your dog and a bowl of water for them on hot days.

The owner of Shop B never bothered with any of that old nonsense - just imagine the cost! The place looked a bit drab, the windows were dirty, the door was closed, plus there were signs that said ‘No Dogs, No Children’ and ‘You Break It, You Pay For It.’

Which shop would you go into?

WEBSITES UNVEILED

Andy explains websites without the tech talk...

Gary in our studio often goes back home to visit his parents and his mum fills him in on all the family goings on. Gary made us laugh when he said he told her, ‘Just the facts, Ma, just the facts!’ She tells him every single little detail and it takes a very, very long time.

My aim in this article is to give you just the facts. No waffle, no nerd speak, no jargon. Just the stuff you need to know to make good business decisions. And it won’t take long either.

A question I’m never asked is...

Clients never ask me, ‘Do I actually need a website?’ So I ask them the question – and it comes as a surprise. There are genuinely some cases where they don’t need a website. Social media would serve them just as well. Most businesses will need a site, but it’s worth thinking about and considering which will do a better job of raising your profile and selling your wares. Put money into the area that will work best for you.

So, let’s assume you need a website. Here are the questions you need to ask. I’ll go on to explain each one.

  • What type of site will serve my business best?
  • Have I got people to manage the site?
  • Do I own the domain/domains and where will my site be hosted?
  • Will my site be fully optimised?
  • Mobile apps
  • What about SEO?
  • Have I got copy and images (i.e. content)?
  • Do I need to be GDPR-compliant?
  • Will my site be linked to my social media?
  • Will my site be secure?

I know this probably all looks a bit scary, but it’s simpler than it looks, I promise. I’m going to explain each area and provide indicative costs, but they’re based on an average. Any site would need a quote - these indicative costs will just give you an idea of the type of budget you might need.

What type of site will serve my business best?

Static site
This is a simple site that you can’t change or amend in-house when it’s finished. That’s not to say it can’t be changed, but the developer would do this for you. You’d have a static site if you just needed a basic shop window and you were unlikely to change it much over the period of a year. For instance, if you were a painter and decorator, your site would have the basic info about your business, contact details, maybe pricing, and then some great pictures of your work that you might update two or three times a year. It can still have SEO and connect to your social media pages.

Content-managed site
This site is a more complex beast: it has everything a static site has and a whole bunch more - how much more depends on your business. You can have full control over this site in-house, update it where and when you need, blog on it and much more. It requires a lot more detailed and careful programming, which takes time and, of course, time is money. Our site is content-managed because we blog on a weekly basis, we update the work and the articles, and we need the extra degree of flexibility and functionality this type of site can offer.

Ecommerce site
An ecommerce site is a step further again and offers online purchasing. Right away, you can see the need for a very secure site. There’s a lot for the developers to do and think about, such as setting up payment methods, designing clever navigation, complying with legislation surrounding GDPR and more. This is not meant to frighten you off, just explain the difference and hence the costs. A good example of an ecommerce site is Amazon - we might as well go big! They deal with millions of online orders every day, take payment, remember and protect your details and then deliver. Their site is, of course, massive and they have a huge team of people running it.

I hope that gives you a flavour of the difference between sites, so you don’t get sold something you don’t need - or miss out on what you do need.

Have I got people to manage the site?

Next we’ll look at what you might need in-house to manage your site and digital presence. If it’s a static site, once it’s up and running, you won’t need to do much. But at the outset you’ll need someone to take control, pull together the content, and manage domains and hosting (I’ll talk about these later).

If you have a content-managed site or an ecommerce site, you’ll need people in-house who know what they’re doing, who understand your business and how to navigate the engine room of these sites.

These people will probably need some training and while some developers will point this out and add it into the proposal (this is what we do), some developers are a bit naughty and don’t flag this up or mention it at all. That means you’ll have to go back and negotiate a cost for them to amend the site or train your people. This can be one of the pitfalls so make sure you think about it upfront.

Do I own the domain/ domains and where will my site be hosted?

Now let’s explore the weird and wonderful world of domains and hosting, which probably sounds confusing, but it really isn’t!

Domains
Your domain is simply your web address. Mine is www.andyrice.co.uk and I pay a fee to have this. You can buy a domain for one year or more. If you have a website already, you should have a domain. If you don’t, it’s just a matter of searching the various domain sites to find what you need. There are lots of them and I use 123reg.

The most important thing with a domain is that you make sure you renew when it’s due, otherwise you could lose the domain completely, which would be a disaster and unfortunately, I have seen it happen. A company came to us just before Christmas a few years ago - their domain had lapsed and someone else had bought it. When we tried to get it back for them, the people who bought it wanted £5k to for it. The company lost everything on the site.

Luckily, they had just printed a hard copy of the site, so over Christmas we found another domain that worked for them, rebuilt the site and had it up and running for the first week of January. But not everyone is as fortunate.

Most domains cost very little – we’re talking just a few pounds. I think the most expensive one I purchased for a client was £29.00 for the year. The best advice is to buy for at least two years, make sure you note when the renewal date is and set the domain site to auto renew. 123reg notifies me in good time when a renewal is due. Because domains are not expensive, buy more than one for your company, so if your name is Alex and you can get alex.com, also buy alex.co.uk and alex.org so you can protect your name.

Hosting
When your site is built and before it goes live on the web, it needs to sit somewhere. You have all that copy and images - some of the files could be huge - plus all the programming software that runs your site. Just like the files and software that sit on your computer’s hard drive, your website files and software need to sit somewhere – that somewhere is a huge drive called a server. Servers are designed and programmed to run websites, keeping them secure and functioning well.

You could purchase a big server yourself, but then you’d have to maintain it and the cost would be huge, whereas for a relatively low cost, you can use a server in a paid space. You can share this space with other companies (don’t worry, they never see your information) or you can pay for your own server space that only your site sits in. There are lots of companies that provide hosting space (we tend to use just one for all our clients) and your choice depends on the type and size of your site, and the type of business you’re in. Just make sure you ask your designer/developer for their advice.

Please take a special note here, if you get your design company/developer to set up domains and hosting, make sure you also get all the details, passwords, sign in etc. If the company that sets it up ever closed or went under, you could have problems. The first thing we do when a site goes live is hand all this information to our clients. It’s simply good practice.

Will my site be fully optimised?

This simply means will your site work on all devices and internet platforms, for instance, will it work across PCs, Macs, Tablets, IPhones and Android Phones, etc. You want to be sure that everyone can view and navigate your site, no matter who they are, what device they’re using and what browser they’re on.

What about SEO?

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is one of the ways your site can be found and will help move your site up the Google ratings organically. SEO on its own will never get you to the top of the list, but it’s important and it will help Google find and select your site.

SEO means making sure the copy on your website contains the words and phrases that people use when searching online. For example, in our site, we have words like Northern Ireland, Design, Advertising, Websites and a whole lot more. A good copywriter will build the most important key words into your copy.

Have I got copy and images (i.e. content)?

This is, without doubt, the area that can seriously add cost and slow the whole process down. You will be responsible in the first instance for the copy. Only you know exactly what you want on your website. Any information you provide can be adjusted and massaged, but only if your designer has it in the first place. Our advice to all our clients is put someone in charge of pulling all the content together and anything else that needs to be on the site, and then have that information checked and signed off if needs be.

You have no idea how much time, stress and cost that will save you! And when you think about it, it’s not that hard to do. Once your designer has all the information, they can make recommendations, get copywriters involved (see article on copywriting) and before you can say what’s a domain, you’ll have your website up and running and looking great.

Once you’re happy and have signed off the design and the content, the developer takes over. You don’t want to make major changes at this stage because it will add to the cost. Minor tweaks or amends are to be expected, but the bulk of the content should be signed off by this stage.

Do I need to be GDPR- compliant?

If you’re collecting personal details via your website, e.g. maybe you have a form that allows people to contact you and/or submit their own contact details, you need to comply with GDPR legislation, which ensures people’s personal information is kept private and they’re not sent emails they don’t want. If your site is not GDPR- compliant, you can be prosecuted – and they’ll come looking for YOU, not the developer, so ask the question and ensure you get the right answer.

Will my site be linked to my social media?

This should really be a given nowadays, but you need to discuss this with your developer. They’ll need to understand how you want the site to interact with your social media. Don’t assume the developer knows what you want. Have a chat to work out exactly what you want and what they can do for you.

Will my site be secure?

May seem like a daft question, but a long time ago my site wasn’t secure and it got hacked. At the time, I didn’t know any better. So, the things you need to ask and make sure are covered are:

  • Have I got the Secure cert and has it been applied? If you don’t have it, people’s browsers might not like your site – they might think it’s not legitimate and block it.
  • Is the server my site is hosted on secure and does it run backups? This should be part of any disaster planning.

I hope this article has been useful and helps you understand websites, the potential pitfalls and the right questions to ask. A good designer and developer working closely together will deliver great results for you. Allow the budget and you won’t have to revisit your site for a very long time!

Top tips for
creating your website

  • Try to ensure your designer and web developer are working together and staying in touch. This is because the design can really affect what the developer can or cannot do. Once you’ve briefed the designer and developer and you’re sure they understand, let them take over. We tend to keep the client updated, but we take away all the pressure and manage the process for them. It means you can feed back in stages, rather than being overwhelmed by constant developments.
  • Get a copywriter involved. Yes, there is a cost, but it’s worth that small investment when you read professional copy written in your brand’s tone of voice, because it helps build your brand and generates interest.
  • If you don’t have great images for your site, let your designer organise photography. The images will belong to you and you can use them for whatever you like. Again, this is a worthwhile investment and doesn’t have to cost the earth.
  • Intellectual property rights have been a thorn in many people’s sides over the years, including mine. To me, when a client pays their invoice, everything belongs to them. We keep the files as back ups, but we don’t own the work. Before you engage anyone, ensure that you will own all rights to the materials once you’ve paid for them.
  • Make sure you know where your site domain is registered, where your site is hosted and have all the sign ins and passwords, so you always have control.
  • Be clear about what you want when you brief your designer/developer. Get them to write your brief down and send it back to you before any work begins. That way everyone is agreed on exactly what work is to be done and when.