Right now we are in the process of website redesign projects for several of our clients. These, unfortunately, are not websites that had long fruitful lives and have now outgrown their usefulness. These are sites that were just recently completed — by other agencies or freelancers — and fell far short of our clients’ expectations.
Tools like Wix, WordPress and SquareSpace have made building a website easier. But they haven’t exactly made it easy. There is still a great deal of planning, knowledge and skill that goes into creating a high-quality, well-functioning website.
I’m reminded of this as we begin website redesign projects for several of our clients. The sites we’re building won’t be replacing ones that have lived long, fruitful lives or have outgrown their usefulness. They’re brand new. Some less than a year old.
A few of the sites we’re fixing were originally built cheaply by cutting corners. Others are quite flashy and quite expensive, but lack basic functionality. All of them were built by other agencies or freelancers who failed to meet the clients’ expectations.
So as we dive into fixing websites others have built so poorly, I thought I’d share some thoughts on how you might avoid this issue altogether. Think of hiring someone to build your website the same way as you would a contractor to work on your house or a mechanic on your car — with some basic understanding, a little insider knowledge and the right questions, you can get what you want and not get burned.
Who to Hire: Designer or developer? Freelancer or agency?
I wouldn’t hire a plumber to do my electrical, and I wouldn’t want major work done to my car at an express oil change. Websites are similar — to get it done right, you need to hire the right person (or people). So let’s take a look at some different roles and what they do.
A web designer determines what a site looks like. To continue the home improvement analogy, think of them as an interior decorator. Their goal is to make the site look good and create the overall visual appearance through use of colors, fonts, imagery and layout. They can do this any number of ways — in PhotoShop, directly in HTML and CSS or by customizing a premade theme.
A freelancer might have some skill and familiarity in both disciplines, but they’re likely to excel at one or the other. Take note of whether they call themselves a “developer” or “designer” — that will give you insight on their expertise, process and priorities. It will also be an indication of the type of site you’ll get: One designed to look good or one designed to function well.
A web firm or agency should have designers and developers on staff who will collaborate and combine their expertise to build your website. Using an agency increases the chance that your site will be designed and developed well. It will also give you access to some other important skills that often go overlooked when websites get built.
What Else Makes a Website ‘Good’?
Making sure your site looks good and works well is obviously important. But those aren’t the only qualities that go into a well-made website. You need to think about what a visitor will do when they arrive at your page and how they might arrive there in the first place.
A mistake we often see businesses make (whether we’re making their site or not) is wanting to create their own content. On the surface, it makes sense — who knows your business better than you?
But ask yourself: Do you know how to craft copy that will stand out from the competition? Create clear messaging to sell your brand? Entertaining and informative content to keep your audience engaged? And do you know how to make it all fit seamlessly with a design and flow well with the functionality of a site?
Doing this — and doing it well — is a highly-specialized skill just like web design and development. Even if you have your content created, it can always be improved and optimized by a professional copywriter and content creator.
A site may be immaculately designed, flawlessly developed and feature amazing content. But if no one visits it, what’s the point? Attracting, retaining and converting customers is a whole other skill set when it comes to building a website.
This can include instilling good SEO practices to make your page appear higher in searches, marketing content to show off your expertise and translating analytics to see where visitors come from and the path they take through your site.
And the best time to implement these practices is while the site is being built. They should be part of the plan from the beginning and baked into the design and development. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone launch a site then come to us for help optimizing it. It can be done — but never as easily or effectively than doing it from the start.
What’s Right For Me?
As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when deciding on how (and who) to build your website. While every instance is unique, the are some common pros and cons for each, as well general circumstances when one may be preferable to another.
Hiring a freelance designer
- Your site will be visually appealing
- Can often be done more quickly and less expensively than using an agency
- Will likely use premade templates and themes that can lead to technical issues
- Requires you to provide and optimize the content
You may want to hire a web designer if…
You simply need an online presence for your brand that looks good, only needs to convey basic information and requires no complex functionality.
Hiring a freelance developer
- Capable of building robust functionality for your site
- May be able to optimize the technical implementation and speed of site
- Risk clunky design that will turn off users and poorly represent your brand
- Requires you provide content and be more involved with visual direction
You may want to hire a web developer if…
Your website requires more complex and customized processes and visual appearance is less of a concern.
Hiring a firm or agency
- Marries design, functionality and content
- Can think beyond the initial site to SEO, analytical and marketing processes
- Longer process than just hiring a freelancer
- More expensive (Starting around $1.5k for a freelancer vs. $10k for agency)
You may want to hire an agency if…
Your website is a vital component of your business in terms of attracting, converting and retaining customers and you need help navigating evolving technology and marketing trends.
Of course, making a fully-formed and good decision is much more nuanced than this. So if you are in need of help building a comprehensive web experience (or need help fixing your current one), get in touch. We’re happy to go over your needs and help you make the right choice.