You hire a professional web designer to build you website because it is something you can’t do, or don’t have the time to do yourself right? But how do you know that you’ve asked for everything you need? How do you know if your being sold something you don’t need? You could google it! The downside to that is the many hundreds and thousands of websites you’ll then get offering to sell you the very things you’re trying to research. Trying to sort the wheat from the chaff can be difficult especially when researching digital services because there is just so much information out there.

We decided to put together the everyday-persons guide to what to ask for from a web designer when discussing the commissioning of a website, so that even if you choose not have Highland Graphics build your website you are armed to ask all the right questions when you sit down with another designer/developer.

 

Hosting

This is where your website lives. Your website comprises numerous text and media files that form a story that can be read by a web browser like Google Chrome. The web browser then decides from the content of these files what the visual website should look and behave like. But these files need to be stored somewhere in the first place so that the browser can access them.

The majority of hosting will fall into 3 categories: free, shared and independent.

Free hosting is a terrible option and should be avoided at all costs. Yes, it will cost you nothing financially in initial outlay but your server IP will be shared with ANYONE doing ANYTHING online and if they damage your IP’s reputation then it can affect black-listings and email deliveries which is not good for business.

Shared hosting is where the majority of websites are housed and is the most common offering from hosting providers (including Highland Graphics) what this means is that you rent a portioned space on a larger server with others doing likewise. Due to the commitment from a small monthly or yearly fee the majority of those utilising shared hosting are doing so for legitimate business purposes and in most cases they’ll have no detrimental impact on your web service. Modern web hosts offering shared servers have great bandwidths, few limitations on storage and often provide 24/7 support and assistance. This is the most cost effective method for most small to medium businesses to host their website and you should expect to pay between £2.00 and £12.00 per month for fairly full featured shared hosting.

Dedicated hosting is great. You get ALL the bandwidth, ALL the storage space and have an entire server IP all to yourself. This comes at a price though. Most dedicated server providers charge anything from £200 to £500 per month to give you exclusive and serviced access to your very own server. Whilst an independent server will most likely out-pace a shared server in load speeds and processing speeds it’ll only be a fractional benefit and in all but the most competitive markets this small gain will likely not out weight the associated costs when considering the best hosting solution for your project.

 

Emails

If you buy a domain and buy hosting it’s probable that you can then access domain-linked email services. Most good hosting providers will facilitate a number of email boxes for domains for each hosting package (domain-linked email is info@examplesite.com or info@johnsmith.co.uk). If you already have domain linked email services with a previous host you can continue to leave them there and just move the website to your new server, alternatively you should discuss email migration to the new server you’ve acquired. Email migration is straightforward but make sure to ask for migration instructions if you aren’t sure.

 

Domain Name

You, the client, should buy the domain name. We can buy one for you and register it for you but I always feel the best practice is for the person/business who will own the domain name to buy that domain name and register it.

A domain name is the virtual address at which your website can be found. It typically starts http:// or www.

The rights to domain names can be bought from registrars (we use 123-reg.co.uk but are in no way affiliated to them) Normally the period of domain rental is 12 to 24 months.

When considering your domain name we still always advise clients to try and locate a .com or a .co.uk that suits their business. Whilst there are certainly many other alternative suffixes the figures in terms of conversion rates amongst all of the available suffixes indicate that web users will more likely visit/click-on/buy from a .co.uk or a .com.

If you sell products or services to a domestic market buy a .co.uk (people who are looking for local services will be more likely to do so from a .co.uk) and if your target market is abroad (even just partially) then buy a .com.

 

C.M.S

A Content Management System – this is the dashboard behind the website that the public don’t see. The majority of websites built in the modern age are done so through one of several platforms (WordPress, Joomla or Drupal) this is because they employ server side languages that allow the dynamic display of content to a user (server-side is things that happen on the server where the site is hosted and the result is communicated to the browser to be displayed, client-side is things that happen directly on the browser independent from the server and hence most often in isolation from any other user).

If you are embarking on a CMS built website ensure that a hand-over and user-guide will be provided with your new site so that you can learn how to access the posts and media sections allowing you to update the content with new pictures/news.

 

Maintenance

Once your new site is built it will be modern, up to date and compliant with third-party software and technology. However, technology will continue to advance around your website and you’re website will need to maintained and upgraded too. This can be fairly straightforward and normally involves the application of theme, CMS or plugin updates to co-incide with security flaws that have been detected etc. However, on occasion new updates can cause conflicts and incompatibilities that can render a site useless. The other issue can be that if post-launch maintenance isn’t conducted in a prompt enough manner other parties such as payment portals (paypal, Strip etc) can stop communicating with your website and you might be none the wiser until you notice a lack of completed sales, costing you your income! Most web design studios will provide fairly reliable maintenance schedules ensuring that updates and fixes are applied timeously and site integrity and up-time is maintained.

I’d recommend taking any maintenance packages offered and you should expect to pay between £18.00 and £25.00 a month for routine maintenance.

 

Content

A website isn’t just the structure and technical aspects, it needs content too. Text (referred to as copy) should really be produced by a web designer or copywriter as it can have a great impact on how your site ranks in search engines (we’re coming onto this). You can definitely do this yourself however entire careers are made from producing relevant content for websites due to it’s importance in Search Engine Optimisation, conversion and retention strategies and marketing and branding campaigns. Clarify with your web designer who will produce the text and what the cost involved will be – it’s hard to quantify this as the value will be defined by the word count and subject matter.

Images are another content to consider. Everyone has pictures, I have 1000’s across many devices but how many would I want representing my business to new or intrigued returning visitors – not many. Again, I would always advise having professional images taken where you can afford to (ask your web designer if they can facilitate this). Where budgets prohibit hiring a photographer then a good graphic designer can work wonders with existing photographs to make them more appealing to site visitors. If this is the case I would budget approximately £18 to £25 per hour for design work, your web designer will be able to give estimates of the number of hours of design work specific to your website or project.

The third alternative is to use stock images for the site. This can be a convenient way to obtain generic content to fill up spaces and compliment features (ahem…like this blog image!). The downside to this method is that you may not obtain exclusive licences to an image which could result with your website having certain similarities to competitors sites. Stock imagery also gets expensive quickly. Most websites comprise 30+ images, look through pricing info for the main stock image websites and you’ll start to be able to see what the likely costs of this method would be. There are free image repositories also which is another consideration but they are rather limited and quickly exhausted.

I tend to advise clients that commissioning photography of a site, business or products for use on a website is the best investment. You will obtain the best images for use (specific to your business, high enough resolution for modern screen sizes and retina displays) and they can also be used for subsequent printed materials such as brochures, corporate materials, marketing materials and social media content.

 

Search Engine Optimisation

Step 1. Build a website, Step 2. Watch the traffic flock to your new website…I wish. So many clients never consider their strategies for driving traffic to their new web presence after it is built and launched. This depends entirely on your intentions for your website; if you are a freelancer with returning clients and contracts who requires a website just to legitimise yourself then you will already have a loyal, engaged audience who will know how to find you and search engine optimisation doesn’t need to be a priority. If your business relies on client on customer acquisition then search engine optimisiation has to be THE priority. SEO starts before a site build begins – a target market has to be defined, volumes established, keywords researched and conversion strategies discussed. If you need your website to drive sales or generate sales leads then it HAS to be optimised to draw organic search traffic from your intended market and convert those page views to customers. A well optimised site can be a gold mine, organic traffic is free traffic and has a double positive i.e. not only do you get the custom from great SEO, but your competition doesn’t. SEO has to be one of the first conversations you have with your website designer if it is a priority for your business.

SEO also is not ‘set and walk away’. For you to rank well on search engines you have to push other businesses down the rankings and they won’t take that lying down. Be prepared for your rankings to fluctuate as competitors attempt to counteract your optimisation by making alterations of their own. Search engine optimisation is also a fluidly changing science and what assists your rankings one day might hurt them the next. The search giants like Google and Bing are not always forthcoming with when these changes occur or what they are – which is why a keen understanding of the industry is key in combating these discreet changes that have massive consequences.

Expect to pay up to £300 for initial bespoke SEO including pre-build consultancy and anywhere from £40 to £200 per month for ongoing SEO reports and maintenance for your websites.

 

Conclusion

I’d love it everyone who reads this chooses Highland Graphics to build, host and optimise their websites but even if you don’t you are now armed with what to ask for and very loose ball-park figures to expect from most modern, metropolitan web designers/developers who you approach for design and build quotes. Although the total costs might seem like a lot (domain, hosting, build time, content and SEO) a well built, high converting and optimised website can become a very valuable business asset that can underpin your business. You can lessen the costs by choosing to provide certain elements yourself which is fine, however there are definite reasons that professionals are better suited to providing certain components of your new website, even if it hits your bank balance initially (such as content). A short term saving in DIY photography could have a long term financial impact on sales, conversions or a websites overall value at a point of resale.

 

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