How do I choose a good web designer?

We choose most services without a lot of thought.  We hire a taxi driver or a window cleaner without feeling the need to interview them first, and many specialist practitioners are chosen for us like an airline pilot or a surgeon.  It’s not that we don’t mind about the quality of service they provide, we just assume that it will be reliable and cost-effective.  If it isn’t, we will try someone else next time.

But website building is a strange beast.  A lot of time and money is invested in a process that most people embark on just once, and don’t fully understand.  While we can see the end product clearly, we can’t be fully sure what’s under the bonnet.  A range of considerations are equally important: – will the navigation and impact be what we want for users, will it have good SEO, and will it work for all the web browsers and mobiles?  Will it be reliably hosted and will it survive the next technology advance?   And most importantly, how can we be sure that it will actually help to market our business?

Because it is a relatively new discipline, web-design has evolved from a range of other professions, and consequently there are several kinds of web designer out there, and several kinds of website to match.  By understanding what these are will help you to make the right decision about what you want your website to achieve, and who to hire to build it .  So here is a quick pros and cons guide to the four main web-developer types.  You will of course find two or three of these skills wrapped up in one person or company, but the demands of each can be competing.  Which do you most need?

The Digital Developer

There would be no websites without the skills of the dedicated digital pioneers.  Popularly known as “techies”, they can build cutting edge websites, develop new features, smarten up the code behind the scenes, push at the boundaries of the possible and streamline the speed.  Amazon report a 1% increase of sales for every millisecond improvement in download time for their sites pages.  So if its cutting edge technology you want, then the techie is for you.

Pros

Great for new technology, trouble-shooting problems and making sure the wheels and nuts all turn nicely.

Cons

For the vast majority the existing mainstream technology is fine, so developer time may be an unnecessary addition to your budget.  They can also get lost under the bonnet and may lose sight of the primary purpose of a website – communication.

The Designer

Design is a great part of websites, and how they look is an obvious way to judge them when they are ‘ready’.  Good branding and attractive design will boost a business profile exponentially , and rolling out the brand look on a website is a sound idea.   Conversely an unbranded website may be samey or dull, implying the same about your business.

Sadly, mobile usage has stolen a lot of the scope for creativity.   Mobile traffic makes up over 70% of all website viewing now, so a good site has to be ‘responsive’ which means that it is designed in small boxes that can resize and align nicely for mobile viewers.  So big sweep design and triangular or circular elements are out, white space and small square boxes are in.  Harder to design with flair within those restrictions.

Navigation that is not clear is also very frustrating for users.  So unusual layouts, subtle click buttons and unlabelled portals to other pages are lovely to the eye, but can drastically reduce traffic flow.  (Does anyone else question the sense of making the switches on most new technology black on a black background?)

If you want to make an impact without an emphasis on design, choose a great photographer.  90% of the impact of many sites is down to the quality and choice of great images.

Pros 

You will stand out from the crowd and have a work of art.  Branding is important.

Cons

Unique design can be lost on the mobile user, upset the navigation or forget that a website is firstly about communication, secondly about art.

The UX Specialist

An unsung hero, UX (user experience) experts practice a profession that you may not have heard of.  Most websites fail by failing to understand how the first time user and repeat user experience them.  Fortunately the science is all there to help.   AB testing, focus groups and live trials will weed out terrible navigation, unclear text, an unpleasant look or a confused call to action.  Google Analytics will show us the user flow (or lack of it) around a website, or show us by a high bounce rate just how confusing or unattractive an experience it might be.

Hubspot (online marketing researchers) found that 85% of website users (aka people) rated ease of use as the No 1 priority for a website (well above design, technology or imagery). So a good UX is not a luxury, it should be the primary focus of your design and content.

Pros

A UX analysis will help to focus on what the user actually responds to and give a clear focus for making the most of the design, navigation and text.  Your website will work.

Cons 

It adds an extra layer to the development process, and may require a redesign, so allow time for it.

The Marketing Expert

The marketing function of a website is often wrapped up in the frequently used but often misunderstood phrase, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).  The popular assumption that SEO is a behind the scenes process of meta-tagging and private messaging for search bots, no matter what it all looks like on the surface, misses the scope and importance of online marketing.

Google (there is really only Google for search engines now) are far more intuitive about ‘reading’ websites and their robots now scan the visible text to see what they are all about, to be able to deliver relevant, original and interesting content to internet searchers.  Google also study retention time and user flow to see if visitors actually enjoy your site enough to stay with it.   So SEO is really about good copywriting, engaging content and clear navigation – (sound familiar?)

Gone are the days when simply popping up a website would bring customers to you. Even though only 22% of Irish businesses are successfully online (Google stats) there are billions of websites out there and yours will not attract traffic all by itself.   It needs to be great on the inside (everything said so far) but also to reach out using, (you keep hearing it) blogging, social media, e-marketing and online ads.  And the person best qualified to advise you how to make the most of those is an online marketing expert.

Alternatively you could of leave it to your niece who is ‘on’ Facebook, but don’t expect that to work.

Pros

80% of people now use the internet regularly, including social media, and use the internet as a primary source of information about what services and goods to buy. Your website, marketed well, is the best way to reach them.

Cons

It will take time and resources.  Make sure that at least 30% of your development budget is set aside for marketing, otherwise you will have a very lovely but private website on your hands.

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