Building an effective, attractive, modern website is essential for any business seeking significant growth. Unfortunately, this can prove to be one of the most challenging tasks for a business.
There are a number of reasons why it can prove to be so difficult. Chief amongst them is that as a business leader you will need to delegate complex technical decisions. This means you are relying on external resources to create a suitable solution to fit your vision, and you may find that a gap widens between the website’s offering and your own business goals.
1# Don’t Lose Control
Think about how much control you’ll want over the site?
In some cases the developer will have full control and all access to the site goes through them – whilst a very simple and straightforward route, it can end up being expensive as every website ‘tweak’ will be chargeable. In addition, there may be a delay in the implementation of any change requests as the developer may have other work commitments.
On the other end of the scale, some businesses build the entire website in-house, or go down the route of having a website built externally, but then bring it in-house. Whilst this is a huge undertaking and requires a good technical team, it does mean that the business has full control over everything from hardware to HTML. It also ensures that the business can fix issues and implement changes quickly.
For most small to medium businesses, a good solution is a website where there is a front-end CMS allowing you to update content and pages, and a degree of access to the site code. This setup often avoids some of the pitfalls mentioned above.
There is a blurring of terms within the web development industry, which causes confusion. A web developer will specialise either in front-end or back-end work. Developers that offer both skills, known as ‘full stack’ developers, are relatively rare and can be expensive. Furthermore, a front-end developer is not the same thing as a web designer, even if they have design skills. Designing a full website is a huge task, and most front-end developers will not be able to provide the same level of quality in their finished product as a dedicated web designer.
A web design agency, by contrast, maybe more suitable for established SMEs, and be able to offer a full-service web build as they are likely to have in-house skills in web design, front-end and back-end development.
3# Be Wary of Out-of-Date Frameworks
A typical website is simply a collection of related, interlinked documents. This format works really well for users, and also works well for the programs that need to interpret your website.
By contrast, a web app is a complicated, fully-independent program that happens to be accessed through the world wide web. It may have certain drawbacks for users, and are invariably harder to interpret for other programs.
Writing websites for other programs to process is more than just a geeky technical consideration. Programs that interpret your website include web browsers and search engines – in other words, the tools that your audience will use to view and engage with your website.
There are a great many web app formats that are no longer properly supported by modern programs. For example, Flash is no longer relevant, and will prevent your site from being interpreted by search engines without workarounds, eventually being consigned to the same fate as Silverlight. It is therefore important to consider the risks associated with agreeing to web app formats.
The question now becomes ‘what do these frameworks offer’? Web app-oriented frameworks are most useful for creating an attractive website with many animations and much in the way of interactive content. From a professional front-end developer’s point of view, they offer convenience and elegance, but to the end user they are inefficient. They also add unnecessary complexity and time to your search engine ‘crawl budget’ (the number of web pages crawled and indexed by a search engine) and users alike.
Creating a beautiful ‘showpiece’ website often means that you have less room for copy, less focus on conversion rate optimisation, a less familiar experience, and less visibility in search engines. Only use complex web applications where it is essential to the build of the site, most websites do not need them.
4# Static Website Shockers
A static website delivers the same information to every user based on what is in the html code. They are efficient, fast and often cheap to develop and host.
This approach is all about building a bare minimum website fast, with the plan to build a more elaborate and sophisticated website in the future as the business grows. For these reasons, static websites are often tempting for some business owners.
When the core of your website is fundamentally static, you will run into issues as you scale your website. It is common for static websites to be designed when you are looking at between five and thirty pages, and don’t expect to add more pages. If you have to update an element unexpectedly across all pages, you are already looking at a major inefficiency past ten pages. Commonly, these sites will quickly grow to a hundred pages as your offering diversifies and you want to provide more information to users.
At this point, the website moves from being irritating to maintain to unmaintainable, any updates need to be shelved, and you will end up rebuilding the website to use a full Content Management System (CMS).
As well as the static content of the site, there are also dynamic elements to most websites, even static sites. These are the parts that require actual programming. Adding dynamic elements piecemeal to a static website actually exacerbates the issues with updating pages. Without a complete strategy for managing the actual programming and dynamic elements, these websites start to generate technical debt at an alarming rate, and even if they do manage to remain small, any change will require ongoing maintenance on top of immediate testing and development time. Again, the website quickly collapses under the weight of the ongoing maintenance required.
Static websites have a place for small solo offerings, but they are a serious pitfall for businesses looking to grow.
5# Avoid ‘Unknown Unknowns’
Probably the most common website pitfall is using relatively obscure software. This applies particularly strongly to open-source CMS and eCommerce platforms. That doesn’t mean that you should automatically avoid all obscure CMS and eCommerce platforms, but it does mean that you should require a very convincing justification before accepting it.
Often, the obscure platforms are simply worse – this may be due to over-complicated architecture and design decisions, or missing features that most users consider essential, or overly-restrictive conditions of use.
Open-source eCommerce offerings throw up many challenges so we advise that if you run an eCommerce site, invest in proprietary software or a paid platform.
6# Consider Digital Marketing from the Start
There is no point in having a great looking site if your target audience can’t find it online. Therefore your digital marketing strategy should be a key consideration in a new website design project. This way the website can be built to best-practice optimisation, user-experience techniques and technical considerations. Any previous optimisation work can be carried over and the new site will launch with all the foundations on which to build a long-term successful digital marketing strategy.
Whilst some website design agencies offer a full-service type model i.e. they build and promote. There are also niche digital marketing agencies, such as Loom, who focus on their areas of expertise and offer a specialist service. To fulfil a new site design and build, they will partner with other niche design agencies to work on the project. With this route you always know that you are dealing with specialists in their field.