Writecombination Marketing
by Andrew Knowles

How to prepare for your new website

We’ve just had a new business website built by the team at Digibug (thanks, guys!) It was our first website, outside of Blogger and Wordpress, and working with professional designers and developers has taught us a huge amount.

Partly as a checklist for next time we go through this process, and partly to aid others planning to have a website built, we’ve documented some of what we’ve learned.

1. There’s a difference between website design and website development. We learned this by looking at other sites before we chose Digibug. Lots of website builders are, in truth, good coders with varying amounts of design skill. If you want a website that looks great, it needs input from a great graphic designer. Then it needs to be built by a great developer.

2. Website design is a process. Neither you nor your designer can envisage the perfect website first time around. Be prepared to look at early drafts and say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to different elements. Be wary of anyone offering a fully functional site that seems to meet all your expectations in the first draft. Although you might get lucky...

3. Work with someone local. Ideally you want to sit down with your designer, in front of the website, to discuss it. We sort of did that, because half the Digibug team is local, but we didn’t do it with the designer. In hindsight, it would have made the process easier.

4. Be prepared to learn a little coding. If you want to tweak your site content, either be prepared to pay your developer, or learn how to make some changes yourself. Using a content management system (CMS) makes it easier, but even then, some alterations require technical knowledge.

5. Be prepared to disagree with your designer. It’s your website and it needs to look and work the way you want. Designers, like architects, can create fantastic looks but to have a website that works the way you want often demands design compromises. Listen to what your designer has to say, but make the final decision to meet your needs, not the designer’s.

6. Be clear up front about what the fee includes. You can’t keep going back to your website designer and, as part of the initial fee, keep demanding more changes. There’s some give and take, but a good commercial relationship requires an understanding of the boundaries. We felt we had this with Digibug.

7. Website conversion. If you have an existing site, be precise about how much of the content will be transferred to the new site and who will do the conversion. Don’t forget important details, such as whether, and how, blog comment history can be moved across.

8. 301 redirects. If your new site has different page addresses for all, or most, of the content, you’ll need to implement ‘301 redirects’ to protect your accumulated SEO. Your developer will know what this is, and if they don’t, find a new one.

9. Make no assumptions about how things will work. On a number of issues, we found ourselves saying ‘oh, we thought it would be like this’, because that’s how it worked in Blogger or Wordpress. But every content management system is slightly different, so be prepared to accept changes or, if something’s really important, specify what you want in advance.

10. Don't expect the process to end when your new site goes live. Websites should not be static. Google likes them to be updated regularly and if you don't refresh it, the site will date more quickly. Be prepared to keep working on your site for as long as it serves a purpose.

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