The speed at which the Internet evolves is dramatic. For example in less than a decade ago, it was still acceptable to create websites without an easy way for the average person to make changes, add pages, and pop in a photo. Today’s world is quite different: A company should expect the ability to edit their content and have the ability to add pages as part of their standard website development package.
Content Management System
This is your ability to edit your own content. You should have the ability to add, remove, and edit pages without any programming knowledge. This includes adding photos, videos, and products (if you have an eCommerce system). Anyone not offering a content management system is either trying to create dependency for cash flow or doesn’t have the experience to add this fundamental tool. Either way, anyone not offering it should be eliminated from consideration.
The gold standard for most small businesses today is either Joomla or WordPress. I personally recommend WordPress because of its ease of use. There are others and I am sure some good debates, but WordPress will get the job done in 99.9% of the cases for a small business.
There are two major components to SEO: Onsite SEO where you site is optimized and offsite SEO, where the real work begins. Onsite SEO can be a one time fee, offsite SEO always, 100% of the time is a subscription service. Even if you can’t afford and complete SEO program, at least, make sure your site includes onsite SEO optimization. Don’t expect a lot of results from onsite optimization.
Mobile & Tablet Friendly
Smart phones and tablets are revolutionizing the way people search online. Your website shouldn’t be a small version of the desktop version, but rather it should automatically conform to different devices. Horizontal scrolling and tiny text screams is a turn-off for the tech savvy world of today. The term being used today is “responsive web design”. There are many ways to approach this issue, but it’s mission critical your website is easy to read and translates seamlessly on all devices.
What good is a management tool if you or your team doesn’t know how to manage it? Wading through videos or reading manuals is too time-consuming and not practical, especially for a small business. 99% of what most businesses need to know to manage their website is within a narrow window of features. A live training session on how to use your site should be standard. I usually can train one person or a small team in about an hour or so.
Avoid Custom Programming
The web industry has largely migrated from custom development to almost a position of general contracting when it comes to small business. There are programs available that meet just about any need, eliminating the need for custom programming.
Custom programming will make your business dependent on your developer. This is costly and often frustrating. Instead request your website is built using plug-ins and software that has already been developed and get a list of the their selections. Also research their recommendations to see if they are suggesting highly rated, frequently updates plugins. Some developers honestly just choose the first thing they run across.
Plus, usually hordes of people collaborate on certain website plugins. This eliminates your business from footing the bill with upgrades and patches. Now there is a time for custom programming, but in most cases, it’s simply not the case for the small business.
Proprietary Systems Are Taboo
Make sure the system you use is based in a mainstream, open source, CMS system. WordPress and Joomla are the most common CMS systems. Developers commonly create their own flavor using these systems as a foundation, but ultimately they are still WordPress or Joomla. This is important because if you use a custom content management system or a proprietary system with a website builder program, it’s harder to switch providers easily. If your website is built using WordPress, Joomla, your business can easily switch providers without reinventing the wheel or having to “relearn” a new system.
In 2013, we introduced our proprietary system, MaxWebGear. MaxWebGear is built upon WordPress. We’ve added tons of features and acquire developer licenses we share among all our clients. If a client wanted to leave, we can extract their site in a standard WordPress format. This type of flexibility is important to keep you from being a slave to a system or paying thousands of dollars unnecessarily. Of course, you may have to buy your own plug-ins, but that’s a far cheaper solution than paying someone to extract all your pages of information from a proprietary system, learning a new system, etc, etc.
All websites should include features such as slide shows, form builders, galleries, and social media tools. At one point, these features has to be spelled out, but not today. For instance, we’ve added about 50 features that are standard with our web development programs including calendars, appointment makers, SEO Tools, training videos, donation scripts, eCommerce (stores), auto-posting tools to over 15 social feeds, and much more. If you see “nickel and diming” with each feature from a developer, its probably because they are taking the expensive road of writing programs for you, they charge unnecessarily, etc.
Templates are cookie cutter and make your business look too generic. It’s a fact that the development world can’t get around. Your project should include a custom design with a number of design revisions included. The most common number of design revisions included is around 2-5 for the overall theme.
I am actually stunned that so many businesses feel they get away with using a design being used over and over again. Cookie cutter designs with poorly inserted graphics, bad spacing, etc. is the sure path to mediocrity.
Make sure your developer offers a backup plan for your site. A daily backup with up to a 30 day retention is optimal. Yes, some developers do not backup the sites they manage often.
Exclusive Features Worth Consideration
Live Design Sessions
There is nothing more frustrating than having to explain revisions in an email or spending hours on the phone as you describe what you would need altered. Often this line of communication is problematic and results in additional changes and aggravation. Some design firms and freelancers have added live design sessions to their services. This is extremely helpful in that you can instantly see changes as they are being added plus you can discuss the changes and ideas you have with the developer directly. This is perhaps the single greatest tool we’ve offered to our clients. It’s also minimizes development time.
Did you find a developer with marketing experience? If so, great. Interactive planning with a person with marketing expertise will open a world of creativity. How to disseminate your content, your call-to-action, supplmental marketing strategies, and a host of other ideas will come to life while embracing your business experience.