6 Things Your Web Designer Should do for You

Martin Hansen-Lennox

Published Tue 16 Sep by Martin Hansen-Lennox in Perfecting Your Website's Design

Detailing six main areas, this article discusses what your web designer should offer you, and gives you practical guidance to help you get the best possible experience as a client

There are so many websites out there offering web design and they may sound great. Some sound too good to be true, with knock-down prices and grand promises about their latest technology. But if you’re just starting out and don’t know much, if anything, about web design, how can you be sure that the web designer you’re thinking of hiring is going to cut the mustard?

Here is Fresher & Prosper’s guide to asking the right questions to make sure you get the most for your money from your web designer

Your web designer should:

1. Find Out What You Need

A good web designer will start by asking you what your goals and objectives are. What do you want to achieve by having a website? Is it to provide information to the public about a particular issue, is it to spread the word about a product or service you have developed, or is it a vehicle with which to sell items you produce? Whatever the nature of your business or organisation, it is your web designer’s job to find that out and adapt their approach to the design of your website accordingly.

Setting out what your objectives are from the very beginning should inform the design of your site. It’s about adapting the website to your content, not fitting your content into the website.

Practical Guidance

  •  When you first make contact with your web designer, suggest a one to one meeting (if they don’t suggest it first). This is an important step as it gives you the opportunity to gauge their approach, their values and the way they work. If you form a professional but friendly relationship with your web designer, things are likely to run a lot smoother. Seeing their premises and meeting their staff gives you a good indication of the quality of service you might expect
  • Before your first meeting, try doing a bit of research into your competitors: those in your niche market who already have websites. Make a note of the URLs of their websites so you can show the web designer concrete examples of what you like and (sometimes, more importantly) what you don’t like. The less vague you are about what you want, the easier it will be for your web designer to get it right. Having a ready-made list will also save you, and them, some time
  • It is reasonable for you to expect that the web designer with whom you are working will show you, at various stages in the design process, how the website prototype is evolving. This gives you the opportunity to make any changes while the website is still in the design stage. You can reasonably expect to see a prototype of how the website will look on at least three occasions. Bear in mind that at this point, the web designer will probably ask for a deposit or stage payment, before they start building the site
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for a projected timescale for the project: depending on how many clients your web designer has at a particular point in time, and how complicated the design of your website is, you can expect anything from 6 to 12+ weeks. It will be good for you to get a clear idea of when your website will be ready so you can start to promote its launch on your social media platforms and perhaps get new business cards and flyers printed for promotion

2. Develop Your Website to the Highest Standards

This is a difficult one, because web design is something that is constantly evolving and changing. What is popular and new one year will be old hat the next, and web standards are constantly improving as search engines up their game and make ever-increasing demands on websites to get the best SERPs (search engine results placements). While this is something of which you should certainly be aware, as the client, your web designer should also be keeping abreast of the latest developments and adapting their practice accordingly. Having knowledge of this as a client means you can gauge a potential web designer’s expertise. Do they know what it takes to cut the mustard in today’s online market? And is your website going to adapt and stand the test of time for its duration? 

A website is a costly estate: like buying a house, it is not something that is done lightly or very often, simply due to the nature of its cost. If the standard of your website is high from the beginning, it is more likely to still be ranking in search engines with a respectable placing in years to come.

One of the most important aspects of website standards is your web designer’s ability (and indeed willingness) to check that your website is going to function correctly on a variety of browsers and devices. In the last few years, the growth of mobile devices and the number of people surfing the net on their smart ‘phones and tablets has risen dramatically. Tablet owners alone have doubled in the UK (24% of all households in 2014). A web designer who neglects this essential growth area is doing you a disservice. If your website is not responsive to mobile devices, you could find it loses its layout, text may overlay and images may not display properly. Many websites do not have the benefit of responsive design, which leads to a poor user experience, so paying attention to this in the planning stage of your website will help make yours a cut above. 

Practical Guidance

  • It’s well worth your while to have a browse on the internet about responsive design so that when you approach a web designer, you can ask them about it in an informed way
  • If the website you buy is not responsive, it will be time-consuming and possibly very costly to make it responsive at a later date. This really is a case of prevention being better than cure. Getting it right from the outset (or making sure your web designer gets it right) is preferable to sorting it out retrospectively

3. Consider and Implement Your Website's Search Engine Optimisation and Accessibility

Search engine optimisation, or SEO, is the buzz-phrase for all web designers and owners. It’s the holy grail for anyone who has a website or is thinking of getting one built. It comprises all your efforts, both on and off your website (called on-page and off-page factors) to help your website get higher page ranking and SERPs.

The focus in the design stage of your website will mainly be on-page factors, but some off-page factors will also come into play, such as making sure your webpages (particularly your home-page) has social sharing and following buttons for popular platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Having an up to date awareness of the basic principles of SEO on-page factors will greatly benefit you when consulting your web designer.

As well as SEO, there is also the issue of website accessibility.

Few people who design and build websites, let alone their clients, are aware that not taking reasonable steps to ensure your website is accessible to those who have sight-related, hearing or mobility issues is actually in breach of the law. This is an issue particularly if your website is the only point of contact available to your customers and potential customers. If they cannot access your services because your website is not suitably set up to cater to their needs, it is unlikely they will revisit and recommend you.

A good web designer will have these issues in mind as they design your site. It is well worth asking them about what they do to ensure your website is as accessible as possible to the widest possible portion of the population. After all, this is your business and your reputation.

Both SEO on-page factors and accessibility measures are easily incorporated into any website design, without it being too costly. They are both an essential part of any web design.

Practical Guidance

Let's Start with SEO:

  • Ask your web designer to include a sitemap on your website: this is a handy index showing in one place all the pages that are on your website. They help users to navigate easily around your site, and this is one of the reasons that search engines love them
  • Search engines value (and rank higher) websites that provide a clear and easily navigable user experience. Make sure your web designer is checking your links and establishes a sound link structure. Sites that have broken links do not provide a good user experience and in consequence search engines are unlikely to rank them very highly
  • Websites with functioning internal links that contain naturally-occurring keywords are favoured. An example of a naturally-occurring keyword is: instead of having ‘Read more here’ as an internal link, you could use the phrase as a link: In the sentence ‘Consider and implement search engine optimisation and accessibility,’ the keyword phrase ‘search engine optimisation’ is both a natural part of the sentence and a search phrase that people are likely to type into a search engine box. No one is likely to type in the phrase ‘Read more here’...
  • Ask your web designer to test your website on a variety of browsers (as stated above in part 2). Search engines are increasingly taking notice of websites that are responsive and easy to use on a wide range of devices
  • Discuss with your web designer your metatags. (Not sure what metatags are? You can read our guide to SEO on page factors to refresh your memory!) Metatags are something that are easy to get right but are rather too often ignored by web designers. They are the invisible, behind-the-scenes clockwork that provide a sound structure which search engines will be able to crawl and index easily, for the ongoing success of your website. Done well, they can contribute to the visibility of your website in search engines, increasing the frequency with which your website is found in searches. They can also increase your click-through rate if done properly, so it’s worth paying attention to them. For example, if your description tags are not unique and do not accurately describe what the visitor will find when they land on a particular page, they do not give an authentic and satisfying user experience
  • It’s also worth being aware of how much, if any, Flash and JavaScript your web designer is planning to use on your home page and inner pages. Flash and JavaScript both enable the website to have interactive features such as carousels, and they are attractive to look at. However, the down side to them (and it is worth bearing this in mind) is that search engine spiders that index your site and use this information to rank it cannot read content that is programmed in Flash or Javascript. This does not mean you cannot use it at all on your website, but bear in mind your web designer should have systems in place whereby these files can be held externally so they do not adversely affect your website’s SEO

And Now onto Accessibility...

  • If you’re having video or audio files on your website, bear in mind users who have difficulty hearing. Good practice is to provide a transcript along with your video or audio files, or better still include subtitles that users can enable if they wish
  • Ask your web designer to pay attention to alt tags. These are coded into your website content and perform the function of enabling screen-readers to describe to users who have sight difficulties the content of images. If these are left blank, the screen-reader will most likely pick up a number code of a stock image. It is far preferable in terms of accessibility to give a full description of an image. For example an alt tag might say: ‘Image of a blue and white striped men’s shirt.’ This enables users to engage more clearly with your products
  • When you write the content for your pages (or hire someone to write it for you), consider the use of headings. Lots of descriptive headings and subheadings within an article, blog post or product description page can help those who use screen-readers to skim through and find exactly what they’re searching for
  • It’s worth considering a wide spectrum of users when addressing accessibility: no one can be perfect, and to be exhaustive in this area is something that nobody would expect from a small or startup website, but it’s always worth setting out as you mean to go on and making your website as accessible as possible to the widest range of people across the world
  • For those who have mobility issues and find it difficult to use a mouse, there are a few ways in which your web designer can make it easier for them to navigate around your website. One prominent example is enabling the tab key to navigate around contact form boxes in a logical order, so once users have filled in their first name the next box they go to is 'surname'

4. Communicate Effectively With You

If your web designer wants to do everything remotely and is reluctant to meet, it may be hard and indeed more time-consuming for you as a client to communicate your needs and priorities. According to Orbit Media, the biggest portion of complaints about web design companies (a huge 78%) relate to customer service and consultation.

'When using a web design team, you’re choosing a project management approach, a process, a help desk and ideally, a long-term marketing partner. If something goes wrong, it won’t likely be a design or programming problem. It’s all about service and communication’ (Source: Orbit Media)

Practical Guidance

  • If they offer a face to face meeting, take them up on it. If they don’t, suggest that they do!
    The best way to communicate your ideas and to make your objectives clear is to meet with your web designer: it is easier to forge a better working relationship this way
  • Before your face to face meeting, it’s a good idea to communicate what you might want via email: any web designer worth their salt will have looked at your ideas and have something on the table to suggest when you arrive - and maybe also a quote for the overall cost, including no hidden nasties
  • Ask about VAT - at its current level of 20% it could add a lot on if you’re expecting it to be included in the price and it isn’t!
  • Ask about deposits and stage payments - get this in writing from the web designer so you’re clear about what you’ll be paying and when
  • Visit their website and have a look at their Terms and Conditions, flagging up anything about which you are unsure / unclear, to ask them for clarificiation
  • Look at client testimonials and reviews - it’s a great way of gauging an independent view of their service - pay particular attention to how the clients report the customer service
  • Once you’ve signed a contract, it’s often difficult to get out of it, so it’s easier to iron out any queries before you sign - such as who owns the hosting, do they have the right to take down your website without notice, what happens if they go out of business and how much will they charge you for changes down the line?

5. Offer Technical Support

You’ve got a brand new website and you’re really happy with how it looks. But what happens when you want to add new content (if it’s a CMS website) and you haven’t got a clue how to do it? Or want to add images but you’ve never used photo-editing programmes and wouldn’t know where to start?

This is where technical support is a life-saver.

Practical Guidance

You’ll feel relieved further down the line if you ask pertinent questions at the beginning: this will save you time, stress and money later on! Questions might be:

  • ‘Do you have a freephone or landline number?’ This is something that may come back to haunt you if you don’t find this out early on! It could save you plenty of £££s over the first few weeks and months, when you might need to ring your web designer on a few occasions for technical support
  • ‘Do you give CMS training?’ Content Managed Systems are by their nature user-friendly and are designed so that you can update and add blogs, articles, images and product information yourself. However, if you have never used one before, like anything you do for the first time, it takes practice and a little bit of guidance. Ask your web designer if they offer one to one training for first-time users, or if not have they produced any videos / literature / guides you can look at?
  • ‘When can I ring?’ Find out your web designer’s usual office hours and only ring during these times unless it is a real emergency eg. your website has gone down and you don’t know what’s gone wrong. After all, courtesy works both ways. Out of hours, it’s best practice to drop them an email and they will get back to you when it’s convenient
  • ‘When can I reasonably expect that you’ll get back to me?’ This is a good question to ask as it sets a reasonable expectation in your mind about how long you might have to wait before a response from your web designer. Of course, there are always going to be exceptional circumstances, such as illness or holidays, which might mean they cannot always get back to you within their normal timescale. But having a ballpark figure can help you manage your own time, and work out the difference between a reasonable and unreasonable time to wait for a response

6. Peace of Mind

A good web designer will always address the issues of website security and regularly back up your website.

Unfortunately, website hacking and security breaches are becoming ever more sophisticated. So choosing a web designer who is aware of the threats and has made steps to develop a secure system that minimises the risk of your website being compromised is really going to benefit you.

Practical Guidance

  • It’s worth finding out about password-protecting your website and its associated email logins / addresses. If you’re unsure about the most secure types of password, ask your web designer for assistance. Secure passwords are essential to prevent hacking and phishing, both of which are closely associated with viruses and data theft
  • Get some information from your web designer about how often (if at all) they back up your website and any databases you may have. Having regular backups can give you the peace of mind that you’ll never lose important information. Any subscribers you have to your website will also feel safe that their information will be secure

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