When you were looking for a space for your retail business did you purchase a kit made of balsa wood or hire the neighborhood kid to build your store based on the design plans of his tree house? Then why would you do that with your website?
What does your store do? It’s there to provide a good experience to anyone who visits, to make it easy for them find what they want, and to hopefully have them stop at the register on their way out. You hire a staff to help in the customer experience. Your staff answers questions and helps visitors find products. Your staff cleans the store each night before closing. Your staff rings up the sales. On occasion you hire a contractor to build a new shelving system or knock down a wall to open up some space for a new display. How much would it cost to lease the space for your store and hire your staff?
Your website functions as both your store and your staff. It needs to provide a good experience to your visitors. It needs to make your products and services easy to find. Your website is there to answer questions and help complete a sale. You want it to look as professional as you would your ‘brick and mortar’ store. Instead of hiring a contractor to make changes you hire a web designer or developer. So how much should you spend on it?
There are many different solutions you can find to help you get a site online. There are web design templates, and website builders. There are content management systems and blogs. And there is custom web design, both good and bad. You can use any of these solutions, but they are not all equal.
A lot of different components go into building an effective website. There’s the design itself and the development of the code that brings the design to life. There may be custom applications that add functionality and require programming and database development. The site also needs to be optimized for search engines to help bring traffic to it. Each of these components adds a cost to the overall site.
Cost is certainly a factor when determining a solution. Templates and site builders are often inexpensive and sometimes even free, but they only offer so much. Generally they focus solely on the design in an attempt to sell you on the wow factor while leaving the structure, the code behind them a mess. They may seem like a cost effective way at first, but you’ll often end up paying the price when it comes to updating the site or optimizing it for a search engine.
A little over a year ago I worked for someone setting up a hosting business. He decided to go with a template for his site to save on development costs and asked me to make a few modifications to the site to make it easier to update, faster, and more search engine friendly. I was also paid to make the site work across several browsers. Because the code was so poorly written it took just as long as if I had built the site from scratch and in the end he spent more on the template than for a new design. The site still has barriers to search engines and doesn’t work well when viewed on an Apple computer. And then a week after it was all done he found another web hosting site using the same template.
The situation with site builders is generally the same though with site builders you design the look of your site. You do get your own original design, but do you have the design skills to pull it off.
Content management systems can often be very slow. A lot of code needs to be written to make it easy for you to update your pages without having to muck around in the code. CMS programs also rely on templates for their look so you can never be sure how many other sites look just like yours. The situation is a little better with blogs. Many of them are written with better code and have removed many of the barriers to search engine optimization. The can be used to set up a small site, though as your site grows larger you’ll probably still want more than a blog.
Custom design will cost more upfront and you do need to do your homework to find the right person or company to develop your site. Having found the right person though you will get a unique design as well as quality code behind your site. You can also get a site prepared for search engine optimization and even have some included with the initial development. Having a quality site won’t come cheap, but in the long run it will save you both money and time when you need to update your site. And the extra traffic you get from having a well built site can make up for the cost quickly.
There’s always the temptation to go with the low bid when looking for a solution to putting up a website. There are certainly solutions that are inexpensive and make it quick to get a site online. In the end though you really are better spending up front and doing things right. You’ll save in the long run and you may only get one chance to convert that visitor into a customer. Accept that a website is important to your business and the more you invest in it the more return you’ll get from your investment.
If you liked this post, consider buying my book Design Fundamentals