The first two website design questions everyone asks when they are about to begin a project: How much does it cost and how long will it take? And we have written about some other popular questions asked by customers over the years. But, what questions should you be asking? We’re glad you asked!
We have spent nearly 20 years designing, developing, maintaining and hosting websites. We’ve seen and heard it all. But, we find that customers aren’t always sure how to proceed or, more to the point, get out of their own way.
Some questions should be mundane. Others need to be more esoteric. But they are all important. Some are even critical. We recommend you spend time organizing this information long before you engage a vendor for your project. The more well-armed you are with data, the better for everyone involved in the process.
We set out to break down both the simple and the more complex questions. They run the gamut from things you probably already know to items you may need to research. Regardless they are all important to the process of designing a great and effective website for your business. And if you engage us in your website design project, don’t be surprised when we ask you all of them in one way or another.
The Big Picture
When undertaking a website design project for the first time or the redesign of an existing website, it is critical to address the goals of the project. Of course you want something that looks good and works well, but you need to go beyond that and look to the overall needs of both your business and, more importantly, your target audience (notice, we didn’t say customer).
Why are you doing this?
Sometimes the answer is “because I need a website to compete in my industry.” More often, there are other reasons. They could include driving leads, improving brand awareness, expanding your offerings, direct sales, communicating with staff, delivering information, or even a combination of all of those things. Knowing why you want the website is almost always more important than knowing that you need it in the first place. Zeroing in on your reasons for a new website design is critical to understanding what you should be building.
Who are you doing it for?
“Notice, we didn’t say customer.” That’s because your website could be for colleagues, potential employees or even your own staff. Websites aren’t always about new business. So, carefully consider who specifically you want to reach. It should inform all your decisions from the design you choose to the words you put on the pages to the way the website actually functions.
What do they care about?
One of the key mistakes we see customers making is placing their own desires over the interests and needs of their target audience. Just because you like something doesn’t mean your audience will. Even more critically, what motivates you may not motivate them. Understanding your audience and particularly how they interact with the digital world is essential to knowing what to create in a website.
How do you know?
Do you really know what your website visitors want? Do you know how they interact with the internet? If you don’t or even if you aren’t sure, ask them. Engaging your core audience for information about their habits is key to delivering the information they want and need through your website.
There are also some standard things that you should know before engaging a website design firm. Not only will it expedite the project, it will make the process smooth and easy for you and your vendor.
When do you need it done?
Timelines are always important, but they can be somewhat unclear with websites. We’ve literally had people say, “Oh, anytime in the next few months is fine.” That is not a good approach because it leaves too many variables in delivery. Have a clear and realistic timeline for your vendor and, more importantly, yourself. Most website projects are delayed by the customer, not the designer. Having clear goals for both of you will ease the process.
What do you need to do?
When clients ask us at the beginning of a project when they should start writing content, the answer is always, “Yesterday.” Your responsibilities during a website design project are significant. You don’t just hand it to someone and cross your fingers. You are responsible, most of the time, for all the text, the tone of that text and the overall feel of the completed product. Know what you want to say and how best to deliver that message from the start.
What are your competitors doing?
It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on others in the marketplace. They can give you clues as to what you should be doing with your own business and website. They can also show you what NOT to do. We’ve found that in certain industries, digital concerns can be severely lagging. Use that to your advantage. Or, if your industry is on the cutting edge, get on it with them.
What do you like?
In every project, we ask our customers to identify websites they like. It helps us to codify ideas not only for how their website should look, but what they should say. Keep bookmarks of websites you find interesting, both visually and in terms of how they express themselves. Familiarize yourself what what you find attractive in a website. It will be an invaluable and necessary resource during your website design project.