If you’re running a business you need an online presence. While social media is a solid platform for extending the reach of your company, the cornerstone of your online business is your website. It’s your virtual office hosted in the cloud where you meet and greet prospective clients every day.
Of course you want your office to look nice. While there are many out of the box solutions, designing a custom website gives you the flexibility to create a unique impression that reflects your company values and shows a bit of your corporate personality. You know, fun and flirtatious or suited and booted.
In this article we’ll cover how to design your custom website and find and hire the right web development company. I’ll start with some of the biggest benefits of custom website development so you can decide if this is suitable for your business needs. Make sure to read the whole article, it will almost certainly save you money.
Do You Need a Custom Website?
Before we get too far into this article it’s worth considering if you actually need a custom website for your business. Broadly speaking every site on the Internet is designed and built in one of three ways.
Custom Theme: Most websites are run on a Content Management System like WordPress using an out of the box theme.Website Builders: These are designed to be an affordable way for a user with no programming knowledge to create a custom website.Custom Websites: A custom website is created to the specifications of a person or company by a programmer.
As you might imagine each of these options attracts a different type of customer. The cheapest option, which is used by most bloggers and cash strapped e-commerce sites, is buying a theme from a site like Themeforest that runs on a platform like WordPress.
Then there are the website builders, which I’ve never really liked. The reason I don’t like this solution is that the hosting is generally overpriced, while you get locked into a platform that does not offer the flexibility you find you need later down the line.
Finally you have your custom website. You get full control over the appearance and functionality of your site, which is why most established businesses, successful bloggers, software companies and e-commerce stores choose this option. Of course it’s the most expensive solution. A custom website in the UK will normally cost upwards of £2,500.
How to Create a Custom Website
As a Bristol based marketing agency OggaDoon often gets requests from clients asking for help creating a custom website. While we don’t currently build websites for clients we do have experience developing website briefs, managing calls for proposals, shortlisting suitable web design firms and liaising with the company to create a site to the specifications of the client.
In the following few paragraphs I’ll share the system we use to help clients. There will be a few tips you can take away from this post for developing a custom website for your own business. If you don’t feel confident to manage this process by yourself you can always contact OggaDoon to help you manage the process.
The general flow for building a website I would recommend goes as follows:
Define the marketing goals of your website.Review the biggest websites in your niche for inspiration.Create wireframe mockups of the key pages of your website.Write a call for proposal and include the wireframe mockups.Shortlist the most suitable web design companies.Interview your shortlisted candidates.
In the next few paragraphs I’ll cover points one through five in a little more depth.
Define Your Marketing Goals
A common misconception about running a website is that the there’s a clear correlation between the number of visitors coming to your site and the amount of revenue you generate. While high traffic numbers are nice it is really a vanity figure. Smart marketers will tell you the important metric is your conversion rate, however you define that.
With this in mind, I recommend you start the process of creating a custom design website with a team brainstorming session. You should gather together a few of the most important people in your business to talk through your online marketing goals (this is a great excuse to head to a cafe or a bar). This is what I’d talk about during the session:
What is the most important metric for your website? Is it the number of sales, number of email subscribers, number of app downloads etc.?
What are the top three or four services you want to offer customers? Remember, while you may offer everything, limiting initial choice has been repeatedly proven to increases conversion rate.
How will you achieve those goals?
Point three is the concrete output of this brainstorming session.
You should be thinking of your website as either one giant sales funnel or multiple sales funnels that send your website visitors on a clear journey. Hopefully this graphic will help you visualise the process.
The graphic looks a bit like something between a funky backscratcher and a medieval torture implement. The idea is pretty simple though. You limit the choices from the homepage, both from the menu and links on the homepage. The content on your blog should also link back to those sales pages.
If you’ve done this process correctly you should end up with a good idea of what your website architecture should look like. This will impact the design of your homepage and the tabs on your menu.
Review The Biggest Websites in Your Niche
The best starting point for creating your custom website is competitor research. Your main skill here is as a consumer. You’ll need two tools to do this research. The first is a Google Excel sheet and the second is Google. I start my research with a quick Google search of the “biggest [insert your niche here] companies.” The nice thing about the internet is it’s full of list articles.
When you find a list of suitable websites stop for a minute. The important question you want to keep at the front of your mind as you do this research is, “would I buy a product or service from this company?”
As you slowly go through the list, especially if it’s a big list, you’ll notice things. The biggest takeaway I get is that most websites just aren’t very interesting. After reviewing 20 websites my brain starts to turn to mush (this is how a potential customer is likely to feel when they’re looking for someone to work with).
Every once in a while though I come across a website that grabs my attention. The design could be really interesting or the copy compelling and the user flow just makes sense. There won’t be many of these websites, but these are the ones you should note down in your excel list a bit like this.
After 2-3 hours of research you will have a list of less than 10 sites that inspire you. There will be things about the site that you’ll think, “wow it would be cool if we had that!”
This is the reaction you want potential customers to have when they land on your website. The hard part is putting all of these pieces of inspiration together and moulding it into your website. This is the next stage of the custom website development process.
Create Wireframe Mockups
Wireframe mockups are an important part of your project brief. This is where you combine the website architecture with the results of your research. Consider them the architectural plans for your new house.
Imagine going to a builder and asking them for a quote on your dream house without providing these plans. If they don’t know the size of the house or anything about the appearance they can’t give you a quote on the cost of the materials or the labor costs.
Of course you wouldn’t do this. Here are three obvious issues this raises:
The website developer will quote you a price on what they expect to create for you and not necessarily what you want. As a result the developer will guide you to their desired outcome.You are not providing key information about the functionality the web design company needs to cost the project. As a result the quote is likely to be higher than necessary.Finally, with no design brief you could end up with a website you don’t want, but have already paid for.
You can see why wireframe mockups are an important part of your call for proposal. To be clear, you don’t need to develop these mockups in house. Depending on the complexity of the project you can either hire a graphic designer to make these models or ask for wireframes to be submitted as part of the proposal from web design agencies.
For most websites you will need a wireframe mockup of the following pages.
- The homepage
- The blog page
- Blog post
- Custom page
Keep in mind that your wireframe mockups do not need to be complex. It’s not a finished mockup, just a brief overview of the appearance and functionality. You can find two example of mockup I created below for custom pages below.
You can see how basic the mockup is. There are a few notes that cover expected functionality, but nothing more. Still, this is the kind of information a web designer needs to provide you with a more accurate quote on the cost of your custom website.
Writing a Call for Proposal
This section will be brief, no pun intended. There are too many variables regarding the functionality and design of a website for me to cover the specifics of writing your call for proposal in depth. That said, here’s some general feedback you’ll probably find useful.
You should limit your call for proposals to no more than three pages. This should include the key outcomes generated from your research so far. For example, share the main marketing goals of your website, the website architecture and the findings of your competitor research (what websites you liked and why).
In addition to this attach wireframes you created to the call for proposal. If you didn’t create wireframes ask the agencies to submit designs outlining what they think your website should look like. This way you can see how they costed the project.
One other thing you need to consider is whether to include your budget in the call for proposal. There is no right answer for this, but if you publish the maximum price you’re willing to pay most companies will submit a quote at that price point (just like universities in the UK have done with student tuition fees).
A Few Final Pointers
Hiring the right agency is the final stage in the custom website development cycle. After thousands of pounds waisted hiring the wrong designers there are a few key lessons I’ve learned about hiring the right company.
- Only hire a programmer who asks intelligent questions.
- Ask them to show you results from previous projects.
- Make sure you get along well with the team.
- Agree on how many revisions can you make to your project and include this information in the contract.
- Set clear milestones the agency needs to achieve to receive payment.
These are pretty logical steps, but I want to emphasise the importance of the first point. Every time I’ve worked with a good developer on a project they have asked questions during the development process that have made me stop and think.
Expect to get questions when you put out the brief and during the interview process. If the web design agency you are thinking of hiring does not ask intelligent questions you are either a) Amazing – congratulations b) Going to run into serious problems.
As you can see, creating a custom website doesn’t have to be hard, but it’s easy to make mistakes. Having a system in place and understanding where you are likely to run into problems helps you avoid them. Hopefully this post will help you manage the process of working with developers to create a new website for your business.
Need help designing a custom website for your business? We’d be happy to work together with you to help design your website. Get in touch with us and we can have a real or virtual coffee to discuss your project.