How Important Is Web Design and Digital Marketing?
In today’s digital landscape, the website is at the forefront. It’s the billboard and the real estate that businesses have to rely on. And excluding any sort of brand that has to rely on Instagram or Facebook ads, the website certainly is important to any business.
It’s crucial for a business to have a website that properly displays, “This is my product, this is my service.” It must be a correct representation of who they are and what they do.
Oftentimes, we come across a rather large company, but we look at the website and really have no clue of that. It’s quite amazing that in our day and age, 2020, some of the most foundational issues are not being dealt with properly.
Websites in some respects are becoming commoditized, where they have these drag-and-drop builders and it’s sort of projected that anyone can build a website. A lot of it gets lost in translation.
For instance, people get the sense that if they watch some YouTube videos and read some books, in a matter of weeks they could potentially rewire a home for electrical. But that’s not going to happen. Nobody’s actually going to spend the time, and even if they did, they certainly shouldn’t live there afterwards.
People spend so much time trying to build their own websites without accounting for design, hosting, or SEO elements. Instead, they’ll put up a half-done project and be a little detoured based on the loss of time alone.
We like to say, “Hey, you run your business. Let us focus on creating a website and marketing it.”
Anyone could spend dozens of hours, hundreds of hours, thousands of hours, or whatever to reach a certain skill level for website development. Do you want to do that on your own? Or do you want to focus on being the owner of your business and doing the day-to-day tasks that are required of you in order to be successful in your line of work?
At what point does it make sense to outsource your website to a professional firm that keeps it up to date and has the technology and the understanding to provide the best possible level of service, without you having to go learn the whole thing yourself?
One thing that is certainly important to look for when considering an agency or freelancer, is that you certainly want some focus. You definitely don’t want to find the Jack of all trades, someone who does print, billboards, magazine ads, and the kitchen sink. They should have some focus and at least a basic knowledge of SEO and conversion optimization. Those aspects go a long way beyond just to being able to build a good-looking website.
There’s certainly the user experience part of it where we want to make sure that aesthetically the site looks good. But we also want to make sure it functions well and that all steps are happening according to best practices.
We want to make sure that we build something properly the first time. You don’t want to build a website on your own if it’s not optimized for search, not optimized for certain things that you may not even know exist or are important.
So, how long is it going to take to complete a website? Our typical response is, “How fast can you get us the information we need?” We say that kind of half-jokingly, but usually, we’ll provide an initial list of needs almost immediately when a project starts. Things can vary significantly, but overall, we’re usually two to three weeks from start to draft.
What we do is we build your draft website on our development platform, so the site is not live on your domain while it’s under construction. So, we can present a fully functioning draft to you in about two or three weeks, depending on a number of factors.
Now what does that list of information we need typically look like? It’s basic stuff like access to their current registrar, images, and content.
We’ve seen a recent uptick in clients who are starting from scratch and we explain the importance of having the right content, then doing some basic research on the keywords your target market is potentially searching for on Google right now. And you have to write content that is embedded with those keywords so you can potentially show up online. These are very simple SEO strategies.
Some projects come to us and say, “We really like the content we currently have on our website, but the style is old, so let’s do a revamp of the look and feel.” That’s one side of the spectrum. And the other side is, “Hey, we have no marketing material, no content whatsoever.”
So, some thought quality control needs to go into what we’re doing. You should never just grab content from five different sources online, plagiarize it, put it on your site and call it done. It’s just not what we do.
Now, for someone who’s just getting started or who hasn’t given a face-lift to their website in eight or ten years, where should they get images from if they don’t have their own?
So, there are two avenues we’ll look at. Avenue number one are professional pictures done by some photographers we recommend locally. We love it because they’re custom, efficient, and not very expensive. You’ll get incredible images of your office or your shop that do not exist anywhere else on the web. Avenue number two is purchasing stock images from sites where you can find royalty-free images that are excellent.
So, we obviously have accounts with several different stock image repositories and well, as part of our development, as part of our creative process, we will choose accordingly. We like to develop sites that are both. We have some custom content done by photographers and the rest are stock purchases that are royalty free, so you don’t run into any issues down the line by using images that don’t belong to you.
Now, a lot of people, sometimes they want either a custom site or a template or they don’t really know which direction to go. Very often we’ve seen situations in which a web designer, a web developer will say, we’re going to build you a custom website. We ask, “Well, what does custom exactly mean to you? What does that mean?” And more often than not, it is a tool used in order to somehow validate their worth, so to speak.
So, let’s get very clear on what custom means. We’re primarily WordPress developers since 90% of our work is on the WordPress content management system. It’s an open-source platform and it’s something that we absolutely love. So, WordPress is a system that works on templates.
Templates and themes, those are synonymous terms. There’s nothing wrong with the fact of starting off with a very high-quality template, either one from WordPress or a premium one from some other source. We of course have our themes that we prefer.
Now, where the skill comes in is not being able to just download some theme and change some colors and add some text. The idea is that we can apply custom-coding languages to affect any change that our clients want or that we feel is necessary to develop a custom site for them.
We know when a lot of people hear the word template, they’ll think of cookie cutter or generic or the exact same website that someone else is getting. To be clear, a template is purely the foundation, the functionality that the website will be able to be built off of. It’s not the website itself.
Exactly correct. It is the building block. It’s the slab of concrete that a house is built upon. It is the starting point of which we build upon. There’s a common misperception by most people when they say, “No, I don’t want a theme, or I don’t want a template,” when in fact that’s how it works.
It’s the same with Shopify, for example. Shopify offers you a number of themes in order to start off. You can certainly custom code your own, but in most cases that is definitely not the best solution.
Let’s say a very, very talented web developer wanted to custom create a WordPress theme for you. No matter what her skill set is, more than likely she’s not going to be able to develop a product to match what is available to us foundationally right there out of the box, that we can already affect updates to.
What is somebody possibly going to do that requires them to build a custom theme? Let’s think about this for a moment. Is somebody going to create every single file that’s associated with your website, the tens of thousands of potential lines of code required? It makes absolutely no sense.
Offering to build a custom them is a hollow technique used to try to oversell a service to somebody, as opposed to just being upfront and saying, “No, that’s not how it works.” Nor is that the reality of how WordPress or Shopify or another content management system functions.
We find that the need for a “custom site” would really only come if that site had to function as a piece of software. Because that’s really what they’re building at that point, they’re building a piece of software that would function as a website. But whether you use big commerce, Shopify, WooCommerce, or WordPress, it really doesn’t matter.
There’s a tremendous opportunity for custom development when it comes to, let’s say, making changes to plugins, plugins do specific things on the site. We have any kind of ability to custom create functionality that may not exist out in the world today. Point is that in most scenarios, for most businesses, when they want to achieve some kind of functionality, really you’re coming to us for our expertise, for us to be able to immediately, inherently know, “Hey, this is the best solution, this is something that we recommend and we will ensure that the entire ecosystem works well for you and for your business.”
There is no scenario in which we would provide a website to a customer that is not mobile friendly and responsive. In fact, we build mobile first. Views on mobile are most times at least equal, if not more than desktop. We find that anywhere from 60% to 75% of the total website traffic is coming from mobile. The reason we say mobile first is to ensure that the lion’s share of the traffic that most people are getting anyway is best suited for mobile.
Now, what about cost? How should someone gauge what the cost is or what’s an appropriate budget for their website?
We have developed a set of packages available for development and we have several packages available for monthly maintenance of the work that we create as well as some additional managed services that we provide on an ongoing basis. I think there’s a big gap in potential pricing for sites depending on where you go. You could go to big agencies and you’re going to get invoices in the tens of thousands of dollars, and you can go build a website for $199 bucks somewhere. But we certainly don’t fit in either of those categories and we ensure that we were as effective as possible with the budgets of our clients.
All right, now if you’re the client and you’re spending a few hundred dollars, a couple thousand dollars and then they get the website and all of a sudden, it’s not really what they were expecting. Now, shouldn’t people be looking for a company that will give out an architecture, a blueprint, wire frames, etc.?
Oftentimes a client will say, “I’m in this particular business and I absolutely wish that my site looked like A, B, and C.” Those are always really good comments because it allows us to understand their style of what it is that they’re looking for.
On the other side of the spectrum, when somebody has no idea what it is exactly they want, but they know they want a website and they want certain functionality, we will ensure that we have an idea of the site map. We have an idea of look and feel, we have a color theme. We have many different things that we need to be on the same page about upfront so that the first draft can be as close to as desired as possible.
One thing that gets overlooked is clean code. Oftentimes people overseas or if it’s a freelancer who’s getting paid by the hour, they’re not going to take the time to make sure that the code is clean and that could certainly have negative SEO implications. A lot of the time if a page is just code heavy and not done in a correct way, it certainly could have negative ramifications.
Now, once the site’s given to the client and the handoff is complete, how does maintenance typically work? So, we have a number of maintenance options available. We have a small percentage of our customers who want to maintain their site for themselves, which again, rarely happens. We have some solutions with respect to managed core updates, theme updates, plugin updates, that we strongly recommend get done for security purposes.
We have virtual private server hosting that we offer to all our clients on an ongoing basis, and we manage that for them. We have offsite backups on a daily basis. What this means is essentially your website’s going to load quickly and it’s secure and there’s little to no chance of ever going down and losing information or something like that.
Now, a lot of people are concerned about what happens if you get hit by a bus. Who manages the site? How does the site work? Where are the files? How does that typically work?
This comes back to why we love WordPress and why we do what we do the way that we do it. Number one, WordPress is an open source platform. What does that mean? It means that developers from around the world can affect updates to it. Alex or Mike or anyone else is currently in charge of somebody’s website, but it doesn’t mean that needs to be the case forever. Obviously, we’d like to maintain long-term relationship with our clients, it goes without saying, but in an unlikely event of some situation, a site can easily be taken over by another developer.
Now with respect to ownership, with respect to where are the files, every client that utilizes our hosting platform has full cPanel access to their website, has full back up access. It can be uploaded to any other hosting plan at a moment’s notice. Again, we don’t see this situation happening often, but in some unlikely event of a problem, yes, you are the full owner of your site and it can be easily migrated so that another development firm can ensure the continuity of the website.
And obviously we’ve been talking a lot about the developers or customization, but how hard is it for someone to make their own updates?
Well, it depends on what those updates mean. Are we talking about core updates, theme updates, plugins, etc.? There’s a certain level of skill required or knowledge at least in order to ensure we’re doing things correctly. So those we recommend we do ourselves. With respect to content, I would say it’s pretty even. About 50% of our clients like to be able to have the keys to the car, so to speak, to login, make any updates or changes they want, changes, etc.
And the other half just say, “Hey, we want to use your ticketing system.” They send us a quick email and it’s handled. So, it really depends on the person.
So, why call us? Why talk to Sage? Why not go elsewhere? What’s the benefit to a client?
In many ways the resources are there so that anyone could potentially build their own website, but it’s something that probably doesn’t make sense.
If you don’t have the technical knowledge of SEO or conversion optimization or site architecture, you’ll end up spending your time, and maybe you’ll get the aesthetic right if you start with some sort of generic website builder, but at the end of the day, is that really what you want for your business? Do they really want to have another “Me Too” website like everyone’s going to have, that’s basically already outdated and won’t set your vision or your business apart?
As far as why you would look to hire a professional, it’s because they’re going to have the knowledge and the creativity, so they’re going to be able to see that vision. It’s going to help your business stand out. It’s a skill to be able to boil down all that your business does and display it in an interesting and intelligent way online.
If you just use a drag-and-drop or some other inferior service, you’re starting off on the wrong foot right out of the gate. And we believe very strongly that you should set up a proper foundation and do it right the first time.
And as my grandmother used to say, “Cheap is the most expensive.” Let’s make sure that we do things correctly the first time and we’re effective and strategic in our decision making and how we process the website. I heard a very similar saying, “The cheap man pays twice. Once the first time and once to fix it.”
Cost is probably one of the biggest deterrents for people when it comes to websites. You’ll see some sort of builder where you can sort of do it yourself and pay the $200 or $300 for the site. And oftentimes big box agencies will give quotes of $10,000 to $20,000 for a site, which for most businesses is far out of the budget and in many ways not even needed.
The first big question would be, “Well, what are the deliverables? What am I getting for this price?” And oftentimes we are probably comparatively offering the same, if not a better service.
So, do we really have a solution for all people, all projects, all industries? Certainly not. We are very targeted and strategic in what we offer, and in most cases it’s a good solution for small- and medium-sized businesses.
It’s great to find a company that can do it all or claim that they can do it all, but oftentimes there are certainly red flags that will show up that people don’t really account for when shopping. Getting a website’s an exciting part of starting or growing your business, or taking your business online, if there’s not already digital presence.
What are some things that stick out that could be red flags? Let’s do some basic due diligence. First, look at their Google reviews. Are there positive reviews of the business on Yelp, Facebook, Google, etc.? Next, let’s check their body of work. Does the portfolio look like a website that I would want for my business? If the answer is no, there is nothing more to talk about.
If they don’t have a good web presence, how could they make one for you? If their website is not great, you can be absolutely sure that yours is going to be worse. A web design agency they should have a good looking, functional website that’s easy to navigate.
From a developer or designer perspective, a lot of people have been detoured where these graphic designers are now trying to turn into web designers and all of a sudden they put up a good looking site, but it’s not functional. And vice versa, when someone doesn’t have the design knowledge or the understanding of how to optimize a site for the customer.
So many people think, “Oh, I like these colors, or this is what I want my website to look like.” Meanwhile, the goal of the website is to provide resources and knowledge and to drive potential customers or current customers through one or many funnels. And oftentimes that get overlooked on how functional it is. What does the customer experience really look like?
And maybe a graphic artist might think, “Hey, people are asking me about websites, why don’t I just do it myself?” And if you were to ask us to do a logo for you, we’re going to say, “That’s not what we do. It’s not our wheelhouse.” Of course, we have recommendations, and we’ll put you in touch with the right people within our organization or outside our organization. But we are not ones to take on work outside our expertise.
There’s a certain level of ethics that is required in a business like this to say, hey, we are driving, not just the look and feel, but we are driving the potential long-term success of a business. And we take that very seriously. So when we say we are going to do something for you, it is going to be done in the absolute best fashion possible. It is not something half done. It is not something done that is outside of our skillset.
So, when a client comes to us and they say, I’d like to get started, what’s the next step? Number one, we have a simple agreement that outlines the deliverables that you are getting based on the package you’ve chosen. We like to be very, very clear.
Now, we are not long-term contract people. If you opt to utilize our services on an ongoing basis, we believe that we should earn your business and if there’s a point where you no longer want to use us, we certainly have no interest in binding you contractually.
So that being said, we have an outline of what are the deliverables you’re receiving, what is the timeline, what are the needs we need from you, and it’s as simple as that. We’ll provide you a list of needs, we’ll request a deposit against the total balance, and we’ll get started right away.
When it comes to building out a website and getting started, if you plan from a client’s perspective, if they plan this out two, three, four weeks in advance, they’ll have a clear understanding and a clear direction on what the final outcome is.
And oftentimes you hear people say, “Oh, I spent three months waiting for our website and I have nothing.” There have been many scenarios in which we’ve heard people say, “I’ve paid a deposit, months have gone by, they’re slow playing me,” or whatever the case is. That’s not how we operate.
We have a project management system we utilize to update not just our staff and our clients. There are many cogs in the wheel, with many people on the team doing different things. Again, everything is in concert coming together, working together in order to create a final product.
There is no point at which our clients don’t understand where we are in the process, and there is no point at which we are going to go past a due date for a draft or for some other deliverable without a very good reason why and an explanation to our client.
It’s such a commoditized industry that whether you decide to get started by yourself or you decide to hire a professional agency, there’s certainly some key considerations on how serious someone is about their business or what the actual purpose is of the website.
If a business is in a stage of growth and they’re looking to scale and take their business to the next level, it’s crucial that they understand what to look for and what not to look for. You can find web designers anywhere, but what type of person is going to be able to execute their vision for someone else’s business?
It’s also a matter of perspective. When you work with us, you’re gaining a perspective that otherwise may not be available to you. We see things from, let’s just say a 30,000-foot view. We see all the things required to put this project together in a proper way and one that will truly serve the function of the business.