Friday, August 14, 2009

What is Professional Custom Web Design?

I thought that in the first blog posting that Standout Solutions does, I should set out what differentiates the various different types of web design companies and solutions so that the average consumer can distinguish between the various different levels of websites that web professionals can provide. Having provided professional custom web design in Sarasota, Bradenton and Venice, Florida for over 6 years now it was overdue that we created a blog to help give customers and prospective customers a leg up on their competitors.

Blogs are also very useful ways to increase your search engine rankings, providing relevant, keyword-rich content with very valuable relevant inbound links to your website. When blogs are "in-site" blogs they can be very useful in keeping the search engines happier (search engine robots like websites that are updated often) and your rankings higher, especially with websites where the regular pages are not updated frequently (as they should be).

As a small to medium sized business owner, the most important point to make when it comes to choosing a website provider is that there are many ways to crack a nut (as with everything in life). As a business owner, your priorities, experiences, objectives and budget determine which website solution or provider is right for your business.

Let's list each type of website solution and company and summarize the various different advantages and disadvantages of each:

1. The "Do It Yourself" Website Solution:
As the name suggests, this type of website solution is available from many different national level providers and also a wide range of hosting companies that sell one-stop, do-it-yourself website solutions. Companies such as GoDaddy and 1and1 provide a wide variety of self-serve type solutions. Businesses that typically choose this type of solution are not too worried about the look of their website and just want some kind of basic website presence with basic information that is not going to cost them very much.

Advantages:
  • Lowest cost to market.
  • Major providers make it reasonably easy to create a basic website.
  • Some providers give you basic search engine optimization and pay per click (sponsored search) options.
  • Major providers give you a basic content manager to allow you to update your pages and some allow you to add new ones.
  • You get to pick from a choice of "one size fits all" basic website templates.

Disadvantages:

  • You will need a lot of spare time to be able create your website presence (not a common attribute for small business owners, expecially retailers).
  • Your website will almost innevitably suffer from poor Search Engine Optimization which always leads to poor search engine scores and rankings which always translates into poor or badly targeted website traffic.
  • Unless you are a graphic designer, there is a very good probability that your chosen website template, layout and colors may give your prospective and existing customers a bad first impression.
  • Studies have shown that website visitors use pattern matching from established experience to decide in the blink of an eye whether your website meets with their first impression expectations, often set by the likes of Amazon, CNN, Yahoo etc.
  • You must analyse and decide yourself what is important to people visiting your website.

2. The Knowledgeable Friend or Relative:
Everybody has one, a friend or a relative who has computer experience or maybe has created or maintained a website at home or at work. Business owners often view creating a website for their company as a daunting or scary prospect so it can be a natural first instinct to seek out a friend or relative that they find easy to trust. In this scenario, the opposite can also be true, sometimes the business owner is looking to help a friend or relative get some work experience in their chosen target career.

Advantages:

  • You feel comfortable with them and trust them to do a good job.
  • They may have good experience in at least one of the many specialties that it takes to create a good website.
  • They may know how to add basic search engine optimization to your website such as defining the meta tags.
  • As with the "do it yourself" solution, the cost will be low.

Disadvantages:

  • Unless they have graphic design experience the look of the website is normally badly compromised resulting in average or bad first impressions.
  • The website almost always suffers from basic, bad or non existent search engine optimization resulting in poor or non existent search engine scores, rankings and results.
  • Once they move on they may not be available to maintain or update your website.
  • They won't have the experience to add a content manager to allow someone else with no technical skills to update the website pages that they have created or add new pages.
  • Chances are that they won't have the experience to help you market and grow your website effectively.

3. The Professional Marketing or Branding Agency:
Marketing or branding agencies are obviously often very good and experienced at branding your company, marketing your company and giving you a consistent marketing image. They also often now provide "value added" services such as website design and marketing. Medium to large size businesses that are not concerned about cost and want to have one provider do it all can often be attracted to this type of website solution.

Advantages:

  • They usually have talented and experienced graphic designers which can sometimes yield professional looking websites.
  • Larger agencies usually have at least one person who has knowledge or experience of search engine optimization.
  • Some agencies are good at viewing the big picture when it comes to creating an overall and consistent marketing and website image.

Disadvantages:

  • Small to medium size and even some large design or branding and marketing agencies are almost always only a middle person when it comes to building and even designing your website.
  • Since they almost always sub contract the website, this innevitably means that you will pay much more than you need to as they have to heavily mark up the sub contractors' price.
  • There is typically no one website professional who has ownership of your website and whose responsibility it is to monitor quality and practice good project management and communication.
  • Their day to day experience is mainly in marketing and branding so they often cannot quickly respond to maintenance and content issues.

4. The Professional Graphic Designer
The majority of "website design agencies" fall into this category. They are made up of professional graphic designers who have experience and sometimes even lots of experience at designing professional and often attractive websites and also have the capability to turn their designs into professional looking results or web pages.

Advantages:

  • You drammatically increase the chances of your website looking professional and attractive as it is designed by a professional graphic designer.
  • The cost to market is typically lower than a full service professional custom website design company such as ourselves.
  • They can have good experience in creating animation (or Flash) on your website.
  • They may have some knowledge in effective website layout and useability.
  • They may have some experience in basic to average search engine optimization.
  • They may offer marketing services such as pay per click (sponsored search).

Disadvantages:

  • They have very little or no experience in creating forms or web pages that require interaction with a database (dynamic website pages) which greatly limits not only what you can do with your new website but also what you will be able to do to expand it in future and protect your inital investment.
  • They have very little or no experience in advanced technologies such .NET, PHP, XML, DHTML or Ajax which allow your website to be scalable, dynamic and quick.
  • They are usually focused solely on designing websites on a day to day basis and are not aware of the bigger picture.
  • Their websites are not typically feature rich meaning that your website visitors miss out on key usability features such as scalable text, site search, email sharing and printer friendly pages.
  • More often than not you will not be provided with useful tools such as a Content Manager to allow you to update your website and add new pages on demand.
  • More often than not your website will just have basic or no search engine optimization.
  • More often than not they have poor project management procedures that are badly suited to meeting a client's expectations or lead to missed deadlines and/or delivery of unexpected results after an protracted period of time.
  • We have seen many, many Flash-based websites from these type of designers that look great but have no content that can be read by search engines like Google and Yahoo.

5. The Professional Website Developer
The next largest section of the website design market after 4) Professional Graphic Designers, is the professional website developer. They are made up of one or more professional website developers who have experience and sometimes even lots of experience at building professional and dynamic websites.

Advantages:

  • Their websites are typically more feature rich than the website produced by the professional graphic designer.
  • They typically have good or very good experience and knowledge in creating web pages that are dynamic i.e. contain content can be driven from a website.
  • They can develop and deliver a wide variety of custom website functionality that can make your website expandable and help protect your intial investment.
  • The cost to market is typically lower than a full service professional custom website design company such as ourselves.
  • They can occasionally have some experience in creating animation (Flash) on your website.
  • They may have good to excellent knowledge in effective website layout and useability.
  • They may have good experience in average to very good search engine optimization.
  • They may offer marketing services such as pay per click (sponsored search).

Disadvantages:

  • They are not trained professional graphic designers or do not use professional graphic designers in the creation of your website so, typically, your website looks unprofessional or similar to the cookie cutter or "one size fits all" templates provided by do-it-yourself solutions.
  • They are usually focused solely on developing websites on a day to day basis and might not be aware of the bigger picture.
  • More often than not they have poor project management procedures that are badly suited to meeting a client's expectations or lead to missed deadlines and/or delivery of unexpected results after an protracted period of time.
  • They are typically not experienced in branding, marketing and strategy and so may not be able to provide a clear path to success for your website.

6. Full Service Professional Website Agency
Standout Solutions is one of a smaller set of Sarasota, Bradenton and Venice full service custom website design and development companies that have extensive, proven experience in all aspects of website design, development, search engine optimization, marketing, strategy and even branding. Business owners that choose this type of solution provider understand that their website is often the first point of contact that any potential customer will see so it absolutely has to give a great first impression, it absolutely has to quickly and easily allow them to find what they are looking for and it absolutely appreciate that 80-90% of website visitors will find their website through a search engine such as Yahoo or Google and just because their website is indexed by these search engine providers does not mean that they will find their website.

Advantages:

  • Your website is only designed by professional graphic designers with at least five years of proven, commercial website design experience so it will always look highly professional and will make you stand out from your competitors (in the right way).
  • A full service website company has people that are trained and very experienced in advanced search engine optimization so they know exactly how to find which keywords your business should target and exactly how you should target them and your website is designed and built from the very start with these keywords in mind.
  • They typically have excellent experience and knowledge in creating web pages that are dynamic i.e. contain content can be driven from a website.
  • Their custom websites almost always come with an included website content manager that allows you to update your own web pages or add new ones at any time without any technical knowledge. In our case we have developed a whole suite of included tools that come with our proprietary website content management system, built from the ground up to be the easiest.
  • Full service website development companies can develop and deliver a wide variety of custom website functionality that makes your website extremely expandable and helps protect your initial investment.
  • They have staff that are very experienced or experts at creating all kinds of appropriate and exciting animation (Flash) on your website.
  • They have excellent or expert knowledge in effective website layout and useability.
  • They are experts at providing and even managing other website marketing services such as pay per click (sponsored search).

Disadvantages:

  • Since full service website companies provide you with everything you need and use proven professionals at every stage the cost is typically higher than other solutions.
  • Some full service website companies are not willing to do smaller basic websites or take on smaller services or tasks (no task is too small for us - we invest our time in clients over the long term to build a relationship).

Although this post is a little long-winded for a blog post, I hope this honest and straight forward summary helps business owners better understand some of the differences between the various different website solution providers and helps them decide what choice is best for their objectives and budget.

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