Columbus Business First

By Lacey Picazo

So You’re Buying A New Business Website? Here’s How. | Columbus Business First

A business’s website can be a glorified business card, full-blown e-commerce destination or somewhere in the middle, a means to attract investors or customers. Web designers and developers say clients who clearly decide on those goals from the beginning will have a smoother experience.

“When someone comes to us and says we need a website, what we immediately say is you need a strategy,” said Ryan McManus, founder of ContentVia LLC, full-service marketing for startups. “How is this website involved in engaging customers and generating sales?”

The website is often the first impression potential customers have of your business. How do you make a front door people want to open?

“Designing a website without having any kind of brand strategy – it’s like throwing things against the wall to see what sticks,” said Lacey Picazo, principal and chief creative officer of ZoCo Design LLC, which designs visuals, features and navigation for sites and works with outside software developers on execution.

The nightmare scenario, many developers said, is changes to design and features when a project is nearly complete – then you’re talking up to $200 an hour for re-engineering.

“I need you to trust us that we’re going to be reasonable and we will provide what we communicated, and we need to trust that you’re going to be reasonable when you ask us to do something and we say that’s out of the scope,” said Brad Griffith, president of Buckeye Interactive.

We talked to several Central Ohio web firms, and here are some tips on how to avoid common frustrations:

What’s it cost? OK, don’t let that be your first question. Developers and designers see it as a sign you’re not serious. Anyway, here’s the range: The DIY route is about $50 for a customizable theme from a service such as WordPress or Squarespace, in which you upload your own text and images. For an artisan or retailer with a small number of products, a standard e-commerce platform or even a free plug-in that integrates with a WordPress theme can be sufficient. There are separate annual fees for a domain name and online hosting.

Do-it-yourself is best for startups or low-revenue companies without outside investors, Griffith said. Consider the lost time learning the ins and outs of HTML Web coding, Picazo said, when you could be out selling.

Custom design and development is generally $10,000 to $20,000 or more, with a whole lot of “it depends.” At the other end of the spectrum, online enterprise-level software, such as custom logistics for order and delivery, is many tens of thousands.

“Every dollar spent planning is two to three dollars saved in production,” said Leo Daugherty III, founder and COO of Rampart Hosting LLC, which focuses on small to medium businesses. “Where the money gets lost is at the end.”

For the most part, designers say they can reasonably accomplish the client’s business goals within a budget.

How do I pick someone? Ask others in your industry who designed their sites. Be aware of the type and size of clients a design firm typically serves, from startups for ContentVia to Fortune 500s for Dynamit Technologies LLC.

“Any agency that really focuses on strategy, someone asking good questions and trying to understand your business, your market, your pain points and what you’re trying to achieve – they’ll probably be a good fit,” Picazo said.

What do I put on it? If you don’t already have a business description, bios and catalog, there are freelance copywriters. Especially for display text, favor verbs over nouns, said Rampart CEO Rick Hulse II.

Griffith recommended hiring a professional photographer for images of your people, building, or samples of your work, rather than stock photos with “the same professionals shaking hands over a computer, pointing at a chart.”

“If you have a great brand, a great product, you need to show that off,” he said.

Can my website look like this other one? Designers love when clients give examples of favorite designs, navigation or features. But they don’t want to copy something, or make a site that looks like it was all the rage in 2005.

“Things that worked once online will not work the same for you,” McManus said.

Can I have music and funny dancing babies? “If you run a magic show or a clown rental service, maybe that’s a good option for you,” Griffith said. Think of your site as an extension of your office, he said: Do you have blaring stereo and flashing neon?

Do I need to hire an SEO firm? “Be cautious of any (paid service) who says we can get you to a certain place on Google,” McManus said.

There are many available tips for improving search rank with density and placement of keywords, but the main thing is to keep adding fresh content. Establish industry expertise with a blog, or publish white papers.

“You need to look like an active business,” McManus said. “Fresh content gets to the top (of searches).”

How do I know it’s working? Integrate features that entice customers to interact, Griffith said: A contact form, email list for newsletters and updates, or requiring a free log-in to access research. The most obvious way to track sales conversion, of course, is a shopping cart or online bill pay.

When will my website be finished? “The answer is never,” Daugherty said.

Bobby Whitman, Dynamit’s co-founder and managing director, recommends setting aside a portion of the initial budget to reinvest for updates. “It’s never: Build it, they will come,” he said. “These are living and breathing things that have to continue to be evolved.”


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Lacey Picazo