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The ABC of Company Website Design

ABC – Getting Started with Company Website Design

Are you thinking of creating or updating your presence online? It’s daunting. it isn’t always clear where to start. In our experience, not knowing how to start often means a task gets postponed. But procrastination is the thief of time: every day that your business has no website (or the wrong website) is another day where the billions of internet users know nothing about it.

It’s time to get serious about your company website design.

We’ve built many websites, and we know where to start and how to do this well. We’ll walk you through the process.

How Do I Create a Website for My Business?

Begin at the Beginning. What Kind of Website Do You Need?

It’s an important question. The kind of website you need will directly affect the budget you’ll require and the amount of work needed to get your project online.

Common Types of Websites

  • Informational Websites provide information about a particular business, organisation or topic. With static content, articles and about us pages, these are typically the simplest kind of company website design.
  • Portfolio Websites – where your company’s visual appearance and track record really matter, a portfolio website will showcase your work, skills and achievements. These sites typically feature galleries, case studies and project descriptions. It is likely you’ll need solid professional photography and enough time to create detailed, authoritative case studies.
  • Blog Websites set out to publicise and share content, normally chronologically. There’s often a bit of jeopardy here. Old news items look bad on a website. We still see many sites whose last updates were posted before COVID; one wonders if they are still in business. If you want a news or blog website, you need to commit to creating regular, high-quality content. Google will love it, but it is not a trivial commitment.
  • E-commerce – this is often the one people think of when one thinks of company website design. But in our experience, it is not the most common. A mistake often made by website owners is that an e-commerce site will make money without input from the owner. But running an e-commerce website is a business. Relatively speaking, e-commerce websites are expensive to set up and populate. It takes time and financial commitment to keep those customers coming and spending.

These categories can overlap, and many websites incorporate elements of multiple types. For example, an e-commerce site may also have a blog section for content marketing or an informational site may include a portfolio of work. The choice of website type depends on the specific goals and needs of the individual or organisation creating the site.

Broadly speaking, the above list is in price order; a simple informational website can cost about three thousand pounds – maybe less if you can find talented help, and we have seen e-commerce websites cost hundreds of thousands and earn their owners millions.

How much should a website cost? Check here.

Sounds Expensive. Can I Do My Company Website Design Myself?

Tools for building any of the more common types of websites are better now than ever and are only improving. It may be feasible for you to create a good-looking website yourself. But the old adage really does hold true: “fast, good or cheap – you can have any two of the three”. Our website launch checklist is over 70 tests long.

This is your business. People’s jobs depend on it – it pays to get experts to do your company website design. A poor website is injurious to potential customer trust, and a less ambitious website will get you a lot further than a cheap website which doesn’t work.

Domain Names – Getting Your Website a Name

Your website will need a domain name – if you need to know more about those, check here.

If your business is new, you may want to hold off naming it until you know a good domain name is available. Clearly, it would be unwise to name your takeaway restaurant McDonald’s – even if it is your name. Even if you could register a matching domain name, your website traffic would most likely head elsewhere. These days, it is common (and often sensible) to name your business after the best domain available.

Know Your Market …

When looking for a domain name, it makes sense to do a little keyword research. We recently found that a search term for something closely aligned with our client’s business name was attracting ten times the search volume than their existing domain name. So we registered that too, and directed it to their new website.

Successful domain names often relate to what your business does rather than the business name itself. B&Q hardware stores use the domain name DIY.com. Many people want to do DIY at the weekend – far more than they might want to B&Q.

… and Protect Your Brand

If you have an established brand and domain names, we recommend you buy any other available domain names that closely match yours. You don’t want people masquerading as you.

Extra domains should be directed to your website with a Google friendly redirect.

Premium Domains

Buying and selling domains is big business. We have helped customers buy premium domains from brokerage services. We made no markup on the process, only charging for our time, and still, the process has always cost thousands.

If you have a new or established company name that you really need to match your domain, it can often be bought (or rented), but it may well be painful.

Any good agency should be able to advise you and help you purchase domain names inexpensively. We can.

Make sure you or your company is listed as the registrant (the owner) of the domain. That way, so long as you keep the domain name registered, you should always have control over it.

Choose Your Platform

The platform on which your website is built is a critical decision – once committed and coding starts, backing out is expensive. No website represents a trivial investment, and the site will need to be capable of lasting for years.

It stands to reason that the simplest websites can use the simplest frameworks. Modern hosted services like Wix, Squarespace and Webflow can all offer excellent design, functionality and speed. All are simple to use but tend to lack some flexibility.

Similarly, if you just want to sell simple products, use a standard platform. We can and do write e-commerce for specialist applications but, if it’ll do for you, then Shopify or WooCommerce is probably a better solution for you.

You should expect an agency to come up with one or more options for your website and good reasons for the choice.

Start Planning

Once you’ve worked out what you want to build and decided how you want to build it. You need to plan. This phase is critical, especially when you’re building a company website design from scratch. Time spent planning will reap rewards and lead to a better website. Before time is spent completing designs and writing code, the project is at its most flexible. You can quickly alter the proposed design if you have a great idea about the site structure and vice versa. This is much harder to do later.

What is more, if you have a plan, it is much easier for you to hold your development team to it.

We’ve written a post about planning a website. There are a lot of thoughts on the matter. But here are ours …

Wireframes, Design and UX

This is an exciting time; the designers are on board, and imagination is running free. We cannot emphasise enough the importance of wireframes.

Wireframes are quick and cheap to create. There is plenty of great software to help designers build wireframes, but honestly, a pen and paper are often just as good … often better.

We’d go as far as saying that, if your designer is unwilling to get out a pad of paper and bash out a wireframe, you might want to find another.

At this stage, nothing communicates the sense of how a website might work better than a wireframe. Design problems can be identified quickly, and changes implemented for peanuts. Potential kinks in the user experience (UX) can often be identified and straightened out before any real time is lost.

This doesn’t mean careful prototyping and detailed design visuals aren’t important. But more time spent now will make those later stages more efficient. Also, the designers and developers will complete this work in the studio; this is your best opportunity to add meaningful input before those muppets run away with it.

Web design for Castle Owen

Site Structure

Even simpler than wireframes, mapping out where the content will go on the site is really easy at this point. Should the Blog Section go before the Services page? Changing now is just a cut-and-paste job.

We usually ask our clients to type out an indented list of all the pages they want in a word processor – it’s surprising how often this reveals that the site is larger (or smaller) than the client expects.

Without resolving this document, it’s impossible to know how much copy (text) is needed. Text is not cheap, and it is not quick. If you are not employing a copywriter, you will need to work out where all those words are coming from.

AI-generated text is a great help, but it is often inaccurate and is seldom as engaging as something written by a real human being. Don’t stuff your site with Chat GPT content! Even if you fool the public, Google is constantly improving its ability to spot and blacklist auto-generated content. You might get a nasty SEO shock down the line.

Set Out the Rules

You know what you want to build, you know roughly what it should look like and how big it will be. You should by now know when you want it and the development team are champing at the bit.

But, before you fire the starting gun and set the hares running, ensure you have a timetable and milestones set out … a deadline may slip, but at least you’ll know about it and know whether you need to act upon it. Without some agreed schedule, you’re all at sea.

So What Does a Company Website Design Schedule Look Like?

For a simple site it might look like:

  • Wireframes and draft site maps agreed
  • Detailed designs supplied to the client
  • You, the client, signs off the designs
  • You, the client, supply images and content to the development team
  • Development version of site presented to client for approval
  • You, the client, supplied amends and requests to the developers as agreed
  • Revised site presented to client for final User Acceptance Testing (UAT)
  • Functional testing completed and agreed between client and developer
  • Site launch

Note: several steps above involve you or your organisation. The developers need your input, they are unlikely to want you to sit on their lap as they work, but an engaged and enthusiastic client is a great pleasure to work with.

A good development team will have an agreement for you to sign outlining their stipulations and expectations for the development. Before you sign anything, make sure it contains the agreed schedule and meets your needs too. If at all possible, make sure it includes dates which suit you.

The developers will want to ease their cashflow with interim payments; tying those to agreed milestones in the development process will keep them motivated.

Consider a Service Level Agreement

A website is a substantial investment, and you will have to live with yours for some time.

An SLA will help ensure it stays sharp and up to date – the internet changes constantly. You will want to know how your relationship with your development team will work once the website is complete.

Most agencies will be delighted to sign an SLA. It took a long time for them to land you as a client. They will want that relationship to last as long as possible. They’ll probably help you draw one up!

Bang! They're off

They’re off!

Is That It?

Nope.

Technicalities and questions will emerge. Throughout the project, questions will need resolving from both sides. The world will change, this may need to be reflected in the site. Frequent meetings are a must.

Launching the Site

When you’re done testing, and the site is ready, you’ll need to set a launch date.

Launching a brand-new site is much easier than updating an old one. Either way, the developers should be able to show you a written plan for the launch of your site.

The developers should have a contingency plan, just in case the launch does not go as it should. The risk is low, I cannot think of a website launch we have ever had to roll-back. But for a busy website, the hazard can be measured in tens of thousands of pounds.

We Have Lift-Off …

We Have Lift Off

… So Is That It?

Well, it really shouldn’t be. There are billions of web pages out there. Regardless of how good your new site looks, how fast it runs or how cheap the products are, it will take time for your site to develop traction. Gaining visitors to your new site and converting those to customers will require promotion, SEO and digital marketing.

Nothing lasts forever. Your site’s content and technology will age. Competitors will look at your snazzy new site and ‘draw inspiration’ from your hard work and steal a march on all that investment and creativity. Without continued effort, your website will fall behind.

Owning a successful website is a journey, not a destination.

Why not take it with us?

Masthead image credit: Image by zlatko_plamenov on Freepik … cheers Zlatko!