Websites, particularly in the COVID era, are our main source of communication with our current and would-be customers. All of us business owners and managers should be scrutinizing our websites and analyzing if our messaging is aligned with what our customers are looking for. If you’re doing this and wondering if it’s time to for a new website, here are your options:
1. DIY (Do it yourself)
2. SDIFY (Someone does it for you)
3. PDIFY (Professionals do it for you)
There are benefits and risks to all of these options, so let’s unpack each one.
The do-it-yourself option has become exceptionally popular with platforms like Wix and Squarespace. These types of solutions offer quick, easy, beautiful, cheap web designs.
If you are pointing your existing and would-be customers to a website through business cards and voicemail messages, this may be a good option for you. Some businesses have decades of word-of-mouth business and just need a digital presence to legitimize their business to new customers. If you fall into this category, do some research to determine if the DIY model is the best solution for you.
Here is the truth about some of the promises you will read about when researching DIY website options:
Are the DIY web development options quick? Not always. While many DIY solutions offer drag and drop designs, you will invariably run into a snag. Unless you have a background in web development (or you know someone who does), you may have to reach out to support to assist if you get hung up on something. This can slow down the process.
Are the DIY web development options easy? Here again – sometimes yes, sometimes no. The truth is that all of these platforms are designed by web developers and/or programmers. Web developers, unintentionally, take some things for granted – meaning they may assume that users have a certain amount of knowledge when it comes to design, terminology, and basic web techniques. Once you start getting deeper into trying to figure out widgets, plugins, and menus it is very easy for the novice to burn lots of hours.
Do the DIY options have beautiful designs? Yes! Many of these DIY solutions use themes, which can make you feel like a web pro in no time. The only word of caution with using themes is that they are typically pre-fabricated with fonts, colors, and formatting. These restrictions are often in place to encourage the user to pay for the “pro” version of the theme they have selected. The pro version offers many of the design features that the “lite” version does not.
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Sometimes these themes have places for “Additional CSS” that allow you to manipulate text and design elements, but here again, if you’re not super familiar with basic html and CSS you can burn hours googling the proper coding for the text and design elements you are after.
Is the DIY option cheaper? Absolutely. There is no question. However, they are not without several costs that many DIYers aren’t aware of going in. There will be costs for domain registration, web hosting, an SSL certificate, and as stated above – there are costs any time you want to upgrade a theme. Consider third-party applications you may need to pay for as well – e-commerce options, marketing automation software (like MailChimp), scheduling software, stock imagery subscriptions, etc.
A final word of caution about the DIY website model…
Website platforms, themes, and plugins are always updating. Developers create these things and then over time they may abandon old technology to develop new technology. For example, if the platform you use auto-updates, but a plugin you are using on your website does not update, you may see an interruption in functionality. In a worst-case scenario, your site may break altogether. If you don’t have the technical know-how to remedy these situations, all the time and effort you put into your DIY site might be wasted.
Also, if you are not familiar with SEO (search engine optimization) best practices, your DIY site may never be found organically. If you need your future customers to find you online, especially through mobile searches, consider taking a course in best SEO practices, contracting out SEO services, or calling a few web professionals.
The “someone does it for you” option is really a mixed bag.
At First Call Web, one of the biggest complaints we hear from people looking for a new site is, “I hired someone to build a website for me, I paid thousands of dollars, and now I can’t make any updates to my site because my developer won’t answer my phone calls.” A variation of this complaint is that a developer went out of business and moved the client’s website over to another developer that the client doesn’t know and also can’t get a hold of.
That said, not all single developer shops are created equal. There are many talented developers who will build a website exactly the way you want it. This option is typically not cheap, so be certain that you are working with someone who has a portfolio, references, and a solid support plan in place.
A final word of caution about the SDIFY website model…
Be wary of the “my cousin will build a website for me for $1000” option. If your well-meaning cousin (or other acquaintance) doesn’t have a legitimate web developer business, you will run into many of the same issues as the DIY model – a site that is not optimized, does not rank organically, and runs into performance issues over time. Additionally, folks who build websites as a hobby usually have full-time jobs, so the turnaround on your web launch may string out for months.
If you need a website that performs, adheres to best SEO practices, is supported, and has specific goals tied to it (i.e. lead generation), explore the professional option before going with either of the other two options.
The truth is that a professional web firm will have the expertise, experience, processes, tool stacks, and people to get the job done right the first time. This option usually costs a little more, so to help you make an informed decision, here is a list of questions to ask a web professional
Do you have an SEO expert on staff?
Here’s the truth – no one can guarantee search engine ranking. If they say they can, keep walking. If anyone was able to guarantee this, they’d be a billionaire on an island somewhere, they wouldn’t be developing websites. However, if a web firm has an SEO expert on staff, they will know both the on-page and off-page SEO practices your website needs to help rank organically. They will know the ins and outs of technical and content SEO and apply them to your new website. Having an SEO expert design and build your website will give you a far better chance of ranking than the DIY option.
Do you have a copywriter on staff?
If you are going the professional route, you may be thinking about updating your website with content over time. Having these types of updates taken care of for you over the course of your web package may end up saving you a lot of time and money in the long run.
What costs are covered in my web package?
Be certain that things like domain registration, web hosting, an SSL certificate, and technical maintenance are covered before proceeding with a professional. Depending on the package, SEO analysis, reporting, and optimization may be covered as well.
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What is your web project process?
If you ask a web professional this question and they stammer, you have your answer. A true web professional will have a tried and true process in place that delivers consistent outcomes. Make certain that a part of this process includes a kick-off meeting, and that the kick-off meeting will address your online marketing goals.
How will my website be supported once the site is launched?
Make sure that the financial commitment you are making is protected by ongoing technical support. In the scenarios we’ve outlined above, you want to make sure that you have a trusted web partner that will keep your website running well as long as the technology remains viable.
Will you be trained on how to use your new website?
With today’s web technology, there isn’t any reason you can’t be in control of minor and ongoing web updates. It’s far easier to take a couple of minutes to update language on your site when you are thinking of it. Ask if you will be trained on your web technology and ask how easy or difficult it is to make updates. If you have doubts, ask for a demonstration before committing to a web project.
What are my pricing options?
Because professional websites typically cost a bit more ask what your pricing options are, and more specifically if the web firm has subscription packages. Subscription pricing models enable you to get a professional web presence at an affordable monthly cost.
How long has the web firm been in business?
Partnering with a web developer who has been building sites for a few years will give you more confidence in an ongoing relationship. If you are considering trying someone who is just starting out, ask to see a portfolio of their work and ask for a couple of references. Also note that someone who is just starting out should not be charging the same amount for their services as someone who has been in business for a while. Less experience means a bit more risk, and the price should reflect that.
Choosing the right web development option really amounts to the following…
1. What is your budget?
2. What are your online marketing goals (are they modest or are they specific and measurable)?
3. What level of SEO and technical expertise do you have?
4. What level of risk are you willing to take on?
5. Does your website need to generate leads?
6. How much updating and content do you anticipate needing on your site over time?
7. Do you have confidence in your choice?
Now that you know the truth about your options when it comes to a new website and what questions to ask, you are better equipped to select the option that best fits your budget, your goals, and your level of comfort.