Last week I wrote a blog post that discussed how to keep your (working relationship with) your web marketer happy and healthy. There was a lot more ground that I wanted to cover, but that would have required about 30,000 words and nearly as many cups of coffee. Since then, I've gotten a little more caffeine in my blood stream, so I've decided to come back to beat this topic into the ground just a little bit more, by going back to the very beginning.
How do you get off on the right foot with a web developer from day one? Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re working with a website developer–whether you haven’t yet found the designer you want, or you’re already in the first days of putting your site together.
Business owners and the web developers they work with have to be in lockstep in order to have any chance of thriving in the incredibly competitive online marketplace. Quite often, what should be a successful production process falls short because one side of the relationship or the other becomes an anchor, dragging both parties down. This usually happens because of too little involvement in the process, or too much. It’s easy to get distracted and to allow your web-based efforts to go fallow, or to become so invested in trying to make the site perfect that you can’t bear to ever let the thing go public–the latter is especially common with web developers who are really graphic artists at heart, as well detail-oriented business owners.
Developing a website isn’t art–it’s a functional arm of your business. It’s gotta get done.
There are two species of cheap web developers, one that resides in the real world, and the other in the dark, poorly spelled corners of the Internet. The real world version is that guy. Everybody knows that web-savvy guy. Come on, you know the guy. Your brother’s coworker’s sister has that friend with the nephew that is awesome with computers, and who can totally build you a site for five dollars and a pack of gum.
Then there’s the Craigslist and Fiverr crowd. Hop on Craigslist, type in “web design,” and come back to this post in an hour when you’ve dug yourself out of the mountain of listings advertising “cheap, affordable, professional web design.” Yes, I strung the words “cheap” and “affordable” right after each other. That wasn’t a mistake. If they happen to have their own website, there’s a 95% chance of the front page featuring (1) a picture of them, (2) a picture of an attractive woman, possibly wearing a headset, or (3) the word “AFFORDABLE” (or possibly “CHEAP”) IN LARGE LETTERS. Bonus points if they have all three. Mega bonus points if the photo of the developer features them standing with their arms crossed and giving you a cocky look–that one is our all-time favorite.
There’s such a large population of these two species of low-ballers out there that it’s cultivated a public mindset that websites should cost next to nothing, and that for an extra 99 dollars, you can get the add-on SEO package that targets 100 keywords and will get you on the front page of hundreds of search engines. Hundreds. Guaranteed.
A large percentage of our clients have worked with developers like these in the past. And in a way, we have to thank those developers, because a great deal of our experience in SEO work is derived from reverse engineering the work that these developers have done so that we can undo the work they’ve done. Inevitably, you run into issues with toxic backlinks, poor quality spun content, and a host of other issues that lead to bad page ranks and no visitors.
Much like a cheap car, a cheap website ends up costing you more in the long run, because you’ll be constantly shelling out money to keep it from completely dying on you. Don’t be in a hurry to get a website. Take your time and do your research. Talk to several different web developers. A good web developer will be willing to spend the time to discuss a coherent plan for the creation and long-term development of your site, and how it will complement your physical business. That’s why they charge a little more money than the low-ballers: because they invest a lot of time into their clients, and make sure that your site will be viable and successful in the long-term.
Your site is almost done. The pages have been built, the copy has been written, and the design elements are in place. But it’s still missing… something. And thus the nearly inescapable development loop begins. It’s understandable to want something to look perfect before you released it to the public. Books, movies, television–they all go through several rounds of editing before they actually go to press, print or broadcast.
But you’ve got to remember that your site isn’t a means of entertainment or a piece of art–it’s business. It’s not doing anything if it isn’t doing work. This is why we just about always encourage our customers to allow a site to go live when we’re 90% there. It’s best to have your site live and accessible so it can begin to gain traction. This will occur when it begins to be indexed by Google, building backlinks, and benefiting from social media campaigns.
If your website is good, it will likely drive your business just fine right now. Public perception of a website is better if it is actively changing and growing, rather than always being the same. So if a visitor comes to your site one day, and comes back the next to see that pages have been added or changes have been made, it will convey to them that you are actively involved in your business on a day-to-day basis.
As a plus, allowing people through the doors sooner or later gives you the data you need to make changes or additions that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. The feedback you get back in those first weeks and months is priceless. That element of the site that you agonized over for months may end up going out the window a week after you go live because it turns out that it just doesn’t work.
We actually have a short blog post from last year that discusses an experience like this we had when making site changes based on user feedback. We had spent a ton of time building a slick, attractive UI so that visitors to a business’s site could easily locate their nearest physical office. It was awesome and worked great.
And people hated it. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. Your site isn’t for you. It’s for your clients. And you can’t start understanding what your site visitors want until your site goes live. And besides, the best websites are never at 100%, because a site has to be a living, growing, adapting thing, in order for it to be successful. So don’t wait. Pull the trigger, go live, and keep working at it.
You and your developer are going to have very different perspectives at times, which are bound to produce some very different opinions. For the developer, this is one of many sites that they’ve built, a small fraction of their business as a whole. For you, your site is everything. It’s the computer-y, Internet-y manifestation of everything you hold dear. As a natural consequence of this, you’re going to have disagreements. You think your home page should be targeted at a different set of keywords, or you really want that pop-up that advertises your newsletter, while the developer feels otherwise.
Of course, if you absolutely insist that something on your site be done a certain way, then it’s the developer’s job to make sure it’s carried out. However, just as you know your business (as I mentioned in last week’s blog), a good developer knows his business as well, and is also basing his or her decisions upon their understanding of your business. In a way, the developer’s perspective on how your business and your site are perceived are much closer to the perception that your customers have–the developer and the customer are both outsiders with very different priorities and expectations than you have.
If your web developer makes a–very polite–argument in favor of something you disagree with, take some time to analyze his or her ideas. A good web developer will not only tell you what they think, but why they think it should be done that way. Take a step back from the conversation, and go to people whom you know and trust to give you an honest, unbiased opinion. Describe both sides of the disagreement you’re having with your developer. Do this with someone you know well, someone you know will truly say what they think (so not your grandmother). It may be that they understand the developer’s rationale, and that it’s the right way to go.
Your opinion may make perfect logical sense when it comes to the needs and expectations of those inside the company, but misses the mark when it comes to the customer. On the other hand, maybe your developer truly is in the wrong, or has motivations that really aren’t in the best interests of your business, due to laziness, desire for profit, or something else. Either way, as I mentioned before, getting outside perspectives on your site is incredibly important.
This is why being in communication with your developer is important from the get-go. They’re another set of eyes and ears. If they’re good at what they do, then their motivation should be based entirely on maximizing the odds of your users reacting positively to your site. If you keep the above in mind, you’ll get the maximum positive return from your investment in your web developer.