I had a great chat with a client last week. In the middle of it, she asked me a great question: "What are the types of things I need to expect from my web person?" It reminded me of this article I wrote a number of years ago. It seemed to answer her question pretty well so I thought I'd repost. Thoughts? Comments? Experiences to share? Please chime in!
As with the practice of Feng Shui, understanding five principle elements can help marketers and small business owners build better, more profitable websites.
Feng Shui is a practice of bringing balance to one's living space based on five elements of ancient Chinese philosophy: Water, Metal, Wood, Earth, and Fire. Whether huge and complex like Amazon.com or only four or five pages like a small bed and breakfast site, all websites have their own five basic elements:
Understanding each element, the skill sets required to produce these elements, and how they interrelate can help a business make the best decisions about how their site should be constructed, maintained and promoted.
Element #1: Infrastructure
Infrastructure is the backbone of your website. Purchasing your domain name, setting up hosting for your site, email set up, etc. are tasks that establish the physical structure on which your site will reside.
Any type of web contractor, whether it is a one-man show like a webmaster or a full-service development firm, can handle this for your business. Though contractors may be overseeing infrastructure items on your behalf, make sure you have copies of all records and receipts of hosting agreements and domain purchases. Contractors only need the technical access info, but you need the account and billing information, in case you ever need to change contractors in the future. Plus, you're the boss! That info is mission critical business info and should live with you.
Element #2: Design
The next element of a website is design. Design is the look and feel of your web pages: Is navigation across the top or to the left? Where are the optimal locations for photos, graphics, and text? How is the copy laid out? What is the color scheme?
Design can be one of the most frustrating challenges when building a website. There is such a large number of designers out there with considerable price differences, and it is difficult to determine where there is a value for the money.
Companies or individuals marketing design services today can range from graphic designers versed in print who are trying to add web to their skills to technical people who write code in HTML but have limited artistic training. Neither of these offer the best bang for the buck.
A web designer who has strong artistic ability yet is also well-versed in common web "best practices" like optimal web page file size, usability concerns, conversion optimization and information architecture is the best option. Though you may not need an award-winning creative designer, you do need a professional, credible site. Try to shop around and find someone with these skills in your price range.
For design, the final price is less important than knowing exactly what you are getting for the price. Decide how much you are willing to pay and look for someone with the skills mentioned. You can definitely find inexpensive designers out there, but beware. You may pay less for the design, but you will lose money in the end if visitors consider your site unprofessional or untrustworthy.
Element #3: Functionality
The third element of your website is functionality. Some common examples of website functionality include online forms, site registration, email newsletter sign-ups, and shopping carts. It is sometimes common for business owners to consider design and functionality to be the same thing, but they are actually two entirely different disciplines. Functionality is executed using programming languages or scripts, whereas a design is done with tools that create, edit, and lay out photos, graphics, and text.
Knowing the difference allows you to effectively determine what skill sets are necessary for your site and find that talent, whether hiring in-house or contracting to outside consultants.
Think about the website experience you seek for your visitors. Does it involve a lot of functionality? Is it a central aspect of the website, like a shopping cart? A web designer may be able to provide some simple functionality like a request form or a simple shopping cart, but for anything more substantial you will want to hire people with web programming experience.
Element #4: Content
The fourth element is website content. Content is the most basic element around which all others revolve. This is the meat of your site - what your visitors are coming for. Infrastructure, design and functionality provide the medium for content to be provided to site visitors. Content includes text, photo, graphics, multimedia, or video. Unfortunately, content is often the most neglected element of many websites, despite its importance. Many websites suffer from outdated content. For small business owners and marketing departments, writing and updating web content seems to drop to the bottom of the priority list. Other businesses have their site maintained by their webmaster or design shop, and though the site owner is diligent about changes, the
contractor doesn't update in a timely manner.
Current, fresh content is what keeps visitors coming to your website. Some sites may not need new content weekly or monthly, but all businesses have new happenings that need to be posted on a website, such as press releases, new products or price changes. Review your site quarterly if it is a relatively non-changing site and daily if it is highly active.
Element # 5: Marketing
Last but not least, the fifth element is web site marketing.
Infrastructure, design, functionality and content make up the actual site structure, but marketing is vital because it gets the word out so that visitors actually come to the site and find what they need there. All efforts in the other four areas are basically irrelevant if no one visits your site.
Some common forms of internet marketing include search engine optimization, permission email marketing, search and social media advertising, and re-marketing. Tactics for building productive in-house email lists or designing landing pages for potential visitors who click on advertisements can make a huge difference in marketing effectiveness.
Many firms are starting up that specifically provide internet marketing. It often requires a unique blend of marketing, design, and technical skills which design shops or advertising agencies are not always able to cover. For example, ranking well in search engines requires skills in marketing, copywriting, design, and programming to be successful. A design shop may have the technical and design skills but not the marketing and content writing abilities. An ad agency's skill set may be the opposite. Often neither have all the skills.
Finding a digital agency that has talent in all these areas can help you produce an online program that delivers concrete results.
Now that you've broken down your site into the five website elements, think about your online business needs, and identify what tasks are necessary to produce the best web site possible.
For example, you can:
- Develop an effective Request For Proposal (RFP) for web contracting.
- More effectively and proactively manage your consultants.
- Provide better information to web consultants so they can produce a better product.
- Save money if you identify tasks that are currently being handled by an outside contractor but can be done internally, or vice-versa.
Knowing the five website elements enables you to make good business decisions without a lot of technical knowledge.