In the last article, I covered the “Top Five Musts for Your Website.” To follow up, we have the flipside of that equation. To recap the premise, I’ve led dozens of seminars on electronic marketing–and also dealt with the messes that clients find themselves in when they’ve fell in with a web developer who doesn’t understand marketing. Here are a few more points that have popped up during my recent talks.

Don’t shop for a website on price alone.

The old axiom “you get what you pay for” holds just as true for websites. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to spend tens of thousands of dollars. But you should think about your website as an investment. After all, it is the single most important external face of your business. It’s the canvas on which you paint your brand. The look, feel, messaging all need to be built on an intuitive information architecture that guides prospects and customers through a logical path and towards a desired action. Don’t undersell its importance.

Don’t let your neighbor’s kid design it.

You can throw a stick out a window on any busy street in the Lehigh Valley and hit someone who says they can “design a website.” But do you really want to trust your most important marketing tool to someone just because they know HTML or can throw up a WordPress blog? Your website is a marketing tool and must be approached with a strategic lens–not from a programmatic or design standpoint.

Don’t start designing until you have thought through the “information architecture.”

Form follows function. Don’t start with design. Start with the flow of information/pages and how you want your audience–prospects, customers, member of the media–to navigate your site. What do you want them to do–download free information? Fill out a form? Pick up the phone? Understand your capabilities? Make sure those decisions are decided before the design is even started.

Don’t build it all in Flash.

Please. Don’t. Flash is great for websites–if you hate Google. The be-all buzz-all of web development from the early 2000’s is terrible for search engines and even worse for mobile devices. Google can’t read content locked up in Flash, so all your great messaging is invisible. Flash is good for finishing touches and wonderful for online games, but don’t be sold a website in Flash. Unless you are hiding something. Like your business.

Don’t underestimate the time it takes to build a good website.

Done right, a good website is an involved process that includes information planning, layout, design, content development, build out and launch. Plan for 8-12 weeks from start to finish for a basic website–and this assumes you can hold up your end of the bargain on deadlines. And remember, the element that holds up web development more often than anything else is content. Most web developers don’t “do content” so you are often left to do it yourself. So get started even before you start shopping around.

And as some added value, here are some more “musts” and “must nots” to keep in mind when working with a web developer and planning a new or redesigned website.

  • Do ask for proof of the developer’s marketing expertise. (Web development alone is not proof of marketing experience.)
  • Don’t let them start coding until you are 100% satisfied with the information architecture and the design.
  • Do include compelling, easy-to-find calls to action for prospects.
  • Don’t be upsold on “bells and whistles”–features you can’t or won’t use right away.
  • Do include your full contact information (email, phone number, address) on every page.
  • Don’t let the content get stale–a website is a conversation, not a brochure.
  • Do make sure that the site is “search-engine-friendly” with an XML site map and proper tagging so Google can index it properly.
  • Don’t use a web developer who programs in tables and iframes–outdated technology that is not search-engine-friendly.
  • Do plan for mobile accessibility now, not later.
  • Do plan to redesign and redevelop your website every three years.