What type of website is right for me ?
Before any web designer can answer that question they will need a lot more information.
Firstly we need to establish why you need a website. There are many reasons that a business will set up a website and I will list the main reasons below.
To establish a presence on the Internet, somewhere that customers can be directed to in order to find out basic information about the business such as your location, phone number and email address. This might consist of a home page an about page and a contact page which will probably contain a contact form.
To showcase products and services, very similar to the basic site discussed above but with additional pages that will give the website visitor more information about what the company does, this can include image galleries and downloadable data sheets giving technical information and product descriptions. This type of site is generically referred to as a brochure style site as its main purpose is to become the electronic version of the more traditional printed brochure.
Companies with many diverse services and products will sometimes create separate mini sites for each product or service they offer to avoid confusing visitors. These are often referred to as landing pages and as the term indicates – these are the pages you would like a visitor to land on when they arrive from a search engine and are looking for a very specific product or service.
To sell products or services online. This type of site is known as an ecommerce site and can sell physical goods or digital downloads and services. Ecommerce sites can vary massively in functionality and if you are planning to set up a site selling goods online then you should make sure you list your requirements to your web designer. Things like stock control, marketing, seo friendly product listings, credit card processing, shipping calculators, customer relationship management and many more features are available.
To publish articles and information. This type of site is generally referred to as a blogging site and will allow the user to publish blogs they have written and share them with a variety of people. Normally there would be a user database to allow the public to sign up and either post or comment on articles. If you are planning on setting up a blogging site you should ensure that there are plenty of back office functions which reduce the burden of having to moderate users and comments.
Lastly I will lump every other type of website in to the category of specialist. These are often websites that need developers and programmers to write code to add required functionality and very often to interact with other sites and databases via API’s (application program interfaces). Examples would be auction sites, estate agents, travel agents, car sales etc. If your requirement fits in to this category then you really need to ensure that your chosen web design has the necessary skills to deliver.
OK so we should be able to establish why you need a website from one of the categories above, now we need to decide what sort of technology or platform we should use to best meet your requirements and of course the requirements of your users. We cannot however determine that just from the information above, we are going to need to know a little bit more.
One of the first considerations has to be how will your users and visitors find your website. For the purposes of this consideration, they will either be informed about its existence through offline marketing methods such as magazine ads, television and radio campaigns or you will rely on users finding you online via search engines. If you are going to rely on search engines to deliver users to your website then we need to pick a platform that is search engine friendly. You can have the greatest website ever designed but it will be pointless if users cannot find it.
Our next consideration has to be based on our expected user demographic. A great web site experience has to focus on the user and in order to do this we need to know what our typical user is going to look like, what device are they likely to use to access our site, what sort of user interface would they prefer, what will keep them on the site and make them want to return again.
Next we need to be concerned with the ongoing running and maintenance of the website. How much maintenance and administration will be required and how much time have you or your colleagues got to perform these tasks. The answer to these questions will largely depend on what type of website you require and how important it is to the business. If you intend to maintain the website yourself then you will need a content management system, this ensures that the design elements remain intact but you can add and amend text, images and pages as required. If you do not have the time or the inclination to maintain the website yourself then you will need to put a maintenance plan in place with your web designer to ensure the continued smooth running of the website and ensure it is kept fresh and up to date.
Our last consideration for now is budget. Many technologies and platforms are open source and free but many are not. In addition to the normal design costs there can be additional costs for search engine optimisation and for bespoke programming. Complex ecommerce systems with large numbers of SKU’s can take many hours of setup and configuration. Again you may need to compromise on requirements if your budget will restrict your choices.
Now we know enough to start considering which technology or platform is going to best match our requirements. The answer may be none of them will be a perfect fit and we may have to compromise.
Some choices are easy, our first option, the presence page would be best suited to HTML. The designer would have complete control over the design and layout and it would be simple to make sure the pages were responsive in design and seo friendly. You should always make sure the web designer is using the latest version of HTML – currently this is HTML 5. If you had a preference for WordPress then this would also be a suitable choice.
Similarly the brochure style site is also well suited to HTML and equally suited to a content management system. WordPress is the most popular but there are other alternatives, Joomla and Drupal being the leading contenders. Comparing them is outside of the scope of this document but all have pros and cons. As WordPress is the most popular you will find more help, articles and plugins available for it which makes it the default choice unless you have a specific requirement or preference for another content management system.
Ecommerce, there are a lot of choices to make here and this is a decision that you would make after careful evaluation of all your needs. The first major decision is whether to choose a hosted or non-hosted solution. A hosted solution removes a lot of the headaches of server management but the quality of solution does vary so you need to research properly. If you install on your own server then you have greater control and more choice but increased risks in terms of security and server management. Whilst making your choice, ensure that you consider all elements of your business as anything that is not controlled by the ecommerce system may have to be manually managed. Inventory control, stock replenishment, payment processing, shipping and dispatch, customer service, customer relationship management, returns, invoicing and accounts, reporting. It can get even more complicated if you have a bricks and mortar shop as well and need to sell to customers in store using an EPOS (electronic point of sale) and selling the same stock online. If you don’t manage this correctly you could take an order online and then sell the same item in store and be unable to fulfil the online order.
Publishing articles and blogs is fairly straightforward and will largely come down to personal preference. WordPress is the most popular blogging platform but it does have competition in the form of hosted options like Blogger and Tumblr. As we mentioned before if your blogging site becomes popular it will save you a lot of time and effort if there are a good set of tools to manage and moderate users comments.
Specialist sites will determine their own platform based on the requirement. As they are going to be specifically developed then they will probably use a mixture of HTML, PHP and ASP in combination with a database which will typically be MySQL or MSSQL. Specialist sites will probably require dedicated servers or Virtual private servers as shared hosting plans would not allow custom installations. This can increase the ongoing running costs.
Hopefully this article has helped you understand that in order to determine what sort of website you need, you will need to consider far more than just the design elements. In order to deliver a website that fully meets the clients requirements, a web designer needs to look at the bigger picture, especially focusing on user experience as it is this that will determine if the website can convert visits in to goals achieved.