In-House or Hired?
Most organizations realize that having a website is not optional. Even those that turned to Facebook as their primary marketing tool have had to rethink their strategy. Only a website can present all aspects of a business in an organized fashion, and only a website gives you complete control over your content. The only question you need to consider is whether or not to build your own business website.
For some, the decision is simple. When an organization has sufficient skill sets in-house, hiring a professional web developer may not be the best idea. On the other hand, many organizations have learned by costly trial and error that building your own might not be the best approach to establishing a business presence on the Web.
The answer comes down to five fundamental questions. By considering each question carefully, you can be better prepared to decide whether building your own business site is in your best interest, or a decidedly bad idea.
Is it the Best Use of Your Time?
The first question you should consider is whether building a website is the best use of your time. A business site of average complexity can easily take 10 to 14 weeks to develop. The hours, days, and weeks involved are generally divided among four stages: planning, building, testing, and promoting. How much time is spent on each stage is largely determined by the client: how well prepared are they (or you) for the project? The more time you spend planning your site, the less time you or your developer will need to spend on development.
Let’s look at those four stages of web design to see if you have the time to devote to them.
As with any complex endeavor, the more time you spend planning your website, the less time you will spend making changes later. But even planning a website requires, well, a plan. You must think about what content you need and who will be responsible for providing it, what platform will be used to develop the site and who will host it, how will the site be tested to make sure it does not have any bugs, and how you will promote the site once it is built.
You will find that deciding what content you want—text, photos, and graphics—takes a lot less time than putting it together. Text must be written, photos must be taken, and graphics must be designed. Do you have someone in-house with the skills to write professionally, to take photos, and to create computer graphics? Seldom does one person possess all three, so you will need to allocate hours for two or three employees who will accomplish these tasks.
You must decide on these issues before you put the first finger to the keyboard.
Only after you have a plan can you begin to build your site. Deciding who will actually build the site may be a simple matter—you know who has, or does not have, the necessary skills. Setting aside time for them to work on the site without undue interruption may be more of a challenge. And when do you bring them in and let them start putting the site together? While you are gathering content, or afterwards? That is up to you, but you need to allocate a liberal amount of hours to building the site, because you cannot easily predict exactly how long it will take.
You need to assume that 50%-60% of the total hours spent on the project will be devoted to site building.
Review & Testing
Whatever amount of time you decide will be sufficient for building the site, you should add 20% on top of that for review and testing.
Reviewing content is a crucial step toward having a professional website. You must have someone carefully read every content item, looking for typos and other mistakes. The person who wrote the content should not be the one who proofreads it, as we tend to overlook our own mistakes.
Not only do you need to test every function on the site, every menu button, and every hyperlink, but you must test them on the three major browsers: Firefox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer. Further, if you hope to capture the 60% of visitors who will view your site on a mobile device, you need to fully test your site on both Apple and non-Apple mobile devices, including both smartphones and tablets. Not every site feature may work on every platform. You must identify compatibility issues and fix them to avoid embarrassing complaints once you have launched your site.
Once the site has been built, tested, and published, you will need to allocate hours for marketing. The employee you use for this may or may not be someone who participates in earlier phases of the project, but they will need time to get the word out.
Promotion is not something that happens once. It is an ongoing process. However, the more experience a person has with web marketing, the more efficiently they can get the job done.
You will need to allocate time for your marketing guru to set up accounts on Facebook and Twitter, and, perhaps, LinkedIn. Further, as we will discuss shortly, you need to devote time to creating and maintaining the relationships between your site and your social media platforms.
Social media accounts must be maintained and updated or they will go stale. An hour a week keeping them fresh is the minimum you should devote to this important task.
A professional developer may or may not maintain your social media accounts. Many do not. Nevertheless, the time you spend on site development will detract from time you may have available for social media efforts.
Are You Comfortable with Web Technology?
Having enough time to build your website is one thing, having the knowledge to build it is another.
The popularity of budget DIY website services leads many to assume building a quality website can be done quickly and economically. By using a simple drag-and-drop interface, users are persuaded that they can have a wizbang website up and running in mere minutes. While this approach may be good enough for personal websites, the resulting website is not good enough for businesses and organizations that want a professional image. We will talk more about what makes up a professional website in a moment; for now, you should reconsider any notion of building your business website using a drag-and-drop online service.
The de facto platform for professional websites, today, is—no surprise—WordPress. WordPress has become the most popular of the many Content Management System (CMS) website platforms currently available. Like WordPress’s top contemporaries, Joomla and Drupal, WordPress allows users to create websites by customizing pre-made templates, or “themes.” As far as CMS websites go, WordPress may be easier to use, but that does not mean building a WordPress site is easy. There is a learning curve, so if you do not already know WordPress, you will need to learn how to use the platform before you can start building your site.
Even though WordPress and other CMS platforms offer powerful plugins that help create a feature-rich website, most business-class websites still require the developer to have some programming knowledge in order to customize the site. If you can’t at least modify code, you may be limited in how much you can customize your site.
The features that your website needs can be a deciding factor when considering whether to build your own. There are hundreds of plugins available for adding various functions to CMS sites, including Google Calendars, multimedia players, SEO optimizers, and testimonial widgets, to name but a few. However, if your site needs smart integration with social media platforms or a customized eCommerce solution, you may be forced to turn the job over to a professional developer.
It may be tempting to forego a feature that your site needs just because you don’t know how to make it work. However, this reasoning alone should cause you to reconsider building your own site. If you allow compromise to affect your website build, the site’s power to grow your customer base will also be compromised.
Who hosts your business website is nearly as important as who builds it. All hosting companies are not the same, and the wrong choice can have devastating consequences, from a lack of customer support to your website being unavailable.
If you build your own site, you must evaluate the technical capabilities of your host provider carefully. You must be sure that the server they host your site on is optimized for your site’s particular platform. The plugins you install on your site may or may not be compatible with your hosting account configuration, in which case you need to know if those settings can be changed to allow the plugin to work. And don’t assume that your site will be hosted on a fast server unless you pay extra.
The level of customer service varies widely from one host provider to another. Some providers offer phone and online chat support, while others only allow you to report a problem by submitting a support ticket. If you have the technical skills, the level of support your host provider offers is of less importance, since you are capable of solving most of your own problems. If you are not so confident, it is best that you select a provider that specializes in your site’s platform and that offers technical support over the phone.
Finally, there is the issue of whether you will host your site on a shared server or a dedicated machine. You should know the advantages of each so you can decide which better suites your hosting needs.
The security of your website must be a chief concern. The best website in the world is useless if hackers take it down. Worse, ineffective security measures can allow hackers to hijack your site and post their own inflammatory messages, or to steal your customer’s data, causing untold harm to your company’s reputation. Companies can, and do, face sizable lawsuits for failure to protect customers’ personal information.
You may not have to be a top-notch developer to design a website that will meet your needs, but it is essential that you understand website security. A competent developer will know the measures to take to harden your site against cyberattacks. If you don’t know how to do that, you should probably hire a professional when it comes to building a website.
Can You Achieve Professional Results?
Professionalism is an abstract concept. We can’t easily explain what it is, but we know when we see it. More importantly, we know when it is lacking. In terms of website design, a professional site not only looks great, but every aspect of the design will reflect purposeful intent—navigation will be logical intuitive, special features will appear only when and where the visitor needs them, and content will be flawlessly executed.
If you don’t know what a sitemap is—or how to how to build one, if you don’t know how to anticipate your visitors’ needs and to design your site accordingly, or if you don’t have the skills to prepare professional content in-house, building a website on your own will be a challenge and its success uncertain.
How about Social Media & Marketing?
Effective marketing strategies involve seamless integration of social media with a company’s website. Simply posting links to your Facebook page will do little to grow your bottom line. In today’s fiercely-competitive markets, you must do more if you are to attract customers and build loyalty.
You must create symbiotic relationships between your site and social media platforms so that visitor engagement is a two-way street. The website that represents your business is not the place to learn this.
Most professional developers are able to assist you with social media integration. If you do not know how to integrate social media with your DIY website, you will need to learn before you begin building a website, not after the site is finished.
Will You have Usable Web Stats?
Once you have built and published your own company website, how do you know if it is doing its job? If you rely on customer feedback, you are getting only half of the picture at best. What about the majority of people who may have problems using your site and who simply click over to your competitors, as they will certainly do? They represent market share that will be lost forever.
Tracking website performance is a major part of your job as a DIY developer. Just knowing how many people visit your site is not enough. That number by itself if virtually useless. You need to know who is visiting your site, and so much more.
To ensure that your site is effectively engaging and serving your customers, you need usable statistics—not just raw numbers, but information you can use to make better decisions about your website. What products or services have your visitors been searching for on the Web? Are they local, or out of state? Did they find your site by using a search engine, or did they enter your site address manually? You need to know. And you need to know how to collect this information if you build your own site.
How KDG Can Help
Building a website that’s professional and business-class requires a great deal of time and knowledge. Only large organizations typically have the resources needed to build their own. If you decide that you would rather focus on running your business than learning to build websites, we invite you to consider KDG as your web development solution.
For more than fifteen years, KDG has provided technology solutions for small and medium size businesses throughout the Lehigh Valley. Our diverse team of developers is experienced in custom website solutions, mobile app development, complete IT management, custom software development, and meeting the technological needs of nonprofits and educational institutions.
Why not contact us today to see how we can assist you?