On April 5th, we discussed the relative pros and cons of hiring a professional website designer to build a new web presence for your company. However, even asking the question of whether or not you should hire a web developer makes one critical assumption – that every business needs a customized web presence.
In fact, the reality is that – in many cases – as long as your business website is professional-looking and well-organized, it may not matter if the design and image elements you use are unique to your company. Here’s how to determine whether you really need to invest in a custom website design for your business website…
Step #1 – Study your competitors’ websites
Before you can determine whether it’s worth investing in a custom website design for your business, it’s important to understand who your competitors are and how they’re using their websites to promote their businesses.
As an example, consider the different website needs of an online ecommerce store selling highly competitive electronics products compared to a local orthodontist’s office. In order for the ecommerce seller to stand out in a crowded marketplace, his website will need to be unique, visually appealing and engaging – all of which will likely require a custom website design in order to be achieved successfully.
On the other hand, the orthodontists’ office may be competing against – at most – ten different local businesses offering the same services. For this reason, the orthodontist’s website doesn’t need to feature all of the latest “bells and whistles” the ecommerce seller must pursue. As long as his website looks good, provides the appropriate information and is visually distinct from his competitors, the orthodontist likely doesn’t need to invest the time and money required to produce a custom website design.
However, the only way to determine where your website falls on this spectrum is to analyze the websites offered by your closest competitors. Do they appear to be using custom designs to attract and retain visitors? If so, this could be because having a unique presence is vital to standing out amongst your peers. On the other hand, if you see a variety of custom sites, template sites and obviously “homemade” websites, you may not need to hire a web developer to build a totally unique website.
Step #2 – Identify industry standards
In addition to taking a closer look at your competitors’ websites, try to get a feel for what standards exist within your industry when it comes to website design.
Beyond what your immediate competitors are doing, what types of websites appear when you Google search for related keywords in your industry? Do the sites you see incorporate lots of interactive add-ons (for example, pop-up windows, forms, Flash elements and more) or do you see primarily “billboard” style sites that function as virtual print advertisements by displaying primarily text-based information?
If you find highly-customized websites with extensive upgrades or add-on features across your industry, know that it will be harder to find a template-based design that you can adapt to your business in order to compete in this environment.
On the other hand, if the sites you see throughout your industry are largely static and text-based, odds are you’ll be able to build a website that meets your needs and expectations using a template design.
Step #3 – Assess your time and budget constraints
Again, the idea of assessing your unique time and budget constraints when it comes to choosing a website design solution is something we touched upon briefly in our earlier article on hiring a website designer. However, as cost considerations will likely be the foremost concerns for most small business owners managing their company’s internet presences, this topic deserves a review.
So first, take a second to assess the amount of time you have available to dedicate to your website project. If you have no time whatsoever to contribute to your new website’s creation, you’ll probably need to hire a professional designer to complete the project.
Alternatively, if you have more time than money to dedicate to your new website, a template website solution might be a perfect compromise. Keep in mind that most professional web designers charge $1,000 and up for a custom site – and sometimes much, much more if you require any number of interactive features. If you can’t commit this amount of money to your redesign, look into template website design solutions that are typically much more affordable.
Step #4 – Evaluate website design alternatives
If you do determine that budget constraints will prevent you from hiring a professional website designer, don’t worry – there are a number of different template website solutions you can take advantage of that will allow you to put up a good looking website with a minimal amount of work.
The following are a few of the different template website design alternatives you should consider:
Open source blogging platforms – Choosing to build your website on the WordPress, Drupal or Joomla platforms may be a good choice if you have some experience with web coding. These three platforms are all free to install on your hosting account and offer an unlimited number of free or paid templates that can be quickly and easily applied to your base content.
In addition, with the library of plugins and add-ons available for these website design platforms, you’ll likely find that it’s easy to include interactive elements on your website, making it more engaging for your site visitors.
Of course, it’s also worth being aware that you’re on your own when it comes to using these website design platforms. While there are plenty of support resources online, these free-to-download platforms to not come with any kind of customer support team to assist you if your site “breaks” due to incorrect customizations or hacked themes and plugins.
Template web design programs – If you aren’t comfortable with fixing these types of errors that can and do occur on open source web design platforms, consider a paid template web design service. As a member of these programs, you’ll pay a small monthly fee to build a website based on one of your provider’s stock designs (although customization support may be available for an additional cost). As part of your monthly cost, you’ll typically also receive the customer support needed to ensure your website remains live and functioning properly.
The two best known template programs are Intuit’s Website Builder and Yahoo’s Small Business Site Solution service programs. Although both of these website design programs represent an easy way to quickly build and launch a professional-looking website, it’s important to browse through their respective template offerings and read up on their support guarantees before choosing the program that best meets your needs.