Friday, May 15, 2009

Are You Launching a New Web Site or Redesigning? 7 Key Considerations For You and Web Site Designer Candidates

I took a brief break from blogging this week to spend some extra time reviewing web designers for my summer project, which will be an exciting new web site that combines my main site, carriefreelance.com, with this blog site. I'm psyched! Some of the the considerations that motivated me toward doing this now, rather then later, are:
*a need and desire to consolidate my web site content with my blog so that updates are easier to do, and the site will be refreshed more often and more consistently
*recent education regarding Wordpress, both the free and hosted versions, and particularly the thesis theme, which has gotten a lot of buzz lately and which I recently viewed a demo on
*a desire to reach more people and gain more of an audience, while taking advantage of today's technology bells and whistles

That being said, I found that in numerous conversation with designers I interviewed, several key considerations consistently came up, and serve as excellent guidelines for determining who will best fit the job. Here are the top 6 to keep in mind if you are entertaining the launch of a new web site, or the redesign of your current site.

  1. Wordpress or Not? Basically, you need to evaluate how much of a blogger/publisher you are, so that you can guide your designer as to whether Wordpress will be your basic platform or not. Even though it is the platform "du jour," it is not the be-all and end-all of programs. Many designers use Joomla, Drupal, and HTML for web site design, so it is up to you in terms of how you are going to use the site and what its ultimate purpose is. Think about this ahead of time, as it can significantly affect your budget and timeline. Don't forget that you will also need to decide whether your blog will be your home page or not. Even though many sites are set up that way, they do not have to be. You might want to consider a separate landing page that serves as a splash page to enter your site, or a video that introduces you, for example. If blogging is going to be key for you, particularly the ability to do trackbacks on comments, probably Wordpress will be for you, but I'll have more to write about that when I'm "lauched."
  2. Logo Design: Logo redesigns can range from very simple reinterpretations of an image you already have, to a very time consuming reconceptualizing of the entire concept. You need to be clear with your designer how extensive you want it to be. In my case, I have my butterfly logo, which I am looking to tweak and refresh, but not spend tons of hours on. There are also resources where inexpensive ready to go art can be purchased.
  3. Timeline: You need to be very clear with your designer as to the timeline for the project, and you should request that in their proposals, they outline each phase of the project as they see it (based on your needs, of course). Their description of how they see the project evolving which reveal a lot about their thought processes, how they work, and benchmarks along the way that can help keep you on track.
  4. SEO: If I had a nickel for every Search Engine Optimization video, e-book, and webinar offer I've received this year, hey, I wouldn't need a new web site! The SEO component of web sites is huge, and is one of the main reasons so many people are using Wordpress, because its site architecture is primed for this. Outside of the construction of the site, though, there are many steps that can be taken to maximize your presence in search results, and the designer you choose should should be very comfortable and familiar with all of them. If they seem hesitant, or need to do homework on this, chances are they are not right for you.
  5. Minimalism, with a Twist: I know that my main homework is going to be condensing many of my links and content so that my final site is sleek, yet functional, and easy to navigate. I'm treating this project as if it were a writing project itself - good writing leads the audience along without telling everything all at once. Some of the more experienced designers I spoke with talked about condensing more as an art form, and even I am aware that it's not always a matter of eliminating this link or that resource, but rather using technology to help tell the story. Could not testimonials be incorporated with rotating panels in the side margin, rather then as a traditional link? What about an interesting way of illustrating case studies and published articles? So, think about the big picture before struggling to eliminate items that might fit well in your sleek new site.
  6. Money - Establish Guidelines, Highs and Lows: Don't spend a lot of time discussing a project if it's going to be out of the realm of possibility due to budget constraints. It's good to find out early on what the designer's low and high end of the budget will be, based on your needs. Ask them to include a breakdown in their proposal, so you can find ways to cut tasks that might be redundant, or that you might be able to do on your own. I find that asking for a low budget package and a premium or high end, gives you some latitude and flexibility in knowing what you will get for your money, and it also gives you a framework to grow into when you're ready.
  7. Monetization: If you are going to need a shopping cart integrated into your site, or are planning on selling a number of products online, communicate this to your designer early on, as this greatly influences the site structure and design. It depends on your business model, and whether your site will be more artsy, or more sales oriented.
I'm sure I will have more updates and tips as I go through this process, and will keep readers posted. Have you recently undergone a site redesign or launch, and what factors were most crucial for you? Were there any pitfalls you didn't forsee? Send me your comments and links to share....

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