JMB Communications' "Websites That Work" has been custom-creating marketing-focused Websites That Work since 1994. Check us out if you want a website that does far more than simply sit there and look pretty.
We're often asked how businesses should search for and qualify "website designers." Here's our advice:
1. What's Your Primary Objective? Remember above all else that what you want is a website that "works" for your business, practice, or other entity. Sites that just sit there and look good are pointless. See Setting Objectives.
2. Don't Use Amateurs: Be wary of using anyone who does website "design" casually, such as a nephew, a friend of a friend who does it "on the side," etc. You get what you pay (or don't pay) for. Think about it: would you want an amateur pilot on your next airline flight? Results matter.
3. Define What You Need, why you need it, and what you want your site to do. Define the mission and make it clear to the company you pick. See Setting Objectives.
4. Listen: Are prospective designers asking in-depth questions about your business? Or are they wasting your time either with superficialities or pontificating about how gorgeous their sites are? Listen to their questions. Unless they get deeply into Setting Objectives, they're there to sell, not listen, and that doesn't help you.
5. Use Real Marketing Expertise: Remember that building sophisticated sites requires real marketing expertise. You need a site that delivers your messaging "impactfully" to its intended audience while achieving useful recognition in search engines. Sophisticated does not mean "pretty"; it means robust in the sense of having it together in such a way that it really impacts customers and prospects and works for your business.
6. Don't Do Their Job: Never get a site from any "designer" who wants you to write the copy. That makes you a general contractor and if you're running a business, you don't have time for that. We're unusual in that we are a seasoned marketing company that does websites -- from strategy to copy to optimization and execution.
7. Get Only What You Need: We recently quoted a few projects for a major public company after carefully determining exactly what they needed. It was a fairly large site for which our bid was under $6K, which is higher than most sites we produce. They had many competing bids from typical "designers" including such things as PHP, ASP, and superfluous Flash animations for copy; their bids ranged up to $19K -- a big difference. We're out to develop long-term business partnerships -- we don't recommend things you don't need. As your needs grow, we want to help you grow your marketing-focused site accordingly.
8. Never Be Patient: We often hear horror stories from clients of website "designers" who have paid the designers good money and waited months for a site but got nothing. We usually turn around new sites three weeks from the time clients approve proposals. Our sites typically go live quickly, and are optimized a few weeks after launch.
9. Don't Believe Baseless Promises: If the "designer" or SEO specialist (search engine optimization) promises you'll be on the first page of Google, walk away. No one can promise that without knowing who your company is, what competition exists in your industry, what's out there, and a number of other things. It takes time to do SEO right and get results, and it's foolhardy to think that happens overnight. Also, it's not an "optimize forever" situation. Everything changes and your optimization needs to be reexamined every month or two if your site is to remain competitive and well-positioned. See also #17.
10. Never Leave It Static: Many of the most successful sites not only effectively address all the core issues that concern customers and prospects, they also are updated frequently, even if the updates are minor. Static sites lose search engine positioning; dynamic sites gain it, though other factors are at play.
11. What's The Cost? We can't give you a range of costs for sites because all sites differ. Asking the cost of a site is like asking "What's a car cost?" It depends on what you need (not necessarily what you "want.") But always remember that well-designed, well-strategized sites are often incremental: you can start out with the basics and expand easily over time.
12. Never Accept "Contents First": We always custom-tailor contents to the client without preconception. It's all about what you really need, not about what anybody else wants you to have. Don't ever accept presentations from outfits who haven't first asked you a lot of questions. People like that should be thrown out of your office....
13. Don't Allow Integrated Hosting: Never deal with any company that wants to sell you a design, then host your site. Those outfits just want the monthly income from hosting; what they're hosting is immaterial to them.
14. Avoid Animated-Text "Flash" Websites: Don't be taken in by animated text in "Flash" websites. It can't currently be read by search engines and that is a critical weakness. (Most site visitors also hate it because it wastes their valuable time.) Anybody who proposes animated text "Flash" websites is wasting your time and money: throw them out.
15. Avoid Music: Music should never be on any website unless you sing, compose, play an instrument, or are otherwise selling something that's music-related. Many people read websites in offices when they're supposed to be doing something else; the last thing they want is music that gives away what they're doing. Again, anybody who proposes gratuitous music for your site is wasting your time and money and, by the way, possibly opening you up to copyright infringement lawsuits by the music's composer, publisher, and performer. (Don't discount that. Searching for stolen music is very simple; publishers do it constantly.)
16. Never Accept Templates: Many designers use cheap templates or minor variations of a single design theme to design sites -- which means your competitor could have a site that looks just like yours. By contrast, all "Websites That Work" sites are custom-created and custom-tailored to the needs of each individual client. No exceptions -- ever.
17. Dump Your Site: If someone says they can get you on the first page of all the Search Engines if you dump your current site and build a new one through them for short money, roll your eyes and ask how and why and what they recommend -- if you have time to waste. See #9 about baseless promises. Some existing sites are awful and should be replaced, but others might need just a bit of help to work. Want an opinion? We charge (up front) to analyze current sites but are happy to do it. We're also happy to credit that entire analytical fee toward the cost of a new site, should you decide to do a new one through us within six months of the date of our analysis. We've been a marketing company since 1990 and have been doing marketing-focused web content since 1994. Got a question? Just ask.
18. If You're Doing a Restaurant Website, Avoid Downloadable PDF Menus: Some restaurant websites now publish their menus in the form of downloadable Adobe Acrobat PDFs, instead of displaying them as customary web pages. We'll do that if you insist, but we think it's a bad idea. Here's why:
a) Many site visitors are not computer savvy. They want info fast and without a hassle. Downloading a PDF is a hassle for them. Many don't know what a PDF is, much less how to open / use it.
b) Using restaurant menu PDFs creates another hoop through which visitors must jump to see your content, which is a bad idea. Make it EASY for prospects to do business with you ... don't create obstacles for them.
c) People who download and print restaurant menu PDFs may treat them as gospel concerning products and prices. You'll get "but the price here in your menu is..." It happens all the time. Menus change, too. Publish your menu online and leave it at that. Change it so it stays correct but always add something that says (at least) "prices subject to change." Entice with your menu and with food photography done by people who know how it's done. PDFs simply complicate matters.
d) It is NOT faster to update PDFs than sites. We do new sites in about three weeks, start to finish, and we turn around customary menu changes in a day or two. If your web designer can't do that, replace your designer.
Want a marketing-focused, customer-needs-centric, Website That Works? See our Capabilities and our Website Gallery, and Contact Us. That's all we build.
Updated July 14, 2010