Why Not a DIY Website?

As I’ve said before, I’m not a businessperson with a killer instinct. I sometimes tell potential clients that I think for what they want in a website they can do it themselves.

A do-it-yourself (DIY) website has definite advantages: you have complete control over your site; you can make it what you want it to be and obviously you save money.

Disadvantages? You are limited by your web knowledge, and the platform you use.

On that first item, you considered a web design pro because you probably don’t know a lot about web design, HTML and the rest of the code and design world. But add in that second item – platforms – and you might have some help. All of the DIY sites out there (WordPress, Blogger, Wix etc.) are designed to help the amateur DIY person design a website. Most of these sites are free with options for premium features and designs.

photo sites

Some photography website options from WordPress, including ones for beginners

 

Those DIY sites have built-in tools and help files, and there are lots of sites to help with the design. I stumbled on “Ten tips to make DIY websites look professional.”

One article won’t make you a designer but the tips are all valid.

In brief…

  1. Use a limited color palette to avoid overwhelming visitors
  2. Leave plenty of ‘white space’ to prevent cluttered pages and posts
  3. Choose a legible font to ensure readability
  4. Add high-quality personal photos to provide authenticity
  5. Include clear navigation and search functionality to help visitors find what they need
  6. Craft a well-written About page to build user trust and loyalty
  7. Incorporate Call to Action (CTA) buttons to boost your conversion rate.
  8. Keep your headers and footers consistent to build brand recognition
  9. Prioritize mobile responsiveness to reach more users
  10. Provide easy-to-use contact forms to help users get in touch

As the article concludes, saving money and taking control by designing your own site is a good idea – unless the website looks unprofessional and hurts your brand.

One last suggestion. You can go half and half on this deal. There are experienced designers (like me) who design sites using some of those DIY platforms. You get a good design and you can have the realistic option of then maintaining the site on your own. Best of both worlds.

Even a Personal Site Can Sell

I feel bad for Tim Berners Lee (best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web) who has said that one thing he did not anticipate was how quickly the World Wide Web would become a marketplace.

Tim (who is currently a professor of computer science at the University of Oxford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) reminds us that in those early days personal websites dominated.

But not everything on the web is commercial. Most blogs are personal, or at least not commercial. But some personal websites have become “commercial.”

I’m not thinking of ones that may have some Google or Amazon ads. I’m thinking of ones that contain personal thoughts and images but are also “selling” the owner as a brand.

This website is my personal website, but it does work to sell me. I have another sample blog that is really part of my web design business because it acts as an example of using a free site like Blogger to build an inexpensive website.

Blogs work well as websites because when you are consistently publishing on a blog you are likely to attract attention on social media and search engines and gain followers.

How often is consistent? I have read that commercial blogs that publish more than 16 posts per month get more than three times the traffic of blogs that published less than 4 posts per month. So, that’s a recommendation of about every other day or 4 times per week.

This is Melanie Daveid‘s portfolio features a selection of imagery from her best campaigns and apps. Is it personal? Yes. But it’s also commercial as it sells her, though not any actual product.

blog.hubspot.com has some best personal website samples and some best practices for personal, as in portfolio, websites. For example, using lots of visuals (even if your brand includes written work) including logos and other branding.

A personal site should be personal – i.e. it should show viewers your personality, style, maybe even your sense of humor, if that is part of what you are selling.

Simplicity should reign when it comes to organization. A main menu with just a few categories that perhaps subdivide into more granular pages after visitors land on the main page is a good navigation plan.

Website Support and Maintenance Services

maintenance

An article I read recently asks “Should You Sell Website Support or Maintenance Services?” Well, why wouldn’t a designer sell those services?

Some designers want to do only that – DESIGN. Build a site and then let it go. There are also clients who want that. Build it for me and then I’ll take care of it myself.

I have had my share of both approaches. I have also designed sites and handed them over only to have the client contact me months or a year later to ask if I would do updates. Their intention to keep the site updated didn’t work out.

There are also some companies that focus on support and maintenance services.

Why offer clients support and maintenance services? The number one reason must be that it is ongoing and so means steady income. Let’s say you charge a client $2500 to create a small restaurant website. Then you offer maintenance services at $50 an hour. If that site only requires an hour per week, you will make $2600 in the next year.

You can also offer these services to someone whose site you did not design. I have maintained sites that people already had on places like WordPress, GoDaddy, Squarespace, and Zenfolio that they either didn’t know how to keep going or simply didn’t have the time or desire to update. Two of those clients eventually asked me to build them a brand new website.

Support and maintenance services, though not as interesting or creative as designing, can be lucrative. If you have a less experienced employee, support can be a good training activity before giving them their own design projects.

 

Maybe You Don’t Need a New Website

update

I recently told two potential clients that I didn’t think they needed a new website. Sounds like I am not a very good businessman.

But they didn’t need a new site. Their existing site worked for them, even though it was a few years old. They had been adding minor updates but nothing else changed. Both sites were built using a WYSIWYG site designs (Squarespace and GoDaddy) which make it pretty easy to update, but neither owner was comfortable in doing anything more involved with the sites other than minor updates without some help. One had forgotten how to access the editing tools.

Web designers and website owners learn pretty quickly that site maintenance ultimately will involve more time and work (and cost) than site creation.

What I ended up doing for them consisted of some smaller but important updates and maintenance. Here are 6 possibilities for you to consider:

  1. Make content changes. People don’t return to your site if it never changes. That’s what makes blogs or news updates on a site bring people back.
  2. A site audit of security, performance and usability can reveal some changes to be made.
  3. How does your site work on phones and tablets?
  4. Does the site have the latest versions of the software, such as plugins? There may be new themes that can give your site a fresh and significantly different look for little time or cost.
  5. Is it worth moving the site to a new hosting account that offers better pricing or more flexibility? can that be done with minimal work by me?
  6. Search engine optimization (SEO) is important but an area that has a lot of scam offers to get your site “to the top of search results.” Simple use of keywords and other page code can help, along with some advice about how to move up the results.
  7. Related to SEO is getting the word out via newsletters, mailing lists and social media. Are you using those things?

 

When Clients Don’t Provide Content

photo of a woman handshaking with a man

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I saw a topic on the Squarespace Circle Forum titled “How do you work with clients who are lacking content?” Squarespace is a popular website creation website and I use them with several clients. (Note: the forum is open to registered users) Though the posts are focused on web design clients, the question applies to other design situations.

I design courses online and faculty are my “clients” in that instructional design role. An ID designs a course but the content is almost totally provided by faculty.

I’m currently working with faculty at a community college and the biggest problem encountered is getting faculty to provide their course content in a timely fashion.

I also design social media strategies. In that role, I often am the content creator to a degree. I often write posts, add images and repost/retweet relevant content. But that can only be done from the raw content (text and images) from the client.

In all three situations, we design based on the content. It doesn’t work very well the other way around.

So what do users on the forum suggest? Most of their suggestions are aligned with my own practices. Here are some suggestions for working with clients that don’t provide content – or even better, for trying to avoid the no-content situation.

  1. Talk to the client about content and imagery before beginning. Be clear about what is ready to use, what needs to be created and who will create it. I have for some projects created copy, images and media.
  2. Have a timeline with milestones that need to be met by the client (I like weekly ones) in order to trigger your own design work.
  3. Many designers use a questionnaire of some kind. For example, in designing courses, we ask faculty to fill in a worksheet with course goals and objectives (they are not the same thing!) and a syllabus.
  4. You may need to create video how-to’s for the client on how to create content for their site.
  5. Stay in touch. You need to contact them when they are behind on delivering their content. Their prep work determines your ability as a designer  – some hand holding/teaching how to write copy for websites, etc. Email is the least effective way to stay in touch. Phone conversations are better. Web conferencing and screen sharing is better. Face to face meetings are still the best way.
  6. I like having a place for sharing files and collaborative space. Google Drive works, but I prefer Dropbox which has features for collaboration. Both are free for basic cloud space and can be expanded for multiple projects.
  7. You might use temporary filler text and images on a website so that you can continue designing.
  8. The “client” may actually be many individuals such as writers, photographers, graphic designers, media creators, librarians etc.

In some unfortunate cases, a client not providing content will not only delay a project but could end your relationship with the client.

Web Design Versus Web Development

meeting laptops

There are lots of ways to divide up the process of putting together a new website. I wrote elsewhere about some tips to streamline the phases of that process. But another way to divide the process is into the two primary tasks of web design and web development. They sound like they might just be two different ways to say the same thing, but there is a difference and it is an important distinction to make to a client.

Web development refers to building up the architecture of the website. This is when a developer is using code to create a functional site and get everything “technical” working properly.

But development doesn’t occur with the web design. In a larger company, these two tasks may not be done by the same people or even the same departments. The web designers are the people who determine what the website looks like, and how users will interact with it.

Small design firms might combine the tasks and a web designer might also work with some code, but designers focus more on appearance, layout, and usability. They are also often the “front office” that interacts directly with a client.

Web developers are primarily focused on turning an existing design into the proper code. They are often in the “back office” though they may sit in on client meetings in order to approve or disapprove ideas that a client would like to try.