Blog - Jesse Thomas Design
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The #1 Way to Prevent Website Development Disaster

You’ve heard the horror stories of website development, and maybe even suffered through one yourself in the past – development processes that drag out forever, go way over budget, and/or don’t yield the desired results.

I have a tried-and-true process to avoid those nightmares and instead deliver to clients the website they really want, on time and on budget.

This is the first in a 7-part series where I’ll give you an insiders view of how I do that… so that you can apply these same best practices to your website development process.

Step 1 – State your GOAL

The best way to set your website project up for success is to start with the end in mind by considering what you need that website to do. The more specific you are about what you expect to get out of it, the better. Some possibilities include:

  • Get subscribers to sign up
  • Have people email a request for your services
  • Sell your product or service
  • Share your phone number
  • Showcase your work
  • Direct people to your storefront
  • Educate customers and prospects
  • Showcase your brand
  • Entertain

 

You may have multiple goals, and that’s fine, just make sure you identify one of them as your most important goal. This will allow your website to clearly point people to the most important destination. Without a clear singular direction, website visitors may be confused and take no action at all.

This is a critical first step in website development because it allows your designer to create the optimal site structure for that purpose. For example, if your goal is to have someone sign up for your newsletter, you wouldn’t want to have the same website as someone who is offering a product.

Get crystal-clear on your goals and share them with your developer

I can’t stress enough how important it is to share your goals with your website developer so they don’t create something that doesn’t help your business. No matter how great they are at their job, they can’t read your mind.

Which leads me to point out something that may seem obvious but still needs to be said: Make sure you are clear on what your goals are before you talk to a developer. If you haven’t yet nailed down what your basic goals are, hold off on creating a website until you are sure.

The goal for your website will come out of your larger overall marketing goals. A website is not a miracle solution – it can’t solve problems that stem from lack of clarity on marketing strategy.

However, when you are clear on your overall marketing goal, a website is a great tool to help you achieve that goal and is an essential part of most modern marketing plans.

What is the problem you need to solve?

It’s good to think of a website as a solution to a problem. If you can figure out what your problem is, then you are on your way to discovering what type of website will solve your problem.

What do you need more of?

Do you need more leads coming into your marketing/sales funnel? Do you want those leads to be calls, emails, or subscribers?

Are people coming to your website ready to buy and you just need to direct them to the right product? Or will they need to learn more about you and what they do before they’re ready to make a purchase decision?

Do you need better brand awareness? If so, how are you positioning yourself against the competition? Will your website be the landing place for a strong social media push?

Do you need prospects who are more qualified/educated? If so then you should direct them to an FAQ or other informative content before sending them to your contact information to request a quote.

Always start with the end in mind

Failing to consider your goals from the start will leave you with wasted time, energy and money, and lead to frustration for everyone involved in the project.

Knowing the number one thing you want visitors to do when they come to your site will set you on the path to getting the website you really want.

Get the website design template

Ready to get a real website? Subscribe here to receive my free website design process template that you can use to implement this process for your own website development plan.

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8 Reasons You May NOT Need a New Website This Year

As you’re determining your business goals and budget for the coming year, you might be asking yourself if now is the right time to update your website.

Many people have a love-hate relationship with overhauling the website – they look forward to all the benefits it can bring but loathe the work and inconvenience of the transition. As a website developer I’m tempted to tell you all the reasons you do need a new website, but hey, maybe you don’t.

Here’s a checklist to help you determine if the website you have now is A-okay.

1. Your website does exactly what you need it to do.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? If it’s working great and you never get any complaints from customers, prospects, or your staff, then you can cross this one off your to-do list and revisit it next year.

However, you may need to consider improving your website if:

  • You’ve got a list of requests for tweaks or updates to your site
  • Customers complain that it is hard to find what they are looking for and are calling in and occupying staff time for routine matters
  • You’d like to attract a new type of customer segment
  • You see opportunities to serve current customers more efficiently and effectively through your website
  • You’ve added people to your company and want to showcase new capabilities

 

2. Your website brings you enough business to keep you busy.

If getting more leads and more clients would put a strain on your business, then optimizing it to bring in more customers doesn’t make sense.

On the other hand, if your company could use an influx of fresh leads, then creating a website that helps with that could be a very sound investment.

 

3. You’re way ahead of you competitors online.

Your website may be better than some sites and worse than others, but the comparison that matters most is: How does your website compare to your top competitors’ websites?

If you’re ahead of the game, awesome. If not, then it’s better to catch up and leap frog your competitors now, rather than waiting and getting even more behind. (Because if you’re losing business to them now, then your ability to afford a new website will probably only go down, not up.)

 

4. Your business connects well with people online.

A great site resonates with the right people (your target audience) and entices them to make a purchase or take the next step in the sales process. If your website serves this function well, then you’re in a very good place. If not, then your website may be a weak link in your sales process.

 

5. Your current site accurately reflects your current brand and image online.

If not much has changed with your brand since you created your current website, then you’re probably good with it the way it is.

However, if you’ve gone through major changes in your brand – visually, in terms of your messaging, or in the overall direction of your business – then it’s critical that your website be updated to reflect your business as it is today. Consistent branding across all areas of your business is essential to making customers feel that they know who you are and can trust you.

 

6. All of your products and services are well represented online.

Again, if nothing’s changed recently in terms of the products and services you offer, then what you have may be just fine.

If you’ve added new offerings, or you have new photography or sales copy for your current offerings, then at the very least make sure that these are updated so that customers are not confused during the sales process.

 

7. Your website already uses the most important modern technology.

Even if your website checks out on points one through six, this one may be the one you still need to address.

A site built five years ago – even a beautiful one – is not optimized for modern search engines, may have security issues, and isn’t mobile friendly. In 2014 the number of users accessing the internet via mobile devices surpassed desktop usage, so connecting with people on mobile devices is no longer optional, it’s required.

An old website also sends the subconscious message that you’re behind the times and not really that interested in attracting new business.

And if your current website is noticeably weak – if it was built poorly to begin with or loads slowly, then there’s no good reason why you or your customers should have to put up with it for another year or more.

 

8. You want the same results as last year.

The bottom line is this: If you’re happy with the results you got last year and want more of the same this year, then change may not be right for you at this time. Don’t cave to the pressure to do a new website just for the sake of having something new if there’s no strategic value in the investment; better to save that money for a year or two from now when you really will need it.

 

This is the year to make sure that your business gets the website it deserves.

Whether you’re doing a complete overhaul, just making a few updates, or keeping it as it is, your business deserves a real website that serves as a bridge between you and the people you most need to reach.

If you know your website needs work but your budget is limited, do two things:

  1. Update the content – Replace boring/outdated stock photos with fresh new photography, hire a wordsmith to liven up your copy, and consider presenting your products and services in a more user-friendly way.
  2. Contact me – You may find that you can get your project done for less than you think. And because I take care of the images and copy as well as the website development, it may take you less time than you expect as well.

 

Why right now is the best time to build a new website…

  • It’s never been more important to have a strong web presence.
  • Good websites are more affordable now than they used to be.
  • More people are getting info from web than ever before.
  • You can control the conversation about your business online.
  • An investment in your website gives you credibility.
  • Your competition online will only get stronger.
  • People need your goods and services and they are looking online for them more than ever. There’s still a lot of potential online.
  • The future of your business depends on your investments today.

 

If after reviewing these lists you’ve determined that you need to improve your website in 2016, call or email me to get a competitive quote and find out if we’d work well together.

And be sure to revisit this list once a year (maybe every six months if you’re in a fast-moving industry) so that you can stay ahead of your competition online.

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All I Want for Christmas is a New Website

Do you ever look at your website, painfully aware of its shortcomings, and wish that Santa could bring you a new website for Christmas?

If Santa were a website designer, here’s the list of what you’d ask him for:

  1. Great images. Forget those poorly used stock images. Santa would only use photos that create a real connection between you and your customers.

  2. A beautiful slider. Slides lead users through your content, and although people don’t always wait for the next slide to come around before they click on the link they are looking for, it’s a simple way to showcase what is available on your site.

  3. Negative space. Don’t crowd every page with as much information as possible. Books have margins and so should websites. The more space there is around something the more important it looks to the viewer, so if there are one or two main things that you want to get across, make sure there is plenty of space around those elements.

  4. Well-written text. Copy on a website should be brief and powerful, not long and clunky. It should flow easily and inform and direct users.

  5. Compelling headlines. Websites make better billboards than magazines. The headlines for each page or slide should make it very clear what the content is and entice people to read further. If it’s a simple About Us page or Contact Us page, they can just be informative and simple, just make sure it’s easily visible.

  6. Modern fonts. There are a ton of internet fonts out there that have been created primarily for use on the web. It’s subtle, but people will be turned off if there are poor font choices or the fonts that are chosen aren’t what they associate with modern websites.

  7. Products/Services. Make it clear what you’re selling. That shouldn’t be an afterthought.

  8. Benefits. Once you’ve identified what your products or services are, make sure you make it clear what the benefits are.

  9. Trust builders. These could be news publications that have featured your company or product, logos of businesses you’ve worked with or testimonials from customers. After people determine that you have what they want, they’re going to look to see if they feel you are trustworthy before they purchase your products or services.

  10. Calls to action. Each page should have a main call to action, with a button that is easier to click than any other. It could be to download a product, contact you, sign up for your newsletter, etc. A page can also include secondary calls to action.

  11. Multiple ways to contact. Make it easy for potential clients to reach out to you using the method they prefer… Social media channels, phone numbers, email addresses, even snail mail.

  12. An About Us page. People are often going to your website just to find out more about you or your company. Make that an easy step. Your About Us page should just have a couple of paragraphs about who your company is and how you do business. Make it easy for people to know if you are who they’re looking for.

  13. Simple navigation. Navigation should be easy to spot but not in the way. Make it clear and as simple as possible – you want people who come to your site to be thinking about your products and services, not how to find what they’re looking for.

  14. Search function. If your site is more than five pages or if you have a blog, a simple search function will help reduce frustration with your site. A lot of times that’s the first thing people look for because that’s how they are used to finding things on the internet.

  15. Mobile friendliness. Over half of all the web searches are on mobile devices. If your website is not formatted for mobile devices then you’ll miss out on half of your audience.

If Santa does not bestow a new website on your business this Christmas, no worries – you can reach out to me, his humble elf, to give you everything on this list! Call or email me with your personalized wish list.

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How to Make Sure You Get the Right Website

A myth that a lot of people have about the creative process is that it’s mysterious and unpredictable. They hire a creative professional, give them a vague sense of what they want, then cross their fingers and hope that the artist’s creative whims result in something they like.

In reality, the creative process can be a professional endeavor focused on your business needs. While the creative process isn’t always as straight-forward as, say, a math problem, there are still certain best practices that can be employed to make sure that you get the results you want.

A great website developer wants to build a site YOU like. In this post, I’ll share steps you can take to ensure that you are happy with your new website when it’s done.

1. Start with a plan that details the goals, audience and message you want to convey. 

The more clear and specific you are in your plan, the less guess work the designer has to do, and the closer your website will match your expectations. Writing down exactly what you want will also help you get clear on anything you haven’t fully thought through yet.

2. Do market research to find out what others in your industry are doing right (and wrong).

Examples of other sites you like (and don’t like) can save a lot of time in the design phase because it narrows down the possibilities from “my website can be anything” to “my website needs to be like this but not like that.”

You might like the layout and color scheme of one website, but prefer the way information is organized on another site. A third site might have the best shopping cart experience.

And knowing what sites your customers will be comparing your site to is very helpful in making sure that your design trumps the rest. After all, your site isn’t competing against every site on the internet, just those of your competitors.

3. Think through the user experience. 

What’s the first thing you want a prospect to notice when they come to your site? What information must be on the home page? What links do you want them to click on?

Map out all the information you want to deliver to your audience, and in what order.

4. Share your goals with your website designer and keep them focused on your customer.

Beware of decisions that make sense from a convenience or aesthetics standpoint but which inadvertently make the site harder for the customer to use.

5. Keep the design aligned with your brand.

There are a lot of really cool, beautiful designs out there, but not all of them are a good fit for your brand. Be honest with yourself here.

Give your designer copies of other marketing materials you use so he can get a sense of your brand.

And keep in mind that your goal is a modern website – not from the 90’s and not futuristic.

6. Make sure the website design and structure works well for your content. 

You may love a certain design, but if your content feels shoehorned into it, it just won’t have the same affect, and you’ll end up disappointed.

Tell your designer what aspects of the design you are really drawn to, and ask if there is a way to modify that to fit with your content and user experience needs.

7. Keep your content short and make your images compelling

Website visitors have short attention spans, so when creating copy think of it like a billboard. Focus only on key ideas on the main pages and then let click through to other pages (like an FAQ) for more in-depth details.

Images are really powerful, especially in today’s modern designs, so use great photography & images to get your ideas across. Quality images combined with powerful copy can make even simple designs feel sophisticated.

8. Review and approve the design before you go into development. 

It’s a lot less costly to make changes before development begins. Making sure you’re happy with the design before production starts also helps keep the project on schedule.

Here are some tips to constantly keep in mind as you go:

  • Keep it simple
  • Consider what you want users to do
  • Use great photography and copy to get ideas across
  • Make the navigation as easy as possible
  • Don’t make people think too much
  • Keep your goals in mind

 

Web design is a professional process that entails considering your goals, audience, and message, then creating a design that leads people through the information you want to deliver.

A well thought out plan from you
+
A website designer who wants to turn your vision into reality
=
A website you love!

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10 Tips to Choosing a Great Website Developer

There are tons of companies and freelancers who create websites, so how do you make the right move when creating or updating your website?

Here are some suggestions to help you evaluate website developers so you get a wonderful website and excellent service, at a fair price.

A good website developer will:

1. Be interested in what you are trying to accomplish. 

The best developers are good listeners. They care about giving you the website you want, and will ask you about what your goals are for the website.

You can make the most of your time with them by showing them websites that you like and that you would like your site to be similar to. When I work with a client, I also research their competitor’s sites to see what they’re doing, so that I can create a site that matches the industry style while also standing out from the competition.

Make sure that the developer can meet you in person, not just over the phone – you’ll be working closely with them, so you want to interview them to make sure they’re someone you’d like to work with.

2. Show you their work. 

Check out their portfolio to see if the level of quality is on par with what you’re looking for. Do you get the sense that they will be able to create something that fits your needs?

3. Give you references. 

The best way to verify their credentials is to talk to their previous clients. You can also look at their recommendations on LinkedIn.

At the very least, review the websites of their clients and judge the quality from a user’s perspective.

4. Talk to you about their process. 

There should be a planning phase, a design phase, and a development phase. Many developers jump right into creating the website and spend a lot of hours creating something that you were not expecting.

Planning and spending time designing the site before it’s developed saves a lot of time and money. And it’s much less frustrating.

5. Let you know what your part is.

Part of the process discussion should focus on what you’re expected to do. Are you providing content, or just signing off on the finished product? What are the milestone dates when you need to provide content and/or feedback for each stage of development?

If you have existing materials that you want incorporated into the new site, you’ll need to provide those, as well as your logo image, product photos and descriptions, etc.

To make things easy for my clients, I provide the content that goes into the site, but not all providers do this. Which brings us to…

6. Tell you ahead of time what they don’t provide.

Content is the most important part of your website. If a developer doesn’t provide great copy, photography, and graphics, then they should at least give you a list of what will be needed. If they don’t provide content, then line up your other service providers (copywriter, photographer, graphic designer etc.) and get quotes from them as well.

There may also be technical features that they don’t provide, like web applications or e-commerce solutions, so take those into account as well.

A great developer will help set you up for success by letting you know up front about all the parts that will be needed for a complete website. This will allow you to gather all the necessary resources and properly budget your resources.

7. Let you know what the entire website development cost is.

I highly recommend that you get a flat-rate quote for the actual cost, not an hourly rate. This will help avoid surprises on your bill.

A good developer who takes the time to really understand your project will be able to give you a reliable project estimate.

8. Be knowledgeable about web development and share that knowledge with you.

You’re hiring them to be the expert on this stuff, yet there are certain things you need to know in order to direct them towards the results you want and to eventually take over the site when it’s completed.

Look for a developer who is happy to help educate you, who can simplify the technical jargon, and who doesn’t talk down to you.

9. Treat your website as your website and be respectful of that. 

Some developers try to stay in control of the site when it’s done so that you have to pay them any time you want to make a change to the site. This is extremely ineffective and expensive for you, especially when it’s a small change that you or a team member could make in five minutes.

A truly professional developer won’t keep anything from you – they’ll give you everything you need to transition management of your site over to your in-house team.

10. Act professionally. 

There’s a stereotype that techies aren’t good with people, but that’s no excuse for poor professionalism. You should expect the same degree of service and professionalism that you would from any other service provider. If you get the sense that things aren’t going as they should be, speak up right away, don’t let the problem get worse.

And if you’re not technically inclined, don’t let anyone use that to make you feel like they know better than you how your website should look and operate. Make sure you’re working with someone who wants to take your vision and turn it into reality.

If you’d like to learn more about how I develop websites for my clients (and yes, I encourage you to use the criteria above!), call or email me.

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The Simple Difference Between Website Hosting and Domain Names

The Difference Between Website Hosting and Domain Names

I often find that there is confusion about the difference between purchasing a website domain name vs. website hosting. Here are the key things you need to know to keep the two straight and to make smart decisions when it’s time to choose providers for these services.

First, let’s review the basics. To have a website on the internet, you need two things:

  1. Website files on a server that can be accessed by the browsing public, and
  2. A website address (URL) that people will type into their browser in order to find your website.

Providing a server that stores all the information that makes up your website is called hosting. (And if you’re wondering, a server is simply a computer that can be accessed by other computers.)

The domain name is what people type into the top of their browser, like jessethomasdesign.com or whitehouse.gov. The domain name points the browser to the server where your website files are stored. The company you buy the domain name from is often called a registrar.

Separate or Together?

Hosting and domain services go hand and hand and are often, but not always, handled by the same company. Companies usually specialize in one and then offer the other service as an additional convenience. For example, GoDaddy is known for domain registration but they also offer hosting services. Bluehost offers domain registration but their primary service is hosting.

You can keep a domain with the registrar you bought it from and have the hosting done elsewhere. This is called pointing your domain. You will need to log on to your registrar site and change your DNS settings to point to the hosting server. You get the DNS settings from your hosting company.

You can move a domain from one registrar to another. Even if you pay for your domain several years in advance, you can still have it transferred (with the time you’ve already paid for) to another registrar.

You can also transfer a website from one host to another. This involves making a copy of all your website files and uploading them to the new host server. It is best to keep your old hosting active until the transfer is complete so that you can check to make sure everything made it over smoothly.

Cost & Payment Structure

It’s easy to get confused when it comes to paying for domains and hosting because they have different payment structures.

You pay for domain registration as a one-time charge each year. (You can also pay for multiple years at a time.) The average price of domain registration is between $8-10 per year for a dot com.

Hosting is billed monthly as an ongoing service. The price varies depending on how much space you need and other factors.

Choosing a Provider

Domain names are easy – you can buy one from anyone who sells them. But when it comes to where you host your website, you want to be very picky.

Here are some important things to consider when choosing a hosting company:

  • Customer service – Problems with websites are common. Make sure your host has great customer service that can help you day or night.
  • Storage & bandwidth allowances – Make sure the limitations are right for the size of your website and how much traffic you expect. Too little and your site will crash. Too much and you will be overpaying for hosting.
  • Script support – Not every host supports WordPress, which is important to know if you plan on creating a WordPress site.

I recommend Bluehost. It’s the number-one recommended host by WordPress and is great for all the above reasons. Hosting at Bluehost starts at $3.49 per month. It also includes a free domain registered at Bluehost.

Still have questions about how to set up hosting and/or domain names for your website? Or maybe you’ve got those taken care of and now you’re wondering how to get the site built… Call or email me and I’ll do what I can to help you out.

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