10 tips to help you find the best website provider

At Business Matters, we’ve found many businesses will want to review and improve their company website, as it’s an essential part of the marketing mix. We often come across businesses who aren’t happy with their existing website provider, and sometimes this seems to be because they weren’t really clear on what they were paying for. Don’t let this happen to you!

We’ve asked Business Matters’ Columnist and WSI certified Internet Marketing Consultant Maureen Wright to give us some top tips on how to identify a suitable website provider, and start a partnership that will benefit your business.

1. What type of website do you need? A good website provider will advise you on this of course, but it’s as well to do some research of your own first. If you’re not happy with your website, what is it that you don’t like? How does your website compare to your main competitors? Specific functions you might want to consider might include:
a. Display of large, high quality images, perhaps in a gallery
b. A blog and or interactive area where customer can post comments
c. A products database
d. The facility to take orders and payments on line

2. Your business objectives: What do you want to achieve in your business over the next 12 months and how does your website fit into your marketing plan? For example, do you need to increase leads, sell products online or just present your business in the most professional way? Once you’re thought this through, you’re ready to start talking to suppliers!

3. The first meeting: When you have your first meeting, whether it’s face to face, via Skype or phone, a good website developer will have done their research on your company. They should ask you a lot of questions so that they can understand your business goals and identify appropriate strategies for you – different business and industries need varied approaches. No one firm is the same and an ‘off the shelf solution’ might not be right for your business – so if that’s what you’re offered, it may not work for you.

4. Check their track record: Any website company worth commissioning will have a track record of delivering websites, and satisfied customers that you can contact for testimonials. The company’s experience needn’t be in your sector, as the skills are transferrable, so with some research into your market and company, a good website provider will be able to develop an appropriate solution for you. If the company doesn’t offer to put you in touch with existing customers for reference purposes and doesn’t demonstrate that they’ve done at least some basic research before talking to you, you should have some concerns.

5. The services offered: You may just be looking for someone to build you a professional looking website, but often there’s more to it than that. If, for example, one of your goals is to get more leads or sales, you may need Search Engine Optimisation services, email marketing support or help with Social Media Marketing. Your web development supplier may be able to provide these, but in some cases you may need another supplier for web-marketing.

6. Qualifications and knowledge: Although not formally recognised as in many other professions, there is actually a raft of qualifications for website professionals. Most of them change and are updated on a regular basis, to take account of new technologies and best practice. For example, is your web developer up to speed on mobile technologies and will your new website be mobile friendly? Look for up to date qualifications, or evidence of ongoing professional development – sadly a degree in IT gained in 2008 is not really of much use for online marketing in 2014.You wouldn’t get an unqualified person with an interest in figures to do your accounts, so why would you risk your most important lead generator to a well-meaning amateur?

7. Website development cost: Bear in mind that if you go for the cheapest quote, that’s likely to equate to the least amount of work going into the design and build of your website. A good website developer will want to make sure that your new website really represents you properly and conveys your products and services in the right way. A website is about much more than the design of a few of pages and the words on them – it needs to reflect the essence of your business and engage with your customers, and this takes time and expertise to achieve. Search Engine Optimisation for your new website will also add to the cost but, depending on the nature of your business, may be essential if you want to attract more traffic and leads. Most of the time, you get what you pay for.

8. How will the website project be managed? You should expect to be asked to contribute to the process, so that your ideas and expertise can be incorporated into your website content. This shouldn’t be too onerous for you and your web developer should take the lead by asking you for specific pieces of information, which will probably be easy for you to provide – you know your business! If you think about it, without your involvement, how can your website really reflect your business.A good internet marketing agency will work in partnership with you to present your company effectively online.

9. Terms & Conditions: You need to know what is included in the development and ongoing support of your website. A good supplier should set this out for you in a proposal so you have something to refer back to.

10. Hosting and ongoing support. You should also ask about the quality of website hosting to be provided and the services which support this, e.g. website and data back-ups, support for website or email hosting queries, provision of analytics data etc. If you were to lose either your website or email data, that could have a significant impact on your business. How will changes be managed? Will you have a content management system or will your service provider make changes for you? If so, what service levels and charges will apply?

The overriding factor should be that you feel comfortable working with your prospective supplier. They should explain what they are offering and how you will work together – after all you want to know what you are paying for and you need to get a return on your investment.