It’s a well-known fact that smaller businesses are far more susceptible to costs arising from poor web design than their deeper-pocketed competitors.
Because if an issue does arise with their website, unlike larger business, they are less likely to have either the financial power to overcome the issue or the time taken to properly research and manage a solution to it.
As a result, many smaller business operators “put up” with a dated or ineffective website simply because they can’t afford the time or money to rectify it. You only need to conduct a search of a smaller business category to witness the number of sites that fit this description.
A website is more than meets the eye
One of the reasons that small business operators find themselves in this bind is because they may well have selected a web designer on the strength of their design skills alone or close to it, at the expense of the more, well, expensive components of a great website.
This isn’t to say that the appearance of a website isn’t important. Quite the opposite. Your website’s visual design is a critical factor in both enticing visitors to explore your website further and help provide credibility to a business they may know nothing about.
Where the “trick” lies is that presentation is the most obvious component of your website. It’s the first aspect of the website that you are greeted with and in most cases determines whether or not you will continue exploring it.
But there is far more to your website than just its appearance, as this diagram shows.
As you can see, appearance or “presentation” is one of the core components of the website. But there’s no point having a great looking website if it falls down on the other five aspects illustrated, because from a “whole of website” perspective, they are just as, or in some cases more important, than presentation.
Communication refers to your website content, or “what it tells me”. It’s the words and pictures that are essentially the bulk of the reason you are visiting the website in the first place.
If presentation is the first thing that hits you when you visit a website, communication is the second.
But as you may well have found, some websites look terrific, but communicate terribly. They may be poorly written, include insufficient information or fail to guide you to your next steps or “calls to action”.
So it’s important that your web professional can assist you with the communication aspects of your site.
Next is technical features or “what the website does”. Some technical features that website visitors would be familiar with are secure shopping carts to enable an online purchase or an email sign-up, which adds your details to a database at the back-end of the website.
This back-end also contains a range of features not visible to the visitor such as editing features (Content Management System), Email Marketing System, Customer Relationship Management System, form builders and many others.
These features are vital to the ongoing management of your website and if well planned and established, will minimise the assistance you need from your web professional, thereby saving you a significant sum on what can over time mount up considerably.
Next are three relatively new, but important terms to the smaller business operator – usability, maintainability and scalability.
Usability refers to the ease in which visitors can achieve their objective on your website, or “how easy it is to use”.
There have been volumes of studies and reports detailing a litany of usability errors web designers can make, including everything from hidden menus to sites built in technology that few people can access.
So it’s important to understand that while a website can look good, it may fail dismally in its usability.
Maintainability is one of the most underrated website attributes there is – “how easy it is to maintain”.
A good website will turnover its appearance and content on a regular basis to keep visitors coming back to the website, as well as attract the attention of search engines.
But if the design does not accommodate these changes, it will again require the intervention of your web professional and again lead to further costs.
Again, great appearance will not indicate this vital factor to keeping your web presence affordable.
Finally a great looking website will not indicate scalability or “ease of adding new features”.
A scalable (or extensible) website platform will save you a very considerable sum on the technology features you will require as your requirements and visitor demands grow.
A good web professional will build or provide your website in a way to be able to add new features very affordably as you need them. But others might conveniently neglect this capability and charge what can be large amounts to add them “after the fact”.
Of the six website attributes, this is the one that will keep your website affordable as your needs grow and avoid the issues raised above.
So when you are looking to hire a web professional, make sure you check their track record with all of these six attributes and not just the one that can make your website look good.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.