What is the most difficult part of creating a web site?

November 22, 2010

Theoretically, the creation of a web site should be pretty direct. There are the relatively easy and enjoyable issues, such as what you want the site to look like, to the more complex and intimidating issues of functionality. Ideally, these matters will be well coordinated by your web site designer.

So, what’s the most difficult job for you, the client? Without a doubt, the area that prevents most web sites from moving forward is developing the written content for the site.

Having been a web site designer for 11 years now, I’ve seen this scenario time and time again. Clients very often say that they will have no problem writing the material themselves, but when it comes down to it, they frequently become blocked.

There are numerous factors involved in this phase of creating a web site, and when the client sits down to really think it all out, it can seem overwhelming: marketing skills, conveying what the company does, peoples’ apprehension about their own writing abilities, deciding on the correct material and how to organize it – sometimes it just becomes too much and the project gets pushed to the back burner, with the professionally-designed web site left unfinished. And what should have taken weeks ends up taking months.

So, if you want one word of advice about what you should do to start work on your web site, it’s this: start formulating your ideas and writing this minute. Because if you don’t, you may already be behind schedule.

And if you want two words of advice: hire a writer. It will save you lots of time and lots of anguish – and also prevent you from getting those sporadic “just checking on the status of your material” emails from your web designer.

Visit my web site at http://www.jesseyoung.com

How much does it cost to make a web site?

February 5, 2010

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Visit my web site design services at http://www.jesseyoung.com

It’s not uncommon for me to receive calls or emails asking “Hi, how much will it cost for you to make me a web site?” Unfortunately, this is not something that is easy to answer without more information. No offense to those who ask, but asking that question is about the same as asking a contractor “Hi. How much does it cost to build a house?”

Think about the scope of your site
There are a number of variables when it comes to designing and building a web site. What’s the scope of the site? Five or 10 pages with simple graphics and no e-commerce? Or 30 pages, numerous product photos, a complex shopping cart…? Obviously, these two web site designs are going to have significantly different prices. So a little forethought and planning is necessary to figure out the scope of your web project.

But you want “quick and easy!”
Of course, you’ll also see a lot flashy ads out there that promise “quick and easy” web sites for little money: “Have your own beautiful web site for only $75 a year. It’s as easy as 1-2-3! Just push a few buttons and you’re online!!”

If your needs are very, very basic and you just want to “get something online” and not worry about all the other stuff, then the quick template approach may work well for you. Just keep in mind, however, that these types of sites often turn out to be a waste. They may technically be a “web site”, by the mere fact that they show online, but that doesn’t mean they will bring you business or represent your company in the way you want.

  • Is the site coded in such a way that the search engines can scan and categorize it? Very often that’s not the case.
  • Is the layout customizable so you can make it look like you want, perhaps matching your existing print material? Or are you limited to “put your logo here, put your text here”? (very likely the latter).
  • Do you have the patience and comfort level with computers to use one of these “quick and easy” systems? We all know, of course, that “quick and easy” (coupled with lots of exclamation points!) often means just the opposite.

So, long story short, when you see statements on the web sites of professional web designers saying something like “Each client and their needs are unique. Your final price is determined by the scope…blah blah blah”, the web designer is not trying to scam you. We genuinely do need more detailed information about your web site needs before being able to give you a price.

Visit my web site design services at http://www.jesseyoung.com

Why don’t web site layouts fill the entire screen?

January 31, 2010

See my web design portfolio at http://www.jesseyoung.com

A comment I hear on occasion from clients when discussing web design ideas is that they want the web page layout to cover the full screen, and that they don’t want anyone to have to scroll downward to see the content. Unfortunately, this is not as simple, nor practical, as it may sound.

Each visitor to your web site sees the site differently
The reality is that each person viewing a website is doing so in their own unique viewing situation. Some people may have large, widescreen desktop monitors the size of small TV’s. Other people may be using a small laptop. Each of these is going to display the same exact website in a slightly different manner.

Many people believe that the web site layout shrinks or grows according to the screen size; they think that if the screen is twenty inches wide then the web site layout just zooms out to fill the screen. And by that reasoning, they also think that if the web site is viewed on a 10″ wide laptop, the layout just shrinks down to fit on that particular screen (if that was the case, just imagine how small the text would be).

Leaving out all of the technical mumbo-jumbo of screen resolution settings and other confusing factors, the easiest way to explain it is may be like this: the web site layout stays the same size – it’s the screen that gets larger or smaller around it.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that a web site design layout is eight inches wide. On a 20″ wide monitor that 8″ wide layout may be centered in the middle of the screen, leaving a 6″ wide “empty” area on each side of the layout (6″ on the left, 8″ layout in the middle, and 6″ on the right).

On the other hand, the same exact web site design (8″ wide), viewed on a 10″ wide monitor would only have 1″ of empty space on either side.

People hate scrolling
In 11 years of being a web designer in Seattle, I’ve heard repeatedly “I don’t want anyone to have to scroll down to see the content.”

Again, this is not as simple as it sounds. The 20″ wide monitor described above may be 11″ high. But a laptop that’s 10″ wide, may only have a screen that’s 6″ tall.

Going back to the example above (the web layout stays static and the screen grows or shrinks around it), it becomes clear that it would almost be impossible to create a web design layout that was free from scrolling, at least for certain visitors. People using larger monitors may see all of the content on one screen, while those viewing the same web page on a smaller device may see the top part of the content and then have to scroll down to see the rest of it. It’s just the nature of the beast since we have no control over how each visitor views the web site.

Experienced web designers will knowhow to handle these hurdles
An experienced web site designer is going to take these issues into account when creating a design for your web site, thinking about all of the possible viewing situations and how that’s going to impact the information the visitor sees on your site.

He will be aware of the trends in monitor sizes that are currently in use. He will know that having an 8″ tall picture for your opening banner might not be very practical for some viewers. Or that putting the navigation bar (the buttons) at the bottom of the screen may mean that people using smaller viewing devices may never bother to scroll down and see the buttons (thus never making it very far into your site).

If you’re looking for a professionally created web site that’s going to be comfortable and easy to use for all of your visitors, going with an experienced web designer is always your best bet.

See my web design portfolio at http://www.jesseyoung.com

Search Engine Basics: Don’t forget the keywords

January 22, 2010

Visit my Seattle web design services at http://www.jesseyoung.com

Getting your web site ranked higher in the search engines such as Google requires search engine optimization (SEO). Rather than being a one-time “quick fix” effort, SEO involves a variety of factors that must be monitored and tweaked throughout the life of your web site. Some of the most important aspects involve the inclusion of pertinent keywords in your text, a properly coded web site, and incoming links from other web sites. Here I’ll discuss the most basic, and perhaps the easiest for a small business web site owner to tackle: keyword inclusion.

Let’s say in the small town of Aberdeen, Washington there are only two law firms: Smith Law Firm and Jones Law Firm.

Smith Law Firm’s web site has this content on their site’s home page: “Smith Law Firm offers the most comprehensive legal services in the Aberdeen area. Our legal team of 10 lawyers has been with the firm for 15 years. Our attorneys specializes in real estate law, criminal defense, employment law and a variety of other legal matters that effect the citizens of Aberdeen. Call the Smith Law Firm today at xxx.xxx.xxxx.”

Jones Law Firm has this content on their site’s home page: “We have been in business for 15 years and offer the best services in the area. Our office is located next to the Aberdeen historic train station on the east side of town (for more information on the historic train station click here). Please call us today at xxx.xxx.xxxx.”

All other SEO factors removed, the odds are pretty strong that Smith Law Firm is going to be ranked much higher in Google for search terms such as “Aberdeen lawyer” or “law firm in Aberdeen” (presumably the type of terms that people in Aberdeen would search for). Just the fact that those particular keywords are contained within the content on the page makes a huge difference. On the other hand, the Jones site doesn’t contain any of the important keywords. So it’s unlikely it would appear in the search results using those search terms. It’s that simple. (The Jones site would, however, very likely appear in the search results if someone searched for “Aberdeen historic train station”, merely because those keywords are on the site.)

In this scenario, within the small town of Aberdeen, it’s possible that some very basic rewriting of the content on the Jones web site is all that’s needed for it to eventually rank as well as their sole competitor, Smith. Jones just needs to incorporate the important keywords.

On the other hand, in a larger area such as Seattle, where there are hundreds of law firms, adding a few keywords to the web site may not have much of an effect – there is simply too much competition. This is where some of those other SEO factors come into play. These will be discussed in future blog posts (be sure to sign up/subscribe so you receive the future posts).

Now, keep in mind that there are rules to how all this is handled. One thing to avoid is trying too hard to “game” the system. Search engines are very intelligent these days and they expect web site owners to play by the rules. So, no, you can’t stuff your page full of hidden keywords (white text on a white background, for instance). Nor should you try to write outrageously long pages that repeat the keywords over and over. Methods such as these can actually get your web site penalized by the search engines.

Again, keyword inclusion is the simplest SEO method there is and should be the first step in any SEO plan. It should be automatic when creating the content for any web site.

Look for future blog posts where I discuss other search engine optimization factors: in-bound links, meta tags and web site coding, and lots more.
Visit my Seattle web design services at http://www.jesseyoung.com

How long (and how much effort) does it take to make a web site?

January 15, 2010

Visit my web design services at http://www.jesseyoung.com

Contrary to what we see on TV and the movies, a web site doesn’t just get created one day and generate tons of traffic and business the next. A successful web site needs to be well planned, well designed, and properly coded. Thought needs to be put into usability issues, search engine goals, and a host of other topics.

In my previous blog post about working with a web designer I discussed the issues that arise when clients try to micromanage the work that their web designer is doing when creating the site. But there’s also the possibility of the opposite problem occurring – the client not participating at all and hoping it all comes together without their input.

A few times over the past ten years of being a web designer in Seattle I’ve encountered situations where the client didn’t understand that their participation was vital to the successful creation of their web site. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking on their part, but some people have assumed that they just pay some money to a web designer and then the web site magically appears without their participation. No input on design. No written content provided. Nothing.

Theoretically, I can design the way a web site looks without input from the client. In most cases, though, this is not a wise approach, since the vision I have may not match up with what the client is after. A lot of time and money gets wasted this way. So I need at least some kind of starting point, such as seeing examples of other web sites that the client may like.

It’s essential, however, that the client be involved in formulating what they want to say on their web site. This type of information isn’t something I can just pull out of the air. If I’m hired to design a web site for a Seattle law firm, for instance, I need some kind of content to put in the site. What is their specialty? Are they criminal defense lawyers, or do they concentrate on real estate law? Do they only practice law in Seattle, or are they nationwide? What’s special about their law firm? What’s the firm history? Who are the partners?

Someone has to prepare and write this content. And since my specialty is web design and search engine optimization (SEO), I’m not the person to do this. Therefore, this information needs to be created in-house, or perhaps by a professional web site writer who also has knowledge of SEO.

So there are a number of issues that need to be discussed, planned, and thought through to create a professional web site. Yes, it is possible to go for one of those quickie “Click here to create your web site for only $29.95 a year! ” deals. But think about it. Do you honestly believe that the slick, well-written and well-designed web sites of your competitors were created that easily?

Visit my web design services at http://www.jesseyoung.com

The secret to getting a great website from your web designer

January 8, 2010

Visit my website design services at http://www.jesseyoung.com

Want to know the secret for getting the best work possible from a small business web site designer? Trust us. And please don’t try to micromanage.

OK, so you might be thinking, “This is my web site and I want it the way I want it. I have every right to tell the designer what I want.” And that’s very true. However, there’s also a reason you hired a professional web site designer, just as there is a reason you use a professional mechanic to fix your car. Experience, training, and an understanding of the web design process as a whole, just to name a few.

So while it’s perfectly appropriate to provide input, remember that you’re not the web designer – otherwise you would have just done the project yourself (after the steep learning curve of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, graphic optimization, and the differences of how various browsers display a web site.)

I bring this topic up because of a situation that most web designers (and perhaps designers of any kind) encounter on occasion: A client hires a designer based on the fact that they like that designer’s previous work. The designer presents a design concept and the client approves it, saying how much they love it. Then a curious thing happens – the client starts suggesting “minor tweaks”. By the time the process is over, the initial design can turn into a cobbled together Frankenstein’s monster.

Not only may some of these suggestions be less than visually appealing (trust us, a web site with pink text over a purple and green striped background usually doesn’t look very professional for a doctor’s office…), there may be practical reasons they don’t work. For instance, if a client suggested I move the navigation bar (the buttons) down to the bottom of the screen, I would probably try to steer them away from that for reasons of usability – many visitors to the site, depending on their monitor size, would only see the navigation when they scroll further down the page. Thus, some people may never even see that there are other pages to click to. These are the types of things that an experienced web site designer will know.

None of this means that you should blindly agree to everything your web designer shows you. If the design is simply not what you want , you should say so at the beginning. Much better to get that out of the way rather than trying to micromanage the layout into something that doesn’t work.

Just remember that the web site design process should be a collaborative effort between the client and the designer – but the designer is the one with the expertise in this field. Do your research. Make sure that the person or company you’re hiring to design your website has a history of creating the types of sites that you’re after; make sure that you’re both a “good fit”; and make sure that your designer is someone that you’re comfortable putting your trust in.

“I need a website. Where do we start? And what does all this stuff mean?”

September 12, 2009

Visit my website design services at http://www.jesseyoung.com

As a small business owner you realize “Hey, I need a website. I think I’ll go online and find a good website designer.”  So there you are, flipping around, trying to decide which web designer is right for you, when you realize that you’re being bombarded with what appears to be an alien language: JavaScript, web site host, domain name, database, CSS, HTML, ASP… Pretty soon you may be thinking “Do I have to know about this kind of stuff to talk to a website designer? I’m not even sure what I want to say on the site, let alone whether I need a database or not!”

Without a doubt, producing a website involves a variety of disparate elements:  visual design, marketing, writing, organizational skills…all brought together by means of a mysterious technology that may seem like black magic. So, it’s no wonder the average small business owner may dread the thought of dealing with it.

So, what’s the process of creating a small business website?

Do you need to know anything about all this website technology? No, not at all. Ideally, a website designer will be able to discuss these topics using common English, and if necessary simply demonstrate by showing you other websites that use the particular technology.

It’s important, however, that you understand that building a website is a collaborative process. And since the site will represent your business, only you can know how you want it represented. So there will be decisions you’ll have to make. But mainly these will be about more understandable issues, such as how you want the site to look, what you want to say, etc.

Although each website designer has their own method, the process is generally the same for a small business website. Here’s a rough outline of my own process:

Initial discussions

  1. The first meeting is usually a phone discussion, just to get a rough idea of the scope of your website project. For instance, is this going to be a simple “brochure website”, where it just gives your company a professional online presence? Or is this going to a larger project with a complete portfolio of all the projects you’ve worked on in the past?
  2. If you’re in the Seattle area we meet in person to discuss your website in further detail. We will discuss what pages and sections you envision having on your website, and you can show me other websites that may be similar to what you’re after.It’s not uncommon that many small business owners simply don’t know what they want to say on their website. They know they need a website, and have a vague idea of some of the information they want to have, but organizing that into logical order may be a challenge.If this is the case, we’ll discuss the options, and the possibility of working with website writer to formulate your thoughts and organize your material into a cohesive website.
  3. We will also discuss some functionality options that might be effective for your website, such as using a “drop-down” expandable navigation  (buttons)? Or perhaps using an impactful opening “slideshow” of images to grab the visitor’s attention?
  4. Another important issue is search engine optimization and what your goals are as far as being listed in Google and other search engines. For some small businesses, it’s imperative that their website be highly ranked in Google. For others, it may be that their potential audience will access their site purely through referrals.
  5. Once I get a clear understanding of your website design needs, I send you an email with a firm quote for the project. I ask for a 50% deposit and have a contract that details what will go into your website, completion date, etc.

Creating the website: Phase I

  1. Once the contract and deposit are in place, I then create up to three rough prototypes for your website and post those to a private area online. You can view the designs on your computer just as you would a regular, completed website.This step can be a little confusing to people, since what they see on their screen seems to be a “real website”. But what they’re actually looking at is a “picture” of a website. Think of it this way: It’s much the same as if I create a website design and then print it out and present it to you on a piece of paper. Instead, I just show it to you on a computer screen. So it’s important to remember that at this stage your website is far from complete.
  1. You choose one of the design prototypes and then we work together to finalize that into exactly what you want. For instance, you may find that you like the layout of one of the designs, but want to see it with a different color scheme, or maybe a larger logo. This is the stage that we work out all those issues. Remember, we’re still in the “picture of a website” phase.

Creating the website: Phase II

  1. Once the visual design is finalized and approved by you, we move out of the “picture” phase and I start the process of coding the design into a real, functioning website, with clickable menus, slideshows, and other functionality.
  2. At this stage, we will have a functioning, real website – although one without any content. During the above stages, I use temporary filler text and placeholder images, just to give you an idea of how it will look when your content is added. Once we’ve finalized the look and I’ve created the functioning pages, we then add your content, provided by you and/or your writer.

How long does it take to complete a website?

Every project is unique. Some websites are completed in a couple weeks, while others take many months. Easily the biggest issue that slows down the progress of a website’s completion is the client getting their written materials together.

There are other details to the website design process, of course. But this should give you a good idea of how it all comes together. Who knows, you may even find when it’s completed that you enjoyed it.

Find out more on my website at http://www.jesseyoung.com

What type of website designer do you need?

August 16, 2009

Visit my website: Jesse Young Website Design.

A misperception that many people have when looking for a website designer is that everyone working in the website industry has the same skills – the creative skills to design a visually pleasing site, the programming knowledge to integrate complex “backend” functionality, and the know-how to get a site listed prominently in the search engines.

The fact is, it would be pretty rare to find someone who has significant skill in each of these areas. In most cases, you will find someone who has experience with one or 2 of these specialties.

A common complaint I’ve heard when small business clients come to me for a redesign of their existing website is that their previous website designer didn’t know anything about getting their website listed in the search engines. Their conclusion is that he was a “bad website designer”. However, their previous web designer’s lack of knowledge about search engine issues doesn’t mean he is a bad designer at all. It just means that his specialty may be in the creative side of designing websites and he has no desire to branch out into search engine optimization (SEO).

My expertise, for instance, is with designing websites and search engine optimization. I can design you a great site and use my SEO knowledge to help in your Google rankings – but you would never catch me trying to program the complex functionality of a more advanced site (as an extreme example, think of Amazon.com).

So think about your needs in advance when you’re planning a new website.

  • Do you need your website to have a certain visual style? Then be sure to find a website designer who has experience doing that type of work.
  • Is search engine optimization for your website important to you? If so, be sure to discuss this right from the start and make sure your designer has SEO experience.
  • Do you need complex functionality, such as a secure client login area where visitors can access private records? Make sure the person you’re working with has the necessary programming skills.

All of these issues can definitely be confusing to the average small business owner who doesn’t want to think about the technical issues of website design – they just want a website created. Still, a few key questions about skills and experience can save you a lot of hassle.

Find out more about my website design services by visiting my own web site.


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