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Web Site Design Company, Designer Or Do It In-house?

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Should You Do Web Site Design In-House?

You've got a small business. You think you need a web site to provide information to potential customers, which is absolutely in the right direction. But you don't have a big budget. Maybe you could do it yourself. Or, better yet, you've got a relative or friend who knows a lot about computers - why don't you ask one of them?

This is a typical scenario for many small businesses. The owners of these businesses are savvy enough to know that they need an online presence, but many have turned to a family member or friend to design their web site.

Making web site is fairly easy any way. With a good "What You See Is What You Get" software and ready-to-use content, any beginner can create a simple web site in less than a day, or even less than an hour.

Your younger brother in junior college can surely do it over the weekend. After playing around with the software for a while, you can make it too...without knowing a single line of HTML code.

The only problem is, a web site done by a beginner can be easily spotted as so - done by a beginner or amateur. Like any other things in life, simply knowing the basics does not mean you can do it well enough.

It may work for some first-generation web sites, but small businesses, just like big ones, need to move on to the next generation of web site design. Without necessary skills and experience, you have little chance to design a web site good enough to present your business to the world.

I'm sure you've come across some of those amateur-looking sites before - most of them are on free servers, is that a coincidence;-)? Sites take forever to download, annoying background music, strange color scheme, tons of banners, flashing animated images, hard to read text...

It's perfectly ok to have a family-feel or amateur-look if your sole purpose is to share your baby's photos with relatives overseas. But to run a business on the Internet and make visitors open their wallet, you have to take it more seriously.

Before making any decisions, lets see what are the required skills to design a quality business web site.

Design Sense

I think nobody is going to argue about this. Your business web site has to look professional. The first impression will either build strong credibility deep in visitors mind, or make them click on back button in a heartbeat.

You may not need a genius graphic designer here. Actually you should avoid fancy graphics - words sell, not images. But you need basic stuff - trained eyes with good sense of balance, layout and color.

Technical Knowledge

With today's technology and easy access to vast resources, you don't have to write any code by hand, but you have to know how to modify or configure them.

For example, you can use "WYSIWYG" (what you see is what you get) software to build your web pages. But sometimes it just doesn't work. These software do mess up codes quite often, especially FrontPage. It's a big advantage to know HTML to make sure everything is properly set up.

Then comes CGI scripts. You need it unless you don't want to communicate with visitors in any way. (Why do you need a web site then?) You don't need to write CGI scripts most probably. There're thousands of free scripts out there. However you need to know how to install, configure and debug.

There're many other things you may need to know, ftp, Server Side Include, CSS, DNS server, shopping cart...just to name a few.

Web Promotion Skills

This is the missing part for most online businesses. 99% of all "professional" web site designers don't understand web site promotion, not mentioning average businessmen. You may have the most beautiful web site, but traffic does NOT come automatically. You need to market it actively.

If your designer is telling you," This is not my job. You should go advertise on newspaper, TV..." you'd better go away. You will waste thousands, if not millions, of dollars that way.

Web site promotion starts right from the beginning of web development. A real web site designer/promoter knows how to attract visitors without spending a dime on advertising.

Take search engine optimization as an example. More than 80% of all online traffic come through search engines. The best part is, it's free and targeted. Yet it's hard to get high rankings nowadays. You have to start search engine optimization right from planning stage. Site structure, proper HTML coding, choosing right keywords, copywriting, keyword position and density, internal linking strategy...

Without broad experience and up to date information, you chance of getting first page listing is really slim.

So are you game enough to master the big three?

Rare is the small business which has all the skills in-house.

Honestly, there are also very few outside web design companies or designers who understand the Internet well enough. The stereotypical computer guru often doesn't have much graphics sense. The genius graphic designer may not be marketing savvy. The marketing consultant is probably an expert only in offline world.

Presenting your company's image on the Internet needs a careful blend of graphic skill and taste, online marketing savvy and technical know-how. You have to choose carefully.

Having said that, in-house web site development does have many advantages. In fact, I'd suggest you do it in-house in the long run because:

  • You save money
  • Knowledge increases and stays with the company
  • Greater control over the final product
  • Ease in updating (and you do need to test and update often)

The Best Way

Contract with a web site company/designer, who can build not only a professional-looking and functional web site but also a powerful traffic puller, to set up your initial web site and provide maintenance for the first year.

Then assign one of your employees, or yourself, to learn to use the web page template and existing structure your designer has set up to create other pages that look as good as the initial web site. Learn how to use CGI script, SSI, CSS...as well. 

Don't work with a company or designer who retains copyrights, whose real designs are making you dependent upon them. Find someone who understands your mid-term goals to bring web site maintenance in-house.

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Article by Zac Hewlett at SingaporeWebHosting.com
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