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Your Website Checklist

You’ve just hired someone to design and program your new website and they’re asking you Checklistto give them all the things they will need to create the site. The problem is you don’t know the first thing about it, so what do you do?  You can start with this list of  things that most if not all website designers and programmers will need in order to create a new website:

 1)      Unformatted digital text – be prepared to give your development team all of the text for your website in one UNFORMATTED, Microsoft Word or Word Pad document (or other digital word processing file).  Be sure to label each section of text with the page names that the text goes on (so put “About Us” at the top of the text for the About Us page and so on). Make sure that the headers for each page in this section match the names of each page.  These page names should correspond to and match the primary navigation tabs on the home page and any sub tabs or links that may be included with your site. Don’t forget to include all the headlines, sub headlines, and other text that you want used through the site (you may want “pull quotes” to be used on side bars, for example or quotes or captions to be used on photos; also include all the contact information, copyright dates, email addresses, names of employees.)  To ensure you don’t forget anything use your initial “site outline” that you should have created when you asked for the quote for the job, as a guide for the text you need to write and prepare.

2)      Website Instructions – First let me say that there’s nothing more dangerous and confusing than receiving 35 emails each with a snippet of text or a photo with a name like “25944GP.jpg” or other files that are not properly named and prepared to be handled by the development team.   Be sure to include any and all instructions for the website in the above “Digital Text” document (these instructions can be before or after the text for the site). Be sure to make a clear differentiation between the web text and your instructions, perhaps by writing the instructions in colored text or a different font.

3)      Correctly prepared and formatted Images – The exact size of photos that your team will need won’t be clear until AFTER the design phase of the web development is File format imagesdone.  For that reason it’s just better if you give your team the biggest, highest resolution images you have. If you have those images on your computer, do not try to email them to the team by embedding them into a word document or an email.  You CAN send them as an attachment to an email OR better yet use a service like “drop box” or see if your team has an “FTP” server that will make it easier for your to transfer files that are very large.  If you try to email these images they may clog up your email software’s outbox and even if they go out of your own email system, you won’t have any way of knowing if the client can accept files that are that big.  For that reason it’s just better to upload them to an FTP server or use a system similar to Drop Box.(to use an FTP site, someone from your development team will have to send you the instructions and log-in information separately).  Be aware that not all images are “ready to go”…and your design crew may have to do some photo retouching, cropping, resizing and other word that may or may not be included in your initial website quote.  If you have a choice to send your images in a variety of different file formats, most designers would prefer .jpg images (pronounced J-peg).

4)      Image and file Naming – Be careful how you name the files and  images that you give to your development team because it’s REALLY hard and very confusing when they get files or images that are named “qap239r809.jpg”.  If you could name the photo or file WHAT it is……that is very helpful and avoids unnecessary delays.  If the image you are sending is a photo of “Mary Smith” then you could just name it Mary Smith.  It would be even better if you could add the name of the page where you’d like that photo, for example marysmith_pricing.jpg  (don’t forget you can’t ADD a period in the text name…. you CAN add an underscore OR a dash, without a problem – no other characters can be inserted into a file name and the .jpg part is added automatically so you don’t need to worry about that part…just name the first part of the file name (before the period) as I’ve explained here.

5)      Captions – if you would like a caption on or above any of the images, please provide the information to your team by creating a list using the Image file name (see above instruction about naming your files) plus the text that goes with that image next to the name. You can include this list with the text for the website (with the instructions, before or after). If your website is going to have a series of photos with captions, you’ll want to consider how those photos will look next to each other and try to keep any text or captions that go with the photos in a similar style and length.  It’s better not to have one photo with a big, long sentence under it while another photo has two words.  Also remember that if your site is going to have any moving images or text, which are usually programmed with FLASH instead of HTML, for example, you will want to have those captions of similar length and style as well.

6)      Forms – if you plan to have a form on your website, be sure to include the text for the form (or the field names, in other words) with the unformatted digital text that you’ll be providing to your development team.  Also you’ll need to include the email address where you want the form information to be sent to (so for example if you have a form on your “contact us” page, then whenever someone fills out that form, your team will need to know what email address you’ll want that information to be sent to).

7)      Logos – you development team will also need any and all logo artwork that you use for your company and possibly the name of the font that goes with your logo and business package (some companies have a typeface or “font” that they use for all of their outgoingfavicon 1 materials and some organizations even have instructions or rules that go with those fonts & logos, that a marketing team would have to have in order to use those items correctly).  Be sure to send your logo in the highest resolution possible and if possible send the version that’s color and the one that has a clear background or no background.  If you are not sure which logo to send, then I’d suggest that you send  them all the logos you have (you can include these files with the images you will be emailing or posting to the FTP site or putting into “Dropbox”).

8)      Social Media Links – if you want social media links on your website please send 20-social-media-iconsthe links or web addresses to each of your social media webpages.  Try to avoid telling your programmers “can you link my website up to my Facebook page?” because this opens up a whole new can of worms and a number of opportunities for the programmer to connect your website up to the wrong Facebook page.  If you want your site to be developed quickly and correctly, make it as easy and clear as possible for your team so that you minimize confusion and maximize the chances of things being done right the first time.

9)      Contact info – Don’t forget to include any and all current contact information with the content for the website including all the email addresses you want listed on the website (and where you’d like those items to be listed or located).

I often hear horror stories of companies who have hired someone to work on their website, only to have that person drop off the planet or stop working on the project abruptly with no explanation.  I’d wager to say that these people get frustrated asking for materials, waiting for them, asking for the next thing, then waiting for that item and so on….only to lose time and money and ultimately any and all profitability on the project.  This isn’t inevitable however and you’ll greatly reduce the likelihood of having any major issues if you will take the appropriate amount of time on the onset of the project in order to prepare the materials that your team is going to need.

Finally, don’t forget that your development team is most likely made up of a number of people – you may have a marketing person who is helping you plan and outline the site, a copywriter who will help you to write the text, a designer who will develop the design of the website, a programmer who will program the basic site (an HTML programmer or WordPress Programmer, for example) and possibly other programmers who will do specialty programming such as FLASH, database or E commerce programming.  Finally you may have someone to help you after all that’s done to market your website and get it listed on the quality management teamssearch engines.  You may not need to send all the above information to each person who is working on the site, but it will be helpful to you and certainly the initial people working with you to be able to see all the information in one place – well-organized and clearly thought out – before they start on your web development project.


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Why does it take so long to create a website?

I cannot tell you how many times my clients have commented on how much work is involved in creating a website. I think that when anyone sees a finished product, no matter what it is, the tendency is to think about how simple things look, but the fact is that any intelligently developed product or project requires time, thought and effort (and experience and education don’t hurt either).

The fact is that a website cannot be created in a vacuum. And as much as I hate having to say this before I get a job from someone,  I have to have SOME input from my client about what they do, who they want to target, what TYPE or style of website they like and want, etc.  Of course I can and will help them to think through all of these types of things (called “Ad Strategy”) but sometimes it’s hard to get the clients to give me ANY time to talk about their businesses and what they want to accomplish with their marketing.  This isn’t a step you can overlook – all good advertising starts with strategy.  Strategy is thinking about who you are, what you do, how you want your market to perceive you, who your competition is, what their advertising looks like and on an on  Way too many people hire independent graphic designer or web programmers and think they are going to provide them with everything they need. What they don’t know is that those people are just one part of a bigger team that works together to make excellent advertising products and websites.

A website starts with strategy first and then moves on from there to “site structure”.  Site structure thinks about what pages a website will have and how they will be organized.  Clients sometimes don’t recognize how their site’s structure is tied to their design.  You may want to have three basic areas of the site, one each for each category of product you sell, and so the site structure and site design have to consider that. For example, if you sell widgets and you have three different categories of widgets…let’s say Widgets for kids, Widgets for Adults and Widgets for Dogs, then the site design might have three columns.  If you plan on adding 3 new product categories later, then the designers will keep this in mind and find a way to set things up so that more categories can be added to the site later.

After developing a site’s structure the client or the ad team will need to write the text.  If the client opts to write their own website text, I have to get that text from them and that can take a while.  Then I have to proof the text and edit it and send it back to the client for their approval.  The website development project will usually go faster if you hire us to write your text for you, but that still takes research time and multiple drafts before the content is ready to go.  The text is essential to any project because it tells me how many pages we’ll need and how much space is going to be need for that text. In a time crunch, I might be able to get the development team started on the site with JUST an outline of the text, but it’s always better to have the full text before proceeding.

All this has to be considered BEFORE any design work is done or it will take twice as long to do the project when things have to be redone.  Many times a client is just figuring things out as they go along and as a result the job specs change in mid-stream.  This can be very frustrating for the web development team….not because we care if you change your mind, but because we’re losing time and money if the job takes longer than what we have originally estimated.  I can tell you that I try to do many of these mid-stream changes without charging extra, but what happens is we reach a point where we’re losing money.  If I haven’t mentioned the negative impact of these changes before that point, then the client usually gets frustrated or mad because they’re not considering all the other “free” changes that have come before.  Just keep in mind….that if you don’t mind paying for extra changes…..then we don’t mind making them for you.

Once the client gives us the text they want on their website (preferably 100% ready to go and in a digital format with little or no formatting like bold words or bulleted text, etc.) I can start assigning all the different aspects of creating a website, which includes:

  1. Outlining the text
  2. Formatting (or unformatting) the text
  3. Determining the page names
  4. Creating the site structure
  5. Considering the functionality of the site and loading the plug-ins or creating the custom programming required to integrate these functions into the site.
  6. Hiring the appropriate designers and programmers for each aspect of the job.
  7. Designing the site or searching for and selecting a site design template (depending on if you’ve paid for a custom designed website or a template designed website).
  8. Searching for, getting approval for and buying the images from a stock photo house.
  9. Acquiring the product images and logo artwork from the client.
  10. Editing the photos or other images.
  11. Selecting the site fonts.
  12. Programming the basic site – which can include many different types of programming and multiple different programmers who work in HTML, WordPress, PHP (the native language that WordPress uses),  CSS, Javascript and on and on.
  13. Programming any ancillary functionality to the site (such as E commerce/Paypal, membership only access, databases, etc.)
  14. Proofing the site
  15. Making the customer’s changes
  16. Writing and programming the site Metadata (title, description and keywords)
  17. Marketing the website (I could make a whole new list for this item).
  18. Web marketing – none of that even considers the work that is required after the site is built to market the site and get i t listed on the search engines.  That is a whole other article!!!!

I recognize that once you see this list, that developing a website can seem like an insurmountable pain in the neck.  It may be somewhat of  a pain (as everything worth doing is) but it’s not insurmountable because we know what we’re doing.  If you’ll let us, we’ll guide you through the project to completion and satisfaction and you’ll end up with a top-notch website that will make your company look great to the public and make your target market WANT to visit your site.  For more information please don’t hesitate to contact me at emily@mdept.com.  I am more than happy to offer up advice and answer any of your questions, whether you do business with my company or not!!!


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Top 13 reasons to update your website

Top 13 reasons to update your website
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What kind of website do I need? Beyond the basics…

Website Options can be complex....If you’re hiring a web development team to create a new website for you it’s most likely that they’ll ask you some questions about what you want.  BUT most people don’t know enough about what the options are to be able to answer the questions.  This article is about the options….the choices you’ll be faced with when you create a new website (or when you upgrade or update an existing one).  This article is meant to go beyond the basics, but to get there I’ll have to do a quick summary of the basics.

There are two basic types of websites, a brochure site and an e-commerce site:

Brochure Site

A brochure site is an informational site without a lot of interaction on the part of the customer.  At the most, a brochure site might have a “form” that your customers can fill out to send information to you, the website owner.  If that’s the case, the form information (name, address, phone number, for example) can be either emailed to you or put into a database.  Emailed form data (as it’s called) is a lot easier and cheaper to set up than a database so you won’t want to hire someone to create a database for you unless you really need one. (more on databases below)

E-commerce Site

An E-commerce site has the information of a brochure site but also provides a way for the customer to purchase products, services and/or memberships or subscriptions online.  An e-commerce site can and almost always does include forms & databases…but in addition to that, it has the systems that work together to process customer purchases such as merchant accounts (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, etc.), payment gateways and shopping carts.

Other options: Beyond the Basics

Starting with one of these two basic types of websites, you can add any number options that are available to you from your web development team. Every time you interact with a website you are benefiting from programming that was created or integrated into the site by a web programmer.  Some options may be very simple and others may be quite complex and require extensive planning.  You can ask your team to integrate these functions into your website when you first create the site and also many of these features can be added into the site at a later date (or in a secondary phase of your website development project).  SOME FEATURES however must be “purchased” or at least planned for from the beginning as they may influence other programming options and choices that are made along the way.

The difficult thing is that beyond the basics, the list of optional functionality is nearly endless. Also you might not even know that you’re looking at an “optional functionality” when you look at a website.  Try to keep in mind that no matter what you do on any website – i.e., if you click on a button, move from page to page, see a menu drop down, have a window “pop-up” appear, etc……each one of those seemingly simple functions is added by some kind of programming and the more complex the function, the more complex and costly the programming.  Additional functionality beyond the basics requires specialized programming and thus takes time to develop and costs money.

These functions are either custom created or sometimes available “ready-made”, however even a ready-made functionality module has to be integrated into the programming of a site (costing time and money).  With a ready-made module, keep in mind that you’ll be getting generic functionality as opposed to custom functionality so you’ll have to investigate the options they come with to make sure they’ll work for your needs.

In any case, website add-ons & options can do just about anything you can imagine – if you can dream it up, someone can probably find a way to make it happen.  Some of the types of functions that are added to websites include things such as:

  1. Chat rooms
  2. Sign-up/registration functions (letting a customer register to be a member of your site)
  3. Secure or restricted portions of the sites (for members only requiring a log in and u/n & p/w management system)
  4. Integrated Twitter, Facebook or Blog feeds
  5. RSS Feeds (or whole sections
  6. Advertisements (add ads to your site and make money each time someone clicks on an ad)
  7. Ad rotation functions
  8. Social marketing integration
  9. Press pages (automatically post press releases on your site about your company)
  10. Site authoring (let writers post articles to your site without you having to do it manually)
  11. Customer comments – let customers make comments about your products or services.
  12. Google Analytics (keeping track of your web statistics)
  13. Live chat robot
  14. Help menu with search function
  15. Customer account access
  16. Customer file access
  17. Customer content interaction (i.e., allow the client to edit text in certain files or documents)
  18. Web content editing
  19. Website/QuickBooks integration
  20. Calendar or appointment function (show your customers your calendar of events or allow them to make appointments in real-time, online)
  21. Print webpages
  22. Convert content on pages to PDF & print or increase font size
  23. Photo gallery/portfolios
  24. Video or audio content with player interface (i.e., music or YouTube)
  25. Translation functions (translate into any language)
  26. Computer site reader (for blind or poor vision visitors)
  27. Product availability maps (with vendor listings and related contact information)
  28. Site visitor action tracking (tracks movements of site visitors)
  29. Employee work tracker
  30. Amazon or Ebay store integration (view products from either site on your website)
  31. Customer marketing module (sends pre-designed direct mail ads to clients at periodic dates) and many more.

Databases 

A database is a place where information is organized & stored…it may be helpful to think of it as being similar to an “Excel chart” with columns and rows as well as the information about how the database is supposed to be used.  A database is a good way to store information for later retrieval and if you intend to use your customers’ contact information to do mailings, for example, a database is a great way to manage & store that information.  However a database has many uses way beyond managing contact information; a database can be used to organize and present (show) the products or services you’re trying to sell, for example, and is useful when there are large quantities of products.

Many websites are actually  controlled by a database and the pages are created when a user does a “query” or makes a request to see certain types of information.  For example if your business sells toys, a customer may ask to see all the stuffed animals at one time or all the Giraffes (stuffed, plastic, metal, musical, books and otherwise) and a database can make that happen.  Another way to organize information in this case might be by manufacturer – perhaps the site visitor wants to see all the toys from Mattel or Disney.  The way a web programmer makes this happen is by using a database…otherwise they would have to create a static page with every conceivable method & combination of organization, which would represent a HUGE number of pages and way too much money and work.

Databases are also used in membership websites to capture and hold members’ usernames, passwords and other contact information.  They can also be used in conjunction with an e-commerce system to automate the management of new, expired or cancelled memberships.  As you can imagine, trying to manage these types of memberships manually can be quite a handful with 50-100 members and almost impossible if the number of members gets into the thousands.  If you need a username/password feature for your website, a database is an absolute must (otherwise you would have 1 username and password for everyone which defeats the whole purpose of buying a membership when everyone figures out what that is).

Hopefully this article has at least given you the basics about additional functionality for your website.  I know it’s hard to determine what YOU need so a good way to do that is to visit all your competitors’ sites and see what functionality they have.  That can often give you some ideas about what you might need for your website.

For more information about added functionality, please feel free to contact me, Emily Andros, at emily@thebrandxagency.com .


Your Website Checklist

You’ve just hired someone to design and program your new website and they’re...
article post

Why does it take so long to create a website?

I cannot tell you how many times my clients have commented on how much work is involved...
article post

Top 13 reasons to update your website

article post

What kind of website do I need? Beyond the basics…

If you’re hiring a web development team to create a new website for you it’s...
article post