Briefing a designer for a website

Like all new technologies do eventually, websites have now passed through the 'newness' barrier. All the website businesses that suddenly sprung up 20 years ago with young enthusiastic 'entrepreneurs' have either become established or (in the main) disappeared through lack of business experience. The website business has finally become of age - well nearly. There are still a few 'enthusiasts' professing to provide a professional service whilst running a disco in the evenings or doing a day job.

More importantly business owners have now realised that it is not an option to have a website, it's essential to have a presence - and it has to be professionally produced to be taken seriously. Whilst I know of a cake maker who earns a living with a superb diy blog (and really good diy photos too) there are few who can get away with it - especially sole traders.

So how do you start to tell someone what you think you need?

The first thing is for you to clearly define what you want to get out of it. Not everyone provides the type of product or service that can be automated on the web, OK if you sell standard widgets that people either want or not, but not if you are providing a personal service customised to the specific needs of the client. An ecommerce site will deal with basic variations like style, colour and size but you cannot show (and talk about) endless colour variations or feel textures and thicknesses on line.

You might want your site to be able to provide a version of your face to face presentation, either with a video guide through the pages or a talk through with you on the end of the phone while you lead your customer towards his requirements. The biggest benefits of these two are: the first means you are on call 24/7 without even knowing about it; the second enables you to add your personality into the 'meeting' without leaving the office.

The biggest question that requires an answer as early on as possible is "How many pages?" You'll notice the question to start with isn't "How much content?" for two reasons, it will be the next question anyway, but you need to know that the biggest search engine in the world tells us very clearly that 77% of all surfers DO NOT SCROLL! 77%!!!! The viewing area has suddenly become very important. So has getting the size of the web pages. A4 is for paper. Websites have to match screen sizes.

So concentrate your mind onto - not what you want to say - but what you want your potential customers to see. I recommend that the home page shows clearly everything your site has to offer by way of a navigation system, if not a clearly written explanation of the content of the site with links to those areas. I do not recommend using Flash (the software that makes your page into a moving visual delight) as it does not help or assist Google rankings in any way - they are the search engine covering 94% of all the searches in the world.

What are all these pages going to be? Well, they could be the welcome to our website page; the different areas of product or service you provide; the about us page; the how to find us page (if you want visitors to come to you); the who we are page and so on. The pages have been listed in a basic order to promote to the potential customer first - welcome - what we have to offer - about us - where we are and finally who we are.

The about us being about the business and the who we are being about the people in the business. By law you must show full disclosure on your site - a name; a trading name; Limited company info (if you are) including where the company is registered (England, Scotland, Wales, etc.); the registered office; the registration number; your trading address; your vat number (even if you are not trading through the website); your contact details (phones, faxes, emails) and all your associations (Chamber of Commerce, FSB, networking organisations, qualifications and relevant clubs). All of this is about professionalism, a willing openness to display who you are and, of course, accountability. Make sure your email is linked to your domain name - NOT a hot mail type domain. You will see guidelines everywhere telling consumers not to do business with individuals who only provide a hot mail type email address and a mobile - here today . . .

If the website designer you choose writes copy then at least provide a version of what you want to say on each page, the designer will know that text, heading, description and keywords (you don't have to know what these are just make sure your designer does) are all linked and help searchability. There are copywriters who write marketing copy for websites if you need them.

Same with photographs, use professionals, get the website designer to enhance the photos for good reproduction on the web. Pictures are still worth a thousand words and websites that are all copy do not look interesting or professional. If you are going to use photo libraries then remember the same photos could appear elsewhere on other people's websites too. Your purchase doesn't mean you are the only user (unless you did pay outright to be the only user - usually expensive). More importantly understand 'Royalty free' doesn't mean you don't pay to use the picture, it means once you've bought the picture there are no more royalties to pay everytime someone sees the picture (royalties are similar to a singer getting paid everytime the song is played on the radio). BEWARE photo libraries have a nasty growing income stream called 'Copyright infringements'. I have two examples where clients have provided me with jpg photos to be threatened with court action if the client didn't immediately pay £x (unfortunately one for £1,100 and the other £420). Don't take the risk.

If your product is technical then show you know what you're talking about, show parts of blue prints, the workings, close up photos or have downloadable pdfs that are kept to a quick, easy, downloadable size. The space that is taken up by one photo could be used to show a 'slide show' where several pictures continually fade in and out. Prove you know what you are talking about to your potential customer, address your audience in the way they will understand. There is an old marketing term that is just as relevant now as it was when it was used for ad design - KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid (or Silly if you prefer). This is also a good time to mention capital letters. Making complete lines of body type into capitals does not help it's readability. Use bold type for emphasis but always upper and lowercase letters (S captal; s lowercase) which will give a feeling of confidence about you to the reader.

If you have an on line brochure or catalogue (that could save you some printing costs!) then consider a webmag, turning pages on screen just like a book but you can link words or descriptions to specific pages. So the contents page of a web mag could show 'Spanners page 157' the surfer clicks on that and is immediately taken to page 157. Clever this technical stuff huh?!

So we've covered: Why do you want one?; presenting on line; scrolling; webpage dimensions; searchability; how many pages; navigation; legal requirements; professionalism; accountability; content; copywriting; copyrights; images; pdf downloads; webmags; a bit about type and more.

Hopefully it goes without saying that your branding and the style of your website (colour, image, flavour) should reflect the style you use on the rest of your marketing. Now if you have just thought 'branding - what branding' then you are getting way ahead of yourself reading about websites. Branding should've been around the time you thought 'I want to set up a business, what are the first 5 things I should do?'. BEFORE you think about a website it is MORE important to get a professional branding, doing it backwards will not help the results achieved. It would be like going into a printer for a business card and asking for a logo to be included. Simply put 'No don't do that.' A branding is the first visual part of organising the marketing for your business - it is vital that it is given the right amount of investment right at the beginning, even before you start trading.

Are these website designers all they are cracked up to be? Well, honestly no. It's just like the rest of the jungle - there are still web designers who don't construct the site in the right way to maximise search opportunities, even one or two who do nothing about the SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) side at all. Just seeing the designers own site (and others they've created and are currently up and running) will immediately tell you if it's the sort of designer you want to work with, meeting face to face (or even Skype to Skype) will confirm your suspicions, good or bad.


Alan Reading runs Custom Marketing Resources providing a full range of marketing services to clients of all types and sizes. He's good with customer care too so if you know nothing about websites, branding or marketing yourself you'll be treated gently! Free advice on 01622 820841 or

Alan Reading is an award winning designer, has judged more than his fair share of design awards, hosted breakfasts, lunches, dinners, dinner dances, balls and networking events, compéred fashion shows, radio programmes and appeared on TV more than once, frequently on behalf of clients. He has presented for Business Link, Enterprise Agencies, Chambers of Commerce, conferences and seminars for The Newspaper Society, the Association of Free Newspapers, The British Hardware Federation, training and marketing companies on starting, promoting and marketing business.

Alan is a business minded Designer (past President - and Chairman - of 3 Chambers in Kent) running his own business - Custom Marketing Resources (01622 820841) - since 1994. Alan has formed The Lenham Valley Business Association where he organises and presents the monthly network meetings. He is also chair of the organising committee. LVBA has a 20+ page website and a 64 page business directory.

You will learn even more about him - and see what his customers say - on his website He is willing to provide free advice by phone too - even about websites.

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