Over the years, however, I have learned some key questions that I always ask every client before beginning the design process. Going beyond general stylistic questions that you might expect a designer to ask, these questions are designed to get to the heart of what it is you need your website to be for your business.
If you are working with a web designer who isn’t asking you these questions, you would be wise to bring them up and provide answers to them sooner than later. Some of them may be difficult to answer right away, but if you think about the answers, do a little research, and communicate the answers with your designer, you will be much happier with your new website.
1. “Can you describe your business in a few sentences?”
By distilling your business into a sentence or two, you are essentially giving your designer your “elevator pitch.” This is great information and can be used to quickly describe your business on your homepage for instance. After all, when it comes to writing for the web, brevity is your new best friend, as most of your users will never read as in-depth as you would like them to. You have to capture their attention right away.
2. “Who are your main competitors?”
By knowing who you are competing against, your designer can conduct the research needed to see how others in your field handle their websites. He or she can then determine what seems to be working well for some of them, and not as well for others. The intent here is not to copy what others are doing, but rather to learn from the benefit of their experience, as well as from their mistakes.
3. “What sets your business apart from your competitors?”
This is your chance to really distinguish your business from the others. If you have something unique to offer, then your designer should know about it, so that it can be played up and specifically called out on your site. It doesn’t have to be anything earth-shattering. In fact, it can be something incredibly simple, such as offering a complimentary consultation, for instance.
4. “Can you describe your target customer?”
Knowing exactly who your main audience is affects almost every aspect of the design. After all, a site that would appeal to teenage boys would not be very visually interesting to women over 60. Other than the visual concerns, these breakdowns would also make a big difference on search engine optimization(SEO) efforts, as well as social media integration. It is very important to be as specific as possible: gender, age, and annual income are major things to be considered in order to design the most appropriate site for your audience.
5. “What is your deadline for completing the site?”
You have a deadline in mind, right? Well you should! Having a deadline not only keeps your designer on track, but it will keep you focused as well. All too often, website projects start with a bang and fizzle out over a span of months because a timeline was never established. It’s a good sign if your designer asks because in most cases that means he or she respects your time and is interested in getting the website finished when you need it.
6. “What are some other sites on the Web that you like and why?”
This is where your designer can get a sense of your own personal tastes. Since personal preferences are so subjective, it really helps me as a designer to know what visual style you respond well to. Again, this question is not designed in order to copy anything that someone else has already done, but it serves as a great jumping-off point. If a designer doesn’t ask this, then you run the risk of them designing a (possibly) amazing site that just isn’t your cup of tea.
7. “What specific functionalities would you like included on your site?”
This is something that you may not have thought very much about. You may not even be fully aware of all the options that are out there. Many of my web design clients know they want a Web presence, but they aren’t always sure about what they want to get out of it. And that’s ok. It is up to your web designer to get to the heart of your business, and suggest new ways to leverage all the technologies that are available and appropriate to your site. For instance, if you run a restaurant, you probably know that you want to have your menu, contact info and directions on your site. But what about adding an option for customers to book their reservation via your website?
8. “Who is going to be responsible for the website’s content?”
This is a question that often catches clients off guard. It is a bit easier to answer in the case of a redesign, but what if you are a new business starting a website from scratch? Do you plan on writing the copy for your own site? Unless you have experience writing for marketing purposes, I wouldn’t recommend it. The first reason is, good Web copywriting is a skill that can greatly improve user engagement when done right. Secondly, (and I say this in the nicest possible way,) it will probably take a very long time for you to get around to it, if at all. I can’t tell you how many projects that have either stalled, or been abandoned altogether because a designer hasn’t received the content promised to them by a client. If your designer works with a copywriter, by all means, spend a little extra and go that route. It will take a lot of pressure off of you, the project will be completed faster, and you will end up with a much better product in the end. Well written copy sells. Period.
9. “What key search phrases would you like to be found for?”
Search engine optimization (SEO) is your key to being found on the Web. Your designer should be asking you this because your answers could have a big impact on not only the copy, but the overall site structure as well. Let’s say you run a photography business in Boulder, Colorado. You might want to be found for the terms “wedding photography boulder colorado,” as well as “yearbook photography boulder colorado.” It would be a good idea to design two different landing pages for those different keyword phrases, rather than relying on being found through a more generic homepage.
10. “How much time do you want to put into new content creation per week?”
Another key element to SEO strategy is keeping your content fresh. This means adding brand new content to existing pages, and/or adding new pages altogether on a fairly consistent basis. This can be done any number of ways, including a blog, user generated content if appropriate, or even a podcast. When I ask a client this question, I am looking to find out how I should design their site to make the most use out of the time they are willing to spend. If its only a few hours per week, a blog would be sufficient in most cases. If it is a company that employs someone who can work on content creation full-time, I would start thinking of new areas that would attract users. A video page perhaps? Or maybe a twitter contest? The ideas are endless, but it all comes down to how much time you are willing to spend on such efforts.
There is much more to your new website than just the visual elements. A good web designer knows this and will go beyond the basics. The questions on this list each serve a very important purpose, and your web designer should touch on all of them in order to make fully informed design decisions that will positively impact your business for years to come.