I have been designing and developing websites for my graphic design clients for over 7 years. It’s not always been easy and every client is different. But I have learned some “best practices” which I would like to share here.
Anyone can create a website…
It’s never been easier to create a website. Anyone can go to WordPress.com and set one up in seconds. There are also services like Wix, Squarespace, and 1and1 where you can buy “off the peg” websites that you can tailor to suit your needs. Here you can read why I would never use “easy build” website services like these.
Content Management Systems (many of them Open Source) have sprung up over the last ten years that give the website owner the ability to add content to the site without having to contact a professional coder (WordPress, Drupal, Joomla etc.)
Added to this there are many sites (for example, oDesk and Elance) where you can work with website designers and developers from Asia and Eastern Europe at competitive rates.
… but not everyone can create a properly branded online business
Given all these systems and tools making website creation and management as easy as pie, where does this leave me, the humble freelance graphic designer trying to make a living? The answer is in a very good place.
Always use a sturdy, well-supported WordPress theme for your clients’ webistes. I recommend Divi by Elegant Themes. Divi is highly customisable and has a very fast page builder that is easy to use – and easy to explain how to use.
The demand for a designer to create a website that works is still great. I have discovered that in order to compete against Asian outsourcing, etc., you need to offer a full service.
Try to diversify the range of services you can offer a client. Don’t just design and develop websites. Offer the client SEO services, content creation services, copy checking, social media, photography, video, etc.
Don’t water down your core website skills but continually be looking to add to the services you already provide. If one client asks for a particular service that you don’t currently offer, you can bet other clients will be interested in the same service as well.
So, with that said, I’m going to write down a synopsis of services you can offer a client. I’m always getting emails from potential clients about web services and it’s great to be able to paste something I’ve already written to answer them. Feel free to use any of the following boxed text with your potential clients.
For every website to succeed it needs a purpose. It is critical to know the audience and the means to reach them. Most clients will have this already decided before they contact you but you’ll be surprised how many don’t.
For those that don’t here’s something you can write in an email to try to understand more about their business.
In order to create a proper look for your website I would like to know about your customers. Are they male or female, what part of the world are they from, what age, what socio-economic group, etc.? The more you can tell me about your potential visitors the better. And what would you like them to ideally do whilst they are on the website. What is the most desirable outcome? Subscriptions, contacts, sales?
These questions can help to fix a client more clearly onto a USP of a website.
A client may already be decided on a domain name before they come to you. But if they haven’t that is no reason to turn them away!
A dot com is best, although if that isn’t available and dot net is an acceptable second choice. Putting keywords in a domain is even less important than it used to be. So the most important aspects of your new domain should be brevity, clarity and relevance. I can help you secure a domain name for your website, if you require this service.
Try to get the client to choose a domain name that communicates the website’s purpose. It should be short, catchy and is easily communicated verbally without having to be spelled out.
There are a number of tools at your disposal to track down the perfect domain name:
- The Google Adwords Keyword Tool – as I’ve already said, having a keyword in a domain is of lessening importance, however, it pays to have an idea for the exact words that people are searching for. This tool will tell you how many people search on Google for a particular term and makes synonym suggestions.
- If your client is looking for a specific domain that will become available soon you can make sure of its purchase with SnapNames.
- RegisterCompass.com is a great service that can search expired domains that have already have links and authority. This can be a good way of finding excellent domains.
Once you have secured the domain name for your client do you register it for them? I’ll leave this one up to you. I don’t mind hosting a client’s website (see next point) but I think domain registration is integral to the website’s identity so I prefer to get clients to register their own domain.
To register domains, I use NameCheap, but I prefer to get the clients to do this themselves.
I have always offered to host a client’s website for them as I think reselling web hosting is a great way for web designers to earn passive income.
I would recommend you set up an account with Siteground Hosting to do this. (Affiliate link).
However, you should proceed with caution when offering hosting services. Remember you are responsible if the website goes down at 4am on a Sunday! Only host clients’ websites on reputable hosts that you have had a relationship with for some time.
I can arrange for your site to be hosted by one of my approved hosting providers where it will be alongside many of my other sites. The hosts I use will be physically situated near your target market and deliver the website worldwide with the upmost speed and negligible downtime. I will work together with the host to ensure your site remains updated, cached, maintained and monitored so it performs with consistently high page load speeds.
Speed is everything on the internet a good host is only one of the most important factors influencing this. See my list of recommended shared hosts and VPS (Virtual Private Server) hosts for the ones I use.
We should add a note about email here. If a client is just setting up a domain it’s likely that they’re going to want email. If this is the case I always route the email through Google Apps for Business. I have found this to be the most reliable method of email delivery.
You should make your client aware of all the costs involved in hosting, maintenance and email and set up a regular payment structure.
Even though I call myself a web designer, the design bit is actually an extremely small – although quintessential – part of the job!
The design of a new website can often start with the design of a new logo. Designing logos is one of the most challenging but most rewarding tasks of a graphic designer. Sometimes, if the logo design goes well, there is a successful website design process.
I offer my clients to “see” the home page and maybe one other page as a visual mock-up in Photoshop first. (See above for an example of this.) We can then finalise the basic layout of the site before moving to the coding stage.
I can design your website first in a graphics program so that you’re happy with the way it looks before we move onto the development stage. Of course, you can still make changes after this stage.
As we have already had a discussion about the website’s purpose, the design mock-ups rarely go through more than 3 or 4 stages of amendments. It’s important that the client realises that changes after this point will be more time-consuming.
There are many things we can do in the development process that benefit the client – especially the SEO essential actions – so it’s important that we make a note of what we are doing in the background.
Here are some of the 15 tasks I do to every client site after I install WordPress:
- Create a favicon. This may also be a square icon that is useful for Facebook and Twitter profiles.
- Make sure the URLs look good. Set Permalinks to %postname%.
- Create an XML sitemap.
- Burn feed at feedburner.
- Register with Google Webmaster Tools and submit the sitemap.
- Register with Google Places for Business.
- Make a contact page with a contact form.
- Ensure there is a mechanism in place to backup both the files and the database.
- Install Google Analytics.
- Ensure good page titles with an SEO plugin. This may involve installing and setting up Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin. Or, as I like to do, use the Genesis SEO settings properly.
- Add links to the client’s social sites
- Add social sharing buttons
- Ensuring proper caching and server side stability and speed.
This is what I tell the client that they are getting as standard:
- The ability to add, edit and delete content You will be able to create pages, insert images and edit content through an intuitive administration area.
- Your site,s code will be perfectly optimized for search engines. Google will be informed of any changes you make to your site and new content will usually be indexed within 24 hours.
- Your site will be marked up with standards compliant code wherever possible.
- The website will be created with the smallest, fewest number of files possible and it will be properly cached ensuring maximum speed.
- You will have complete access to your site,s visitor statistics, to see how they reached the site, their geographical location, how many pages they viewed, etc.
- I will enable visitors to “vote” for your pages on various social bookmarking and networking sites, eg. Twitter, Facebook, etc., which helps to spread your content.
- Your contact page will include a form which will send a message to your email once submitted.
- The website will be responsive so that it adapts to the device the visitor is using (mobile, tablet, laptop, etc.) and will display the website in the most legible and usable way possible.
On the last point, I create all my websites as responsive sites now as I think this is the best way to accommodate the mobile revolution going forward. I do this using Streamline child theme on the Genesis theme framework.
The creation of a website is not something that has an end. I don’t usually hand over a completed website to a client, get the money and forget about it.
I hope to supply my clients with a solid foundation on which it is easy for them to build a brand. At this stage I give them a free copy of my e-book How To Get Clients which explains the quickest and easiest ways you can get noticed online.
And there are several further ways I can also help them.
I always try to explain to my clients that the site would benefit from quality content to be added at a regular basis. Although I may not be an expert on the subject matter of most of my clients’ sites. I can certainly help by suggesting titles of blog posts they could write or by commissioning article writers to do this for them.
I can perform a content curation service on your site by publishing high quality relevant content which will attract targeted long-tail traffic over time.
SEO is a difficult one to explain to the client and I never take on any “pure” SEO work. SEO work is all dependent on preparation, research and testing. You have to be extremely careful with SEO because what works one day can count against you the next.
I always advise and practice “white hat” SEO with my client’s sites. Taken that you’ve got the on-page SEO correct (see above) you only need two things: quality content (see above) and quality relevant links pointing to that content.
Unfortunately, we can’t promise any particular positions within the search engines for certain search terms (and I would be extremely cautious of any SEO company who makes such promises). However, we will provide you with a monthly report of the linking activity and the resulting ranking for the targeted terms in Google.
We always like to do it on a month by month basis so that you can see the results of the research (correct targetting of keywords), the work (number and quality of links to be built), and the results (higher ranking in the search engine results) in a monthly report.
Social media profiles
Facebook and Twitter are so ubiquitous that clients often require pages and profiles setting up and help with these platforms.
- Create a branded Facebook Page and Likebox on the website.
- Create and customize a Twitter profile.
- Create and customize a YouTube channel.
- Setting up a Google authorship profile so your face appears in the Google results pages.
This is what I say to the client:
We can set up and design as many social media profiles as you require. We will make sure that your brand has a consistent feel to it across all the various platforms.
I go through the site with the client and try to decide upon a site structure with pages and subpages, etc. I always explain the benefits of having a blog.
However, I try to encourage the client to create the pages themselves.
At the end of the day I want the client to have a successful site and a successful business as then they will ask for more services as their business grows or recommend other people to me.
I don’t just design sites. I also ensure that SEO, social and server-side best practices are kept.
You can do it!
You can offer a comprehensive web design service and provide tremendous value to your clients. You can successfully compete against the outsourcing companies offering a “no frills” service and the agencies asking for ridiculous prices.
Feel free to copy any of the box text in this article and paste it into an email replying to a potential client’s query. If you have any questions, drop me a line!