I wrote this article for a now-defunct Search Engine Optimization (SEO) site, and I think it’s a good article, so I thought I’d share it here.


In a previous post I talked about the importance of Covering the Basics First when dealing with search engine optimization. My first point was that you need to be sure your website doesn’t suck. Does your site suck? Are you sure that it doesn’t? When I first put up my site it was hard for me to tell. Now I have the experience and perspective to know… and I had some help.

In my opinion, the best thing you can do to ensure that you have a good website is to hire a designer. If you are a large corporation I’m sure that you already have a great site and a whole team of designers to keep it that way. But for me, and for a huge number of small business owners out there, there is only one person in my web-design team: me… and I’m bad at it.

As a small operation, the temptation is to make your website yourself. I made mine, and if you’ve done the same thing I’m sure you’ve done a decent job and you have a serviceable site. You have good reason to be proud of your efforts, because you got things rolling. But now you need to take the next step, set your pride aside and let the professionals do their work. Most people don’t realize the important difference between something that looks ok, and something that looks great. If you want to take advantage of every edge you can, then you need to have a GREAT site so you can have good ranking, improved traffic, and more business.

To those of us outside the industry, graphic design seems simple enough. Anyone can organize pictures and paragraphs and make a site look good right? Oh, no… that is SO not the case. Even with an extensive background in art, I do not have what it takes to do good graphic design. I have several friends who are graphic designers, and I only had to watch them work for a few minutes to see that their years of training and experience allow them to do work that is way beyond anything I ever did.

How do you pick out a designer?

It’s tempting to look to a friend who is a designer and think that not only will it be easier to work with a friend, but it will also be cheaper. Speaking from experience, it is only a good idea to hire a friend if you have 100% unflinching, absolute confidence that their abilities match your needs. A lower price doesn’t benefit you if your life is made miserable as a result. Lets say you hire your friends wife to do your website, and… oh I don’t know… what if they get a divorce before your site is finished? Seems unlikely? That’s what I thought before it happened to me. As difficult as it may be, you really need to try to not worry about the money. You will come out better in the long run.

Here are a few steps that you can follow when looking for a designer for your website:

1) First of all, know what you want.
Maybe you just need a fresh look, and maybe you need a complete overhaul. Find examples of other sites that you would like to emulate. No copying of course, but you can take inspiration from others. The better an idea you have of what you want, the easier it will be for you to know when you have achieved it, or even exceeded it.

2) It is a good idea to talk to several designers before you pick one.
Ask a lot of questions and give them a mini interview to make sure that this is someone you can work with. Just try not to freak them out with a ceaseless, rapid-fire barrage.

3) Remember that this is a collaborative effort.
Your designer may be the expert on web stuff, but you are the expert on your content and needs. Your designer needs your input to make sure that they will be able to deliver a good product, so be prepared to work with them and to go back and forth a few times. On the other hand, make sure that the designer is willing to continue to work with you until you are satisfied.

4) Understand the difference between graphic designer and a web designer.
A graphic designer understands the subtleties of how to make text, photos, graphics, and color look good and work well together in two-dimensions. If a designer is good, they should also be able to draw in a viewer, make the information interesting and exciting to look at, and generate business for you.

A web designer’s job is to create a useable framework that will hold the content of your webpage. They also know tricks that will help integrate your existing content (whether in print, online, or in your head), translate it into the web environment, hopefully make it work well, and be really cool.

Some designers can do one or the other, but what you really want is someone who can do both well. The above definitions are my own, and in real life the lines are quite blurred, but it will help you if you are aware of the distinction.

5) Finally, make sure that you will be able to update the site by yourself later on.
As your world changes you will want to be able to make minor adjustments to your site. Someone wins an award, gets a haircut, loses 100 pounds; you add new services or products, or change locations. Even if they make it so that the general design is locked, your designer should make it so you can update text, add photos, or even new pages if you want to.

This may seem like a lot of effort for something you’ve always done yourself, but it’s smart to take advantage of every tool you can to improve your pagerank and the public face of your business. If a potential customer with deep pockets easily finds your site through a search, and is really impressed when they see it for the first time, at least half the battle is already won.