What To Look For When Choosing A Web Designer
16 May, 2011 | Web design
It’s been a hard market for Commercial Agents and Chartered Surveyors to say the least, but what better time to review your web strategy and see how you can get your website to start pulling its weight.
Whether you’re looking for a new website designer or just checking that your incumbent is giving you the best service possible, armed with this checklist you will be able to ensure you get the latest technology without paying through the nose.
1. Get A Commercial Property Specialist
There are thousands of web designers out there, from fresh-faced geeks just out of college and working out of mum’s back room to huge global agencies that employ chaps with names like Blair and Jules, who don’t wear suits and charge a fortune. All can build you some sort of website, but whether they all understand the complexities involved in the commercial property market or the online behaviour of vendors, buyers, investors and prospective tenants, is another matter.
Luckily Commercial Agents and Chartered Surveyors are well served by a number of specialist web design companies, well versed in the complexities of the wider property sector. Some employ or are even run or ex-property professionals.
A website provided by a commercial property specialist will usually be cheaper and online quicker (as little as 6 weeks) than a site provided by a generic designer. You also get so much more for your money with a website built by an agency that specialises in the commercial property sector. Expect multifunction sites that deliver very rich user experiences while actually reducing a number of the labour intensive tasks that a commercial agent has to undertaken when marketing commercial property. For example, some websites will match buyers to suitable properties and contact them automatically for you.
Importantly, all the ‘bells and whistles’ that you get with a specialist websites are tried and tested because all the bugs have been sorted over years of ongoing development.
2. Can The Designer Get You Seen?
Search Engine Optimization, known as SEO is an important factor to ensuring your website becomes an ace instruction getter. It is SEO that gets you ahead of your competitors and ensures that a commercial vendor, purchaser or tenant sees you first on a search for commercial property agents within your area.
Website design and great SEO are intrinsically linked. This is important and don’t let any designer tell you differently because SEO dictates the content and the very architecture of your website.
But be warned, good website designers are not always good SEO practitioners. In fact, this is where you need to read the small print on that great website deal, because ongoing SEO may not be included anyway. And it needs to be, because what is the point of investing money in a beautiful website, that conveys your unique offering to the commercial market and engages the visitor if you never get any visitors to engage with?
Again this is where engaging the services of an agency with experience of the commercial property market comes into its own. A specialist has the sort of understanding of the market and your commercial audience that enables them to design and structure content that will attract Search Engines like Google when they are looking to rank your website against your RICS competition.
It is important that you don’t take the designers word for it. You have to check out their SEO credentials yourself. Pick 10 RICS Chartered Surveyor sites featured on the designers own website and do a local search for them. If less than half appear in the first 2 pages of Google (the first 20 results) then say thanks but no thanks to that designer. However cheap the deal, however pretty the design it’s pointless going any further because no one is going to see your new website anyway.
With such competition between surveyors and commercial agents, you have to ensure that a prospective vendor sees your website before your competition. And more than 72% will see you on the web first.
3. A Good Deal Or Are There Nasty Hidden Extras?
There are a number of cheap, or even free template solutions on the market today that enable you to get a new website up quickly with minimal initial outlay. But what looks like a good cheap deal initially can often turn out to be an expensive solution in the long run. When it comes to websites you really do get what you pay for! So it’s important to do yourself and your business a favour and dive into that small print.
What are you actually getting and more importantly, what are you not?
It’s the extras that sting you. Many packages for example don’t include ongoing SEO and as we learned earlier, if no one sees the website, what’s the point in having one?
What happens when you need to make changes to your website, like extra pages for your new Industrial Property division or changes in your Sustainability offering?
Designer fees can be anything from £40 to £100 per hour and this can be expensive when you realise that your original website needs expanding to accommodate the changing needs of your business. Reality is any initial upfront savings could be lost within 12 months as you rack up those extra charges.
So ask some searching questions of the designer. You’ll be surprised, when you factor in all the extras that aren’t actually included in the cost, what you thought was a good deal might actually be an expensive, white elephant.
4. Be In Control Of Your Site
While we’re talking about changes, make sure you get a CMS based website. CMS or Content Management System to the uninitiated is the user-interface behind the website that will enable you and your team to make everyday changes to the site yourself. Thereby not being eternally beholden to the web designer and those additional hourly charges.
Not all web sites have them. And not all CMS’s are the same, some are more intuitive and user friendly than others, so make sure that you have a play, before you pay. Nothing worse than a CMS that takes you away from what you do best.
A great website can be the most important marketing tool and an important asset to the modern Surveyor or Commercial Agent. But it’s an asset that depreciates faster than an old shape M3 when the new model hits the BMW showrooms.
So what do you do when technology moves on and that “bleeding-edge” website you invested so much money into back in 2009 becomes obsolete and “sooo last week darling”?
If you want a bespoke website, you don’t need to shell out a fortune to a designer upfront. Most commercial property website specialist, work on small up front charges, with tiny on-going retainers, ensuring you get on-going user support, SEO and future upgrades as technology moves on.
There is no need to invest £10k, £20k or £30k in a website that will be obsolete in 2 years.
6. Churn and burn!
Support! It’s sad to say, but there are website designers out there that have a simple conveyor belt approach to new websites and new customers. Once they’ve got your money, they’ll forget your name.
This is also something to bear in mind when signing up for a “low initial payment-ongoing” retainer solution. Although this is great, you will be tied in for say, a 12-month period. If no one is supporting you, the helpdesk is always engaged or your website is listed on page 20 of Google, you’ll have 12 costly months to wait out.
And not wishing to labour the point, but ongoing support should and must include ongoing SEO support.
So, in conclusion.
- Don’t take the Designers word for it, do your homework, speak to some of their present customers, find out what they think of the service they get and is it value for money?
- Check out the designers SEO credentials, just do a local search on Google for 10 of the Commercial Agent websites listed on their portfolio page.
- Do your sums. Look over the first one to three years, and check that you’ll not end up paying more than you first expected.
By Philip Burrows, Marketing Consultant