A.K.A – Why it may cost you more in the long run.
Nearly all of the web design / HTML / CSS classes I have taken involve an exercise where we pick apart a given website and look at the good and the bad portions of it. It’s a great way to learn what works and what doesn’t work as well as become more objective when evaluating sites. That’s part of the reason I offer the free review for local businesses. Yes it’s FREE.
One of the unintended side effects of doing a number of them is I am starting to see a pattern of common pitfalls many small businesses are falling into. I’d thought I’d list the here to help others avoid them, and hopefully alert others that have made the same mistakes so they can fix them.
Most small business owners build their own site because they think it’ll save money. But that’s not always the case. In fact it rarely is the case. Making any one of these mistakes when DIYing your own website can cost you in the long run.
Not Owning Your Domain Name
This one kills me. This is mostly out of ignorance and/or misplaced trust, but always own your branded assets! Pretty much everything else can be easily(ish) fixed, but sometimes this one is unfixable depending on who owns it. Many Build-Your-Own sites ask you if you want to create your own domain name then never really give you full rights to it. Some developers also offer to register it for you only to register it in their name. Sometimes it’s part of the initial contract and they’ll transfer it to you upon completion, sometimes not. Read carefully. If you don’t have control of your domain name, an unscrupulous developer or host can hold it hostage or charge a large exit fee to move your website.
One of the reasons this frustrates me is that it’s such an easy and inexpensive thing to do yourself. All you need to do is navigate to a well known registrar such as GoDaddy and enter the name you want to claim. GoDaddy’s even nice enough to offer suggestions – sometimes you’ll see one you like better, sometimes the first one searched is already in use. One caveat to this is unless you don’t plan on launching the business for quite a while, talk to your Branding Consultant and/or Web Designer before deciding on a name. You don’t want to be renaming your website often, starting with a good name is best. The good news is names are usually inexpensive, you can always buy a few and simply not renew the ones you don’t use.
Not Planning for Future Growth
I’ve talked to a number of folks who started off with a do-it-yourself site builder type of website. Now there’s nothing wrong with them – most CAN get you a decent looking site up and running in a hurry. Usually hours. BUT, and here’s the big but, they don’t allow you to grow much. Many are also very hard to export into another provider or WordPress. So you’re stuck. In most cases it’s easier faster cheaper to simply rebuild the site from scratch.
Most of the DIY builder sites have limited options for plugins and other ad-ons. While it does make choosing easier, it also is limiting. There’s a trade off between limited features and customization and ease of use. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with quick and easy – just really take a good look at your needs now, 6 months from now and also 1 year and 5 year. Will these limited features hinder more than help?
Not Being Objective
We’ve all done this in one area of our lives. Maybe it’s that shirt you bought that you LOVE, but everyone else thinks it’s the world’s ugliest pattern. Ever. Maybe you love an unusual food combination that no one else finds palatable. While there’s nothing wrong with being yourself – your website and brand needs to appeal to your customers. If your product is geared towards macho men and your website is glittery and pink… chances are your customer won’t stay long. Did you find all sorts of animation plugins? Great! But did you use them ALL?! Nothing makes people close a window faster than a bunch of stuff flying all over the screen. A little well placed animation is great. A lot of it… just detracts. (and often slows down your site).
“I asked my friends and family for feedback though” says Ms Business Owner. Now. That’s great. As long as you have friends and family who are willing to be brutally honest with you and you’re willing to listen. They’re your friends and family, they’ll always have bias. Find a friend, colleague, or even a few complete strangers willing to be completely objective as well as supportive.
One of the most important tasks of a designer is to listen to you, listen to your customers and create an experience your customers will enjoy, and will bring them back to your site and into your store.
Mistakes When DIYing Your Own Website — Summary
The good news is these three items are fixable. The first one does have the potential to be expensive, but if it gets really ugly it may be best to simply walk away and get a new domain name. You’ll lose that history and familiarity, but if you switch early enough in your business it’s easier to recover from than after decades of doing business.
The second two items are a reflection of good business planning. You do have a business plan right?! It doesn’t have to be formal but you can’t grow and take over the world without at least a rough map. Don’t have a plan or even know where to start? Check out the Small Business Administration – they have fantastic resources online as well as living breathing counselors near you to help out.