February 2014

Edinburgh web design on a budget

If you’re an Edinburgh business, just starting out, and looking for a website you might find the range of designers and developers a bit bewildering as there are so many of us now. The demise of the big agencies left a lot of people with little option but to setup on their own. Which was something I did in 2005 and to be honest, I’ve never looked back.

The income fluctuates, admittedly, but providing an excellent web design service for clients is something I do enjoy, as my testimonials will affirm. As a lot of work comes from repeat business or referrals, my primary aim is to build positive relationships and therefore retain my clients, and the only way that’ll keep happening is if I keep providing the same high-quality level of service. It’s simple – it keeps my clients happy, and it keeps a roof over my head.

So, to help you make the decision of where to “splash the cash”, here’s a simple guide to what you should expect to get for your money when commissioning a website. I’m not saying “choose me” – I’m just outlining what’s available these days – it’s up to you, really!

There are many “build your own website” options available, some from the big hosting providers, others from independent suppliers. Costs vary, and at the lower end of the scale you could be spending less than $10 per month (a lot of these are US-based) to get a simple “brochure” site online. The cost does increase as you add more features though, so you need to keep an eye on how much you’re spending. For ecommerce, you may be asked for $30pm, so it could soon add up, especially if you intend to remain in business for a few years (you do don’t you?!) The disadvantage of this option is that you do need to “do it yourself” so you’ll need to make sure you’ve got the time, and skills, to master the system. Otherwise you could end up with a website that’s doing you more harm than good.

As you move away from the DIY end of the market, you’re entering the confusing and packed marketplace of us freelance developers – so, who do you choose? I’d always say check their testimonials (but I would say that, as I’ve got a page full of them!). Check their portfolio – does it show examples of the kind of thing you’re after? Finally, check their ability to communicate. Do you get a prompt response to your enquiries? Do they answer the phone? If they don’t now, chances are they won’t when you desperately need help with something in six months time.

Next decision would be on costs. I’d always be wary of developers charging “by the page” as this is a very old-fashioned way of costing a website. If it’s a static “brochure” site you need, a new page is just a case of copying and pasting an existing one and changing a few bits and pieces. And how do you define a “page” anyway? Your site may be full of detailed financial tables which could take a few hours to lay out. Or it could be simple text that just needs a CTRL+C and CTRL+V. Brochure sites such as this aren’t going to do you any favours these days anyway. As Google will soon ignore pages that never change and your site will soon drift to the bottom of the rankings.

Any business website these days really needs a content management system behind it. This allows you to take control of your site once it’s online, which means you can keep the content fresh by adding new pages, articles, special offers etc. All the stuff that Google loves. WordPress is the content management system that powers all 45b websites these days – it’s flexible, easy-to-use, and clients love it. It also opens up a world of possibilities, both in terms of functionality (ecommerce, forums, event management, jobs boards etc) and budget – it’s possible to put together a fully content managed WordPress site for the same price you’d have been paying for a simple, static “brochure” site a few years ago.

This is possible thanks to off-the-shelf “themes” – these are pre-built WordPress system templates that can be customised heavily to reflect your branding. The main advantage is that you’re getting a heck of a lot of website functionality for your money. Most themes are built as “responsive” designs as standard – this means the design will adapt to different screen sizes – negating the need for a separate “mobile” website. 45b can offer off-the-shelf WordPress theme customisation from £495. When you see the results, you’ll be glad you didn’t pay £300 for a “five page website” that could stagnate and damage your business over time.

While that’s at the bargain-end of the scale, there’s nothing to beat a good, bespoke, tailored suit – and that would always be the best recommendation, if you’ve got the budget for it. Again, using WordPress, but with a fully customised design and a back-end/admin area that has been specifically programmed to meet your exact needs. It means that making changes to your site is as easy as possible, as everything’s made-to-measure. You want your website to grow along with your business and WordPress allows it to do just that. As with the “off the shelf” approach though, it may not be as expensive as you think, with 45b prices starting at £795 – and that includes the training and documentation you’ll need to get started.

If money’s no object, chances are you’ll already have chosen one of the remaining big agencies. Some clients like the peace-of-mind this gives, and the fact they’ll have a dedicated account manager, but as a word-of-warning, and from my own experience, your account manager will be battling with every other account manager within the organisation for the limited amount of designer/developer time they have available. Fact is, account managers are cheaper to employ than developers, so it’s easier to take on a few of them to keep clients sweet while hiding the fact that the developers are about to crack under the strain. I’m not saying ALL agencies operate like this, but it’s certainly something I’ve experienced.

But hey, it’s your money, spend it however you like!

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