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Really Simple Guide to Buying a Website

Common thoughts and general misconceptions

Ask the right questions and avoid making the same mistakes so many other business owners make time and time again.

Many business owners, particularly SMEs, make the same mistakes time and time again when it comes to building their website. If you want to avoid making the same mistakes as others then this guide is designed for you. Covering some of the many misconceptions about website design and looking at where the common decisions lead to.


The Moving Parts of a Website

A website is not a “thing” that is just built. A hammer is a hammer, there is no questioning that. A website can be compared with a trades person, they need a suite of tools in their van to be able to perform a wide range of jobs. If they don’t have the right tools, they can’t perform well on the job. The same is true for websites, without the right technologies and systems in place and without the right expertise behind the website, you are left with a shambles of a website.

Firstly, to clear one thing up that we hear a lot “A good web designer should know about {insert endless digital skills here}” – An average web designer has no idea about the majority of things you think they know, they are a web designer through and through, they build websites. They often don’t have any idea, experience or interest in any of the many digital skills sets that are needed to be a great web designer.


Digital Skillset

The world of digital is growing at an unbelievable rate with new technologies, programming languages, software, tracking solutions, marketing methods and more being introduced daily. It is impossible for a single person to know everything and if you are still thinking that “A good web designer should know about….”, then let’s put that into perspective and look at a small selection of the technologies and knowledge that they should apparently know;

  • Programming languages
    • Frond End Programming Languages: HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript
    • Back End Programming Languages: Java, Servlets, JSP, JSTL, PHP, C, C++, C#, ASP
    • Database Languages: MySQL, NoSQL, MongoDB, Oracle
  • Programming Frameworks & Methodologies: Bootstrap, MVC, Agile, Lean, ASP.Net
  • Programming technologies: jQuery, WordPress, Magento, Umbraco, Sitecore, Drupal, Joomla
  • Marketing Methods
    • SEO: On-Site SEO, Technical SEO, Off- Site SEO, Promotional SEO, Content Marketing, Content Writing, Content Management Systems
    • PPC: Google AdWords Qualified as a minimum and working via a My Client Centre account
    • Email Marketing: MailChimp, Constant Contact, Salesforce, Bronto
    • Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, Snapchat
  • Analytics and Tracking: Google Analytics Qualified as a minimum, able to analyse and report on data, technically able to set up ecommerce tracking, goal tracking, event tracking, understands how UTM tracking parameters work for campaign tracking
  • Usability: Branding, usability, graphic design, photography, wire framing, mock ups
  • Digital Strategy: Joining the dots with all of the above, consumer research, market research, competitor analysis

If that hasn’t convinced you, then it is safe to say that in digitally focused large organisations, there is a specialist or team of specialists per technology and skill set listed above. The knowledge and skills required for each of the above is enormous which is why large organisations have dedicated people and teams of experts within their organisations. As a business owner or SME, assume that web designers have none of these skills unless they can prove this to you based on work they have done.


The Evolution of Website Decisions

Based on the above, there is clearly a lot of skills required to build a successful website. A pretty looking website does not mean your website is going to perform for your business. What we find interesting is that all businesses seem to go through the same process over a number of years and make the same mistakes as all other businesses. There is an easier way and that is to speak with companies who are going to add value to your organisation. Here is the digital journey most business go through in their first few years of trading, which always eventually ends up with someone doing the work well after the work has been done badly so many times before.


Step 1: I can do it myself on a free website builder

Websites can’t be that hard right? I’ll give it a go myself…

The result is always a horrible looking website which contains cheesy stock photos (generally stolen from Google Images which means you are actually not legally allowed to use them), no thought into usability, customers, design, contact methods, social media integration, sharability, SEO, marketing aspects, content etc.

You eventually come to the conclusion that the website does indeed look rubbish and probably isn’t representing your business well to potential customers. So you decide to get someone who knows what they are doing to look at it.


Step 2: My friend’s son or family member knows about these computer things

I’m sure he does. He can probably cook beans on toast too but he wouldn’t be allowed in Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen. You give him the benefit of the doubt though and because he is a whiz using Facebook you assume he must also be able to build you a nice website too, right?

The reality is that at this stage your website will probably be built on some awful piece of technology no-one has ever heard of, resulting in a situation that means you cannot edit any of the website content yourself. Not very good because when this person eventually goes AWOL, which they always do, you are left in the situation where you cannot even make the simplest of changes to your website.

The next step is a forced next step which is to invest in a new website and actually pay someone a bit more money than what you were paying your friend’s family member, which was probably in the form of beer. The problem at this stage is that you probably don’t even like the website as it looks horrible and doesn’t work on mobile devices but you are too nice to tell this to them because they are a personal connection.


Step 3: Newbie Freelancer

Now you decide to put your hand into your pocket and pay someone to build a website for you. Surely a few hundred pound should be enough, right? Well, you get what you pay for. At this level, you are going to be working with an inexperienced web developer who has likely just graduated. While they think they understand how the digital world works, they don’t. They can probably build you a pretty looking website by purchasing a budget theme from somewhere and cobbling something together but they will not have any understanding of how this relates to the business world nor will they understand all of the additional marketing methods that need to be considered throughout a website build project.

You may even be convinced into believing that their custom built content management system that they have been developing for years is the best choice for your business. In summary, it isn’t and we would always avoid purchasing proprietary systems like this as we have yet to experience a situation where this ended well. Generally speaking, the web developer either goes AWOL or you fall out, they won’t give you their code base as this is technically owned by them and you are left with a situation whereby you cannot do anything with your website other than start from scratch. Any proprietary system ties you into a single supplier for good which is rarely a good solution as this gives you zero bargaining power over how you grow your business online.

The result, you soon come to the conclusion that what you have paid for isn’t that great and you need to do something better. You are probably finding that the new website you have just purchased isn’t actually right for your business and is already starting to creep, even though it is brand new.


Step 4: Experienced Freelancer

The next step people generally move onto is working with an experienced freelancer who is an extremely good web developer. The reality is that these types of people are few and far between and from a business owner’s perspective, how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? It’s difficult for business owners to identify the good people from the people who can talk the talk which means that it is pure luck should you manage to find an experienced freelancer who knows what they are doing.

Experienced freelancers are very good at a narrow skillset. So you may find that certain web developers specialise in specific technologies such as WordPress or Magento but would never touch a Joomla website. This is quite common as the amount of skills, knowledge and experience required in any digital field is enormous and requires hard work and dedication to become an expert in these areas.

What you will also find though is the same problem as we’ve outlined previously. Experienced freelancers are very good in a specific area, they rarely have expertise or interest in the whole digital marketing field which means that if you expect them to know about {insert technology or marketing method here} then they simply won’t be able to help as this is not their expertise. As a business owner this means that you either need to understand this yourself, which you probably don’t have the time to learn about, or pay another freelancer who is an expert in this field.

An experienced freelancer doesn’t come cheap in comparison to a newbie freelancer. You are paying for the expertise that they have built up in this field which will save you endless hours and money in the long term by not having to make the same mistakes as all other businesses.

Over time, you may end up working with a great team of experienced freelancers who are managing to work on the different areas of your business. This can be great if you have the time to manage all of these people and assess the quality that is being produced. The problem at this stage is that you are limiting your growth by simply segmenting your digital marketing strategy into skill sets rather than looking at the overall strategy to reach your key customers.


Step 5: Small Agency

By this time you are probably a few years into your businesses and have come to the conclusion that while everything beforehand has certainly been a cheaper option for you, this hasn’t really got you to where you need to be. At this point you are probably also missing out on key activities that would work extremely well within your industry because the people you have been working with to date have no experience in these areas so have never mentioned this before. Whether this is the fact that you are not investing in PPC, SEO or Email Marketing. Whatever this may be, you are likely missing a trick or two which could really propel your business onto the next level. You will also find that by this point you have not really had any great results when it comes to the activities you have invested in previously. Sure, they are probably working away in the background and you have a gut feeling that they are working, but in the field of digital, your gut feeling is probably wrong and it’s time you started to take things seriously by utilising data to drive the decisions and improvements within your business.

This is where the small agency comes into play. This is where we sit. Generally speaking, we start talking to businesses at this stage, when they have gone through the years of bad experience, paid out a reasonable amount of money over this time and don’t have a great deal to show for it. So we come in and rock the boat a little to get you going on the right track. As a small agency, we have both the breadth and depth of skills, knowledge and experience which means that you can be confident that the advice you are getting is the right strategic advice that is going to propel your business forwards. Not all small agencies are the same though, so it’s important you understand their background, the people within the agency, the results they have achieved for other businesses and any awards where they have been recognised for their work.

Working with a small agency is the first step towards taking your digital marketing and business growth seriously. It is going to cost you much more than you have paid previously as you are working with a team of highly effective individuals who understand how to join the dots together for digital channels to create a strategy that is going to work for your business. At this level, small agencies work with a mixed team of internal full time members of staff along with experienced freelancers which is how the digital industry works due to the array of skills required for various projects. This is extremely normal and should not be seen as outsourcing the work to someone else to make a quick buck.

By this point, you are going to be advised throughout any project that you need to start investing more in areas that you are currently investing in along with investing in areas that you have never done before. You need to be prepared to invest seriously in your digital channels at this point or you may as well continue to use individual freelancers who you have likely been using for years. You cannot skimp and look at the costs involved at this stage, you need to understand the investment you are making to get the foundations in place for your business to grow. The likelihood at this stage is that you will also be advised that what you have invested in to date isn’t actually that good and you need to re-do a lot of the work. It’s unfortunate for you, although starting with poor foundations is not going to give you the platform for growth.

At this stage, we would always prefer that businesses talk to us well before they are ready so they can understand how to avoid the same mistakes and pitfalls that almost every business goes through before they reach this stage. It would save them a small fortune.

Generally speaking, at this point working with a small agency you will be turning over between £300,000 and £10,000,000. For Contrado Digital, we tend to start working with businesses who are at the £500,000 turn over mark as by this point businesses have gone through all of the bad experiences and are ready to invest seriously in growing their business online. It’s like when you tell a child not to touch something because it is hot, they will still get burnt just to check for their self, its human nature.


Step 6: Medium Agency

By this point you are likely turning over £10,000,000 – £50,000,000 and require a dedicated team of digital experts within a digital agency. At this point, you are investing into the 6 figures annually for your digital marketing channels and working with an agency with around 30-50 staff which is perfect for your needs at this stage.

You would find that working with a smaller agency like ourselves at this stage would not be the right choice for you as the level of service you require at this stage is significant and would be difficult for a smaller agency to meet your needs at the level you require.

Medium agencies generally speaking do some amazing work and have a team of highly experienced people behind the scenes. They do come with the higher price tag though which is why they tend to only work with businesses who are investing a minimum of 6 figures annually as smaller businesses need too much support to warrant their time.


Step 7: Large Agency

Large agencies with 50+ staff are designed to work with the big brands that you see everywhere. The type of work large agencies do are very campaign focused, large web built projects, integration between multiple systems, enterprise level solutions and more. Large agencies working with large brands have a tough job to meet the needs of large brands who are often highly experienced internally too.

You would only work with a large agency when you have the large budgets to pay for their services. Large agencies again do some amazing work on the whole but they do have a hefty price tag that comes with their work. By this point you likely have you own dedicated team within the agency who is working on your business with specific projects and campaigns designed to feed into your overall strategic marketing plan.


Summary of your Journey

Quite simply, you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. In our experience, everyone tends to go down the same route. We are big believers of learning from others to shortcut your route to success be implementing the right technologies within your business. This is not simply to invest at the level where you are now, but instead to invest in the foundations to propel your business to the next stage.


Before Looking for Web Designers

Know what you are looking to achieve from your new website and how your new website is going to feed into your entire business activities;

  • What Content Management System should the website be built in?
  • What is your site structure going to look like?
  • Have you already written the content for the pages on the website?
  • Have you already sourced or purchased the images you want to use on your website?
  • Do you need any individual illustrations creating for your website?
  • Do you actually own all of your digital assets? See our Really Simple Guide to Digital Ownership if you aren’t sure.
  • What unique functionality would you like integrating into the website?
  • Do you need to migrate your web hosting solutions as part of the process?
  • Do you need your website to integrate with any systems such as your accountancy software, job processing systems or project management systems?
  • Do you require a blog on your website?
  • How will customers contact you?
  • Do you require customer enquiries to automatically feed into your email marketing software?
  • What email marketing software are you planning on using?
  • Which social media icons need integrating into the website?
  • How will customers share your website content on their social media channels?
  • Do you require ecommerce functionality?
  • Which payment gateways are you planning on using? See our Really Simple Guide to Payment Gateways if you aren’t sure.
  • How are you going to handle on-going website maintenance?
  • How are you going to monitor, patch and stay up to date with security threats related to your website?
  • Do you require a custom built solution, a pre-made theme integration or something in between?
  • How will your SEO be maintained during the migration to a new website? Getting this wrong can cause your business to lose a lot of traffic and sales.
  • Are your emails going to need to be migrated during a website change?
  • How is your website going to be backed up automatically and to a remote location?
  • What new features and functionality is possible to be added to the website in the future?
  • What on-going support do you require?
  • What experience does the website developer have with responsive web design?
  • What skills do you have within website development and digital marketing in general?
  • Do you offer training on using the website once it has launched?
  • What happens if the site is hacked into? And what security measures are in place to prevent this?
  • What results can I expect to see from a new website?
  • Do you create wireframes before designing the website?
  • Do you seek to understand my current website traffic before building a new website?
  • Do you have any specific qualifications related to website design and digital marketing?
  • What website development coding standards do you adhere to when designing and building websites?
  • What is your process for creating a website?
  • What programming languages is the website going to be built in?
  • Ensure tracking codes are implemented on the new website


Speaking with Web Designers and Agencies

Before you start reaching out to web designers and digital agencies you need to understand the type of work that they specialise in, the skill sets within the organisation and the minimum budgets they work towards. As a rough guideline on price for “what does a website cost”, well this clearly depends on your requirements but let’s look at a basic website and an ecommerce website;

I can do it myself approach

  • Who’s this for: The single person business who doesn’t want to spend any money or generate any real results
  • Benefits: It’s cheap!
  • Be aware: You are not a web designer and never will be. Don’t damage the brand of your business by cobbling a horrible website together.
  • Basic website: <£30 / month using one of the cheap website builder technologies which we never recommend
  • Ecommerce website: <£50 / month using one of the cheap website builder technologies which we never recommend


Friends son

  • Who’s this for: The single person business who doesn’t want to spend any money or generate any real results
  • Benefits: It’s cheap!
  • Be Aware: Just because your friend’s son can use Facebook and a computer does not mean he is a web designer. He will have no idea about the majority of technologies listed earlier and will likely be fresh out of University where you aren’t taught the required skills at any great depth due to the breadth of technologies available.
  • Basic website: ~£200 – £300
  • Ecommerce website: ~£500


Newbie freelancer

  • Who’s this for: The single person business who thinks that spending a bit of money is going to make them a millionaire. It isn’t. You get what you pay for.
  • Benefits: It’s cheap!
  • Be Aware: It’s cheap for a reason. New freelancers to the market are cheap because they often don’t have the depth or breadth of skills required
  • Basic website: ~£500 – £800
  • Ecommerce website: ~£800 – £1500


Experienced freelancer

  • Who’s this for: The small business with less than 5 employees who needs someone with experience to guide them in the right direction, implement technical website changes and bring in other skill sets as needed which are out of their remit
  • Benefits: You are working with an experienced person who has years of experience working on multiple websites, with large businesses in a range of industries with a range of technologies.
  • Be Aware: Don’t expect them to know everything, they will be extremely good at a range of technologies but they are just one person, their skills are limited.
  • Basic website: ~£800 – £1200
  • Ecommerce website: ~£1500 – £3000


Small agency

  • Who’s this for: The growing businesses with 5 – 100 employees who is looking to generate some real results from their website.
  • Benefits: You are working with a small team of highly experienced people who have proven results within a range of industries.
  • Be Aware: Find out who is going to be working on your website and the skills that they really have. Many agencies recruit recent inexperienced graduates and can appear more skilled than they actually are in reality.
  • Basic website: ~£2000 – £6000
  • Ecommerce website: ~£6000 – £15,000


Medium agency

  • Who’s this for: The established business with 50-250 employees who is looking for a fresh bunch of ideas adding into their business
  • Benefits: You will be working with a team of creative individuals who will have many fresh ideas that you can implement within your business.
  • Be Aware: Again, understand their skillset and how the ideas relate to a commercial business. Many fresh ideas can focus purely on the creative element with little connection to the real world challenges of a commercial business.
  • Basic website: ~£10,000 – £30,000
  • Ecommerce: ~£30,000 – £80,000


Large agency

  • Who’s this for: The large brands we all know and love
  • Benefits: You will be working with some very creative individuals and have a dedicated team for your account
  • Be Aware: At this level, you will likely have more challenges internally than externally. Beware of creating silos within your business as any agency will find this difficult to work with.
  • Basic website: ~£30,000+
  • Ecommerce website: ~£100,000+


Common Misconceptions

To clear up some of the misconceptions when it comes to buying a website

  • “A good web designer should know about {insert technology here}” – No they shouldn’t and they probably don’t. Assume they don’t know about this technology and ask them. If they don’t have this skill set, then they will no doubt know someone who does or even be able to acquire it within a reasonable timeframe.
  • “A bespoke website is best for me because it will make my business unique” – No it probably isn’t. Don’t re-invent the wheel by having your website built from scratch, utilise many of the free and open source Content Management Systems or paid for solutions and plugins that are available to build your website and add on extra functionality as you need.
  • “A good web designer should write the content for the website” – No they shouldn’t. This is your business and you know your business the best, which is why it is important that you write the content yourself or pay a professional copywriter to write the content on your behalf.
  • “A new website should generate a lot more traffic to the website” – No it won’t. People don’t care about your new website on the whole. Give people a reason to visit your website and they will. Market your website effectively with Search Engine Optimisation, Pay per Click Advertising, Social Media and Email Marketing.
  • “A new website should be migrated correctly so we don’t lose Google traffic” – No, it will likely be forgotten about. You need an SEO expert who understands how to migrate a website successfully to avoid losing website traffic.

Summary, assume nothing and clarify everything.


Summary for Buying a Website

As a business owner you want to make sure that you have the right website solution in place to grow your business. Getting the wrong foundations in place is going to stunt the growth of your business and will only serve to slow you down and eat up an enormous amount of your time.

Websites require an enormous amount of skills, knowledge and experience to do well. Never underestimate the amount of skills require to build a successful website and the amount of investment required to get the right solutions in place. Remember, quick wins often lead to long losses. Invest wisely in your digital assets to get the right solutions in place for your business to flourish.