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How to: decide how much of your website to diy

Workshop: how much of your website should you DIY? —Traditional wisdom says off-the-shelf website solutions are cookie-cutter and a bespoke website will send you broke. The problem with traditional wisdom, writes Kate Hennessy, is that in the fast-moving world of websites, tradition fades fast. We look at five aspects of a successful website – SEO, copywriting, design, programming, and photography – and give the experts in these fields a chance to sing for their supper. If this leaves you determined to blaze your own trail as a copywriter and leave the design to the experts, for example, we also asked them for their best tips for beginners.

These days, it’s possible to customize off-the-shelf templates to reflect your company’s branding. Packaged solutions can also come conveniently rolled with hosting, search engine optimization (SEO), and technical support. Some even claim popular templates are more robust platforms since they’ve been tested and tweaked by thousands of other market users. Do these whizz-bang templates mean the death of the bespoke website for SMEs? Well, no. Outsourcing your website to the right professionals should result in an attractive and functional site that looks nothing like the competition. But the right professionals cost money.

So, if your budget dictates that a template is a way to go, what should you know? Or, if you decide to go bespoke, what components are you paying for and where should you focus your funds?

1. Why use an SEO specialist?

The managing director of SEO company Hot Goanna, Andrew Coates, says basic SEO recommendations can be implemented relatively easily, but ensuring your entire site is search engine friendly requires an expert eye.

Specialist technical skills like SEO site design, SEO-friendly content, and adding keywords into code are employed. Strategic planning, management, and execution are other good reasons to get expert advice.

Businesses that need it most?

Those in a heavily competitive space, such as local service providers and online retailers. Businesses with customers who are active and savvy online researchers. Attracting business relies on being listed first in organic search engine results. First listed, first clicked!

Price ranges?

For approximately $250 you can expect site analysis and recommendations to improve your rankings. You can then opt to get keywords identified and pay for a managed link-building campaign. For around $300 per month, you’d get ongoing dedicated support and monthly reports. Or, for a larger one-off investment of around $5000, you could get a six-month managed SEO project, including regular reports.

‘A poorly-written site won’t hold the attention of fickle online readers for long, no matter how sticky designed’

2. Why use a specialist copywriter?

Web copywriter Stephen Craft says the right copy can make your site sing where sub-standard copywriting can spoil it. A poorly-written site won’t hold the attention of fickle online readers for long, no matter how slickly designed. A confusing, long-winded, or ungrammatical copy can damage your brand. Also, online readers ‘scan’, rather than read, so your copy needs to be well-structured and economical. A good copywriter can hone a winning value proposition to wow your target market and translate it into concise, elegant prose with a crystal-clear call-to-action.

Businesses that need it most?

Businesses with complex or technical products and services. An experienced copywriter takes technical detail and complex concepts and makes them easy to read. They connect it to compelling, concrete benefits, and capture the excitement and enthusiasm you feel about your products and/or services.

Price ranges?

Close to $2000 should buy you an initial consultation from a reasonably experienced writer (a ‘middleweight writer’) and around five to eight web pages of 350 words each. Plus, an outline and two rounds of reviews. Spending up to $5000 will buy you a basic site from an experienced senior writer, who may be either an SEO specialist or an industry authority. Or, an extended site from a middleweight writer of up to 20 pages of web copy. Price may not indicate quality so always get writing samples and client references first.

3. Why use a specialist programmer?

Director of email marketing and web design company Brown Box, Andrew Beeston, says a template often provides a solution for somebody else’s customers – and may look like someone else’s business, too! Customers have different needs and want, which bespoke programming meets. They may want to book services, peruse itineraries, or make an impulse purchase or donation. After the initial cost, it can be profitable long term to offer these services that many templates won’t offer.

Businesses that need it most?

Websites with a lot of information to search, like a travel agent. Or businesses with large catalogs to peruse, like a parts’ supplier. Also, prefabricated solutions often don’t work for niche companies because their products or services are so specific to their customer and the template doesn’t exist, yet.

Price ranges?

For around $1000 to $2000 a programmer could customize an off-the-shelf template, including new pages. Or, trouble-shoot plug-ins and programming already in use on your site; for example, a broken search function. For $5000, a designer can develop bespoke themes and templates for content management systems such as WordPress or Expression Engine. There’s usually a four to six-week turn-around to build the site after the design process is complete.

4. Why use a specialist web designer?

Designer Bea Pierce says the design is more than just skin-deep. Good designers delve deep to understand your business and online needs. They plan a logical, well-organized, and accessible information structure and use graphics that aid comprehension. Good design is invisible yet positive, but the bad design will always be remembered negatively.

Stock templates can offer nice window dressing, perhaps with a sexy Flash slideshow or scripted gizmo, but will not guarantee your business will stand out. And they’re not as easy to customize as they often claim to be. Something as simple as adding your company logo can be time-consuming, and concepts such as resolution, pixels, compression, directories, FTP uploads, and CSS confuse people with little web design experience. Usually, the nicer templates are, the more they’ll cost. Lots of Indian and Chinese companies offer packages for as little as $50, but many have hidden limitations and ‘upgrade’ options and waste your time. Also, costs can blow out.

Businesses that need it most?

Those who want more than just window dressing. Businesses in creative or visual-based industries will lose credibility with sub-standard design, such as interior design firms, or jewelry or clothing design businesses.

Price ranges?

$1000 to $2000 would buy you around 10 to 20 hours. With this, you could get a small website of fewer than 10 pages, created only in Flash or HTML with minimal interactivity or functionality. Or, you could buy a simple CMS website structure using an application such as WordPress with a customized template.

For around 50 hours, or $5000, you could get a medium-sized website (less than 50 pages) with information architecture analysis, your choice of interface, a mid-weight CMS system, or fully scripted interactivity in Flash, plus some training in administration tools to manage your own content.

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