It’s pretty exciting when you take that first step toward improving your online presence by hiring a professional web design agency. To make the most of your time and money, however, you’ll want to prepare for your first meeting by familiarizing yourself with the materials you’ll need to get started.
To help you out, we’ve put together a checklist with pointers so you can hit the ground running and get your website live in a timely manner. Through our years of web development experience, we’ve learned that good prep is everything.
Getting Your Content Ready
Regardless of whom you’ve hired to design your website, you will need to compile content. Let’s start with images.
1. Photos of your business.
A good exterior shot that helps web visitors visualize your location is very helpful. While you’re at it, get a few interior shots as well. If you can’t afford a professional photographer for these (we highly recommend it if you can) be sure to use a camera that will take high quality pictures. The HDR setting on your iPhone might be ok depending on the lighting.
Speaking of lighting, for exterior shots, dusk is best. Known in the industry as magic hour, dusk gives you natural romantic lighting that is bright enough to show detail without being so bright as to overwhelm your picture. For interior shots, make sure you have nice, bright light that illuminates your place of business. The light should come from above or the side of the object, never from behind. You don’t want the actual light in your picture.
2. Employee Headshots
Again, professional shots are always best, but if that is not in the financial cards, then be sure to find a nice plain wall for everyone to stand against. A wall that is white, light gray or beige works well. Have everyone dress in a professional manner that’s appropriate for your industry. Tell them to look directly into the camera and give a little smile. Tip: don’t take super close up shots. You can always zoom in and crop later. If the picture is too tight, you have no room to work with.
3. Team Photo
In addition to individual headshots, a team photo is a nice asset to have. Follow the same rules as above, with good lighting and a plain, light background.
4. Product Images
Whether it’s purses, hardware or your chef’s signature dish, you will want some pictures of what you’re selling. These should also be taken against a clean, plain background with plenty of lighting. Take all of your pictures in the same manner so there is consistency. This technique allows your web designer to showcase your products against different Photoshop backgrounds as needed.
Working out the Copy
While you’re getting your images together, you’ll also want to work on the information your website needs to convey. Each web page will require headlines, secondary lines and general paragraphs. We recommend hiring a professional copywriter to put the final content together. Copywriters understand how to craft engaging content for the web, and they can be very valuable in helping your website sound as professional as it looks.
Your web design agency may have writers on staff or can usually recommend a freelancer. It’s worth looking into it. The cost of hiring a writer is often worth much less than the time you’ll spend trying to write content for your website. It’s harder than it looks.
Either way, you’ll want to outline the information that goes on each page. This will be very helpful to all parties involved—including the designer tasked with developing your site map. (More on site maps later.) Here’s how to do it.
1. Basic Contact Information
List out your address, emails, phone numbers, hours, social media URLs, etc. on one reference sheet. This will help ensure that all the contact information on your website is accurate and easily accessible to the designers.
Your web design company will need your company logo, preferably saved as a vector file. That means it has a .eps, .pdf, or ai extension. If you only have jpegs and pngs, these versions might be all right, but it would be better to reach out to the person who created your logo and obtain the original vector file.
3. Potential Pages
List out the pages you think you will need for your website. Start with the standard ones:
- About Page
- Team Page
Then add pages pertinent to your business. For example, you might need a pricing page or a product page. For ideas, check out your competitors’ websites and see what kind of information they provide on their pages. If you offer different kinds of services, you may want to give each service its own page. This will help with search engine optimization.
4. Outline Content
Now that you have a list of pages, begin outlining the content that goes on each page. The simplest way to do this is to create a Word doc for each page, then add the information. For example, the about section could include your company history, mission and values. Nothing needs to be worded perfectly at this point—especially if you’ve hired a writer. You simply want to organize the facts.
For services, provide bullet points describing what each service includes. Highlight the advantages your services have over your competitors’ offerings. Keep in mind that your web design agency is not an expert in your industry, but you are. Tell them what information is important to showcase.
Outlining content at the outset is critical because it helps designers begin creating layouts for your website. If you have minimal content to share, that will lead to one design type. If you have a lot of necessary content, that will call for another type of layout. Content influences design—which is why we start here.
If your company has a slogan or tagline, you will want to note this as well. If you don’t have one, you might consider developing a slogan. These short marketing phrases quickly communicate what your company is about to consumers—and they make for great headlines on the homepage. Your web design company can help develop this catchy phrase.
Time for Inspiration
Now that you have your images and content outlined, move onto the fun part: searching for inspiration. Browse the internet and find 5 sites you really admire. Write these URLs down along with notes detailing what you like about them. Maybe it’s the homepage. Maybe you prefer some navigation bars over others. Whatever feature attracted you, jot it down.
Similarly, find 5 websites you don’t like. List those URLs as well along with what you don’t want on your own site. Your web design company will be much better equipped to design a site you like if you are specific about your preferences up front. This will save oodles of time, too.
Take your images, content and sample sites to your initial meeting. Your web design company will love you for it. While procedures will vary across different agencies, here’s what you can generally expect once you begin the website development process.
1. The Sitemap
Before any design work begins on your site, everyone needs to agree on the number of pages, the general content for each page and how the navigation will be structured. Good thing you brought along your handy content outline. From your initial list of pages, the designers will offer suggestions for combining or separating pages and creating the various tabs. They will go off and put together a site map, which is exactly what it sounds like. This simple map will show where each piece of information will live on your site.
2. The Mock-Ups
Once you officially approve the sitemap, the designers will take the sites you offered as inspiration and begin developing mock-ups of what your site will look like. The mock-ups are typically flat images of the homepage and an interior page of your new website. You’ll get 2 to 3 mock-ups to review for layout, style, fonts, colors, etc. At your next meeting, you will be able to go over these mock-ups and either approve one, or request changes. The web design process is fairly collaborative. Don’t be afraid to provide your input. After all, it’s your site.
After you approve the mock-ups, the development works begins. Your web design company will now create a staging link to host your site. This link will allow you to view your site on the web as if it were live. You can click on the navigation buttons and scroll through pages. Development work continues until all the pages are built out.
After the website is built and approved, the developers will test it out on different browsers (like Chrome, Safari and FireFox) as well as across various desktop and mobile devices. They’ll make sure that images properly adjust to window sizes and that your website functions as it should regardless of how someone views it.
If issues are found, they will adjust the code accordingly. During this phase, it behooves you, too, to test out your site and make sure you like how it looks.
If you’ve signed up for SEO, your agency’s SEO specialists will also be working with the developers to get your website optimized for search engines. This includes conducting keyword research and setting up on-page optimization. There are strategies to help increase your search engine rankings and internet visibility. It’s a good idea to ask about SEO services. After all, there’s no point in having a website if no one can find it.
6. We’re live!
Once all the nitty-gritty details are taken care of, your site will go live, meaning it will be on the internet and ready for curious potential consumers to find. Congratulations on getting here!
The final part of the website development process is training. Whether your site is built in WordPress or another platform, you’ll need to understand how to make changes. Your web design agency will teach you how to log into the backend of your website to alter images and information. On most modern WordPress sites, making these sorts of changes is fairly easy.