Four basic skills your web designer needs to do a good job for you.
1. Graphics software ability and an artistic sense.
Geeks can run graphics programs, but unless the geek has a trained artist's eye, these graphics won't look right -- and neither you nor the geek may know the difference. You need to pay a person with graphic design experience. An alternative, if you must, is to use a pre-designed template included with build-it-yourself web tools, such as Site Build It! or Yahoo! Small Business Hosting. At least these templates will have been designed by a professional.
2. HTML ability.
Lack of HTML knowledge isn't usually the problem. You can find good website design tools, such as Macromedia Dreamweaver or Microsoft FrontPage. With one of these tools, you don't really need to know much actual HTML code. The design program creates the code for you. Yes, they tend to build websites that are a bit bloated, in terms of the amount of mark-up code used, but this isn't usually the fatal flaw.
3. Navigation and usability design experience.
Without such experience your designer is likely to produce a website that can't expand beyond five or six webpages as your business grows and which will cause a poor visitor experience. Software is no substitute for experience, since there are no one-size-fits-all rules of thumb here. Yes, a novice can read a basic website design book like Web Design for Dummies or a usability book such as Usability for the Web. However, the chances are very high that he will bumble through your website without realizing the mistakes he is making. It's better to pay an experienced professional to do the basic design. If you're a budding website designer, don't despair. These things can be learned with practice. Build a first website for your own online business; you'll learn a lot in the process.
3. Basic search engine optimization skills.
Sadly, some website designers don't have a clue how a site is found by the search engines. My friend with a life coaching website ended up with the home page titled "Home Page" in the title tags. With a title like that, the site will never appear under a search for "life coaching," and if it were to, no one would click on a search result entitled "Home Page." Before you contract with a website designer, make sure that she knows something about SEO. If need be, buy her a copy of Dr. Wilson's Plain-Spoken Guide to Search Engine Optimization to educate her on the basics. Your designer doesn't need to be an SEO guru to understand and insert appropriate keywords in the title tag, description meta tag, headings, and body text. But your designer must do this or you'll be dead in the water.
4. Provision for the site owner to make changes.
Far too many websites look beautiful but can't be altered by the site owner. If all changes must go through the site designer (who is now working on someone else's project), they probably won't be made in a timely manner. Two easy ways to fix this are: (1) Have you site designer build your site within the structure of a site-building system with a web interface, such as Site Build It! or Yahoo! Small Business Hosting. That way you can add webpages that will be based on the existing template and will have automatic links to the navigation system. (2) Use a tool that allows any webpage to be edited by the site owner using a web interface. Two applications to consider are edit.com (monthly fee) and interactivetools.com's Page Publisher (one-time fee).
by Dr. Ralph Wilson
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