We’re terribly lucky, aren’t we? We live in a world in which we can get things instantly. Fancy a pizza? Yes, I’ll get onto Deliveroo. Need a new ironing board? No problem, Amazon Prime will deliver it tomorrow.
Is this why clients expect the same when wanting to create a website?
In the last two days alone, I’ve been contacted by an agency wanting copy for a client’s 12-page website – within four days. And by someone launching a skincare brand and in need of an 8-page e-commerce site within a month. Any wireframes or designs to show? Nope.
Yes, of course you can use Wix, Squarespace or WordPress to whip up something simple yourself. But have you really got the time, patience and inclination? (And if you’re planning on an e-commerce site, well now you’re talking a whole new level altogether.)
I asked Garry Burden, web designer and developer, and the guru responsible for every iteration of my site since the year dot, for his pearls of wisdom: ‘The quickest it’s ever taken me to develop a website is a few days for a five page site. The client had a logo, no particular design requirements and had all the content ready. I set up the hosting and did everything from scratch including sourcing a few stock images.’
And the longest? ‘Four years! I kept having to wait for content, images and changes yet the actual build process only took two weeks.’
Like anything in life, if something is worth doing then it’s worth doing well. So, let’s go through the stages …
What do you need to do first?
Starting a business from scratch? Pivoting your brand?
I’m often contacted by clients who tell me they’ve ‘had their branding done’. What they’re really talking about is a new look, with a new logo, typeface, colourways. But they’ve overlooked one vital step: before you can create a new website, you need a brand strategy. Because how you can you style a house when you haven’t built the foundations? How can you brief your developer/copywriter when you haven’t even identified what makes your brand distinctive and relevant?
Andrew Barrington, brand strategist at Breakfast Town, identifies these must-haves for a focussed idea of what your brand does and what it stands for:
What is your vision? (Beyond making money, what does success look like for your company?)
What is your mission? (What gets you up in the morning?)
What is your brand positioning? (What makes you relevant, distinctive and desirable?)
What is your proposition? (What is your key selling message?)
What are your values? (What drives you?)
What is your personality? (What characterises your company?)
What are your attributes? (What are your differentiating assets?)
Ok, so now you’ve got your brand strategy and your domain name and hosting sorted? Great. Let’s start.
What your web designer/developer needs to know or do to create a website
- Scoping/Research: What does the website have to do and achieve? Who is it targeting and how will it be marketed? (This is where having a good brief comes in.) What are the features? Are there any existing brand guidelines and photography to use?
- Site architecture: The structure of the site needs organising and plotting out so that its usability can be checked and any mistakes highlighted at this early stage. This blueprint is called a wireframe: it maps out how pages are organised and categorised, how they link and how the layout of key pages might look.
- Design: Prototypes are created with suggestions for key pages and how they’ll also appear when viewed on a mobile. Your chosen design can then be tweaked.
- Development: The website is coded, with visuals, content and functions in all the places they should be so that the site is both functional and accessible.
- Testing: Does everything work as it should? Is the site compatible across all browsers? Is the navigation seamless? Are there any broken links?
What your freelance copywriter needs to know or do to create a website
- Research: If a brief doesn’t exist, then I’ll send a link to my client briefing form. I need to know about your competitors, target audience and USP. I also like to know what other websites you like in terms of look and copy – but not necessarily in your sector.
- Information: Will you supply the raw info? Do I need to do any research? Will I have to capture the info needed through a series of interviews?
- Tone of voice: Do you have an existing tone of voice? If you’re a start up or in search of a refresher, I’ll create one for you. (You may like to read my blog What Is Tone Of Voice In Copy And Why Does It Matter?)
- Content writing: I may provide a copy platform with an idea of what goes on each page or I may just start writing. I like to send through copy in stages for an ongoing process of writing, feedback and revising.
- SEO: Keywords will be magically woven in. Don’t forget things like meta titles, meta descriptors and alt tags (I can write these too.)
Which comes first – web design or web content?
Ah, the chicken or egg scenario.
I’m often asked this. Garry adamantly says, ‘Always the copy. Because the purpose of the site is to provide that information to the user. The design is just the mechanism with which to show that and display it in the best possible, and most accessible, way.’
Personally, I’m happy to work either way but the parallel lines have to eventually come together – which is why I prefer to work with a web designer or web developer I know so that we can map out ideas and save the client time and potential headaches.
The main thing is to work out a timing plan and keep the conversation going. Things that usually create delays are if several stakeholders are involved in the decision-making process, a change of brief mid-way, and – the biggest delay-creator of all – waiting for client feedback.
The reality is that there’s no cut and dried answer to ‘How long does it take to create a website?’ because there’s no typical project. I cajoled Garry to give me an indication. He replied, ‘To design and build a basic five page marketing site from start to finish, I’d say four to six weeks. Within that period, I’ll typically allow a couple of weeks to create some designs, get them signed off, tweak the designs, start the build process and then do a final review once the site is built.’
The time taken doesn’t necessarily lie with the web designer/developer or copywriter but with the client. And the sharper the brief, the quicker the decision-making and the faster the feedback = the sooner a shiny new site will be up and running.
Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter whose own shiny new website will be launching in a month or so. Watch this space ….
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