In our unique position as a I.T. support and hosting provider means we've worked with many different hosting providers, graphic-designers and various web-developers and I've noticed a clear trend: Almost all graphic designers don't make good websites and businesses clearly don't understand the difference between a graphic designer and a good web-developer and how not to get ripped off.
Let me try and clear up the difference and why the making the distinction matters.
You don't want a pretty website, you want a usable website
Don't get me wrong, you want your website to look great and have appeal, but what makes print advertisement work and look great doesn't transfer to what makes a great website.
When looking at print advertisement you will be typically glancing over a letterbox full of deals and advertisements, so of course you want your deal and flyer to stand out and grab attention. A website on the other hand is completely different, you've got your visitors complete attention for a split second and you need to give your visitor exactly what they want: the information they require in a clear, to the point and standard manner.
Your visitors don't want to be subjected to revolutionary navigational systems. They expect to navigate around your site just like the billions of other sites out there, after all do you re-invent the steering wheel in every single new car? Hell no!
Is it a bad thing to have a pretty website?
No, you can have your cake and eat it too. A good website will be both beautifully designed and very functional. Sure, a graphic designer can make a beautiful website and win you a design award, but your website will not be functional and at the end of the day it won't pay the bills.
You don't want to reinvent the wheel
Yes you want your website to stand out from your competition and set yourself apart visually. The problem is that graphic designers take this too far and will spend a considerable chunk of the time you are paying them for to simply break the rules - and not in the good way! Your 'beautiful' website ends up being a confusing experience for your visitors and they go somewhere else with their business.
Graphic designers must create websites that follow internet standards, web conventions and usability guidelines, because these are the ultimate guidelines to creating a functional and fantastic website that allows your visitors to feel right at home while navigating your site. Break these rules and you'll lose sales.
For example, your customers expect to find your contact information on the top right of your site - it's always there. Break this rule and guess what happens?
People will leave your website. Your website will be crippled and ineffective, all in the name of being unique.
Maintaining a website shouldn't cost you a fortune
I've seen so many business owners get ripped off on this one, and it's one of the first things I fix when providing complete I.T. support to our customers. Because design and website development is often a one-time expensive, most graphic designers hook you into expensive maintenance plans and pricing.
This needs to raise a red flag in more businesses heads. If your graphic designer can't create you a website that you can update and maintain yourself for free, they have no idea what they are doing. All great websites from the big names such as eBay to the Woolworths and the small businesses are built on-top of Content Management Systems (CMS) that make it dead simple for someone with zero experience to login, and in a few clicks update prices, create blog posts, add new pages and change content.
Not interested in maintaining your site? Then by all means, pay someone to do it - however, whoever maintains your website (like us) will still demand that a Content Management System powers your site as it makes maintaining your website for whoever a piece of cake.
You don't need to spend a fortune
This is the biggie for me.
Your parents will tell you that you get what you pay for, and a-lot of the time that is true. But it's typically not true with websites and graphic designers and I'll let you in why that is the case.
Because [most] graphic designers don't have the necessary skills when it comes to effective website design, they spend more time on making it "pretty" and spend a lot more time making the website work than others. A great web-developer knows what works and what doesn't work, and doesn't need to spend hours or days fixing minor details that can take much effort to resolve - a web-developer doesn't waste much time working on your site, because they've got extensive experience and knowledge and get the job done quicker, faster and better.
Regardless of who you choose to go with, never pay by the hour for web-design. Ask for a quote, take your time, shop around and my advice will save you thousands of dollars. In my experience, most Australian small to medium businesses shouldn't be spending no-more than $800 to $1200 for their websites.