“Custom” is a subjective term. “Custom Website,” more so. Before you invest time and money into developing a custom website, make sure you know what you should expect from your web development partner.

At a high level, your custom website design company experience should include:

  • You present ideas on the website. All ideas are good. Bring ’em.
  • Your partner guides you through the decisions. Example: Yes, that can be done. Here is the impact to your cost and timeline. Let’s talk about if adding this to your scope will produce positive returns.
  • Your partner making recommendations. These should never be rooted in, “Here’s some really cool stuff we know how to do.” Rather, they should always be rooted in, “From our experience, based on the goals you’ve communicated to us, we recommend you consider…” Conversely, understand it’s the Internet, and it’s all code, and anything is possible. You should not experience any limitations because the platform can’t support them or your partner has no experience. The only questions are Is this the best investment for you? Will it help you achieve your goals?
  • You challenge each other’s assumptions. It is critical to juxtapose your strategic goals and business acumen with your custom website’s role in helping you achieve them.

This should be a challenging but rewarding experience.

Reasons to develop a custom website include:

  • Avoiding the inherent limitations of a themed website.
  • You understand the notion of Opportunity Costs, i.e. that going cheap is expensive.
  • You require custom functionality or third-party integrations a theme cannot support or to which a theme cannot scale.
  • You need to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

Here are the most common ways web development companies mess this up:

They don’t have a system linking their work to your business goals.

You are likely investing in a website to generate positive returns. This may be an increase in inbound sales leads, increased engagement with your community, or a stronger position from which to establish thought leadership in your industry or subject matter.

Web companies who lack a business-minded approach think your goal is to make a website. They don’t ask about what returns you expect from it because they don’t have a way to guide you there. Or they infer or insist that the answer is in design or UX (User Experience), or whichever part of the equation they do understand. Be careful here. Persist on ROI-focused questioning. Make sure your partner has proven systems that establish their accountability, tying creation of your custom website to the achievement of the results you need to generate.

When presenting your custom website designs, they first ask, “Do you like it?”

A custom website is customized primarily for your website visitor.

Yes, it is important that you “like” your website. It is infinitely more important that your prospective client “like” your website. That decision gets made, subconsciously, in a few seconds. Only by first clearly defining your target personas, their needs, their decision process, their mindset when they arrive on your website, and what information they need, can your website be designed to convert those visitors into leads or sales.

If our designers like your website, and you like your website, and your CEO likes your website, but your prospective client does not, everybody loses. Your partner should deliver data-driven recommendations matching their User Experience and design with your overall business goals.

“Show me 3 of your competitors’ websites and 3 custom websites you like.”

This is your web designer fitting you into a box. This makes it easier and faster for them to do their work because it prevents them from having to think creatively.

This also provides a ready-made excuse. When you get a website that looks exactly like any of the 6 you provided, your designer has a rationale that includes, “You provided this as an example.”

Websites you like should foster a discussion. What about it do you like? Will this help you stand apart from your competitors? Will it increase conversions, engagement? Budgets are limited and websites scale—is this the best investment at this time?

“Because a competitor is doing it,” is not in and of itself a design or development factor for your website. Competitor websites should be analyzed so you can understand your market opportunity, create a data-driven strategy, and make decisions based thereupon—for your website and your ongoing marketing program(s).

Now that your custom website is finished, let’s talk about SEO.

First: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not for everyone. If you are talking to a company whose profitability is significantly dependent on its ability to sell SEO services, you might never learn this.

Up-front data analysis is required to advise if and how your website can rank high enough on search engine results to deliver relevant, quality inbound traffic. You may have terms in mind which are already saturated by bigger and more established competitors with deeper pockets. Or, the terms for which you can score may not have the search volume to generate positive returns on your investment. You should know this before investing in SEO.

If you read Google’s best practices and assertions over the past few years, you will find they have implied they are trying to de-emphasize keywords in the URL (Universal Record Locator, i.e. your web page’s address) for search rank. If you test this theory, you will find that they will never actually be able to do this.

The world (and your business) is loaded with examples of how things don’t play out in real life like they do on paper. This is one of those.

Foregoing keyword and competitive analysis prior to designing and developing your custom website decreases your upfront cost and timeline. It also limits your website’s marketability and performance every day after you make that decision. Your SEO strategy, and its prominence and priority in your overall marketing program, should be established before your website is launched. To maximize your website’s organic search performance, the moment your new custom website is indexed by search engines, your website’s URL structure is keyword optimized. Those keywords are strategically chosen in a dialogue among your digital marketing partner and you. This dialogue must include your business goals and acumen. Our ability to score for a term does not necessarily equate to moving your needle.

If data indicates positive return is available through SEO, and if your custom website is not built around a custom, keyword-optimized URL plan that considers your competitive landscape, your website is not truly custom.

Why doesn’t everyone do it this way?

  • Experience. They just might not know. Is your website partner book smart or street smart? Do you compete on paper or on the street?
  • It decreases your up-front time and investment in creating the website—while costing you opportunities every day after that.
  • They see their job as to make you a website—rather than to help you be successful in the long term.

They own your “custom” website.

Especially with WordPress, many companies provide “custom” websites which are actually templates that are “owned” by the website provider. This means that you may own your content, but you will not be able to pick up your files and move them to a different partner or hosting platform.

Characteristics of this include:

  • No- to low-upfront investment, an ongoing fee of a few hundred bucks, and an agreement locking you into their services for 6 months to 2 years. If this is your situation, you don’t own your website; you are just renting it. And it is likely not, truly, a custom website.
  • No training on the system.
  • They do not provide a login to your website’s Content Management System (CMS), forcing all content updates to come through them.
  • Inbound inquiries get filtered by them instead of coming directly through you. The “pitch” on this is that they’ll filter spam, and well they might. What else might they filter? Are they also sophisticated enough to determine and prioritize what a qualified lead looks like for your sales team? Studies say 78% of all inbound inquiries choose to do business with the first-responder. Does this filter help or inhibit your ability to be first?

Here are some questions to ask when considering a custom website partner.

To avoid all these potential pitfalls and make your custom website experience a triumphant one, make sure you are comfortable with your partner’s responses to questions like these:

  • What are your company’s values? – Know that your partner is one with whom you can work constructively through issues.
  • How many years of custom website development experience does your company have? – And the follow-up question: How do you use your experience to continuously improve your systems and the results you generate for your clients?
  • What are your systems for ensuring my custom website is developed on time, on budget, and with minimal revisions? How do you ensure my custom website helps me achieve my business goals?
  • Will you train us on how to use our website?
  • Will we own the website and all files and assets related thereto? Will we have access to all the parts of the website we need, such as to add blog articles and make content changes?
  • What happens after my website gets launched? – Do you have systems for ongoing website security, backups, scalability? Do you offer custom, data-driven marketing programs? What is my required commitment?

Not all custom website providers are created equal. For insights on how your custom website can deliver positive ROI, get a free consultation with a web development expert today.

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