Are you thinking about getting a website built? Most people think about price and design, but forget to ask about the backend of the website (where you make edits), and how the website is going to function for their business into the future.
Your backend should be your most important consideration when building your website.
Your website is an iceberg and the way it looks is just the tip. So if you’re shopping around for web developers, we’re going to arm you with some key questions and important information about website backends.
What platform should I use for my website?
We build our websites using WordPress. Here’s a few reasons why:
- It’s the preferred platform for small businesses
- It’s very flexible in both design and functionality
- There are lots of web developers who know how to use it – so if you want to switch developer, you’re not stuck with a website no one can edit
- There are lots of third-party developers building helpful plugins and integration with other software.
But what do we really mean when we say ‘WordPress’? And how does it relate to playing with Lego?
Often people view WordPress as being similar to Wix or Squarespace, where you choose a pre-designed theme, add your content and away you go.
But WordPress is more than that, it actually refers to the underlying coding platform – the building blocks of a website. To use Lego as an analogy, you can either buy a pre-designed figurine (like the Millennium Falcon below) or you can buy a box of Lego bricks and design and build a figurine yourself.
WordPress works the same way – you can buy a pre-designed theme that someone else has designed, or you can start with a blank canvas and have your website custom-built to suit your business.
When we speak of Lego, we’re generally referring to the bricks, not the pre-designed figurines. We should view WordPress in the same way – it is the code, not the themes that are built with it.
To further the analogy, choosing between platforms is like choosing between Lego and Duplo.
What are the pros and cons of buying a theme?
Often people buy a third-party theme (a theme that’s already been designed). They install it, add some images and text, and the website looks good fairly quickly.
In many cases this can make it cheaper and quicker initially. Plus, there’s the instant gratification factor.
But what if you want to start making adjustment to the theme to suit your business needs – what if you want to add another AG-2G quad laser cannon to your Millennium Falcon? This is where themes start to make things tricky.
If a website has a third-party theme, it can be challenging for website owners to make their own updates in the backend of the website.
Being able to make edits to your website quickly and easily is crucial for small businesses! We simply cannot impress this enough.
It also becomes difficult for even your web developer to add extra functionality as your business grows.
What’s the best alternative to a third-party theme?
A custom-built theme is the way to go!
We prefer to custom-build websites for clients when possible rather than using a third-party theme, because it makes the website more flexible and more scalable. Your website should grow with your business.
Ask your web developer to code up the website so it’s customised for your business. This can take longer, so there’s a little less instant gratification in the development process, but your website will be much easier to update in the future!
In the backend of a custom-built website, the design work is pre-saved. If your web developer has coded it well, updating the backend of a custom-built website is not too different from filling out an email or a form.
You can update the headline, the text and the image, and when you push the save button, it updates itself to fit in with the design of the page without any extra input from you!
This keeps your pages looking great, it’s easier to keep mobile-friendly and is less prone to errors.
A custom-built theme is also handy for websites that have the same information in multiple places. Let’s say you have a product page and a product summary on the homepage that both need to be updated.
If you have a third-party theme, you’ll probably need to change that information in several locations on the website. If you have a custom-built theme that allows for easy maintenance, the product details will automatically update on the product page at the same time as the homepage.
With that being said….
Always check the backend before you buy!
Whether you’re using a pre-designed theme or custom-building, a lot of websites and themes are being built by people who have a strong design background but not a strong coding background.
If you pick a third-party theme, it’s important to have a click around the backend to help you decide on a theme, and to know if it’s going to work for you.
If you’re getting a website custom-built, ask your web developer to show you an example of what the backend will look like.
A lot of third-party themes use a system called Visual Composer. It’s great for web design experts, but for people who aren’t familiar with it, it can be difficult to operate. It can also be easy to accidentally break the website.
Your website should be working for you, saving you time rather than adding to your to-do list.
A quick sidenote on DIY-ing with a WordPress theme, Squarespace or Wix.
Getting a website built can be expensive, and as small business owners we often choose to spend our time over spending money. We think services which allow you to easily and cheaply build a basic website yourself are fantastic for allowing small businesses with tight budgets to access the benefits of having a website.
However, there are many limitations to these websites, so if you have the budget, then getting an experienced developer to build a website for you is definitely the way to go.
And if you’re paying for someone to build your website, you want to make sure you’re getting a quality product.
How often should I need my web developer to make changes to the website?
Rarely! With a well-designed custom-built theme, updating website content is a straightforward exercise that you can do yourself.
In a dynamic business, some content on the website will inevitably need to be redeveloped or updated down the track.
Gone are the days of “set and forget” advertising like Yellow Pages. We’re now running multiple dynamic campaigns throughout the year and ideally, you’d have specific landing pages for each.
Going back to your web developer every time you need to make changes to the website is incredibly costly and time-consuming. It’s useful to have a template for your landing page that enables you to add new pages yourself when needed.
Typically, when we build a campaign for people, we’re aiming for specific target markets, so your landing page is going out to a very tight target market. If you’re looking to target business to business (B2B) service professionals, you might want one landing page for accountants and one for financial planners, for example, with the same design but different content for each target market.
If you have that template set up then someone can just go in and fill it out like a form or an email and create a new landing page. It becomes a fast-moving campaign that you can do without having to spend lots of money going back and forth to the web developer.
It’s worth investing a little more in the design process at the beginning to save you time and money down the track. You’ll end up with a well-functioning site that’s easy to maintain.
How will the website cater to SEO and Google Analytics?
When your website is being built, think ahead!
WordPress has lots of great plugins and tools you can use. You can install the Yoast SEO plugin and manage your own SEO. This can be a bit trickier if you do go for a third-party theme as they can be a bit bloated with unnecessary code.
They have functionality built into them, but when you start doing SEO, suddenly the site slows down and has too much code in it, which affects a website’s ability to rank well on Google.
If you use a custom-built theme that only has the necessary code in there, then it will give you a strong basis for you to build on later.
Google Analytics is crucial to understanding whether a campaign has been successful or not. It allows you to see how much traffic your website is getting, where it’s coming from, and the demographics of the people visiting your website.
Make sure your web developer installs it for you when your website is launched, and that he installs it in your name and under your own account.
Once it’s set up, it can’t be transferred. You don’t want it to be created through your web developer’s account, because if you lose contact with your web developer, you’ll lose access to all that data.
Go forth and make great websites!
We hope this has helped you feel more confident about choosing a web developer and about websites in general.
If you have any questions you want to ask us, please give us a call on 1300 1400 56 or use the contact form below. We love to talk for hours about websites and all things digital.
Also, if you’re interested in having us build your website, pop over to our projects page to have a look at our previous designs.