This is the third guest post by William Bay, in a short series about customizing your website. Here are part 1 and part 2 of the series. You might want to read those first before jumping into this last part of the series. Thank you!
Even though developers and photographers get paid to do something artistic and technical, there can be communication pitfalls along the way. You can learn all about it in my new book entitled: Photographers are from Venus and Developers are from Mars. Just kidding. But in all seriousness, language-wise, photographers tend to be more on the artistic side of the spectrum, and developers tend to be on the technical end of things.
Another important aspect is that most designers and developers just want be in front of their computer coding, and not dealing with clients and business issues.
Does that sound familiar, photographers? Yep, you just want to do what makes you happy: photograph, and not deal with clients either.
The reason I’m telling you this is so you can remember these pointers when you feel some level of frustration coming on. All you need to remember is that you’re talking two different languages. The best way to communicate is to use a common language. So, be clear in your speaking and writing. Think before you send a set of instructions. A good thing to ask is “would a 10-year-old understand what I’m asking?” Use diagrams or screenshots if necessary.
Remember, this is your future website. It’s your responsibility to ensure that it turns out the way you want it to. A web developer is your facilitator to help make your dreams come into being, not your punching bag when you can’t understand each other. You’re on the same team.
Whatever you do, don’t “try” to speak the developer’s language. Mistakes will be made, and you’ll look silly. You know when Uncle Bob comes up to you at a wedding and tries to get into a technical conversation with you? Yeah, it’s kinda like that.
There are different phases to building your custom website. Below is a list of the phases that work for Flaunt Your Site. These are not hard-and-fast rules, and not every developer will go through all these steps. But I’ve found that, for me, utilizing these steps encourages more communication along the way, and minimizes the amount of errors that pop up.
* Wireframe: This is a very simple line drawing of the layout: what content will be on the page, and where it will go i.e. slideshows, content, videos, etc.
* Design Comp or Mock-up: An JPG or PNG image file of what the site will look like. This is usually done in Fireworks or Photoshop, so you can see what the site will look like before the building process starts.
* Scope: The mock up is then looked at very carefully and each element is examined to see if there is a function that it's supposed to perform, like what element links where, are pictures static or part of a slideshow, what things have rollover behaviors, etc.
* Development Site (the Building Process): Usually performed on the developer’s computer, offline. This is where the design comp is turned into an actual website. It’s best to build this offline so clients don’t see “how the sausage is made.” It’s not as disturbing as a slaughterhouse, but you don’t need to see the build process. It’s actually boring and slow.
* Staging Site: When the site is finished and you can actually see it up and running, we put it on a staging server. Many developers have their own server that they’ll use (e.g. client1.flauntyoursite.com). It’s online, so the owner can see the actual site in use. Final changes and bugs are found and fixed. This is also a good opportunity to import any existing content that you have on your site or blog.
* Soft Launch: I like to include what’s called a soft launch phase (not everyone does this, though). This is when the site is pushed onto your server in place of your old site. I know you’re really excited to have everyone come look at your new site, but before you invite the masses, it’s good to test everything in its final live environment. It’s a good practice to have just a couple friends with keen eyes look for mistakes, typos, and any final web gremlins that need to get squashed.
* Hard Launch: The pièce de résistance! All the hard work and months of waiting come to this point where you can blast the whole world, Facebook, and your email list that your new website is open for business. This is when you pop the bubbly.
A Word On When Design Happens, And When Design Changes
Design happens during the design phase. To drive the point home: Design does not happen during the build process or after the Soft Launch.
If you want to change the design that you’ve approved, we will charge you for going back and changing it (frequently called a Change Order). A small tweak might not be a problem, but don’t be surprised if we tell you that you’ll be billed for the change, or that you have to wait till after the site is completed and initiate a Phase 2 on the site. So if you’re on the fence about something in the design, get it resolved right away during the design phase. You can even ask for an extra week to sit with the design to see if you’re 100% happy with the design, or if additional tweaks need to be made.
Again, I’ll remind you that it’s your responsibility for the project turning out the way you want it. But if you’re looking for a quick way to make a developer go from an overweight nerd into a full-on, enormous green rage monster, just tell them that you’d like a design change while they’re in the middle of actually building the site.
What I’ve found that really works for my clients and myself is to base the payment structure on certain phases from the above list. This is how I typically work (again, all developers are different):
* Initial 1/3 payment: Upon signing contract. (This pays for my time to design a concept).
* Second 1/3 payment: Upon client approval of Design Comp. (This mean that the client likes what they see and they’re committing to building the site).
* Final 1/3 payment: Upon completion of website and prior to Soft-Launch. (This indicates that the developer has done his job and it’s ready to go live).
I do ask for final payment before launch. It’s just the preferred method of ensuring final payment for many developers. It’s our version of “delivery on payment.”
When Problems Arise
Yes, there will be problems. We’re not launching a rocket, but there are still a lot of things to juggle in launching a website. Web developers are people, and occasionally, we make mistakes, so try to be understanding. We’re on your side, and mistakes are just that: mistakes. We’re not intentionally trying to screw up your day.
If multiple mistakes are happening, and it becomes a competency issue, the developer isn’t willing to be open about the cause, or you’re just getting excuse after excuse, then you do have cause for concern. If you’re not sure what you’re dealing with, please feel free to call me. I have no problem helping disputes so feelings don’t get hurt, or people have to revert to legal actions (which is the absolute worst for both parties involved).
Life After Launch
This is not the time to make design changes! Okay, just checking to see if you were paying attention.
I say that tongue-in-cheek, but there is the occasional client that waits until after the launch to raise design issues or concerns they’ve had. And while it’s a rather frustrating phenomenon for developers, it’s really just going to end up being costly to you – not to mention, you’ll probably end up at the back of the line of the developer’s client list, since they have promises to other clients. So, again, get your design done during the design phase.
Once you’ve launched, your focus should be on the content – this usually means blog posts and/or photo galleries. If you have existing posts, you may think about going back and figuring out what the best keywords for each post are, and re-optimizing them for search engines. If you have questions on that, Flaunt Your Site offers one-on-one SEO training and we can teach you.
For new content, I would suggest a regular schedule. Every week or every other week depending on how much you shoot. Again, you’ll want to focus on the right keywords for your blog posts (And I guarantee you, it’s not “Your City Wedding Photographer”).
Here Are Some More Tips On How To Take Care Of Your Site:
* Keep WordPress and your plugins updated! Part of the reason WordPress releases updates is because they increase the security measures constantly. Don’t lose all that hard work because you’re running an old version of WordPress.
* Keep the plugins to a minimum. Plugins are really great, but too many will bog down your site. And the wrong ones will open up your site for vulnerabilities.
* Use Google Analytics to track the effectiveness of your site. This includes things like:
o How many visitors do you get?
o What content is the most popular?
o What is your bounce rate for important pages?
o Where are most of your visitors coming from?
* Use the information from Google Analytics to make decisions about the content on your site.
* Visit Google Webmaster Tools every two to three months to ensure that your website is in good standing, and that the Sitemaps are being submitted properly.
* If you have questions about the usage of your site, ask your developer. It’s a good practice to stay in communication about things. I can’t speak for others, but I’m fairly available to my clients afterwards.
Above all else, be proud that you have something custom and unique. You totally deserve to give yourself a high five when you get compliments on how easy to use, or how beautiful your new website is.