What’s a geek whisperer? Katie Hawkey, who acts as a liaison between marketers, techies and designers smoothing the path for successful web design, is called that by co-workers. Hawkey works for Astek Consulting, a web consulting firm based in Chicago, Il.
If your web site was designed more than 2-3 years ago, chances are it’s dated. And the last thing that marketers want is to look like they don’t know what they are doing. Hawkey, chief operating officer for Astek Consulting, provides a few key questions marketers can ask their web developers and designers so they don’t look like they need a copy of “Web Sites for Dummies.”
1. Can you create or use a content management system so that I can update my own web site?
Companies used to think of their web sites as online brochures, so it didn’t matter if the information was stagnant. But with social media, blogging and news feeds, you need to be able to change information on your site without going back to your developer all the time. Those small changes will add up. So make sure you get a web platform that allows you to make changes as you need too.
2. Will you be designing in html or Flash?
Even with today’s cool graphics and improving technology, Flash is still not as search engine friendly as HTML. For instance, says Hawkey, Google is unable to read the text in many Flash sites to index the content for search. So if the bulk of your site is in Flash it’s going to be tough for search engines to scan your site and find words they are trying to match to a user's search.
Also mobile phones read html and can be very unfriendly to Flash. The IPhone doesn’t read Flash at all. Better to stay with html and insert a bit of Flash to make your site more contemporary.
3. Can you design the site so we can feed our blog information directly into social media sites?
Many blogs do this because it gives the writer and his/her company complete control over all information that goes out, and updates every time a new blog post appears. But if your blog auto-feeds into your Facebook page for instance, it will start to look robotic (like the Facebook sites that look like they are participatory but won't let you comment or discuss anything), and people will stop coming back. Better to pick and choose which content is dynamic and what you want to feed out to other sites.
4. Can you deliver the designs for review in a way that we can view them in a browser?
At the beginning of the design process you will usually get a couple of comps that are options for your site's home page and/or secondary page design. A web site is a dynamic visual and you will never know what you are looking at if you get print outs of potential designs rather than seeing them in a browser. Color, images and design approach need to be reviewed in the medium in which they will be used. This will eliminate any surprise factor as you move forward with the design process.
5. What information do you recommend we put above the fold?
In a print piece, before the fold means what you see first, before you unfold the brochure or advertisement, etc. On a web site above the fold is what you see on the home page of a web site before you scroll down. You always want your most important messages above the fold, and secondary points or messages below it. You will also want to try calling up your home and subsequent pages on a Mac-based and a PC-based system as well as on mobile phones, IPads and other devices to see what it looks like live.
6. Can you help us brand our look and feel across multiple platforms?
Believe it or not, many marketers still don’t address all their forms of communications with customers and prospects when redesigning a web site. Particularly in tough economic times, a decision could be made to update a web site and leave other materials as they were before. You don’t want inconsistent visual, verbal or written messages across different communications platforms. Developing an integrated approach from the beginning will help, even if you end up phasing in the changes gradually.
7. What pixel width do you recommend for my site?
Right now Astek is recommending most clients go with a design at 975px wide. This is definitely a conversation to have at the beginning of the design process as it will have a huge impact on the layout. Google reports that 90% of Internet users will be able to see a design that is 975px wide without needing to scroll left to right. If you work in an industry where out-dated computers are the norm, you may want to consider keeping your site to 825px wide. This will accommodate about 95% of Internet users.
But there is a price to pay for the 150px difference. It translates to about two inches of additional width on most monitors, and it will have a huge impact on how much content you can get above the fold.
A final note from Katie is that you should tell designers at the outset you want 12 point type for all content - anything smaller will be too hard to read.
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