What Web Design Clients Need to Know

Posted October 14th, 2006 by Mike Cherim

Team Work This article is based on my experiences working with web design clients. It may be subjective in nature and not reflect your experiences. Nevertheless, I wanted to share. I have found that sometimes web design clients don’t realize or understand that building a successful web site doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of the developer. Rather I find — and they must realize — that the best possible results will come by way of a partnership of sorts. It’s a team effort. The client needs the developer’s help, but the developer needs the client’s help, too.

Never expect clients to know and understand markup, the dynamics of design, CSS, accessibility, usability, or SEO, but do encourage them to learn the basics. There are things they must know in order to be a better team player. If they understand the developer’s mission and methodology, they can be quite instrumental in making the project a success. In fact, they must shoulder some of the responsibility for their site’s build and its success after it launches. The developer must also have a willingness to teach them and in turn the client must have a willingness to learn. If not, this can be frustrating. They may say: “just do it, we ain’t got time.” If, however, their site is going to be a huge success, the developer is going to need their help and cooperation.

With their help and a genuine concern for their own site, more time can spent focusing on the site’s technical issues, scripting, accessibility, usability, graphics, and the design itself. It is, after all, their site so their concern for its success should be high. I have found, though, this isn’t always the case. If they don’t care or have an interest, well, it makes the developer’s job that much more challenging.

Content Needs

Content is king, yet it is often treated as an afterthought. That’s a shame. The content is the message; the reputation; the public image. The message should be clear in the client’s mind and properly conveyed to the developer. But not necessarily directed in an absolute manner. As I wrote, making a good site is a team effort. So while the client must have a firm idea of what he or she wants to get across, the web developer has valuable experience in regards to what works and what doesn’t, how much content should be presented, and where it should be on a site. Great content is meaningless if it won’t be properly digested by the site’s visitors.

Assuming the developer isn’t the copy writer, which is usually impossible unless the developer has an intimate knowledge of the client’s business, the method of content delivery (from client to developer) is important. The site’s content must be presented to in an organized manner once pages and sections are determined. Content shouldn’t be given in a random fashion spread across multiple emails without regard to the predetermined organization of the site-to-be. The site’s content is usually best given as text files organized by page and section sent as a single email’s attachments or on disc. I say text files because it is usually best provided as plain text. Spending hours un-formatting fancy Word file garbage is a pain at best. But the client may need to be told this up-front.

Additionally, there’s more to web content than words. Links are an essential part of a web site and the client needs to consider and identify them — the client needs to understand the dynamism of a website so they can provide not only external link targets, but also set up internal linking as well. This can be as simple as being sure to add wording such “Contact Us” where appropriate within certain bodies of text. Same thing applies to headings. Consideration for headings and how they should be worded is important. Since headings can be such and big part of navigation, organization, and indexing, the developer should be consulted.

Other specialized content also needs to be given due attention. The client needs to be informed of this by the developer, and the client needs to provide this content as well. Not all specialized content such as alt text, but long descriptions, contact form options, captions, and such need to be considered and addressed. The client needs to be made aware of these needs as they probably may not realize the importance. But once he or she does know, cooperation and provision is essential.

Imagery Concerns

For most users, the web is a largely visual medium and should be utilized in this way to the fullest. The developer must be sure to let the client know that important content delivered via imagery will need to be backed up with text for accessibility and SEO reasons, but the client needs to deliver quality imagery unless other artistic or photographic arrangements are made ahead of time. Like written content, imagery shouldn’t be an afterthought. Ideally the client will provide a wide selection of images from which the developer can pick and choose. These images are best presented in reasonable sizes on disc or zipped up and sent as an email attachment, and organized if pertinent to specific bodies of content. Images will usually be sized and optimized by the developer so they don’t have to be delivered in finished sizes, but getting huge image files measured in thousand of pixels and megabytes in file-size can be overwhelming. Moreover (and this may just be my preference), providing images embedded in Word files or PDFs can be an unnecessary labor maker.

If no images are available, then provisions should be made so the developer can purchase stock photos and such unless, again, other artistic or photographic arrangements are made ahead of time. Personally I’ve had some clients give me a disc with a ton of high quality photos while others have only provided a single small, fuzzy photo. For creativity reasons the former is greatly preferred and can have a huge impact on the outcome.

Post-Launch Promotion

The web developer can do everything right and work in the best interest of the client if the client is given this information and both parties work as a team towards a common goal. But the site can still fail. The site needs to be promoted. This part really falls on the shoulders of the client. The client needs to tell people about the site, advertise the site, and get others to link to the site. The developer can submit the site to search engines — which isn’t even that necessary — but this hardly guarantees success if the client doesn’t work towards site promotion as well. I have some clients that get most of their visitors from my portfolio because they haven’t done anything to help their own cause. Other clients, with the same basic structure and site organization, have had tremendous success because they put forth the required effort to make it so. Regardless of how optimized the site is in terms of accessibility and SEO, without the client’s help, it’ll never rank high unless its content is extremely unique and highly sought after (a rare combination indeed). The client can request a site that reaches the top-spot on Google, and the developer can do what’s required on his or her end, but working only from one end, it’ll likely never make it to the top.

This particular site-promotion topic, Preparing a Website for SEO Success, will be is discussed in another article in the near feature so stay tuned. In the meantime, though, use this article to help make your next site a success and help your client help you do the best you can for them. Also, please share some of your ideas? What would you like your next client to know that your last client didn’t? What makes your job easier and your client’s sites more successful?

11 Responses to: “What Web Design Clients Need to Know”

  1. David Zemens responds:
    Posted: October 14th, 2006 at 8:36 am

    Another great article, Mike. I intend to have my future clients (and one of my current clients) read it.

    You are spot on when you say that the client needs to be an integral part of the process, and without being substantially involved the entire process suffers and the developer is not allowed to work to his or her full potential. In my modest experience I have had a hard time getting the clients to be involved in the process, as most of them do take the “just do it, we ain’t got time.” approach. In fact, my biggest item of complaint is simply getting the content from the client, let alone be concerned with getting clean text rather than MS Word formatted text. Sometimes I am so happy when the content finally arrives that I don’t mind un-formatting it for web use!

    Thanks for another great article that is going to prove a useful primer for my web clients.

  2. John Faulds responds:
    Posted: October 14th, 2006 at 9:33 am

    As mentioned, actually getting the content can be a chore. I personally don’t worry too much about stuff formatted in Word, cos it all comes out the same when you paste into a text editor to mark it up. What I do have problems with is when content doesn’t have any sort of formatting at all, particulary if it’s content that is broken up into a series of headings, some of which carry greater weight than others. I guess I encounter this sort of problem more in my print design work but I hate having to work out the proper structure of a document when the author’s been inconsistent with their style of presentation.

  3. Joe Dolson responds:
    Posted: October 14th, 2006 at 10:12 am

    Yep - getting the content at all is sometimes too substantial of a hurdle for me to worry about the formatting. (And, I have one client who insists on sending complexly formatted Word documents despite the fact that I have told her repeatedly that this has doubled her costs…).

    Inconsistency is a chronic problem, as well: I’ll have a calendar to format, client will deliver events. Each event will be formatted differently, contain different information, in a different order…ARGGGGHH!!!

    And let’s not get into images…

  4. David Zemens responds:
    Posted: October 14th, 2006 at 11:08 am

    Inconsistency is a chronic problem, as well: I’ll have a calendar to format, client will deliver events. Each event will be formatted differently, contain different information, in a different order…ARGGGGHH!!!

    It’s like they have no concept of consistency and absolutely no vision of how the content layout on the page will look…sometimes I just don’t see how they don’t see the problem.

  5. Anthony Brewitt responds:
    Posted: October 18th, 2006 at 5:28 pm

    A great piece, I must have really bad luck = every single client I have had has not really cared about content at all and often not prepared any even though I have often specified. Usually its an after thought, even with a product centric website. Alot of clients also expect me to input all the content and are quite shocked when I decline unless paid extra. The bottom line is they have been in their business for a long time and they can tell prospective clients about their services and specialities alot better than I could, but still it seems expected of me. It has also been expected of me in a redesign of a website to automate content duplication from one server to the new one. Sorry I didnt mean to rant on so much. I have simply learned to address the content issue early on in the design process and make it part of my project proposal.

  6. Blair Millen responds:
    Posted: October 20th, 2006 at 3:43 pm

    This is a great subject to broach Mike and sadly I think your example of the guy who didn’t bother about getting his content together is probably quite a common occurence.

    I understand that the site content has to be down to the client, but I think the web developer also has a responsibility to ensure that the client knows what is involved in writing the content. (I recommend the services of a copywriter to my potential clients).

    When starting out on a new site I ask the client to fill out a Website Planner (which poses a bunch of basic questions to start the ball rolling). One of these questions is ‘How long will it take to write the content for the site?’ and the usual response is ‘Oh, about a couple of weeks’. And of course, in reality, it’s always the last minute, and ‘it took me much longer to write that than I first thought!’… now there’s a surprise :-P

    Anyway, I think there’s scope for an article on how to write good website content waiting to appear somewhere soon, yes?

  7. web design responds:
    Posted: November 10th, 2006 at 2:06 am

    Web design clients need to be educated about what makes a good site. But how do you go about it? The language of standards and css and accessibility are so intimidating for the average small business person that they instantly break into a cold sweat and start filtering out any word that has more than one syllable.

  8. Beast-Blog.com - The Best of the Beast in 2006 by Mike Cherim responds:
    Posted: December 29th, 2006 at 7:33 pm

    […] 2006/10: What Web Design Clients Need to Know […]

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