Is your existing web designer also a competent blog designer? Did you know it takes special skills to effectively design a business blog? When you’re having a blog created for your website, it may not be in your business’s best interest to use the same web designer that did your original site. I’ve been doing this blog consulting thing for a while, now, and something I see repeatedly is business owners paying good money for outdated site design that does more harm than good.
Blog Design and Hybrid Mechanics
You may have a great relationship with your auto mechanic, but if your mechanic hasn’t taken special training to work with the new gas-electric hybrid vehicles, and you want to buy a new hybrid car, you simply can’t take that car in to your old mechanic.
You know why: he will not be able to help you. If he tried, he might screw things up pretty badly for your new car—limiting your freedom of movement (and costing you extra) while you have to take your car to a more qualified mechanic. It would’ve been wise to seek out a hybrid-qualified mechanic in the first place.
The gulf between “old school” web designers and blog designers is even wider than that. Let me be blunt: if your previous web designer has not been keeping her skills updated, she is of no use to your business. You might be in luck. In the time since your designer created your last site, she may have grown into a fully competent blog designer. But if she hasn’t kept herself up-to-date, then why on earth would you want her to design your new blog? At best, you’d be paying her to learn on your dime, with sub-optimal results that would only minimally help your bottom line. At worst, more harm than good could be the result. You could experience diminishing traffic and fewer sales, rather than more.
Design is not Enough
Why? Because design is not enough.
Time was a web designer wasn’t much more than a graphic or print designer who had learned how to translate their visual designs into web pages. These web pages often used layout methods which have since become deprecated (like depreciation). That is to say, these old methods are no longer acceptable because they do not comply with the updated standards for HTML, CSS, and other technologies as stated by the World Wide Web Consortium, the governing standards body for this sort of thing.
But it’s more than that.
When most laypeople think of web or blog design, they’re of the understanding that “design” means everything. In other words, it’s not just the look of the pages you’re expecting from your designer, but also the placement of the content, the navigational architecture of the site, and nearly every word of copy—not just the design, but the marketing, too.
One cannot design a blog effectively, nowadays, without also understanding concepts such as search engine optimization (SEO), copywriting, conversion design, community-building, social media integration, and marketing. This puts you, the business owner, in the position of having to hire either a multi-person team with breakdowns among the specialties I mentioned, or one person who can do it all.
My Own Story: Pissing Off Web Designers
I never set out to do this, but I keep pissing off web designers who have not kept up, and putting business owners in a position of having to make a tough decision between a valued personal relationship and nothing less than the ultimate success of their business online. I was on a conference call the other day with a PR agent who is using me to create or improve the blogs and websites of his clients, and he asked me what I would do to improve the site of one of his clients. In my normal honest and straightforward fashion, I said that the site had no apparent purpose to visitors, and that it would be nearly impossible for the the site the way it was to receive any relevant search traffic. Basically, the purpose and marketing were completely off-target. The fact that it was already a WordPress blog didn’t even matter in this case, because its conception was wrong-headed to begin with.
I found out later that the original designer of that site was listening in on the conference call. Now, that might make you wince a little bit, but you know what? I care more about the success of my clients than the feelings of a web designer who doesn’t understand marketing or who can’t be bothered to keep his skills updated.
The success of your business is ultimately not related to whether or not you just paid a designer a lot of money for your site. If your site isn’t going to help you attract, engage, and sell to customers, you might as well just pile up all that money on the table… and set it on fire.
Blog Designer Checklist
So how do you know if your designer has the chops? Use this list. If your designer doesn’t do all of these tasks or understand these concepts/disciplines, get people who do. You do not have to understand everything on this list in gory technical detail yourself.
- They have their own self-hosted WordPress blog, which has been updated recently (DUH! Seriously, without this, don’t even bother!)
- Understand table-less CSS layouts using floated divs
- Knows how to configure blog settings optimally, such as for permalinks and feeds
- Works with you to incorporate conversion goals into the design and content
- Knows exactly what plugins to install and how to configure them for SEO and social media engagement
- Understands at least basic on-page SEO factors—and provides a way for your blog’s authors to learn about this as well, since they’ll need to know it in order to create successful blog content
Are you willing to risk your business failing because you make the wrong decision about your site’s designer? The best thing you can do is get all the hosting, FTP, and blog (if you already have a blog) logins and passwords from your old designer (you should have them anyway). Create new users and passwords and delete the old accounts (your new blog designer can do this or an interim tech-savvy virtual assistant). Then, simply begin working with your new designer. If you haven’t opened discussions with your old designer, then there’s nothing for them to do; you will simply have ceased to call on him. He may not even notice, because the only time he pays attention to you is when you have a job for him to do.
If you have opened up discussions with your previous designer, then you owe it to her to let her know that you’ll be working with someone else. I know that’s tough, but I doubt it would be the toughest thing you’ve ever done. You might be doing her a huge favor by waking her up.
If you value your relationship with your designer enough, here’s an alternative: let them do your new blog for you and let them learn on your dime and update their skills and knowledge. But… at a reduced rate. This way, you’re both doing each other a favor (although you’re likely granting the larger favor, but hey, relationships are important and so is “paying it forward”). I mentioned above that doing this could lead to less than optimal results. You’re in danger of that, but if you feel it’s worth the risk, then go for it. Be dedicated to learning as quickly as possible from mistakes and setbacks. Keep a keen eye on your analytics, search engine rankings, and conversion rates.