10 tips for getting your website right

Andrew-Booth-2010By Andrew Booth, Turner Parkinson

The Internet is becoming the new High Street. Websites are the shop windows for Internet businesses – it may be all a customer ever sees of that business. If a website is badly designed, unclear, slow or even ugly, a customer may take business elsewhere and never return. When it’s so easy to go somewhere else, make sure that, when commissioning someone to create a website for you, it’s done properly, and put the necessary legal protection and commercial support in place early to make sure your e-commerce business can grow without (too many) problems.

1. Pick your domain name carefully: Make sure other businesses (particularly your competitors) don’t use a similar domain name. Apart from risking legal action for passing off, you might lose customers who are looking for your website but end up somewhere else first. This links with your business name – choose something unique that also gives people an idea of what you do. “Widgets Limited” won’t make you stand out from the crowd.

2. Don’t rush to pick a website developer: Get a number of quotes for the work and don’t just go for the cheapest. Get testimonials from each developer and look at other websites they have developed. Have a detailed specification of what you want and make sure that each developer understands it. When you look at the websites designed by the developer, be critical – you will be parting with your money and your business will be at risk if your website doesn’t do what you want it to do, or just does it badly. Make sure that the developer also offers support to help you operate the website.

3. Always get a contract with your website developer (for website design and support): You need a developer for so many things, and you can’t just hope that they will jump when you shout. Make sure you don’t have to pay them until each stage of the work is done to your satisfaction and only make the final payment when the website is live. Make sure they understand your marketing strategy so that they design the website to maximise the exposure and footfall that you want. Contractually oblige them to provide you support and, where necessary, make changes to the website.

4. Make sure you own the IP in the website: Don’t sign anything unless the developer’s contract says you own the IP. If the website developer owns the IP, you can’t just move your website to another host, or make significant changes to it, without getting the developer’s consent, and that can be expensive. If you own the website in full, you can take it wherever you want whenever you want on your terms, and, if you fall out with the developer in future, you can ask another developer to work on the website without infringing the original developer’s rights.

5. Make sure that the website is easy to operate and change: If you are selling goods, make sure you can add or take off goods as your stock changes, and also that you can alter prices, descriptions or pictures whenever you want to without always having to ask the developer for help (and paying for that help). Also make sure that, when you add text or pictures, you can put them wherever you want on the website, in whatever format you want.

6. Be M-commerce compatible: The Internet is getting busier, but it is also being accessed in different ways. M-commerce (consumers buying goods and services through their mobile phone) has exploded in recent years and some estimate that nearly half of mobile phone owners have made an Internet purchase through their mobile. That figure is only going to increase, so make sure that your website is accessible by mobile phone (or have a separate mobile Internet website). It might cost a bit more now, but it will allow you to tap into a customer base where transactions can be concluded anywhere within seconds.

7. Don’t forget cookies: A cookie is a small data file sent to a user’s computer from your website and stored to collect information. Basically, you can collect that information from the cookie. Speak to your developer about cookies and how you can best use them on your website. Cookies are useful in many ways, and can make a customer’s experience on your website much smoother. However, you need user consent to use certain cookies, so the developer should advise you exactly what to use, and you should check (probably with a lawyer) whether you need user consent before you use them.

8. Have a privacy and cookies policy on the website: This tells visitors to your website what data you collect through the website, and how you use and store it. It should say what security you have in place to protect that data. It is also a legal requirement. If you don’t comply with the law, in a worst case scenario you can be fined a lot of money. Get legal advice and put an appropriate privacy and cookies policy in place from the start. They usually cost hundreds, not thousands, and it’s worth it in the long-run.

9. Put terms and conditions for your business on the website: This is your contract with the customer, to protect you (by being specific about what you will and won’t do) but also to list the customer’s rights. This is particularly important with consumers (rather than business customers). Consumers are well protected by the law, and how your business operates might infringe their rights unless you are careful. Take legal advice and get terms and conditions online that are specific to your business –it’s better to spend money now rather than be reported to Trading Standards by an unhappy consumer.

10. Comply with other legal requirements: Your developer should be able to help you with some requirements (such as complying with disability discrimination law); for others, such as distance selling laws, you may need legal advice. Get lawyers involved early, before the website is live – that will save you time and money as your lawyer should tell you what your website needs to do to comply with the law, and you can pass that on to the developer as part of your specification. The developer may charge you more to change things once the website is live.