Face it. Your website is stale and boring.
Traffic is down. Your content is outdated. You're sure it's affecting business because that too has slowed.
Maybe it's time for a redesign.
You do a little research. Check out your competition. Get some ideas brewing. You decide your rework definitely has to include your mobile audience. You should probably have a login area so new prospects and customers can create accounts and make secure purchases.
How about that cool parallax scrolling effect where the background moves slower than the foreground? And maybe an auto responder for a newsletter you have in mind? Oh, and a blog. Definitely need a blog.
You have lots of great ideas, but the big question is who is going to make all of this happen? Sounds really technical.
Can a web designer do all this or do I need to hire a web developer? Aren't they the same thing? Do I need both? Is that expensive? How can I justify the overhead? Is this worth it? Do people still use the web? Who is going to manage my content? Am I wasting my time? My Money? Why am I even in this business?
Relax. Take a deep breath.
Updating your website can be overwhelming when you don't know where to start or whom to hire. Chances are you will need both a web designer and a web developer. In all likelihood you'll need a full web development company.
Regardless of who does the work, though, you have to consider your audience and how they will interact with your site.
For most people, a website is just a thing with words and pictures, a way to find answers to their informational, transactional or navigational needs. They click around, do what they came to do and leave. And maybe, hopefully, come back later if your site doesn't frighten them away.
But for all of its simplicity, the effort to build the thing requires a host of complex elements. And as sites are being built more these days with users in mind, more complex behaviors come into play. That means the roles of those who create websites have become more specialized.
The Devil is in the details, as they say, but the distinctions between a web designer and a web developer are clear, so let's go over both so you'll have a better idea of what your project needs and why you'll probably need both.
First, What is a Web Designer Really?
You've done your research, you know you need a clean presentation and it has to be easy to find things. And it has to work on the phone. And it has to work on a tablet. And a desktop. And on different browsers. And you want clear calls to action so people don't have to guess what you want them to do once they get there.
This is where web design comes in.
Your web designer is the first layer of the user experience. The first impression, so to speak. She is the visual communicator in your digital world.
She knows how to engage the user and keep them on your site, incorporating everything from the graphics in her design to the copy on the page to create an experience that flows.
Her strength is in page layout, colors, graphics, which fonts to use and navigation.
She can make your online world pop with creativity, while making it easy for your audience to navigate or get around on your site.
User interaction should not incite violence in your audience.
Any designer worth her weight in iPads can design a site for multiple devices so you don't have to scroll five hundred feet in every direction to see everything on a page. She knows how to make a user-friendly experience on any device – phone, tablet or desktop – by adopting a responsive website design.
That said, while she can design this look, she might not know how to program this look.
That's where your developer comes in.
The Role of the Web Developer and Back-end Development
First off, web developers are programmers, if you didn't get that already.
There's a joke about them that goes: A programmer's wife asks him to run to the store and pick up a loaf of bread and says, if they have eggs, get a dozen. The programmer comes home with 12 loaves of bread.
Did you parse that?
His approach to website creation is analytical. Armed with logic, your web developer takes your web designer's creation and makes it functional.
He is in charge of site performance. Using various programming languages and frameworks, he makes sure your web pages are displayed the way the designer intended, while implementing the dynamic functionality of the site for a user-friendly experience.
In other words, this guy is why your sign-up form works. He is how you're even able to be on the web.
He deals with the stuff the user can't see – the back end, or server side of things: databases, analytics, architecture, security, you name it.
You probably wouldn't want him to design your site though. Remember those twelve loaves of bread? That left brain logic might get in the way of that right brain creativity.
A developer's work involves a zero margin for error. His code doesn't work, your site doesn't work. That means his focus is on getting things to operate the way they are supposed to, not making things pretty.
To use a car as an analogy, the web designer creates the smooth lines and sexy look that drives buyer interest, while the web developer builds the engine and gives the car its reputation as a well-built machine.
There is some overlap though.
The Tie-in is Front End Development
If design is the look of your car and back-end development is engine performance, then front-end development is your electric locks, seat warmers, air conditioning and all the other amenities that tie everything together for a comfortable and inviting user-friendly experience.
The front-end developer makes your site interactive, usually through programming like jQuery and with HTML and CSS markup. He puts the zing in your amazing design.
Front-end developers carry user experience across devices. That responsive design thing I mentioned earlier? This is the person that makes that work, by tying in data from the back end and sending it to the user's browser.
His is an uncertain environment. Making sure data speaks correctly to browsers is only one aspect. It has to speak correctly across several browsers and those browsers various versions, and it has to load fast enough to prevent people from abandoning your site.
If it takes more than a few seconds for your website to load, most people say screw it and move on.
The front end dev keeps the peace.
So, now you see that the intricacies of a redesign can run deep and why you will likely need both a web designer and a web developer. But also that your project may require a third person.
At the End of the Day
It will most likely take a full web development team to achieve the greatest outcome for your redesign.
Remember that blog you wanted? Who is writing your content? What about search engine optimization? They don't come just because you build it on the web anymore. Who is getting you noticed in the search engines? Who is promoting your site on social media?
Today, you need a well-managed property to maintain a viable presence on the web. It's a bigger deal out there now than it was 10 years ago.
In the end, you have to decide exactly what it is your site is going to accomplish. The only real answer to that question is to create a unique experience for every visitor, keep them engaged and keep them coming back and ultimately get them to do what you want them to do: Buy your product or service.
Hiring a web development company gives you access to a designer, a developer, a front-end developer, a content developer, a project manager, someone to do SEO, someone to handle your social media optimization, perhaps a copy writer and whoever else your project needs.
That's a lot to consider.
Now, if you are uncertain which web team is ideal for that job, I have an idea.
Phil Foxwell is the senior copy writer and SEO consultant at Merry Fools. Follow Phil on Google+ and learn the ONE secret handshake that will get you into any SEO circle. Not really, but it's a good place to continue the conversation.