Knowing what makes a good website is crucial. Making mistakes as a small business is expensive, time consuming and doesn't allow you to hit your company objectives. You could apply a 'you get what you pay for' approach and you might be lucky or you could arm yourself with some facts before briefing a website designer. If you don't get satisfactory answers, choose another designer. This is what you need to know, what to do and what not to do...
Design with the customer in mind!
You can have a great design but if it only appeals to a small part of your customer base or even worse, just you, you may find your new website alienating everyone else. Ask your designer to keep your customer at the front of their thinking when designing. An electricians website should look authoritative and reassuring whilst a trendy bar appealing to young adults needs to appeal to the young and the trendy. A free template from the Internet is not going to achieve this as well as a bespoke design and you will again lose business that should have been yours.
Build a search engine friendly website!
You wouldn't market your business in the desert and the further down the search engine rankings your website is, the further into the desert you are taking your business. That's a waste of money if you've just spent a load on a great looking design! How will your new site be built? Is it using architecture that is friendly to search engines? Here again, the free website built using a template can equate to a waste of money - search engines typically don't like them and they can rank very low indeed. Be prepared to spend time link building, optimizing the content and understanding your meta tags. If that doesn't mean anything to you (and why should it!) ask your designer to explain. You can optimize your website yourself but you do have a day job remember so make sure you understand what costs on top of the build itself you will need to find to optimize your website. Page two of a search engine is where the desert exists, less than 10% of people ever bother to look there.
Browser Compatibility! Your designer must make sure that the site is built to be read by all the different browsers, not just Internet Explorer. What will your website look like in Safari, Firefox or Opera? What will it look like on someones phone? Make sure your designer builds for all of the different browsers, it takes time to do and costs more but it's better than putting off your customers. The designer must also minimize loading speed, the longer it takes the less likely the visitor to your site will stick around.