Owner of Grange Web: Website design & development agency global from Cork, Ireland, Expert on WordPress. CMS too. Particularly skilled at helping people get online. Makes complexities simple. Highly experienced helper who makes projects move smoothly by great planning.
Thats a great question and one that in the same niche here in Ireland I ask myself every day.
Your list is one that I instinctively created and like you also immediately realised was the same as others. Here is what I try and do that I think makes the difference. It may sound cheezy and self-help book style but with my business now nearly 90% referral I feel that it has borne results. It may not suit you or your style so feel free to ignore.
Speed: There is a perception that a website design project should take x weeks. In some cases of course it can take weeks or even months. One of the areas that I am (overly) fanatical about all the time is automation and developing blocks of code / collateral that I can re-use again and again as foundation for client projects (websites in my case). This can be items like core style sheets, base themes / templates that can form the basis of operations. Making my WordPress (my go to CMS) setup super super fast through having a core set of plugins in place and the ability to set up WordPress in even less than the 5 minutes.
Then delivering early prototypes of website to customers who in my niche at least (SMEs) really can't distinguish good from amazing (more on that in a second. As a creative (lofty title) we tend to muse too much about the subtleties. I am not a designer more a developer so I haven't that anchor around my neck. I often argue with my designers 9in a positive manner) when they declare that a design isn't ready. Fit for purpose often will do.
Let me give you an example. We did a project last month with a client who had a horrible HTML website that even they knew was a dog from hell. I met with the client they wanted a "clean, simple CMS that had their logo and their existing content presented in a more pleasing fashion". So we created this for them http://www.grangewebdesign.org/eurosign/ - in 3 days. I won't share what we charged them for it but it is ready for deployment next week. Total man hours in and around 5-6.
The client knew this, we know this and they happily paid for it.
I know it isn't an award winning website - far from it - it is basic simple BUT fit for purpose. How we developed it so quickly was by applying a lot of good process and the items I mentioned above.
Yes we do better work and that leads me to the next point.
Best In Class Design
Your portfolio is king. The site above won't be in our portfolio. For obvious reasons. But every so often when you take a project that you know the site will get a lot of visitors you should pull out ALL the design stops to make it a work of art design wise. It may mean spending those extra dollars in time and eroding some of your own budget but I say do it. If (say) the end product is going to get 10K visitors a month (for instance) some of these may be potential customers and they may cone down your funnel through referral. Even if they don't you will have something great for your portfolio.
We do a mixed bag of wok in our company as it is the nature of the beast as we get clients with a wide range of budgets.
Last but not least you may already be this but this is something I finally decided to do early 2013.
This stems from my reading of a book by Stephen Pressfield. Essentially I now try and be super professional with clients. This is two parts. One is giving great service, proposals and deliverables and the other side is not doing work that isn't paid for. I used to be a sucker for this. "Can You do XYZ?? "No problem".
Now I quote it and price it properly. And guess what 99% of clients pay for it. My revenue is up as a result and I definitely feel my clients respect me more asa professional. There are hundreds of hours of unpaid work I have done which I now look back on with regret.
Your original question was "how can I differentiate myself from the countless competition?". I think this is the wrong question. I think your goal should be to make the next or current client a loyal salesman for you. AS they pay the last invoice you leave them as a delighted customer. Keep in touch with them. Touch base with them once a month with a phone call (not an email no no no). Use a CRM and keep record of their lives and their families and become a friend - after the project not during - during they are the client. Get a headset and develop a call list for them With the CRM you will have something to talk about.
Clients are your sales team. They will be at a meeting or bar and someone will mention that they are looking for what you do and due to the great project experience and the recent phone call you will be on their radar. This is priceless.
Glad to chat more just drop me an email on email@example.com if you want to share or chat.
Your concern is very common and not knowing the site and not knowing its structure, age or underlying technology I hope below will help.
You can't force google really to crawl your site. Nor can you force it to crawl your page.
You can resubmit your sitemap and hope this it will get crawled. The best method is to be active on your website in general and Google will crawl it with more regularly.
If your site is light on content and pretty new (weeks) then it won't get crawled as often as you would like.
You will read all sorts of stuff about how you could fool Google but from my experience the thing to is to keep a regular content stream going and that will indicate to Google that you are an active site.
You may ask what about the specific questions and the answers then don't worry Google will get to it if you are creating content in other areas.
Let me give you a recent example of one of my niche sites.
I created the site initially with 10-12 core pages. - Day 1 - Week 1
I then over the following days created 2-3 posts / pages on the site - Day 2-Day14
The site pages weren't visible till about Day 4-5.
I continue on a daily basis to create the best content possible. Length helps of course but don't create words just for the sake of it.
You may sya that your Q&A website is a different model but I would look at the big Q&A websites like Quora and look at some of their core pages that surround the site and creat them.
If you are light on questions then reach out to your network and ask them to either ask questions or help with answers.
Glad to do a quick call with you if this is unclear.
At the end of the day your sitemap is "just a file" with the links to all the files on your site. It is one of many items on your good SEO/website checklist to do and shouldn't be ignored however.
The SEO guys may scream in pain here but there are lots of sites that rank fine without a sitemap because they are doing damm fine in other more important areas.
There are lots of automated ways to make sure that your sitemap is up to date and doesn't deliver bad results and once you automate it you should in theory be able to "virtually walk away".
I would have to agree with Miguel above about not offering your services for free. Once you give something for free it is difficult to charge later. I would offer a basic service perhaps for a fixed duration for "Free" with options then for different paid services.
I appreciate from your points that these businesses may have little money but the idea is that with your help they can start to make money online. From my own experience all you get from offering anything for free is a passionate "Thank You" and nothing else.
I also think that offering the service as web design is probably the wrong terminology and one that in my own business have distanced myself from more and more. You need to offer them online boarding for business or some such offer. You need to be offering them the chance to get customers / presence / reputation / money online. Although these are meant to be natural results of web design and associated marketing the words "web design" don't resonate with most business users.
Here are some options that I would suggest
- Take percentage of their business
- Offer a regular (small) payment plan
- Offer them chance perhaps to regain all their fee if they get you 5 referrals for new business that result in new projects for you. The maths on this is that you will be bale to use the clients as your sales team and over time build a client base.