Last week I spent the afternoon reviewing a client's website. It wasn't long before we surmised that Sue had gone down the path that so many solopreneurs travel. She has an attractive site that's difficult to find and impossible to update.

When Sue began her business, she hired a web designer who created a visually appealing website but gave no thought to search engine optimization or future content updates. As a result, Sue had no control over content updates, images, or optimizing her site so search engines will find her. Sue's primary marketing tool grew useless with time.

Business owners wish to impress clients and prospects with their website design, and rightfully so. But today, your visitors want functionality and ease. Within seconds of downloading your page they expect to know who you are, what you have to offer, and how your offer of products or services will solve their "problem". Fancy, over-designed sites are quickly becoming a thing of the past and functionality is taking a front row seat. This includes the ability to find you on the Internet with ease. To me, launching a site without applying search engine optimization (SEO) is akin to placing an expensive ad in the yellow pages with no phone number included. Why bother? Yet, too many business owners are placing their entire budget in design and none in SEO.

Reviewing Sue's site prompted me to turn to the experts. In my next few articles I hope to help small business owners who want to create or upgrade their web presence on a small budget.

This week, I spoke with design expert, Nicole McCullum, owner of Captivate Designs. Here's what she has to say:

Q. Nicole, what are the most effective questions to ask a web designer before hiring them?

A. Begin with the following questions to qualify your web designer.
- What services do you offer and how can I benefit from these services?
- What is included in my web design package?
- Will I be able to update and make changes to my own website or would I have to rely on you?
- Will I be charged a flat fee or will I be billed by the hour? (a flat fee is best)
- How does your web design process work?
- What steps do you take to understand my business and to make sure that my new website is in-line with my goals and objectives?

For example, you may want to use your website to generate new inquiries and to stay in touch with these new prospects. Your designer should be able to build your website to capture your visitor's information easily and recommend tools to help you follow up with leads easily so that you can convert them into paying customers.

You also want to confirm that you would have ownership of your website design files. If your website designer is not able to support you in the future, you want the flexibility to move to another company.

Q. How do I know if he or she is the right designer for me?

At the end of the day, you want to choose a designer that's going to provide you with the information and guidance you need to make an informed decision, as well as a clear strategy to help you meet your goals. Make sure the designers listen carefully and answer your questions and make recommendations. Some further questions you might consider are:

- How do you assess my needs and make sure that my new website will serve my most critical needs? And - Do you have partnerships or resources to supply things like content, web hosting, Internet marketing and shopping carts?

Also pay attention to how patient and responsive they are in responding to your questions. It's usually a great indicator of how well you will work together. If he or she appears impatient with your questions, they may not be a good match for you.

Q. For the business owner who doesn't know much about coding or graphic design and is contemplating a do-it-yourself site using WordPress or a "one day web design" tool, what are the advantages and pitfalls?

A. The advantages of a do-it-yourself website design tool is the low cost, the control to update your own website, and the ability to get a website up and running within a day. However, using these tools restrict you a great deal on formatting and design. Other companies may have the same design, including your competitor. If you are in the market for a very basic site, this could be the way to go. As your company and your needs grow, you may want to consider a professional designer.

Q. What are the top 3 things that will make a website most effective in attracting visitors and motivating them to take the next step?

A. I think an effective website starts with a professional-looking, simple design, that communicates your message clearly to your target audience. Make sure your site clearly communicates what you want people to do when they arrive on your website, i.e., call for more information, fill out a form, or download a free report or white paper. It should be easy to use and navigate. That means fast loading pages, with clearly defined menu tabs and great functionality. And of course you need to implement a strong marketing strategy, whether it's pay per click advertising, search engine optimization and/or social media marketing that will help you drive traffic to your website.

Q. Is there a way web developer can work within a tight budget, yet deliver an effective product?

A. Marla, even on a tight budget you want to make sure that you are getting the best value for your budget. Make sure you do your research, because there is no standard pricing when it comes to web design. However, if you are looking for a site that includes internet marketing, such as search engine optimization, you are more likely to pay $1,500 and up. If you are a hands-on person who's willing to learn, there are simple, low cost things you can do to market your website: Write articles and submit them to online directories, participate in online forums and blogs, and participate in social media marketing sites such as FaceBook and Twitter.

Stay tuned next week for some great SEO and design tips. If you have specific questions, list them here. The experts await!

Nicole McCullum is the founder of Captivate Designs, a Results Driven Web Design and Internet Marketing firm. Her blog entitled "Turn Your Website Into a Lead Generating Machine" educates small business owners on how to use their websites to generate leads through simple actionable steps. You may email Nicole at nicole@captivatedesigns.com or follow her on twitter @ www.twitter.com/nicolemccullum .