You know this already, but we’ll say it again: Having a website should be a crucial component of your marketing plan. It allows new customers to find you through search engine optimization, and it gives you a platform to share your brand’s story and show off your products or services. If you don’t have a website—or at least one that looks like it was made in this decade—it’s harder for consumers to find you and trust you. Pretty basic stuff, right?
It is, but—and understandably so—a lot of companies (even the big ones) hold onto old website motifs as long as possible. When you’re ready to get a website or upgrade your old one, you must find a web developer to help you with the technical side (unless you’re already a talented coder, in which case, lucky you!). Failing to properly vet your developer can result in a crummy, expensive website that takes longer than expected—or never gets completed at all. But it’s intimidating if you don’t have technical experience.
Before you hire someone to help you with your website, ask these 15 questions first. And look into a few developers before hiring someone so you have options. Yeah, you’re not shopping for cars, but you should always compare prices and styles before you make a final decision on this very important purchase.
1. May I see your portfolio?
This is an essential step so you can see samples of their work. This helps you determine if you like their aesthetic and if they’re capable of the work you expect.
2. How much will this cost?
It’s key to know immediately how much you’ll pay. Many developers charge a flat project fee, though others may charge an hourly rate. Find out what you pay if the project goes beyond the original scope. Also, are there any ongoing service fees? If you purchase hosting through your developer, find out what the monthly or annual fee is.
3. How long will this take?
Once you discuss what you’re looking for, ask for an estimated timeline. Can they start immediately, or do they have a backlog of work? If they’re good, these guys are often busy so your project might not get started right away. But don’t let that discourage you—instead, use that time to work on the content of your site prior to their work getting started, and fine-tune your vision. It’ll make the process more turnkey.
4. What programming languages and design software do you use?
Look for someone who knows more than HTML, and find out what content management system will be used. Also find out if he or she plans to use templates (cheaper option) or create a site from scratch—this decision may be up to you. You want them to have the skills to make a professional website, but you also don’t want obscure or custom systems that will be hard for a different developer to work on in the future should you switch gears and work with someone else down the line.
5. Can I make updates myself?
You’ll want to go back to the developer if technical or graphical changes are needed, but it’s ideal for you to be able to make changes to text yourself. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay the developer for every future content tweak, no matter how small. Note that websites built on WordPress are usually easy for even non-technical people to update.
6. Do they offer any training?
If you’re able to make updates yourself, but don’t have any experience with a content management system, will they offer training or provide any materials to get you up to speed?
7. How will they support you?
Find out how available he or she will be when your website has technical issues or you want changes. How long will it take them to help you, and will you have to pay extra for this support? Will they be available outside of business hours if there’s an emergency?
8. How will the website be SEO-friendly?
Ask how the website will be built to support SEO. One key consideration is to ensure the website is mobile-friendly, since Google now factors that into search rankings.
9. How will they keep the site secure?
With the prevalence of hacking and web attacks, ask how they aim to prevent you from becoming a victim—and what they will do if that happens. Discuss backup options—you should implement at least two.
10. Can the website grow with your business?
If you expand your products and services, will the developer be able to update the existing website without an extensive (and expensive) redesign? Also, can new tools, integrations or technology easily be added in the future?
11. Who owns it?
Ask who owns the domain, hosting and website since some developers may register in their own name. It’s ideal to have these things under your name in case you want to switch providers or firms in the future, but it’s not the end of the world if it’s not.
12. What is your design process like?
Get a feel for the steps they’ll go through and how involved you’ll be, plus what you’ll need to provide, including images, logos and content. If you’re working with an agency, they often handle all of that for you, but if you’re working with a freelance developer, you’ll likely be expected to provide the copy and content.
13. Do you do any market and/or competitive research first?
Every company has different needs, and what works in one industry doesn’t always work in another. Check to see if the developer will spend any time researching to find out what design is ideal for you (and convert the best, if relevant). It’s ideal to work with someone who has knowledge of the latest user design/experience best practices, plus someone who will take the time to do competitive research and see what others in your field do for their websites. If you’ve already done the competitive research, then by all means, share it and save this step!
14. How will you help my business goals?
First, figure out why you need a website (or an upgraded site). Are you looking for more orders? A lower bounce rate for your content? An increase in newsletter subscribers? Communicate this to the developer and find out how they can build a site that can help you achieve these goals.
15. Can you provide references?
Employers do reference checks when hiring new employees, and you should use the same caution for something as important as your website. You’ll want to contact a few previous clients of the web developer to ensure this is someone you really want to work with. Reach out and find out what their experience was like, and be sure to ask if the project stayed on budget and on the estimated timeline.
See? You don’t have to be a technical genius to ask the right questions and have the perfect website built for you! But you are a big part of the web-development process. Web developers aren’t mind readers—it’s your responsibility to communicate to them what you want, including the look and feel of the brand and functionality needs, and then let them do their thing to bring that vision to life.
Not comfortable or don’t have the time to scope out a new web developer? We can help you manage the entire web-development process! Contact us to learn more.
Image courtesy of plantronicsgermany