If your business needs a website, or your website needs a facelift, you’ll likely talk with the website developer you used originally, or perhaps you’ll decide to look around a little. When hiring a web design company, there are a number of questions you should ask. Asking the right questions will help determine whether the company in question is competent, honest, and can get the job done right.
Ask questions about the web design company itself:
- How long have you been in business? While a company doesn’t need to have been in business for a long time to know how to design and develop effective websites, you may want to hire a stable business that will be around for years to come to help support, maintain, and evolve your website. And, the more websites a company has developed, the more they likely know about the industry, cost-saving measures, and hidden traps that can cost first-time developers and the companies that hire them time and money to fix.
- How many websites have you developed? With the advent of easy-to-use content management systems, many companies have adopted website development as a service area, without having a good understanding of website best practices. If website development isn’t a core service area, beware. While they may build a functional website, it may not follow industry best practices or perform as the truly optimized sales and marketing tool it should be.
- Have you developed websites for other companies in my industry? It’s not necessary for a company to have experience working in your industry, but it may help if the development team is already familiar with your industry’s key audiences, challenges, and best practices. If the company doesn’t have experience working with businesses in your industry, ask what they’ll do to get up-to-speed.
- What other services do you offer? Through the process of working with a development company, that company should gain a deep understanding of your business, audiences, and objectives. If that company offers other marketing services, like video, graphic design, and photography, they can more easily leverage that knowledge to help you produce other aspects of your marketing. Offering these services will also help them provide valuable content for your website, such as videos, custom graphics, or custom photography.
Ask about their website development process:
- What platform will you develop the site on? This question is critical. There are a number of ways to program websites today: from simple HTML; advanced programming in a programming language like ASP.NET, PHP, Perl, C#, C++, or others; or on an open source or proprietary content management system. You should be comfortable making updates to the site yourself or be able to find a backup programmer that knows the programming language the site will be built with in case something were to happen between you and the original programmer. A word of caution about proprietary content management systems: if the relationship sours, you likely will not be able to move the website to another host or support the site with other developers. And, if the company goes out of business, the platform will no longer be maintained. We recommend using an open source content management system, so once the site is developed you own it free and clear, and can switch web hosts or developers as needed. Open source content management systems are also often updated more frequently to introduce new features and security patches, and benefit from the development expertise of developers worldwide.
- How will you develop a plan for the website? Your website developer should take the lead in planning the website. The best scenario is for the website development company to have a marketing focus, so your website is designed and built as a marketing tool, not just as a “brochure site.” You also have a responsibility to actively take part in this part of the process—you’ll likely want to participate in a planning session (or multiple planning sessions) to discuss your likes and dislikes, goals for the site, and to share information about your audiences.
- Where do you recommend I host the website? We typically advise clients not to host their website with their website developer. If the relationship goes south, it can be difficult to get control of your website. A good way to mitigate that risk is to host your website with a reputable third-party host.
- Are they able to develop the website so that it looks good and functions on mobile devices? More and more users are accessing websites with mobile devices and tablets, so it’s critical that your website looks good and functions appropriately on them. Ask about the developer’s approach for mobile: do they recommend a responsive design, or a separate mobile website?
- Do you have a copywriter or am I responsible for providing content? We often find that developing content can be a sticking point—it’s difficult! If you don’t have the time or resources necessary to create your new website content, it can be helpful if your developer has a resource so the two can work closely together.
- What is their process for testing the website? Be sure to confirm what browsers, operating systems, and devices (like phones and tablets) the developer will guarantee the site will function on. They should develop the site to display and function appropriately on all current versions of browsers and operating systems. And, they should have a formal process of testing all links and images within the site prior to launch.
- How much will it cost and what is included? Does the quoted cost include registering a domain name for you? Hosting? Purchasing stock photos for use in the website? Maintenance or support time? All of the special functionality you’ve requested? If budget is a concern, ask them what cost saving measures they can offer or recommend to help you get the features you want, at a price that you can afford.
- What are the terms of the contract? How many website design concepts will you get to see? How do they handle change requests? When and how often will you be billed? Do you own the website “free and clear” upon submitting final payment? Who retains the rights to the code or artwork after development? What are the payment terms—is it a fixed cost, or time and materials? Will you owe money down at the onset of the project? Will they bill you monthly?
- How long will the project take? Most reputable firms should be able to give you an idea of how long the project will take, based on the specifications you discuss.
- How will they communicate throughout the process? Ask how they provide status updates—do you get access to a project portal? Will you be in contact with all the team members, or will you have one main point of contact?
- How are reviews handled? Will you be able to review the website on a staging or development server during development?
- Will they provide training on how to manage the website once it’s built? If the site is built on a content management system, the developer should offer to provide you with a training manual and a training session, to familiarize you with the program and how to make content updates, like adding or deleting pages and adding or editing content.
- How will they help you promote the website? Just because you develop a website, doesn’t mean you’ll have a lot of traffic. Ask whether the developer will include search engine optimization tactics to help the website rank well in the search engines, and whether they can help you put together a plan for other ways to drive traffic to the site.
- How will they handle maintenance and support after the site launch? How will they charge for ongoing support? Are they able to easily add new features to the site after launch? Can they help provide services like search engine optimization, additional copywriting, site audits, etc.? What suggestions can they offer to help you continue to grow and improve the site?
- Who will be on the website development team? It’s important that you understand whether you’ll be dealing with one person who is also doing all of the design and programming work, or whether there’s an entire team that will be working on the site. Choosing a company that has multiple team members to aid in the development means you’ll get to work with people who specialize in their unique skill sets, versus a general practitioner. Typical roles on a website development project include:
- Account Executive: this person will maintain contact with you periodically throughout the project and is in charge of fostering a relationship with you and ensuring your needs are met. They should periodically come to you with ideas or suggestions for your business.
- Project Manager: this person will manage the day-to-day activities of your website development project and is in charge of ensuring the project is completed on-time, on budget, and at a high level of quality. You will typically have contact with your project manager at least weekly, if not more often, during development.
- Web Strategist: the website strategist is in charge of ensuring the website becomes a useful and effective marketing tool. He or she will work with you to develop the overall strategy and plan for the website, considering things like audience and goals for the site. This individual will also help craft a strategy for promoting the website, using tools like Search Engine Optimization, paid search programs, and traditional marketing tactics.
- UX Designer: you may work with a UX designer, an individual who is trained in understanding and creating the ‘user experience’ on a website.
- Graphic Designer: the graphic designer will develop one or more website concepts for you to choose from, then will work with the programmer to provide the necessary graphical elements for your website. The designer may also help procure and touch-up photos and other graphics for the website.
- Copywriter: A good copywriter will be able to edit content you provide, or develop the content based on existing materials or interviews with you or your team. Additionally, he or she will know how to write for the web and can introduce search engine optimization writing strategies into your web copy.
- Programmer/Web Developer: this individual coordinates the setup of your hosting account, manages your domain name, and programs the website.
Your website is a critical component of your business’s marketing efforts—and possibly the most important. Take the time to do your proper due diligence to ensure you’re finding the right long-term partner. Reputable firms should be able to answer all of the questions outlined above. In turn, you can help find the company that will be the right fit for you by being open and up front about what your needs are.
Learn more about AVS Group's website development services and view our website portfolio here.