Website development is not a “do it once, and you are home free”-type of practice. You will need a mutual and beneficial business relationship with your website designer/developer. And just like any successful business relationship, it helps to ask the right questions upfront to see if there’s a good fit between your business and theirs. Whether you’re looking to find a new website developer, or want to learn more about the one you’ve got, here are some questions that you really need to ask to any website designers before decide to build one:
1. Do I own my website?
Similar questions are: “What are the costs if I wish to move my website to another company?” or “If your company suffered bankruptcy, what happens to my website?”. These are crucial questions though. Your website is an investment. It’s critical to have a good understanding of this issue, preferably before you have a deal with a developer. If you are uncomfortable with the answer, choose a different developer.
2. Which CMS (Content Management System) will you be using to build my site?
A CMS will be used to help your developer to build your site and to give you the tools to self-manage some content (words, documents, photos, videos, etc.) on your site. These features is surely very handy, except if you just want the most basic of brochure-style websites.
If an obscure or proprietary CMS is used to build your site then the chances of having any other web developer work on your site is low to zero. Here are a couple of sites that track the most popular CMS:
- CMS usage statistics: overview of statistics for CMS technologies
- Web Technologies: usage of content management systems for websites.
At the moment, WordPress is the most popular. However, before you insist that you website is built using WordPress, it’s important to note that:
- Different CMS suit different purposes. For example, Drupal is very popular with larger enterprises and government, and Magento is a specialist e-commerce system.
- An off-the-shelf CMS is not appropriate for all sites. Highly original sites or applications might be better custom coded using Ruby on Rails, or your site might be part of a much bigger Software as a Service (SaaS) system such as Shopify.
3. Have you produced a website like mine before?
Just because a web developer doesn’t have a site like yours in their portfolio, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give them a go. If they do, there’s an improved chance they’ll spend less trial and error time than an inexperienced competitor.
4. What are the likely ongoing costs of my website with you?
Aside from managing content, imagine you don’t want to add any new functionality to your site after it goes live. What are the costs of keeping your site running as is? Ask about hosting, domain names, security updates, SSL certificates, payment gateways etc. Find out more about how to choose and register your domain name.
5. What are your charges for service and support?
Some website developers might lure you in with a low initial price, but then slug with you high maintenance and update charges, ongoing and/or ad-hoc. Here are some helpful questions to ask: Do you offer support outside of business hours? What are your typical response times? Can I call someone, or is it email only?
6. What do you offer in terms of marketing my website?
SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is the phrase you’ll hear most often, but that’s just the start of what you could spend on marketing your new site – online or offline. However, you must know that some web development companies don’t offer this service at all, preferring to leave it to others whose main service offering is the digital marketing. Some businesses offer entry level services to get you started, while others claim to offer a full suite of digital marketing services (keep in mind it could be outsourced).
7. Can I meet with the people who are doing the work?
This is another way of asking ‘Do you outsource?’. Whether or not you think outsourcing is a good or bad thing is up to you. Ultimately it’s about your website developer taking full responsibility for the work that is produced.
8. How long do you estimate before my website goes live?
Maybe the developer has a lot of work so that they can’t even start on your site for the next three months.
9. Will my site look good and work well on a smartphone or tablet?
Any day now, smartphones and tablets are set to overtake desktops as the more popular way of accessing the Internet. Does your website developer know about responsive web design, or perhaps they recommend a mobile-specific (m.) version of your site? This is a rapidly evolving area of website design and development, so this question is about checking that your web guy is in touch with the issue, rather than in denial. Always keep in mind that it’s reasonable to expect to pay more for a website that works well on a desktop and a smartphone.
10. What’s in it for the sales person?
Do you feel like you’re being pushed into paying for extras that you don’t quite understand and maybe don’t need? Are you being “forced” into buying a package (which may or may not be suitable), rather than a solution? How much is the salesperson listening, and how much are they talking? Make sure the sales person’s commission isn’t his or her biggest incentive.
Don’t be afraid to get the answers to all the above in writing. A reputable, experienced, confident web developer will have no problem with this because they know it helps to get the relationship onto an open, transparent platform right from the start. It can also help you compare and contrast offers to your business needs.