Finding a website developer that you trust can seem daunting. There are literally millions online and location doesn’t really matter (unless, of course, you prefer in-person meetings). Most developers and designers can meet via zoom or another online technology and all of their work is done remotely anyway. This is truly a business without borders. So, how do you choose from an endless supply of names and companies?
We recommend starting with the basics and keeping in mind that this is like any other interview process. Asking the right questions and knowing what you want will eliminate a lousy partnership before it begins.
Questions to ask yourself before you dive in.
Is this a completely new website or a redesign?
If you are building a completely new website, you’ll need to consider several things before you start.
Do you have a domain (www.your-fab-name.com) or do you need to buy one? If you don’t know how or where to begin, make sure that this is something you put on your list to discuss. And, if you ask your developer to register a domain for you, make sure they register the domain in your name, so there is no ambiguity later over ownership.
I cannot count the number of times when we’ve had to negotiate a minefield for clients whose web developers have gone out of business and registered the domain in their names and not the client’s. It can take months or longer to resolve this situation, and you can be left without a website during the process.
Do you want to find your own hosting service (where your website files are stored) or do you want your web designer to source it for you?
Most people let their web designer set everything up for them. It may seem the most comfortable option but, at a later date, if things with you and your designer/developer don’t work out, it can make moving on much more complicated.
If you do have your hosting sourced by your designer, make sure they set it up in your company name so that you have complete access to the account and the administration. It will make your life much easier in the longer term and ensure there are no arguments in future.
Do you know what you like or want in a website? What websites have you visited that you really love – and what sites do you absolutely hate?
Look at what your competitors are doing and what you like about their sites.
Make a list of your favourites (and the ones you despise). This can give your designer a very clear vision when they work on your fabulous new online shop. Really get down to the details… what colours do you love or loathe? Do you like ‘sans-serif’, ‘script’ or ‘serif’ fonts? Make a list.
If you are redesigning an existing site, it’s time to take stock and look at your website with a truly critical eye.
- What parts do you want to keep; what works well?
- What areas do your visitors use the most? And what parts are left untouched? If you don’t know these answers, check your analytics account. If you don’t have any analytics on your website, it might be a good time to install tracking for a month or two to get the information before you make changes.
All of this is valuable information for designing your new website. Knowing what is working and/or not working on your existing site can make the difference between a successful redesign and a waste of precious cash.
How technically inclined are you? Do you want to edit your own website or do you need someone who will work with you longer term and take care of everything?
Everyone thinks they want to do their own website updates, but often, when faced with the reality of learning how to use the content editors and dashboards, what can happen is the website will become neglected and, worse yet, outdated.
Keeping your details and essential information on your website, such as seasonal sales and new services up to date is critical to your online success.
Google and other search engines now base rankings on how often your website information is updated.
So, if you can realistically only manage an update every few months, you should seriously consider recruiting someone who can lend a hand to get the job done for you more often. Ask your prospective web developer about their ongoing maintenance charges for website updates and enquire about an ad hoc option that won’t tie you into a contract if you cannot afford the monthly commitment.
Alternatively, consider appointing a more tech-loving member of staff to do the job. Make sure they get full training on how to use the website editor from your designer and get ‘how-to’ videos to help along the way.
Do you have all your content ready, or will you need someone to do your copywriting? Do you have all your photos and graphics? Are you really ready to proceed?
If you don’t have all of your content ready, don’t panic. Lots of web design companies may have partners who provide these services for an extra fee. And, oftentimes, it’s better to have a professional do your copywriting for you. The difference can be more than remarkable.
You work within your business, and this often creates a limited view of the overall brand story. Positive and enthusiastic as you may be – you may not be entirely in tune with your target audience. That’s where a professional copywriter can make all the difference.
Ditto for professional photography. You’d be amazed at how much better you and your services can look and feel in the hands of a great photographer.
If you don’t have a lot of cash to invest right now in these areas, put them both on your list of things to invest in for the future or check out local universities for students who are looking to build their portfolios. Often, students will work for free or a fraction of the cost just for the experience.
FINDING THE RIGHT PROFESSIONAL
What’s the difference between a web designer and a web developer anyway? And does it matter?
Most people use the terms interchangeably and don’t make any distinction. But there is a difference between the two disciplines. And depending on your project, you may need one more than the other. So, let’s look at each…
A web designer is concerned with the look and feel of the website, the user experience (also referred to as the UX). They will create the entire aesthetic of your site, but they don’t necessarily code.
This is done by creating graphics, choosing fonts, colours, mapping the customer journey, etc. and then handing everything over to the person who writes the code – the web developer.
A web developer is an actual coder. They take the design and make it work on the world wide web. They write all the HTML, CSS, PHP or whatever language is required to ensure that your website is a smooth, functioning and cohesive finished product that people can use.
The confusion between the two terms came out of necessity within the IT industry. Many start-up firms forced web designers and web developers to cross-train. But most will have a preference, a speciality, that they are comfortable with. Pay attention to what your applicant uses as their own title, and you’ll understand what they actually do.
So, which do you need for your project? Usually both.
If you are doing a new design, you’ll need someone who can create the concept, develop the user experience, map out the visitor flow from entry to calls-to-action and someone to make it all work correctly. And, if you’re doing a redesign, you’ll still need the same skills.
But if you have a functional issue on your website, like slow loading speeds, glitches and things not displaying correctly, you’ll likely need a developer, not a designer to sort the issue.
What other amazing projects have you done? Ask for links to active websites.
Most website designers will have static portfolios, and those are great to give you an idea of their design style and skill. But it won’t tell you how well the websites work. Make sure you have working websites to play with. And play with them!
Enlist your inner child – touch, click, and interact with everything. Put the sites through their paces. Check them on more than one device. Sure, they may look fantastic on your laptop – but what about on your mobile phone, a tablet or on a retina display? Do all the buttons work? Are there any broken links? Check, check, check!
Ask for references – or even better, contact the people from their example websites.
Many people get on the phone and get distracted. So here is a suggested cheat sheet questionnaire:
- How well did the designer/developer take instruction? Did they listen fully and really try to understand what you were trying to achieve with your project? Did you feel understood?
- How receptive were they to make changes during the design/development process? If something didn’t function as you’d imagined, were they willing to adjust it?
- Did/do they give you adequate support? If something goes wrong, how quickly do they respond? What is the most extended amount of time you’ve had to be without a website due to an outage/breakage? Was it due to a website malfunction or a hosting outage?
- How well do your staff get on with the developer/designer? Do all members of your team find them easy to approach and deal with? Does everyone feel comfortable calling to ask for assistance?
- Would you recommend them to your friends?
If everything checks out ok, the last thing to check is how do you feel about them? Do you feel at ease? Do you feel as though you can ring them with an issue, and they will respond positively and resolve things? Do they inspire your trust?
This could potentially be a long-term working relationship. One of the most common reasons it can go wrong is a breakdown in communication. Often this happens when either party becomes frustrated, and expectations are unrealistic. You must have good rapport to move past those moments.
There are as many different things to check as there are qualified designers and developers to choose from. The list is far from exhaustive. But I hope this helps you to get organised, remember some things that are important to your particular project and to make a better, more informed choice. Your new website should be more exciting than terrifying – so enjoy the process!