Not all web developers are created equal. With that in mind, your business web site is often the first contact between your company and consumers still shopping around for goods and services. These pre-sale consumers will be visiting your company and your competitors online before actually contacting you in person for the resulting sale. Having an attractive, easy to maneuver business website is going to insure they call you and not your competitor.
Shopping for a web developer can be difficult. Many professional web developers are priced well out of range for small businesses with a limited marketing budget. Other so-called bargain priced web designers are hobbyists. Their experience consists of a few vanity sites for friends and family, they know very little actual code and create sites that aren’t necessarily standards compliant. These bargain designers often use wizards and other “canned” website builder kits that are designed for someone with little or no experience in mind. This will result in your site looking amateurish and like half a million other stops on the internet. These designers are not only code illiterate, often creating hard to manage sites with aesthetic problems, difficult navigation, or worse, but they may not have tested your site in multiple browsers. A professional web developer will make sure the same site that looks slick and professional in Internet Explorer, looks just as good in Firefox or Safari. A professional web developer is also going to test your new website in multiple screen resolutions to ensure what looks good on your screen looks good on everyone else’s screen. If a site state what browser and resolution the site looks best at, the designer didn’t take the time or have the expertise to make the site usable to a wider range of potential customers.
How can you insure that you are getting the best developer for your money? Shop around and make sure to get quotes with specifics from more then one design firm. Ask for references and look at the web developer’s own company website. Check out their portfolio and test drive the sites they have designed. Are the sites in their portfolio aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate? Have they checked for errors? Do all links work? If there are interactive features, shopping carts, or contact forms- do they work and are they self explanatory and easy for the first time visitor to use?
Once you find a web developer that you want to work with, here are some things to consider to insure that you get what you expect:
- Protect your domain name (www.yourcompany.com). When your domain name is registered, make sure that your company is listed as the domain owner; otherwise an unscrupulous designer can hold your domain name “hostage”. Don’t let someone register your domain for you. Ask them to assist you in the process but insist that it be done by you.
- Protect your content. The text and images that go on to your website are the property of your company. Make sure your contract states as much. The developer has copyrights to any code or graphics that were written and created by them, unless otherwise specified. Don’t find yourself hard pressed to use your own content in other marketing vehicles, such as print ads, newsletters, and billboards.
- You shouldn’t have to call your designer every time you want to change content or pictures on your website. It’s quite easy for a developer to integrate content management into your site at the time of creation. If you know how to log on and use a word processor, you or your staff can edit parts of your website with no specialized skill of software. This keeps calls to your web developer to a minimum and expensive hourly costs down. Most designers do offer maintenance, however if you prefer to have it done for you. You also want to ask what your designer about keeping the site code patched with the latest security releases.
- Will your web developer being using a “canned” website or store package? Most of these solutions don’t offer the flexibility that most business owners want. They also may involve incurring more re-occurring and long-term cost than a custom site design. Often these ready made packages require you to pay an annual or monthly subscription to use the service. Charges that, in many cases, are inflated and unnecessary. Many Open Source packages do not fall into this category though. A professionally designed website organizes a lot of information into an easy to use, easy to manage, site that meets the needs of your company today and is flexible enough to grow and change in the future without nickel-and-diming you at every turn.
- During development- make sure your contract explicitly states development deadlines. Payments should be scheduled as these milestones are met. Make sure your contract clearly states what you will be receiving and when.
- Have your developer show you the work in progress as development milestones are reached. This insures that you are happy with the design elements and content before the site goes live. It also insures that your web developer is on track and meeting your design element criteria- without having to do a major overhaul of the test site before going live!
- After your web site is live, have clear expectations of re-occurring costs. These should be stated in your contract. Web hosting with a database and multiple email addresses should, in most cases, cost your business a small annual or biannual fee. Make sure you are clear about when your domain name expires and when your web hosting will have to renewed.
Adhering to these rules of thumb will insure that you get the most website for your money. It also will insure there are no surprises when your new business web site goes live for the whole world to see.