Choosing a Website Developer

You're looking for someone to build your website and the number of choices defies imagination. There are so many options because there are no licensing requirements or professional standards for website developers. You want to be able to choose a developer who will provide professional care, ability and a website that generates real results. You want your website to a valuable asset to your organization or business. You want it to be profitable. You want the ability to bypass worthless sales hype, empty promises and design incompetence to understand the real capabilities and dedication to your project of your website's developer.

Getting Started

Before you candidate developers, make an outline of what you expect from your website. What role will the website play in your organization or business? For example, is it simply having a presence on the web besides your brick and mortar establishment or being the primary gateway to your organization? What type of website content do you expect to have and how much of it do you have ready to provide to a prospective developer even if it is just samples? Who will be responsible for website content? Who will be responsible for website maintenance? All of this will give insight to prospective developers in providing you credible responses to your questions. It will also help potential developers ask you questions to yield them a better understanding of your needs. All of this will greatly help you select a developer whose skill and ability matches your needs.

It Costs Money

Depending upon the size and complexity of a new website, costs vary greatly. Determine a budget range and prioritize any features and elements that you may want in your new website. Sometimes, what seem as expensive features actually have no cost impact so, don't leave anything off your "dream" list. It is important to note that there are no standardized or typical charges in website design. What might be free from one vendor may cost hundreds at another. Don't reveal your budget to prospective designers to insure that when you review proposals, they are "how much it will cost" and not "how much money you have." In an industry that has little transparency as to real costs, it is amazing how many are overcharged for the level of service they receive.

When you are ready, choose some candidates to review. Location of candidates is no indication how well they will meet your needs be they down the street or across the country. At a minimum, the candidates for your list should be a regular business and not a relative or friend and have a verifiable record of success. Once you have a list, follow the rest of this essay to help you make a choice. If they all fail, select a few more to interview and try again. The extra effort will result in an optimal choice, good working relationships and a website that provides positive, real results.

Communicate

Be prepared to discuss your company, its products and customer demographics. To develop an effective website, the developer must understand your company and its products. The developer must understand your customer's needs. To have your goals outlined and questions ready significantly helps in this understanding. The potential developer should be asking just as many questions about how you do business; your customers and how having a website will be integrated into your overall company's marketing program. This information will tailor the proposal to your situation and maximize the potential of the website design the developer creates. Avoid those who talk about how great a job they can do for you when they don't ask you questions about your company, your products or your customers. It is impossible to develop a for performance when the developer is ignorant of your products and customers. Avoid those who don't freely communicate - even if they come highly recommended! If they cannot communicate during your interviews, they are likely to be equally difficult after contract award. Avoid those who talk about the results without explaining how those results will be achieved. What worked for one site doesn't mean it will work for yours. All claims they make should be in their proposal. Otherwise, you can assume that it was just hype to get you to choose them. If they are difficult during the proposal stage, they are not likely to be any less difficult should you hire for their services.

Ask Questions

The developer's best customers are those who take time to learn about the services they are buying. Ask questions. Ask why, how and, if not clear, ask for an explanation. Use the responses from one potential developer to use as questions for another. Ask about alternative approaches to design. Don't allow their favored approach to be confused with the best solution. Don't let "promises of performance" go unchallenged. Take notes and in the end, get it in writing.

Website Promotion

As part of the communication between you and the potential developer, ask how customers will find your site. Be wary of the reply "we'll register your website with all the top search engines." If a site is not designed with search engines in mind, registering with all the top search engines is of minimal value. SEO, Search Engine Optimization, is a term that is often abused in that it is used as a fancy-sounding name for submitting a website to search engines so that it can be charged additionally. Reputable developers will submit a new website to the top two or three search engines as a minimum and not call it an SEO service. A good developer knows how to create pages that are search engine friendly. They also know and should freely provide simple tips for how to write content for your website to improve ranking of your website in the search engines. Properly done SEO is an ongoing process and not a one-time event. It involves many techniques from ongoing tuning of website content to pay-per-click or pay-or-placement with major search engines. Most developers have only a superficial understanding of search engines and is the reason some otherwise very well designed websites are sometimes very difficult to find. Having a great website means nothing if nobody finds it.

Know Your Developer

You need to communicate directly with the developer(s). Understanding is paramount about your product(s) and the product industry in order to develop an effective design. To have this information filtered through a website design company representative to the developer prevents the developer from understanding subtleties of your product. What you don't want is your site development to be done in an assembly-line process by a team of faceless robots that crank out websites as if "one size fits all."

Get Examples of Capability

Ask for a demonstration of their skills. If from a larger firm, make sure examples are from those who will be actually doing your website. It should be easy to find a developer's clients websites using a search engine of your choice to prove any claims of search engine savvy. Creative design, ease of navigation and site features, will give a better idea of total capabilities of the developer.

Get It in Writing — Get It Reviewed By an Expert

Your website is a custom effort to be designed and built to your specifications and goals. The contract should be custom to your job. A generic contract, one size fits all, is a warning for problems in the future. Too many contracts today, especially from smaller firms, are poorly written in that they may be unenforceable, place all liability for errors and legal expenses on the customer or have provisions that are illegal. Should any problems arise, you could end up with an incomplete website, solely liable for damages and no recourse to recoup expenses. Having a contract professionally reviewed by an expert in these types of contracts is well worth the investment. A contract should reflect your website's potential performance and contain all claims verbally discussed. If the contact contains monthly maintenance, it too should be tailored to your needs. Be sure to ask for explanations of proposed charges and what's included. The contract should also include:

  • Resolving Contract Disputes
  • Contract Termination (What if you run out of money?)
  • Copyright Ownership (Who owns your website design?)
  • Devlopment Timeline
  • Project Milestones (Reviews, approvals, source content delivery, etc.)

Depending upon your unique situation, other provisions might be included as well. If the whole contract is nothing but what appears to be "legal disclaimers" and how much they will charge you, select anyone else. If they won't take the effort to get your business with a design contract tailored to meet your requirements, what reason do you have that they will provide service to your expectations after they have your money?

Hopefully, this short essay will provide you some help in choosing a developer. There are many very good developers that are capable of providing the kind of service you want. Finding the one that is right for you will take effort that will benefit you in the end... even when it is not TC Kopke.