12 Questions You Should Ask Your Web Developer, and What Answers Make for Good Responses

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How to Hire a Web Developer

As the number of websites has exploded in recent years, so have the ranks of website consultants. Before handing over your money, time, and, most importantly, your professional image to one, you should feel confident that the firm you hire has the knowledge and skill to achieve your website goals.


It may be harder than you think. Sites across the web, sometimes very expensive ones, bore, frustrate, and irritate visitors. If you don’t want your site to be one of them, the following approach can help.


Start by getting at least three recommendations from people you know and trust. Then look at the developers’ websites and those of their clients.

-  Do the sites help you understand what’s unique about the organization?

-  Is it easy to find your way around without getting lost?

-  Are you tempted to become a frequent visitor, a client, or a member?

-  Is there anything irritating or obnoxious?


Take notes on what you like and don’t like. You might also want to look at a few of your competitors’ websites for ideas particular to your industry.


When you have a short list of potential developers, bring them in or arrange for a conference call to discuss your project. Explain what you are looking for and discuss your likes and dislikes.


Then move on to the following areas of discussion. Each area contains specific questions you should ask the developer to get the details you'll need to make an informed decision.


Building traffic

You aren't going to get a return on your investment if no one visits your website.


How do I get people to come to my site?

Recent research by WebSideStory, a web analytics firm, showed that 66% of sites are found by visitors typing in web addresses directly, 21% are found through links from other sites, and only 13% come from search engine referrals. So, your web developer should emphasize ways that you can get your web address known through standard marketing techniques as well as through links and the search engines. Free information, such as "how-to articles," or tools, like calculators, can attract prospects who would otherwise never visit your site.


How would you get my site found in the search engines?

Search engines are text-crunching machines, so the developer should talk about incorporating key search terms into the text on your pages and into the code behind the pages. Links to your site are also important to your ranking, so you should discuss ways to get your web address onto other sites.


However, achieving high rankings in competitive industries can be extremely difficult. If your site goals depend on traffic from search engines, be prepared to pay extra for formal search engine optimization or website advertising.


I've heard you can trick the search engines into giving you a high ranking. Do you do anything like that?

You want to hear a direct "no" to this question. Search engines ban sites they catch cheating—you don't want to risk it.


Staying power

Your site should encourage visitors to click around and learn more, not drive them away.


Can you show me some of your designs?

You are looking for a professional appearance. Unless you are in a flashy business, your site should not look like it. Ask to see design elements that highlight business strengths and convince visitors to explore further or take action.



How do you make web pages load quickly?

They don’t call it the “World Wide Wait” for nothing. Unless you are certain that every person in your target market has fast Internet connections, speed is crucial. Studies show that pages taking longer than 2 seconds to load will start losing visitors, (30% or more according to one study). You want to hear that your developer keeps pages to a maximum size of 2mb or less, preferably 1.5mb, mainly by reducing and optimizing graphic images and eliminating redundant and unnecessary code. Attractive pages can be designed within these parameters, but only by savvy web developers.


How do you know that your designs are easy to use?

If your customers can’t find what they are looking for, they will go elsewhere. Developers should mention elements such as obvious navigation and easy-to-read text. Give bonus points if they take steps to make their sites more accessible to the disabled. With an estimated 50 million disabled Americans, increasingly on the web at home and at work, it's a demographic you probably don't want to miss.


If you plan a large, complex site, or significant ecommerce activity, ask if they perform usability testing, where real people sit in front of your site and try it out. It’s the best way to know for sure that visitors won’t give up in frustration and look elsewhere.


Getting results

Your website should persuade visitors to take action: call you, make a purchase, become a member, or sign-up for mailings.


What pages should my site have?

Some pages are standard and should be included in all sites: Home, About Us, Product/Service pages, and Contact Us. Important additions include ways to prove you can do what you say, like testimonials, quotes, case studies, or photos of completed projects. Other possibilities include enticements to encourage repeat visits or mailings, such as newsletters or a "special of the month." And, don't forget a privacy statement if you expect to collect information from visitors.


How would content be written for my site?

Good writing sells, so it’s important to know that whoever will write your content (whether inside your organization or the developer’s) understands the guidelines for good web copy. Because people scan web pages rather than read them, you should hear about tightly edited text with lots of subheadings and bullets. Most existing marketing materials should be edited for a more personal tone, as anything that sounds like "corporate-speak" is widely mistrusted. If you decide to use content from existing materials, be sure they are edited with a very sharp pencil. Good web copy will be one-half to two-thirds the length of the printed version.


What options do I have for updating my site after the project is over?

You should be encouraged to keep your site fresh. People associate a dynamic website with a dynamic organization. Expect to pay for regular maintenance or learn how to maintain your site in-house. Tools such as Macromedia Contribute and Microsoft FrontPage make it possible for many organizations to keep up their own sites. For larger or more complex sites, there are sophisticated Content Management systems to provide a robust maintenance solution.


Obtaining quality

Your website should not be a painful experience for your visitors or for you.


What steps do you take to ensure my site is error-free?

Everyone who uses a computer learns that “bugs” have a way of sneaking into software. Methodical testing uncovers problems like broken links, text that cuts off on the right when printed, or pages that don’t work in different browsers, before your visitors find them. The more details you get about a structured testing process, the cleaner your results will be.


What hosting options do you provide?

Hosting companies store and display most business and association websites. You’ll want to know what hosting will cost you and why the developer thinks a particular hosting company is a good choice. A cheap web host could turn out to be a costly mistake.


Your website is worse than worthless if not available, so find out if the hosting company has a 99.9% or better uptime record and if they offer an uptime guarantee. If your site does go down, you want support 24/7/365 via a toll-free phone number. If your developer is reselling hosting provided by a third party, make sure you understand who you would call for support.


How do you schedule and charge for your projects?

The developer will probably want to send you a proposal with a cost estimate based on the size and complexity of your site. You should ask what the proposal will include. You want a fixed price--don’t let them simply run a tab until they get done. You also want a timeline so you know long your project will take. Ask if they offer a money-back guarantee if you are unsatisfied. They should stand behind their work.


Modern website software makes it easy to put out a website developer shingle. Your business image is too important to place in the hands of the unskilled or uninformed. Do your homework and you will get a business-generating website. Remember, your competitors are only one click away.


e-Business Holdings Group