How to know if you’re hiring the right web developer:
I have always been intrinsically drawn to the beauty and freedom in artistic expression. Over time, that artistic expression has evolved to embrace the evolution and influence of technology, and it has taken my career down paths I never thought possible. When I was dreaming up my place in the world, I never imagined that my art would consist of HTML code, responsive design, CMS platforms, etc. In 2008, I took an evening class at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia that went over basic CSS and HTML. I was hooked. I loved the idea of creating interactive visuals that could grow and change over time. What I didn’t realize is how rapidly the changes would occur—making the possibilities almost endless. After 10+ years of experience working on websites, I have ascribed a particular set of steps and preferences that I implement when working on a site. Much like the possibilities of any medium, a website will look and feel different depending on who created it. That said, I’d like to share with you a few key questions that will help you find the right web designer/developer for your next project.
What platform will you be working within? What are the benefits and limitations of that platform? Nowadays, anyone can design a website using the page-building tools that are available. From WordPress to Wix, or Squarespace to Shopify—there are so many options available. Some of these tools are seriously awesome, while others can potentially cause long-term issues. No two are created equal, so depending on your product, service, or industry, you’ll want to work with someone who can help guide you and recommend the platforms and page-building tools that make the most sense for your unique needs. Before you begin any project, ask your potential web designer/developer what platforms they are experienced in. Share your website functionality and technical requirements with them, so they can suggest an appropriate platform. And listen for a clear explanation of how they have arrived at choosing their preferred platform for your site.
Do they have branding experience? If you are not a designer yourself, I highly recommend that you work with a web designer with some branding experience or a brand expert on their team. When you’re investing in a marketing tool for your business, it needs to represent your brand aesthetic. This means that it represents your brand voice and is cohesive with the rest of your marketing material. If you already have a style guide, you can pass that off to your web designer. If not, I recommend working with your web designer to start the project with a mood board to indicate color, fonts, photography, and illustration. In the absence of a style guide, this will provide the foundational look and feel for your project.
What does their process or methodology look like? Websites should not be created in a vacuum. Your site should reflect your business, and in order to do that, your web designer/developer will need to become very familiar with the work you are doing. This means that there should be multiple touchpoints, thoughtful conversations, in-depth collaboration, proactive communication, deadlines that are delivered upfront, and so much more. If your web designer can’t share with you their process or doesn’t include this in the original agreement, then my advice is simple … run for the hills. Likewise, you should prepare yourself to commit and stick to a schedule to ensure your goals are met.
What type of SEO implementation is included with the package? When it comes to your web content—imagery, copy, and user experience—each element should be looked at through the lens of an SEO strategy. Your designer should have a base-level SEO package built into your web design package. Ask them to explain what this looks like. Listen carefully … high quality, relevant content is the key driver to successful Search Engine Optimization. SEO implementation should continue after the site is launched and when new content is added to the site. Ask them how you can best ensure the continued optimization of your site long term.
What type of on-going support do they have? Who will make the changes? Websites are fluid—they can and should grow and change over time. You’ll most likely have new ideas for added content the minute you launch the site. How quickly are they available to make changes? Do they have monthly or quarterly support packages so you can reserve time in advance? If you or someone in your team would like to make changes to the site after launch, make sure this is a discussion point early on. They should be able to provide you with a tutorial that will help you understand the fundamentals needed in order to make changes to the content on your site or publish new content in the future.
What host do they recommend and why? No two hosting platforms are created equal. Your site speed is affected by many different components—the platform you’re running on, the size of your site, the interactive capabilities, and the overall form and functions. Your hosting account can make or break your website—literally—so you’ll want to ensure you are hosting your site on a trusted hosting platform, with excellent customer service, speed, and security. In addition to those features, it is always important to have a backup of your site. A good hosting platform will include a backup of your site, so double-check to be sure that feature is included. Two of my personal favorites are Rackspace.com (for multiple large sites) and Siteground.com.
What type of added security is available? Many hosting platforms have excellent security features built directly into their services. But to truly protect your site, prevent hacks, or reverse any damage caused by a site hack, you’ll need to implement a third-party security system. I like to compare this to a home security system. Is it mandatory to have a home security system? No. Will it protect you from break-ins or prevent damage. Yes. The same applies to our website. Your site might never get hacked, regardless of whether or not you have added security. But with malware and sophisticated site hacking nowadays, I strongly encourage all my clients to invest in added security—just in case. The security platform I recommend is sucuri.net. The good news is if something does happen to your site and you don’t currently have a system in place you can reach out to Sucuri and they will help you through the aftermath, getting you back up in running in no time.
What exactly is happening on the back end? In my opinion, it’s important for you to have control over your domain name, hosting, any added security or outside features, and access to your website files/backups. Imagine you had to contact your realtor every time you want to make a major change to your house. He or she would be in control of your insurance, your mortgage, your security system … you would be left in the dark without any control of your own property. The same logic applies to your website. You should own the domain, hosting, and added security so that you can make changes as your business grows and evolves over time. Transparency is key with your web services. If your web designer is reselling hosting to you, be sure to ask them what would happen if you ever wanted to move your site from their server. And make sure their contract specifies ownership details of everything that is “behind the scenes” of your website.
All in all, these questions will help you get the conversation started with a potential web designer and/or developer. Use them to spur helpful dialogue and to make sure you know exactly what you are getting. A good web designer will ask insightful questions in return to help you think through the content that should truly exist on your site. And they will bring much more to the table than user experience, SEO, and design. They’ll collaborate. They’ll guide. They’ll troubleshoot. And they’ll provide feedback, direction, visuals, and verbiage. And when you partner with the right web designer/developer, they’ll help you build a powerful marketing tool, extending beyond the device, and into the hands of your target audience.