Hiring a web developer or web designer to build your website? Here are 17 things you need to do to be sure you like the results and they can build your site on time and within your budget.
You’d like to finally get a website built or to have your current site redesigned. You want the site to look professional and make prospects want to call you or place an order online. And, you want to be sure your site can be found by search engines. But, hiring a web developer can seem daunting when you don’t know anything about building a website yourself. How can you be sure to choose the right person or agency for your web development project? How can you be sure the site will be built quickly, professionally and at a reasonable cost?
The answer is to treat the project as you would any other big project. Decide on your website needs, research vendors, and be able to provide your chosen vendor the information they need to get your work out on time. These 17 suggestions will help guide you through your website project.
17 Tips for Hiring and Working with Web Developers
- Talk to other business owners whose websites you like and get the contact information for the companies that created those sites. Ask the site owners if they were satisfied with all aspects of the work and service, and what they paid to have the site built. (If they won’t tell you the price, ask if they have any idea how much you might have to budget for website design.)
- Look around the web and make a list of websites that you find attractive. Be sure to copy the complete URL for each site you like. Along with your list make note of what it is about the sites you like. You might find one that has a color scheme you like, another that is easy to navigate, still another with the type of artwork or photos you like. The list of sites will help whoever you choose as a web developer get an idea of your tastes and preferences, making it easier for them to please you.
- Look towards the bottom of the pages to see if the name of the development company is listed. If so, contact the companies whose work you like.
- Make a list of the important keywords and phrases for your business. A good web developer will ask for this to set up page titles and do some basic optimization.
Note: keywords and phrases are terms prospective customers are likely to use to describe your product or service or look for it on an Internet search engine. For example, if one of the things you sell are baby shoes, typical keywords and phrases might be: “baby shoes”, “infant shoes,” “shoes for babies,” “baby sneakers,” “walking shoes for babies,” etc. If you’re not sure what keywords are important, ask friends, family, and customers what they’d search for to find your type of products or services.
If you buy search engine advertising, use the tools provided by the search engines to help you discover important keywords.
- Decide whether you’ll sell directly on the website, or just use the website to get leads.
- If you don’t already own the domain name you want to use, buy it. There are numerous sites from which you can purchase your domain name. If the process seems confusing, ask the website developer you choose to talk you through it. You want to be sure your name or business name is listed as the domain registrant, and that it is your credit card on file. Domains have to be renewed once a year. If you plan to be using your website for a long time, it’s a good idea to set the registration to auto-renew as well.
- Know what website content you’ll need. Website content includes text, photos and other graphics, product descriptions, reviews, and other information your customers will want to know. At a minimum, you’ll want a homepage (the main page for your site), a page or pages describing your products and services, an “about us” page and a “contact us” page. You should also consider having a page that will offer visitors a free newsletter or coupons or something that will get them to give you their email address so you can contact them again after they leave your website.
- Write or have a professional writer create the editorial content as soon as you decide what you want on the site. The purpose of your website is to market your business, and web developers usually just design and program sites. They don’t write marketing copy. (If they do write copy, they usually don’t write particularly good marketing copy.) Remember, the web developer can’t finish the job until you give them the copy that goes on the website.
- Don’t just hand the web developer your marketing brochure to put on the web. Marketing brochures are often the marketing equivalent of a coffee table book – they look nice, but don’t do a great job of selling. A website’s job is to get attention AND get the prospect to take action. In other words, to sell.
- Decide what photos or drawings you’ll need, and make it clear whether you’ll provide the graphics or whether the web developer will need to do it. Graphics you may need to provide yourself would include photos of staff, photos of products, and other graphics the developer wouldn’t be able to get for you.
- Determine whether you or someone on your staff will make updates to the content on the website once it’s up and running. You’ll probably save money by doing content updates yourself, but the web developer will need to know that’s what you want before he or she starts building the site.
- If you will be selling directly on the website, realize that you will need to get a merchant account that can be used on the web and/or a PayPal account to accept payments. If you have a retail storefront, don’t assume your off-line merchant account can be used on the web – they often can’t. Call the service provider and ask. If you don’t have a merchant provider or your current provider can’t handle transactions on the web, ask the developer you choose for suggestions.
- If you will have a shopping cart or any other database-driven application on the site, work out how you want it to work (i.e., what the customer sees first, where things should be on the screen, what they do next, etc.) as much as possible and tell the programmer before they create the application. After a database application such as a shopping cart is set up, something you see as a “little change” in the way it works could be a major programming headache (and expense to you).
- Ask the web developer what help they will be able to provide with search engine optimization and how much experience they have doing it. Experienced web developers should be familiar with on-page SEO. If they are building your site in WordPress, they can add in the Yoast plugin to help with optimization.
- Be sure you sign a contract that spells out all the details you have discussed with the developer.
- Be sure the contract gives you full copyright ownership of your site and the work done for you so that if you decide to change web developers or hosting companies at any time in the future you will be able to do so without having to have your site recreated. The copyright ownership must be written into the contract. Otherwise, under copyright law, the developer may own the work they created for you.
- Review work in progress quickly. Remember the developer can’t move ahead with your project until you sign off on what they’ve sent you to review. If you delay, they may be moving ahead with someone else’s project when you finally get back to them, and may not be able to schedule your work in again for some time.