Web designers and developers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and abilities and are definitely not a one size fits all type of service. For instance – some designers may only able design the front facing aspect of your website and some developers may only be able to code the back end – the ideal mix is finding someone who can do both.
Website designer vs website developer – which one should you choose?
When people are looking for professionals to build their website, they generally tend to look for web designers. However sometimes people who call themselves web designers are in fact graphic designers with basic web skills rather than a web developer who understands both functionality and usability and is able to translate your business into a website. Website designers are great at building attractive websites, but may not know how to build a website for the end user or for search engine operability, or successful social media engagement.
Where do you start? Some people start by asking their friends who designed their website, and then contact their website designer. A great way of receiving a trusted referral. Others who are more tech savvy have found a way of designing their own website with the use of a free template and over a weekend or two have created their own website. That’s great, however they miss out on the specialist expertise that only a web professional has acquired through working on others websites.
So, what questions should you be asking your future web designer or web developer before you hire them to upgrade your website or create a new website for your business? Here are a few questions which may get your web project started on the right foot.
- Which content management system (CMS) do you usually build your websites on? Is this a proprietary or an open source system?
These two questions are important because your web designer should be able to frankly tell you which platform or CMS they use and how straightforward it will be for you to update your website in the future.
A proprietary system is a website that requires the web developer to code everything on the site making it difficult for you to update your website in the future, best not to go down this route.
An open source content management system is better because it is often easy to update, and doesn’t require you to learn how to code. You also don’t need to buy any special software to load onto your computer, you can often log in to your CMS, update your website from any computer, as long as you are connected to the internet. Open source CMS’s are widely available, developers and designers often come together to share code and fixes online.
- What are your project deliverables? What exactly will I receive at the completion of the project?
It is important to confirm what you will be getting from your website designer/developer at the completion of the website build/go-live. Once you have re-launched, you should have a website which you can easily maintain and update.
If you need additional back-up support and ‘training’, then make sure you have negotiated that in your contract. Clarify exactly what type of training and support you will receive from your web designer/developer.
Ask your web designer/developer the following questions:
- Will they will submit your website to the main search engines to be indexed?
- Have they set up a Google Analytics account for you to analyze your website traffic usage?
- Will they show you how Google Analytics works and explain what the numbers mean?
- Will they will host your website or will you need to find your own host?
- Will they buy or help you brainstorm a good domain name for your site?
- Will they register the domain name in your name rather than in their own name?
- What will the process be, if you decide in the future, to go with another developer or hosting company?
- Do they provide regular back ups of your, website if it ever goes down?
- What are the full scope of your services?
This list can be tailored to exactly the services you are willing to pay for, and even some that you don’t know that you need. So do your research on what standard website services are and hire a designer/developer that will meet your needs.
- How will you keep me informed about the different phases in the project?
Right from the beginning of the website project, the designer/developer should communicate with you regularly via telephone conversations or emails answering your questions and updating you on their progress. They should clearly outline the different phases of the project and give you a broad timeline, so you know what to expect and by when.
You should also know whether you are expected to give feedback during the various stages and when you need to respond. It is important you establish good rapport and communication with the person who is creating your website.
- Do you use social media and do you think it important? Which specific social media networks do you recommend that I use for my business?
All website designer/developers should be strong advocates of social media. They should be able to outline the benefits of various social media networks, and tell you how this increases virtual word of mouth about your business.
However not all businesses are relevant on all social media networks, your designer/developer should know which specific social media networks are the best networks for your business, and where your customer base is the most active.
They should tell you which social media network will give you the highest engagement rate and how frequently you should be posting content about your business. Your social media networks should be integrated with your websites content strategy.
- What is your availability? Are you accepting any new projects?
Ask your prospective developer/designer about possible start dates and how long before launch date, don’t assume that their availability is open and they can start on your web project immediately. They may be available for an initial consultation but due to current work projects may not be able to commit to building your website straightaway.
If they are unable to meet your time frame you can either find another designer/developer or wait until they are available to start work on your project.
- Do you adhere to any website design practices i.e. functionality vs usability?
A website should not solely be “pretty”, it should also be functional and be usable for your customer. An attractive website is great for capturing a first impression but if it does not use standard functionality that the majority of websites use, you’ll end up confusing and alienating anyone who tries to use your website. A designer/developer who understands website best design practice should use all three aspects when building your website in equal measure.
- Can you work within my budget, or do you charge a set rate for your website projects?
If you have done enough research you should know approximately how much your website will cost. Many designers/developers factor in the complexity and extra functionality that you think you need before coming up with a final cost. Each web designer/developer will charge differently but should stick with the final figure you have been quoted once you have specified exactly what functionality you want built on your website.
So, come prepared and be explicit on exactly what you are wanting delivered and if you need any additional technical support post-launch. Ensure that you have covered off what you want, what will be delivered, when it will be delivered and your payment schedule before either begins any work.
- Do you provide any long-term support after the website has launched to update my website?
This question is a biggie, often you don’t know what you need, nor realize its importance or relevance to your website project. You might need someone to provide copy writing help, understand internet marketing, graphic design, a developer who can competently code, a social media master, and a SEO expert – phew! It’s unlikely to find one person who can do all that rolled into one, but you need to think of the long-term requirements after your website has launched and consider what support, if any, you need from your web professional.
What happens if your website needs updating? Or you would like to add additional functionality? Will your website designer/developer be willing to have you as a long-term partner in your website’s success? Your website designer/developer is not an on-call help desk to help you resolve other technical issues that occasionally go wrong with your computer. But they are a technical trusted professional who you can use to suggest new features and improvements on your website.
By looking at your website analytics, they should be able give you some insights into your websites visitors e.g.: how they access your website – via organic search or knowing your URL and typing it directly into their browser, where they are located, whether they use a mobile phone, desktop, laptop, how much time they spend on your site, which keyword terms are popular and more.
- How quickly do you respond to emails?
If your website designer/developer fails to respond your question in a reasonable time frame, then it could suggest that they may be disorganized, don’t care about you or your business, or don’t know what they are doing. When you hire a professional and you have your confidence in their abilities, you will have their full attention and they should communicate effectively.
- Have you got any current/previous clients who would be willing to act as referees?
Not all designers/developers will offer or even have any names to offer – especially if they are just beginning to work in web design.
If your web designer/developer was referred to you by a trusted source, then additional referees are redundant.
If you found the designer/developer by chance online, it is a good idea to confirm their abilities with other people who have worked with them previously. Talking with their previous/current clients/customers will give you some insight into how they work, their strengths and if there were any sticky/problem areas during the project. Ask them what the process was like and listen closely to their recommendations. Their lessons learned will provide you with valuable insight.
Possible questions you could ask supplied referees may include:
- Would you use this designer/developer again on a future web project?
- How long ago did you work with them?
- What were their strengths as a designer/developer?
- Did you get what you expected?
- Was communication clear on the project?
- Did they keep to the agreed budget and time frame?
- Is there anything you would have done differently?
- Can you show me any examples of other websites you have built?
Some designers/developers have created a large portfolio of websites purely by being in the business for a long-time that does not necessarily mean that they like every website they build, as tastes and styles change over time. Your website designer/developer may not feel comfortable with showing you their previous work. However, you may have already stumbled across other websites they have previously built and decided you like what they have done and that has been one of the deciding factors with choosing to hire them.
These may not be all the questions you should ask your future designer/developer but it’s a starting place to hiring the right professional and getting the website you want. Hopefully these questions will assist you narrow down your criterion for searching for the right person and be the right fit for creating your website makeover.
Choosing the right web designer will have a significant effect on the success of your business and your livelihood. It is essential you do some research and decide how you are going to choose the right website designer/developer to deliver your website makeover and within the budget you have set aside.
Take a look at the other articles in the ‘Website Makeover – A Five Part Plan’ series:
Part 1: The Website Audit
Part 2: Setting Your Goals
Part 3: Choosing A Professional
Part 4: Defining The Scope
Part 5: After The Relaunch