Your online footprint should be a reflection of your strategic business goals. It’s important that the online marketer, web design and development professionals you select are on board to help you achieve them. Taking the time to ask far-reaching questions before hiring anyone will ensure you retain a partner that will help you achieve tangible results that translate into a measurable return on your online investment.
If you are in the process to find the right candidates, these questions will act as a good filter:
- How long have you been developing websites? What challenges have you found in the process? What do you like the most about creating a site? Asking for passion points, fortes, weaknesses and a portfolio will give you an idea if the professional you are talking to is a good fit for your business model. His/her personality will be key, as you will be spending a lot of time with this person.
- Which kind of websites have you created? What Content Management System (CMS) have you used? There are many content management options on the market: Wordpress, Linux, weebly, Squarespace, Shopify, etc. Which one is your favorite and why? How long have you been deploying this technology? Can you show me the back-end of similar sites you’ve deployed? Getting an early peak at the “back-end” (content management system) will be very informative of what your experience will be when you get your website. Being able to quickly and intuitively edit your website is critical to the long term value of your online efforts. If you have to contact your design firm every time you want to edit a word on your website, the costs and complications will drive you crazy.
- Do you handle all development work in-house? How big is your team? How long have they been working together? Many design firms do not have in-house development teams. This is typically a sign that the designer or sales person selling you the website doesn’t understand the technology that drives your website – this is a recipe for disaster, because you are buying the work of a third party that you know nothing about. For a developer to be an expert on a specific technology system and to provide a reliable web solution service, he or she has to be focused on the same core set of technology for three or more years.
- Do you know how to build responsive sites? (so it will work on mobile devices—cell phones, tablets, laptops, etc) In this contest, responsive means, the site design automatically changes (responds) to the dimensions of the screen on which it is viewed. Mobile devices generate more traffic than desktop websites, thus it is crucial for you to have a full responsive website to be ready to serve your clients on the go.
- Is your content management system (CMS)/technology proprietary or open source? What types of licensing fees are there? Software that is “open source” means it’s created and maintained by the developer community at large and free to use (although it still costs money to implement) and frequently means there are more people that use it. This drives development costs down. When it comes to content management systems for most small to medium sized businesses, that solution is WordPress.
- Do you know how to code? Will you be able to alter the code of a theme to customize the template with my brand needs without breaking the theme's core language? Nowadays most people use themes, as it is the best-cost, efficient solution. In order to seek customization and avoid being a cookie cutter design, you need a developer who knows how to code to bring your brand essence alive through code modification.
- What is your estimated timeline to build my website? Can you walk me through your design and developing process? Having a road map explaining details on the process and timeline is critical! A firm’s processes and systems are a great sign of reliability, consistency and quality. Regardless the size of the company or project, action plans are a must, without them clients and team members get lost in the process, missing deadlines and increasing costs along the way. It’s like setting up a meeting without an agenda or purpose… Crazy, right?!
- Will you send me all the design source files used in the project, as well as monthly/weekly website backups? I’ve seen some professionals hold their clients hostage. In order to have 100% ownership of the work done for your brand, it’s necessary to request access to all the design source files and backups. A good solution is creating a cloud sharing system. If you ever have a falling out with your graphic design firm and realize you aren’t in ownership of any of the design files, you’ll really regret not asking this question up front.
- Do you have a dedicated project manager that will be managing this project? It is easier to keep all communications directly with one person, who has the responsibility of the planning, leading the team--build timelines, schedule meetings, coordinate feedback, review and organize content--procurement and execution. If the firm you work with does not have a project manager, be prepared to spend a lot more time dealing with web development minutia. Not to mention that you will be at risk of having your vision misunderstood creating major complications. It’s the little things that cause the biggest delays.
- How do you track the success of your websites? What key performance indicators (KPI) do you usually use? There are many ways to track success of a website deployment. Success may be traffic, audience engagement, time spent on site, conversions, click throughs, sales, etc. Whatever your metric for success is, make sure that you have ways to track it on a monthly basis.
Then, after I make sure to cover every detail of the operation, I ask about how to keep my website secured and discuss budget options. Such as how do you base your pricing? Will this be hourly, or flat-fee based on the project? How frequently do your projects go over budget? What is your payment policy? Is there a clear procedure for billing for extra features or work outside the project’s initial scope? Is there any plugin to add an extra layer of security on my website? How do I keep it form viruses and bugs? It seems to be common practice in the online industry to do little up front discovery, underbid a project and then jack up the price on clients as the website is being built. Be careful!!
Think of a web design firm as your marketing partner. The website it designs for your business will play an integral role in your company achieving its online marketing goals. Whether having a website designed brand new for the first time or optimizing an existing one, the hiring decision you make will dictate your website success. I always team up with designers, developers and editors to offer a 360° experience to free up my clients from unnecessary headaches. Contact me if you need assistance with your digital projects!