Okay, so you have decided to commission a local designer to make your new website. You know you want something great, but maybe you do not know exactly what can help a website be great. Here are some common features of websites that you may not know to ask for when requesting an estimate for your job.
It is a must and still some people don’t request their website be responsive. Responsive design is when your web designer uses CSS media queries (special instructions) to change the layout of your website based on the viewer’s screen size. I am not sure why, maybe programmers are lazy, haven’t learned out to do this, or just want to charge you for this post-launch for some more cash, but some web designers still do not make their websites responsive. For most small businesses, this is a must. I may see a few occasions, maybe for a government site that is used internally, not using responsive design, but most likely, you need responsive design CSS in your website. You want to allow mobile and desktop viewers to have an easy time navigating your website, right?
Also, this allows for you to update one site once; some people offer a desktop site and a separate mobile website. If you do this, then you will be cursed with the burden of updating two websites every time you need to change something.
If your website is not in a Content Management System, you are probably going to get ripped off. Without a CMS, you either need to know programming or need to pay that developer hourly to make updates to your website’s content. You need the ability to make updates to your website when you see the need, not when someone else can make the update for you. Even if you have a CMS, some programmers get lazy with the development by omitting tips and tricks that they should develop to make your content management easier, and put programmer efforts on you! I have seen some lazy programming in CMSs where the content area if full of DIVs, IDs, classes, and far to much HTML for the content manager to handle. Instead of allowing the CMS template to take care of formatting, they leave the content manager with the task of trying not to mess it up. Be sure that your developer isn’t planning on you to learn advanced code to update your site.
If the website is going to be in a CMS, but still it is hard to update the content yourself, the developer did not do a good job.
Basic ADA Compliance
Okay, so as a small business, you may not be large enough in your head count to be legally required to adhere to ADA but you shouldn’t have a website that makes ADA compliance hard.
ADA compliant websites make it easier for screen readers to read and navigate a website for the visually impaired. The nature of this also makes the website easy for search bots to map your site and give you a better SEO rating. If text is embedded into an image, a visually impaired person and search bots alike can’t read that text. Make sure that your developer shows text as text, not inside of an image. An easy way to tell this is if you try to highlight your text you can’t and you keep highlighting an image… or if you right click on your text and you get an option to save the image you have selected; both scenarios hint at lazy programming or an unknowledgeable web designer.
Before you sign over a check to the developer, make sure that you have a contract in place.
It should cover the scope of work, licensing terms, timelines, the amount the job costs, when payment is due, what happens if payment is late, what happens if there is a contractual dispute mid-project (is it only allowed to be decided in arbitration or do you keep your right to resolve issues in a legal court?), and questions about quality assurance post-launch.
Don’t sign anything that you don’t understand or don’t agree to. The web designer can either modify the terms of the contract , clarify something to your without a contract modification needed, or you can find another web designer if it comes down to it. Don’t get locked into a contract your are not comfortable with. Don’t give any money to someone that has not outlined a reasonable contract either.
Just remember, you have to hold up your end of the bargain too; if you agree to deliver content by X date or pay X amount by a certain milestone, for everyone’s sanity, please do it; if you can’t let the developer know ahead of time and keep them in the loop when something on your side can be taken care of. Developers may clear their schedule or turn down other work when they plan on getting something from you to dedicate their attention to only your project; they can lose work because of your late deliveries and they may not want to work with you again if they lose money trying to accommodate your inability to stick to timeline deliverables. If you found a reliable developer, you will want to work with them again in the future.
The consequences of not having a contract are too costly. What if the developer takes 100% of you cash upfront and then just stops answering your emails? You have no way to prove what exactly you paid them for. They could say it covered your initial consultation. Or what if they deliver a website, but it has a lot of bugs and didn’t have all of the functionality that you needed on your website? You can go back to the contract to reference the expectations in performance that you were expecting.
Past Performance or Portfolio
Look at examples of other websites that they have made. Do the visually look good? Do they look like there are obvious mistakes in the rendering of the site?
If you don’t like what you see, move on; their past work is a good indication of their future work.
What can the developer tell you about the past projects? Did they build everything from scratch or merely add in a few paragraphs of text to an existing website. Did they bring value to their client’s business with increased sales or brand awareness? Did they do the website on their own or did they sub-contract out all tasks and merely managed the project?
I know it can be confusing as to which developer is the best choice to make your website with so many options out there. Hopefully this helps you identify the great website designers apart from the ones that may hurt your business.