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How to Choose a Website Developer

Choosing someone to build your website can be a very daunting task. There’s not even a real consistency to what we call ourselves: Website Developer, Website Designer, Front End Developer, Programmer and Coder are just the most common ones.

If you are unfamiliar with the technology options available, it can be hard to even know where to start. In this post, I’m hoping to give you the confidence to know the right questions to ask and make you aware of some common pitfalls.

1. Cost Is Irrelevant

The cost of a new website can range from several hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. It often has more to do with the experience level of the person or firm and how much they can get away with charging. As a result, the cost should only factor into your decision because of budget. In most cases, you won’t want to hire the most expensive or the least expensive company. The best fit will likely be somewhere in the middle.

2. Experience is Key

Hiring a Web Developer who is a recent graduate will have some financial perks (see #1), but may not be the best choice. It really depends on the experience he or she has accumulated during school. You want someone who has already built websites for everyday users (a.k.a. your target market). Someone new to the field may be more ideological than practical. They may not be experienced enough to know when design needs to yield to useability for the sake of the sites’ business goals.

I frequently hear business owners ask developers if they have built other sites in their industry. If you are a bakery, do you really want to hire someone who has built a dozen other bakery sites? On the other hand, do you want someone who can build you a great-looking site with the functionality you need? While it is important for the developer to understand your industry, it is not necessary for them to have created other sites that will be similar to yours. They just need to prove to you they have the skills and understanding to touch your site visitors and prompt them to act – and buy your product or service!

Make a point to review the portfolio of the designer you are interviewing. Evaluate the overall quality of the sites. Do they look professional and user-friendly? How do the sites appear on your phone or tablet? Check out things like phone numbers and e-mail addresses on the website. Can you tap the number on your phone and call them automatically? If you click on an e-mail address, does it open your e-mail?

3. Uncover the Hidden Costs

There is more to a new website than the cost of building it. Additional expenses include: hosting fees, domain names, maintenance, content updates and other items that can increase your outlay. Be sure to ask about ongoing support costs and if you will be trained on how to make content changes yourself.

It’s also important to determine who owns the site and if you can take it with you if you decide to change providers. Some companies use proprietary software and if you want to discontinue their service, you must start over with your website design. Some developers maintain the hosting and ownership of your domain name, making it even harder to sever ties if you want to do so later.

4. Check Out Referrals

If possible, talk to someone who has worked with the company. Check out LinkedIn and Facebook to see what others are saying about the company. Read testimonials and don’t be afraid to ask how old the testimonial is. I’ve seen companies use the same testimonial for 10 years, even though their service has gone downhill.

The List

So here is a list of questions you can ask the Developer/ Firm/ Freelancer to get a good sense of the kind of work they do:

  1. What is your ballpark price for a project like mine?
  2. Is this a fixed project price or an estimate? Could the final cost could be more? If so, what is the max price?
  3. What support do you offer after the site launches?
  4. Will I be trained to make changes to the site myself?
  5. Will I own my domain name?
  6. What if I decide to switch to another provider, can I take my site with me?
  7. How long have you/ your team been doing website development?
  8. Do you use Responsive Design?
  9. In what browsers and devices do you test the site?
  10. Can you send me links of recent sites you’ve built so that I can test them?
  11. Do you have any testimonials or referrals you can share with me?

Final Advice

If at any point during the conversation you feel like he or she is getting frustrated or annoyed with your questions, end the conversation. Above all designers should be able to explain who they are and what they do in a non-techie way. If they can’t, it is unlikely they will be able to calmly and patiently explain any advanced functionality that may be used on your site.

Talk to at least three different developers and compare what they offer. Choose the one with whom you feel it will be easiest to work over the long haul. Your website is an important part of your business and deserves ongoing attention – and so do you!

This post is an update to the 2011 post “WordPress – Questions to Ask Before Setting Up

One Response to “How to Choose a Website Developer”

  1. Robin Ooi says:

    Hey guys,

    Do you focus on using open source CMS like wordpress or you have your own custom CMS?

    Robin Ooi

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