5 Questions to Ask a Web Development Firm
Question 1: What site examples do you have for what I need?
Are you looking for an e-commerce website? Needing a membership login? Ask the developer to show you these examples. How can someone understand your needs unless they’ve been there…done that? Find out about their design approach. There are many firms whose portfolios look like a template with differentiating graphics and text. Cookie cutter approaches show you that brand awareness was not considered and most importantly the diversity of the target audience between assorted markets.
The ideal answer: “We have just the example you’re looking for.”
Question 2: Do you work with a local team that I can meet in person?
Meeting a team may not be realistic if you’re doing business with a firm that is in another state. We don’t limit our web clients to our region. Never-the-less, the team players should be local and should have examples of projects that they have worked together on. If the development team is cobbling together coders, graphic artists, and usability experts across geographical areas you have reason to believe they won’t be there for you in the long run.
The ideal answer: “Absolutely, we have roles that are clearly defined and we can give you some specific website examples of what the team has developed.”
Question #3 – What content management systems (CMS) do you offer?
A CMS platform allows one to easily make changes to a site because the code is generated by the system. It just isn’t even worth asking if you should use a CMS platform. Just like responsive design (adapting to various mobile devices) is mandatory, so is having a web platform that can be updated and managed easily without opening up the hood and tinkering with code.
There are numerous CMS platforms out there including Joomla, Drupal, and WordPress. In addition, you’ll find great e-commerce specific platforms like Magento, osCommerce, etc. Most of our sites are developed with WordPress. WordPress has risen to the top in the last 10 years because of a strong open source community and a ubiquitous presence on the Internet. Thousands of plugins, up-to-date security, and a host of credible patrons including Ford, Samsung, and General Electric (GE) make it a solid choice.
The ideal answer: “We develop in WordPress primarily and also have knowledge of the main e-commerce systems as well as Joomla and Drupal.”
Stay away from “custom CMS” platforms because 1) you risk having your site become obsolete, and 2) you’re relying on that firm to maintain and update the site. This leads us to Question #4
Question #4 – Who owns the website after development?
Part of the reason Question #3 is so important is that it relates to question #4. Many CMS websites are proprietary. Especially within vertical markets like real estate, education, healthcare, etc. Often companies price low upfront while charging a nominal monthly maintenance fee for eternity. Everyone needs to make a living but the devil is in the details. For example, if a website is sold for $1,500 with a maintenance cost of $600/mo., you’re looking at $8,700 for that first year with your new website. But if the site is created for $5,000 with minimum maintenance costs of $150/mo., that first year you pay $6,800; that’s almost $2,000 of savings that many don’t realize! Now miss a payment and you’re in jeopardy of being shut down. And if you didn’t secure your own domain name that also could be held hostage.
The ideal answer: “You own the entire website and domain name. If at any time you choose to move your website you are free to do so.”
Question #5 – How do you develop websites with SEO in mind?
Since Google is still the king as it pertains to Search, you want to have a solid foundation for proper search engine optimization (SEO) on the site. This means your site is recognized by Google and other search engines as a viable listing that subsequently gets posted high in the search engine results pages. Code that meets SEO standards is critical. Understanding cascading style sheets (CSS) to reduce the amount of code to appease the text hungry search engine crawlers, and reduce load time, is also helpful. The site content layout, title hierarchy, and use of images is all important as well. There is not enough space to cover SEO in detail but asking about it upfront can give you a feel for how the development has handle SEO in the past.
The ideal answer: “We consider SEO in every aspect of development. We actually implement SEO campaigns for clients and have a good track record of results.”
There are many things to consider that are beyond these 5 questions when choosing a web development firm. Never-the-less, this does provide a solid foundation. As you begin to dig deeper you’ll want to ensure that usability of the site, branding of the site, and proper Internet marketing methods are used for calls-to-action, etc. In the end, do a bit of homework and you’re off to a solid Internet presence![/x_text][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section]