How to Select a Website Designer/Developer

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How to Select a Website Designer/Developer

In this instalment of Words that Bite, I look at some of the things you should consider before you select a designer/developer to work on your business’s website.

The perils and pitfalls of building a website

Most people who have been through the website-building experience have an interesting story. Some will tell you how exciting it was to watch their website go live and see the traffic flow to it. Others might tell you that the process was fraught with problems. Quite often, you hear horror stories about how it all went wrong and they had no choice but to rebuild from scratch. Essentially, most of them will tell you that building a website involved a lot of work and that it took longer than they thought it would.

Why do things go wrong with websites?

I’ve often heard the wonderful world of website design and development described as a cowboy industry.

Why?

The industry isn’t regulated. There is nothing to stop a person with a bit of design talent and a basic knowledge of WordPress hanging a shingle outside their door and offering their talents to the unsuspecting public. As a result, both the quality of service and prices charged vary dramatically.

There is no doubt that anyone who is about to build a website needs to be aware that they are entering the Wild West. Therefore, I always suggest abiding by the old adage of think twice and cut once. In short, you would be wise to do your research before you sign on the dotted line.

To be honest, web development is a bit like copywriting, which is also unregulated and for which prices also vary dramatically. You can hire a copywriter on Elance for $9 per hour; or a highly regarded professional, who you will actually meet, for $200 per hour. However, there is no guarantee that a human will be able to understand what the $9 per hour copywriter has prepared. At the same time, a copywriter charging $100 per hour may be as good for your project as a copywriter charging $200. Basically, you need to shop around and find the right copywriter for your requirements.

What do you need to know about website design and development?

There are two aspects of a website – the ‘front end’ and the ‘back end’. Confused already? Let me explain.

What is the front end of a website?

The term ‘front end’ is just a fancy term for how the website looks to a user. This is the nice stuff that interests you or me. Using a car analogy, it is how the car looks: the paint job and the lovely leather upholstery.

What is the back end of a website?

This term ‘back end’ refers to how the website operates. To take the car analogy further, it is what you see when you look under the hood. It doesn’t matter if your website looks great if it doesn’t work properly. In fact, this is where most of the work of building a website is.

Too, you may want to have control of your website once it is completed. Therefore, you need to think about whether you will want to:

  • Change your content
  • Add pages
  • Remove pages
  • Change the titles in the menu bar.

If it is an ecommerce site, you will not only need to think about the features you will need to sell your products but whether you want tools installed that can help you track how your business is performing.

What is a customised website?

Some website developers offer highly customised websites where both the front end and back end are designed and engineered just for you and your business. However, this is usually an expensive option. If you are on a budget, you might want to think about using a template.

What is a template?

A template is a model for a website. It includes a design for the front end as well as the ‘engine’ that drives the site (the back end).

Why is this great?

It can cut down the costs of creating a website dramatically because you literally take the template out of the box and fill in the blanks. The other good thing about templates is that you can tailor them to your particular requirements.

What are some of the problems with using templates?

Your website can end up looking like every other website. That isn’t to say that templates can’t look great. They can, and sometimes you get a better result from using a tried and trusted design than paying a designer to reinvent the wheel. However, you should be aware that the result may be a bit generic in its appearance. So, if you want a website that looks unique, you might want to think about forking out the money for a customised site.

If you decide you want something unique, and you go to a web designer/developer and they tell you they will build you a unique website from a template, ask to see the websites they have done in the same price bracket and check whether they meet your requirements.

Which website creation tool should you use for your site?

There are a range of open source website content management systems (CMS) that can be used to build your website, and it helps to know which one you want to use before you approach a website developer/designer.

The options include:

  • Open source CMS platforms (which are free) (such as WordPress, Joomla and Drupal)
  • CMS platforms you pay for, such as Sitefinity (which some web developers might recommend if you want a site that is more sophisticated)
  • A proprietary system, developed by your web developer especially for their clients.

At the moment, unidentifiable proprietary systems account for around 62% of the market. One thing I’ve noticed is that developers who are trying to sell you a WordPress site will quite often claim that WordPress has a 60% share of the market. This is incorrect. Unidentifiable proprietary systems have approximately 62% share of the market. Of that remaining 38% of the market, WordPress has a 60% share.

The open source CMS platforms include:

There are also a range of CMS platforms that you have to pay for, including:

  • Expression Engine
  • eZ Publish
  • Vivvo
  • Squarespace
  • concrete5.

Most are reasonably priced, and each has its pros and cons. Some insist you host with them.

A CMS platform you pay for that quite a few of the web developers I know use for their more high-end clients is Sitefinity (0.1% of the market).
Ultimately, it is a matter of working out what system is best for you, considering such factors as:

  • Usability

o   How easy is the site to use/manage?

o   Will I have to pay someone to make changes or can I do it myself with a little training?

  • Functionality

o   Can the CMS platform do everything I need it to do?

o   Can I install all the plug-ins (which enable you to add special features) I need?

  • Flexibility

o   How easy is it to make changes?

  • Portability

o   If I decide I need to move to a different web designer/developer, how easy is it to do this?

  • Security

o   How vulnerable is my CMS platform to hackers?

What are the advantages of using a proprietary or a less popular open source CMS platform?

The main advantage is that there is less chance of being hacked. Since WordPress has such a large market share compared with the other CMS platforms, it attracts the attention of hackers. After all, there isn’t much point chasing a small fish if you want to make a splash. So, unless you keep on top of your security, you might suddenly find your WordPress website is sending out thousands of spam emails and your email address has been placed on a black list.

Alternatively, and even more unpleasantly, you might wake up to discover your website has been defaced by a hacker.

What are the disadvantages of using a proprietary system or a less popular open-source CMS platform?

I’d advise anyone who is interested in using a web developer who has their own proprietary system to check it out closely. While I’ve seen proprietary systems that have blown me away with the beauty of their designs and their user-friendly back ends, you are caught if you are unhappy and want to move elsewhere.

Why?

Your website is locked into a unique system that no one else has access to. If you decide to move, or your website designer/developer disappears in a puff of smoke (perish the thought), you’ll have to start from scratch.

Therefore, if you are thinking of going with a web developer who uses their own system, make sure you really like them before you sign on the dotted line. You also might want to check how long they’ve been around and get a sense of whether their business is going well.

It is similar for the less popular open source CMS platforms. Although the potential consequences aren’t so drastic, you need to be aware that if you decide to part company with your developer, your options might be more limited than if you used WordPress.

In short, I suggest that before you decide, you do some research and find out:

  • How user-friendly is the system?
  • How easy is it to search engine optimise?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How much will it limit my options if I want to move elsewhere?

Do you want your website to be responsive?

Another thing to consider is whether you want your site to be responsive. By that, I mean do you want your site to be able to be viewed easily via a range of devices – computers, tablets and phones?

Why is this important?

More and more people are using their phones to search the web, especially with the rise in voice searching.

Unfortunately, ‘responsiveness’ is a relative term.

It can mean anything from a website:

  • Changing completely when it is viewed on different devices (this can be very useful for ecommerce sites that use a lot of buttons)
  • Downsizing to fit a tablet or smart phone (which can work for sites that are less interactive).

What is the problem with asking for a responsive site?

Asking a web developer to ensure a customised site is responsive can involve them doing a lot of tweaking, which may hit you in the hip pocket. However, if your site is based on a template and you want the site to be responsive, you may want to make sure that the responsiveness feature is built into the template. It could save you a fortune.

What about search engine optimisation (SEO)?

You can’t focus on the website alone; you also need to need to think about SEO. How are you going to ensure that your site performs well on Google?

With the increasing emphasis Google places on content in SEO, it is obviously important to ensure that your content is written in a Google-friendly manner, but it also needs to be presented in a way that Google likes. A SEO copywriter can help you with this, especially as Google becomes more and more obsessed with the quality of content. However, a web developer also plays an important role in ensuring that the website is search engine optimised from a more technical perspective. Finally, you need to ensure that your copy is written in a way that is attractive for a human being. In short, in order to see your website perform well on Google you need to look at SEO from a number of angles.

Ultimately, it is always important to find out what you are paying your website designer/developer for. You don’t want to pay for your website assuming that it includes the technical side of SEO and then find out you have to pay someone else to do it.

Does it help to have a developer that specialises in your industry?

There are developers that specialise in particular industries. This is a great option if you are worried that a generalist web developer won’t be able to come up with what you want because they don’t understand your industry or profession.

This is particularly relevant to professional services. I know plenty of lawyers and accountants who have walked into very fancy web designers/developers looking for something different, and realised very quickly that these people aren’t very interested in the product/service because it is neither hip nor cool. The result can be a very bland website.

The other alternative is to approach a web designer/developer that specialises in your industry. For the legal profession, there are a few specialist companies in Australia, and there are many more in the United States. The only hitch here is that most of these web developers use templates. This is fine if you just want a nice, elegant site. However, if you want something that stands out from the crowd in a competitive marketplace, you might want to consider talking to someone who offers a more boutique option.

What about hosting?

It is also wise to ensure that your web developer is responsible for your site. You don’t want to be in a situation where you have a problem with your site or the hosting and end up going around in circles, because the developer says it is the fault of the people that host the site while the website hosting company says you need to talk to your developer.

Should you take the advice of a copywriter or anyone else with contacts in the industry?

In order to ensure that any advice you receive is objective, I would suggest that you first ask whether the person who you are consulting receives referral fees for a particular web designer/developer. This is very common in the industry, so you need to be aware that the very knowledgeable person sending you to XYZ website design may be receiving a kickback.

In summary

When it comes to finding the right web developer/designer, you need to consider the following factors:

  • Will you be happy with a website based on a template or do you want something unique?
  • Which CMS platform do you want to use? It is better to go into a discussion informed about the options and the various pros and cons of each system.
  • Do you need your website to be responsive? How responsive?
  • Does your web developer deal with SEO? Is it part of your package?
  • Should you approach a web designer/developer who specialises in your particular industry?

Do you need advice on not only what you should consider but on what to ask before you hire a web designer/developer? The Pink Rottweiler can help. If you would like to have a chat about the perils and pitfalls, call me on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at info@pinkrottweilercopywriting.com.au.

Who is the Pink Rottweiler? The Pink Rottweiler is Genevieve Burnett – a copywriter who will take the time to research your business and come up with the smart words to sell your product or service.

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