There’s a common rule of thumb that a website is only “good” for two years; meaning that every two years, your site needs an update or overhaul. This could mean changes in graphics, content, navigation, as well as a new database or backend system. How long has it been since you revamped your website?
If it’s been more than two years, you are overdue! Here are a dozen suggestions for what you should be thinking about during your search for a web development company, and what questions you should ask of each and every prospective company before hiring them for your new website.
1. What are your thoughts on the future of web development/where is it heading?
There are some definite trends taking shape among web design; including responsive design and mobile strategies, minimal design, site/load speed, infinite scrolling, call to action, social sharing, a greater emphasis on content and more. Ask your prospective developer what his or her thoughts are on where things are heading and how this website fits into your overall marketing strategy – the team you select should be forward-thinking, not stuck in the past or present.
2. Do you design websites for different audiences or are your websites one-size-fits-all?
Web development is a time-intensive endeavor. Some companies, to help reduce the time involved in creating websites and to increase profitably, have resorted to using “template sites.” These are standardized themes where only colors, imagery and data are changed but the overall layout is fixed. The advantage of using template sites is the speed at which a website project can be completed. However, if you’re interested in a unique one-of-a-kind site that no one has ever seen before and can be uniquely optimized for traffic, this approach may not suit you and your site may end up not being targeted enough for your particular audience. Make sure you’re on the same page as your developer. Additionally, template sites do not always provide the best opportunities for SEO.
3. How big is your company?
You want to choose a company that is small enough that your project will be a priority for them, and you’ll know that as a client you will be important to them. At the same time, the company should be large enough that they can handle your needs and respond quickly and efficiently. You really don’t want to be their only client, nor do you want to just be a number. You need to look for a company that is small enough to turn on a dime but big enough to make it happen.
4. Do you have your own developers on staff or do you outsource any of the work?
Don’t make the mistake of hiring a team that you can’t sit down with, look in the eye (in person or on Skype) and talk to one-on-one. Based on our experiences, it is best to hire a U.S.-based firm with U.S. based resources. You’ll not only be supporting the American economy, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of greater oversight and better communication. In addition, employees that work for an agency tend to take more responsibility for their work and provide the best overall solutions…not complete just the task they heard you ask for. If you do ask freelancers to work on your project, make sure they take their work seriously, will be available every time you need them, and that they are not stretched too thin trying to serve too many masters.
5. Do you have a graphic designer on staff?
Again, you want to contract an agency that employs in-house permanent graphic designers; hiring an agency that can meet all of your needs in-house will ensure a more comprehensive overall process. The best results often come from design/development teams, where a graphic designer experienced in web design will work directly with the programmer who will build the site. If the designer is outsourced or is a freelancer, the benefits of collaboration could be lost. Even if you have your own designers, it is good to have the web development company’s designers look at the usability and effectiveness of page layout.
6. Do you have search engine optimization expertise on staff?
Select a firm with in-house search engine optimization expertise so that SEO is a top priority in building your new site. Make sure the SEO person is a full-time employee not someone outsourced or talent from another country. The web developer and search-engine optimization specialist often work hand-in-hand during the final stages of your website project to insure the site is ready for Internet searches. Besides, what is more important when you launch your new site than for Google (and the other browsers) to index it quickly and effectively for the words you want to target?
7. What computer languages do you use to build websites?
8. Do you separate the presentation from the data?
The answer here should be yes; if built properly, you should be able to change the presentation/theme of your site (what people see, the look/design of the site) without it impacting the data stored on your site. If your new site will be built in such a way that the presentation is separate from the data, updates to your site will be much easier, quicker, more efficient and less expensive down the road. This ‘presentation layer’ approach, combined with the right Content Management System (CMS) will lengthen the age of your site. It is true that every year or so you should upgrade, change the sites look to match current design trends, add new functionality and improve your website, but major updates and redevelopment efforts (or upgrading the backend and CMS) can be extended with the right solution. Robust storage systems for any CMS, category or type of information that are scalable (and not be limited in storage capabilities that will require your data be overhauled every two years) will need some attention on a semi-regular basis. In addition, get all of the details on how their content management system is built, will work, be updated, etc. Whether their system is proprietary or not, you should feel comfortable with the manner in which your content is handled. Will you be able to update the website (all or part), or will you need to pay the company for every little change?
9. In addition to responsive design, do you know of any other ways to make browsing easier for the mobile visitor?
You want to consider load times for each of your visitors. It wouldn’t make sense for a mobile user to spend time downloading really large graphics just to view your site; content should be built and delivered in the way that makes browsing easiest for each user/browser type.
10. What will my URLs look like?
We’ve all seen long, complicated URLs with characters that don’t make sense and are impossible to remember. People don’t like complicated URLs like that and neither do search engines. Find out upfront what your URLs will look like so that they will be as user-friendly and SEO-friendly as possible. In some cases where targeted content is key, your content-management system will allow you to modify your own URLs.
11. If I need to add a feature to my data-driven website, how much time will it take?
Extensibility, or the ability to add a feature, is very important. It’s something you want to be able to do without requiring a major, costly overhaul to your site. There are all kinds of new, cool site features available today; you should be able to add (or change) features like these easily. From custom-designed surveys to selections applications, there are tons of examples of features out there that could improve your website with minimal effort, if your site is built in a way that easily allows you to do so.
12. What other services can you offer to me?
In addition to ensuring that your new company offers SEO and graphic design, find out what other services are available, like social media, search engine marketing, strategic planning, media buying, copy writing, blogging, public relations, etc. If those are services that you will need, it makes sense to choose an all-in-one company that can provide those services to you, rather than splitting each service up among a handful of different companies that you have to manage individually. At the same time, if you already have a favorite graphic design (or other service) company that doesn’t do web development, don’t be afraid to look for an agency that is willing to work with and “play nice” with other companies, as well as one that has strong, established relationships with other companies that offer related services (so that if there isn’t something that they can do themselves, they have the resources and ability to manage getting it done for you).
For more information about our website development services, click here or call us at 847-259-7312.