In the late 1990s, services like Geocities allowed individuals and businesses to claim a spot on the world wide web and build simple websites and share their message with the world. Times have surely changed; the web has become a more sophisticated beast, and web users’ expectations have changed in turn. We want to help you better navigate these choppy waters for your business.
In our line of work, we’ve heard some horror stories from customers about their previous website development experiences. Of course, we’d love it if you hired us, but even if you don’t, below are ten questions that you should ask when you are looking to launch a brand new website or rebuild your existing one.
1. What content management system do you develop your websites on and why?
Long gone are the days where you hired someone to build your site and you were beholden to them for any changes. Today’s developers realize that site owners want the ability to update their site when and where they want. That’s why content management systems (CMS) were created.
Find out what CMS the firm develops on and ask them why they may recommend or support one over another. It may help to do some research prior to the meeting and take notes. Find out which CMS platforms are most popular, pros and cons, etc. This will prepare you for their answers and to ask better questions related to this topic.
2. Will the site have a responsive or mobile optimized option? Which would you recommend and why?
Love mobile? The industry is growing and more businesses are investing in mobile apps or making their sites mobile-friendly as a way to reach users on the go. While apps are great extensions of your brand, they may not be right for your business or your customers. Mobile websites are almost always necessary. Is your website mobile-ready?
Consider the agency you’re working with and inquire if they are capable of making your website mobile accessible and ask how it’s done. Some agencies may go the route of making your site responsive to any screen size. You can tell if a website is responsive by shrinking and expanding (narrower and wider) your browser window on desktop. If the boxes and sections collapse and align vertically, that’s a responsive website. If the website seems not to react, or respond, to the browser being shrunk and widened, it’s just a desktop design. Some firms will recommend mobile-optimizing your site, which means the website will have a desktop design and a mobile design – it’s almost like building two websites, so make sure they are managed by the same CMS.
Ask what will work best for your site.
3. Who is going to host my site? How much will this cost?
Everything has a place. Like you, your site needs a home, and that home is called a host. In some cases, clients will host their own site with their own hosting company or on an internal server. In some cases the agency that designs and develops can offer hosting of their own, which comes at an additional cost. Knowing your options, doing a cost analysis, and weighing the pros and cons is part of the decision making process.
4. Will you be customizing my site or are you starting with a template?
There are some companies who build exclusively with templates, due to a preference, lack of skill, or profit margins. The custom build or template question is often based on your budget. Say you’re considering buying a car, and you’re between two options: custom-built from the ground up, with all of the bells and whistles, or a used one that needs some work. Which do you think costs more?
There are benefits to a custom site, but a template is much more budget-friendly. Perhaps you can use a template as Phase I, to get you off the ground. A custom site may be in the cards later down the road. Keep in mind, though, that much of the time, templates can’t be altered to meet your exact specifications, and you may need to compromise some of your dream features, or make a list of features to add as your budget allows.
5. Is your development team in-house?
While some may overlook this vital piece of information, it’s always good to know if your project is being done locally, so if you visit for a meeting or ask for progress, it’s something that the agency is knowledgeable about and able to share with you immediately. Outsourcing can often cause a disconnect in understanding, communication, and ultimately affect the final product. We pride ourselves on our in-house development team, and in working personally with each of our partners, always showing them our progress as we go.
6. What does my team consist of? Project Manager, Designer and Developer? Will I have one central point of contact?
This is a complaint we hear all the time. You shouldn’t have to be shuffled from the salesperson to the designer to the developer to the tester. When working with an agency, you want a human being to speak to, not a phone tree, you don’t want to get passed around, you want to feel comforted knowing that someone is taking the lead and working with you as the liaison within the agency. This is where it’s vital to know if you’re working with a full support team with one point of contact. This point of contact will coordinate your needs to the team and vice versa.
7. Can I see samples of your work?
It seems pretty straightforward, but always look at past work. Make sure the quality is there, the attention to detail, the kind of work that you’d be happy to see your company have as an end result. Make sure that you ask questions, listen to the agency explain the work they did. Do they sound like they know what they are doing?
8. What is your process? Do we have a similar company culture?
Compatibility is key. Both agency and client need to fit together, in terms of personality, values, and work style. If you are only at work in the evenings or weekends, it may be best to choose a team that also keeps those hours, or would be willing to stay late at least occasionally for phone calls, meetings, or Skype sessions. Always ask about the company’s process and their internal work flow. Do you want to receive daily or weekly updates, or would you prefer to stand back and wait to approve a final product? Are you most focused on speed, quality, or cost? Keep in mind you can only have two of the three at once! Discuss these and other considerations before signing anything. Starting off with at least a basic understanding of the other party will nurture trust within the partnership and give you the confidence that the team will work to ensure the quality of the final product.
9. Will the website belong to me?
This is a question we get a lot. Any custom project that an agency does for a client should always be completely owned by the client. You are paying the dollars for the work, it should remain in your hands. If ever you decide to take the project elsewhere, having the work that was done will be a road map for another development agency to follow. You’ll also need access to the website’s analytics and CMS. Ask your team how they plan to deliver these files and documents to you when the project is complete. Consider that you must purchase any stock images on your own account and register your website domain on your own account, as these licenses are difficult to transfer should you ever want to end your relationship with your web developer.
Don’t let them hold you or your work hostage!
10. Will you train my team to manage the CMS?
A CMS will go a long way in cutting down the time it takes to update your site…if you have the proper training. While a CMS does make website management easy, be sure that you are well-versed on where to go to make changes, add blog posts, change links, etc. Your agency should be able to walk you through the areas that you’ll need to make changes to. We always provide an in-person training, if possible, and leave the client with a document that details how to make all regular updates.
Of note, there are going to be changes that may stand outside your expertise. For example, changes to the look, may not be something be done via the CMS. Changing things like events, content under all the pages, and photos are a few examples of what a CMS can allow you to do. Be sure that you leave knowing what you’re capable of and be sure the agency can provide ongoing support and find out what that will cost.
A Web World
Ask the questions above in the meeting you have planned with your development agency of choice. Be sure that you’re satisfied with the answers. If you have anyone on your team who understands website development, bring that person to the meeting. Maybe it’s your CTO, IT Manager, or your Online Marketing Manager – this person can help facilitate the discussion by asking the right questions and making sure the agency has your best interests in mind.
If you have questions about app development or about our process, let us know by sending us an email firstname.lastname@example.org or leaving a comment below.