Despite being around for almost 20 years, the world of web development still often operates like the wild west. I recently had a client come to me because the developer refused to release his site. He was ashamed and felt stupid because the signs were there, but he didn’t know what to look for.
Here are some questions to ask to make sure your web design company operates with integrity and will build your site so you have control when it launches.
1. Who registers and owns my URL (web site address)?
Whoever owns the URL, controls what server it points to. Many design companies will register the URL in your name, but not give you access to the registrar account. Others will register it in their own name, which means you DON’T own it. Register your own URL before you begin working on the site to avoid this common pitfall.
2. Where is the site hosted?
Whoever hosts your site, controls if it’s live or down. Many development companies insist you host with them, but if you want to change developers, you they may refuse to give you the files. Read the fine print in your contract to make sure you own the final product that they build. Make a point of understanding the host/developer relationship so you can make a choice that gives you the most flexibility down the line.
3. What sort of contract do I need to sign?
Many development companies commence business on a handshake. A contract protects you as well as the developer. It lays out the path for the project, and makes each step predicable and understandable. No contract means the developer can change their mind about price, file ownership or even completing the job.
4. How much input do I have in the process of creating my site?
Many developers take your deposit check, and the next time you hear from them your site is built. No questions, no feedback requested; they’ve built your site blindly and without your input. YOU are the business owner. If the developer says you don’t need to be involved, it’s time to look elsewhere.
5. How long does it take to build the site?
Many developers are excited to tell you that they can whip your site out in no time ‘ a week or two tops. But what they neglect to tell you is the most challenging part of building a site is getting the content ‘ and this is up to you! The developer can estimate the build time after they know what they are building, but remember that their build time is also dependent upon your timely delivery of content.
6. How much does it cost to build the site?
This question is like asking how much a car is without knowing the make and model. Expect surprises from a developer who gives you a price without knowing what you want. Also be wary of a developer who gives you a price that is too low. With a clear understanding of what is to be built, the developer can give you a fixed-price bid for construction. A developer should give you a written estimate that specifies the number of pages included as well as any complex functionality that is required.
7. Who owns my finished site?
It is very common for developers to neglect to mention that by law they have ownership of all files related to your site. Unless a work-for-hire statement is incorporated into your contract, they maintain the copyright on the design and assets for your site. They are not obligated to release these files to you. Make certain language is in your contract that states that you have ownership of the work that is done.
8. What technology is used to build the site?
There are many excellent technical solutions for creating sites today, but what is more important in this question is how the developer answers it. Do they explain the technology in a way that it is clear so you understand? Effective communication is critical for accomplishing a Web project. Make certain the developer communicates in a way that you understand.
9. How is the site maintained once it is built?
It’s an easy thing to get involved in the creation of your site and not consider how it is maintained once it is built. It is important to discuss this with the developer as you don’t want to launch your site and then be hit with surprise bills or no means of managing it yourself. You need to find out if software is required to maintain the site, and if the developer offers training for it. Maintenance fees can be as much if not more than build fees, so consider self-management options if budget is a concern. If the design firm insists on being in control of maintenance, get a copy of the fee schedule before signing your contract.
10. Are they using any proprietary software to build the site?
Many development companies create their own software for building Web sites. They license it to customers for use on the site. The main issue with this is if you want to move the site, you can never really own it, even with a work-for-hire. Also, you can never choose to use a different developer, so you are locked into the same company regardless of how the relationship is working out. Avoid proprietary software sites. Make sure it’s built in such a way that you can change your mind and switch companies down the line.
11. What do you do to market my site once it is built?
Many development companies will have an online marketing branch to help your website get found once it is built. Others will not have a solid answer to this question. Building your site is only the first step in creating an online presence. Online marketing is a key component to bringing in customers. A development company should understand this. If they do not provide online marketing services, they should at least have recommendations to companies that can provide this service. No website can be built without online marketing in mind, so it’s important they understand that this is an integral part of launching a site.
12. Do you have any questions for me?
A developer cannot give you an honest assessment of your project without having an understanding of what is to be built. This question gives the opportunity to see how the developer would approach the project. You can observe the developer’s listening skills as you explain your project, as well as their ability to gain better understanding by asking clarifying questions. It’s important the developer include questions regarding who the site users will be and what the business goals are.