Archive for the ‘hiring web designer’ Category

12 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Web Developer

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.

10 Signs You Need a Web Design Firm

How do you know when you need to seek help for your website? Many people plod along all alone trying to figure out how to keep their website going, and sometimes this can only make things worse. The following list provides a compass to determine if you need a web design firm to help make your site stellar.

1. Search and Rescue Calls
Customers call asking for assistance to find something on your site,  and what they’re searching for is on the site but hard to find, or you forgot to include it all together. This is a definite sign your information architecture is not up to snuff.

2. Your Information is History
You’re not even sure the last time your site was updated and you’re even more unsure how often you should update it. Two times on an outdated site is probably the last time that customer will visit. Have you considered a content management system like Joomla so you can update the site yourself?

3. Flashy But Frustrating
Your Web designer promised and delivered the WOW factor, but now you’re getting comments that the site doesn’t come up, or it’s slow or what is that big blank spot in the middle of your home page? Using the latest technology may seem fun and hip, but if it doesn’t add to your business message, it’s better left to the entertainment industry.

4. Clicking To Nothingness
Your site is riddled with dead links because nobody is checking them on a regular basis. Pretty much a guaranteed way to lose visitors.

5. There’s No Draw Back
Your site should offer something of value to a visitor while they are on your site. Could be articles, resources or even an inspirational message. They need a reason to come back and look again, even if in the moment they do not need what you are selling.

6. There’s No Target
Without a clear picture of your target audience and purpose for delivering the information, your Web site has been designed in an aimless fashion. It will work for you in the way it has been designed – randomly. Defining your audience and resolving their needs with your content is the best way to keep them coming back!

7. It Just Doesn’t Work
Your site doesn’t work the way the developer promised it would, and your customers keep complaining. Some first are great at certain things, but not so hot at others. You might need to bring in another firm to tighten up the loose ends and get your site functioning as you expected it to.

8. It’s Built, Now What?
How will you bring traffic to your site, and was that even considered when your site was built? Just because you built it doesn’t mean the people will come. You need to implement an SEO plan or some sort of online marketing strategy. These days getting high up in the search engine rankings is a challenge, but you definitely won’t see results without some SEO efforts.

9. Your Competitor Gets the Kudos
When your customers talk to you, they are constantly mentioning your competitors’ Web site. This is a clear sign that your site isn’t fulfilling their needs. Time to step up and exceed the competition!

10. You Don’t Have a Web Site
In today’s world if you have a business, you must have a Web site. A lack of Web presence can actually compromise your credibility. If you don’t have a Web site, it’s time to put it at the top of your to do list!

Conclusion
Building and marketing a website does not have to be a complex process. When hiring a web design firm, it’s best to get a referral from somebody you know personally, and who can give a true endorsement. Lacking that, focus on the customer service message of the firm in order to make your choice. The most important part of working with a firm is the communication process, and it doesn’t matter if they can make the computer do back flips if they can’t deliver what you want.

Why Does a Website Cost So Much?

Early on in 1996, when I learned how to build websites, I realized an interesting phenomena with the web — people were reluctant to pay to have a website built. My theory was that it was really hard for them to pay for something they could not touch and feel in their hands. In their minds, it was air, and how expensive could that be? I recently read an article about hidden costs on website development. I believe many clients are not aware of the time involved in the creation of a website.

We work with mostly small to medium-sized businesses, and at least 1/3 of our companies are sole proprietors with only 1-2 employees. Their budget for a website is usually “we just want to spend a few hundred dollars.” They often gasp when they see the simple little website they want is in the few thousand dollar arena. Why would this be so? They only have 15 or so pages. How could it possibly cost so much? Here’s a list of the steps required to build such a simple site:

Steps involved in building a website in Joomla:

  1. Create information architecture and develop quote for client: 1-2 hours
  2. Select a couple templates for the client to choose from (selecting a template saves $1500-$2000 in design fees): 1.5 hour
  3. Purchase selected template: $25-$45
  4. Customize the template with client’s logo, color scheme and possible modify module positions to work with content: 3-4 hours
  5. Gather content from existing site and create content outline for client in Word: 1 hour
  6. Set up hosting, Install Joomla, create section/category, menu and article structure: 3 hours
  7. Input client’s content (all static content): 3-4 hours
  8. Optimize graphic layout of content to it abides by usability standards: 2 hours
  9. Search for stock photos for the site: 1-2 hours
  10. Pay for stock photos: $25-$50
  11. Size and optimize 15-20 photos for the site: 2 hours
  12. Input images and edits to content: 1-2 hours
  13. Create online contact form: 1 hour
  14. Install and configure FAQ component with 20 questions: 1.5 hours
  15. Test and optimize template for popular browsers: 2 hours
  16. Apply SEO to page titles, links, content: 2-3 hours
  17. 1 year hosting at Rochen: $95
  18. Talking to the client and calling/emailing asking for content or clarifying issues: 3-4 hours

Total hours: 28-33 hours
Out of pocket expenses: $145-$190

And what about nifty extras?
This time estimate is for a site that is basically text with very little extended functionality. We often add the following to our client’s sites, which can vary in time required depending on the complexity of the pieces:

  • Google Analytics
  • Backup System
  • Search Engine Submission
  • Keyword analysis and SEO implementation
  • Blog setup and integration with the site
  • Photo Gallery
  • Flash slide show on home page
  • Event Calendar
  • Newsflash module for marketing taglines on home page or customer testimonials
  • Modification of custom components to match site
  • Purchase of commercial components to optimize performance
  • Etc…

So you can see how quickly the hours add up, and that’s if the project goes perfectly without delays or technical glitches, which isn’t always the case.

The time has come where a website is an essential part of doing business. It is a critical expense to include in your budget, and because of its importance, its creation should be carefully considered. It’s okay to have a budget, but talk to your designer and understand what you’re really getting for your money. Sometimes that $500 saved means you’re getting a less-than-optimum product.

More information:

Should I Spend More Money on My Website?

The Internet is part of our society now (thank you Al Gore) so this is a question that should be asked continuously. How do you decide what to do online?

Define Expectations
Know what your audience is looking for. I always say the receptionist is the first person to ask what people need from your company. This individual is the one who receives the harried phone calls from your customers.

Take Usability to Heart
If your site confuses people well… that’s not what anyone expects. Usability studies have shown that there are uniform expectations about how to find information. Readers look at the web differently from other media. If your information architecture is poorly designed, they won’t stay long. Utilize proper technology. I just went to look for a replacement car manual on http://www.gm.com/. The main page has a Flash component…. if I haven’t updated my Flash recently, I will be distracted and perhaps get frustrated enough to leave without getting my needs met. If I am selling GM and want to sell a car, this is not a good thing.

Don’t Shortchange Information
If people need to review your products, technical specs or other information before making a purchase decision, it’s best ot have that information online. If you lead a user to information, but don’t deliver it, there is an annoyance factor that is raised in the user. “Under Construction” pages are big no-no. If you don’t have the content, either create it or don’t put up the page.

Bling When Necessary
If your company is an industry where “bling” is status quo e.g. entertainment, your customers expect to see a cool website. It is very important that they still can find the some basic information, but also pizzazz. Just for fun, search for your favorite movie star and look at their home page. Does the “smoke and mirrors” effect still allow you find what you want?

Let Them Know You Mean Business
If people need reassurance about doing business with you, they will want to see testimonials, case studies or perhaps a portfolio. This is especially important for demonstrating good customer service. Users need to believe you care about them, and they will want to know how you work through warm fuzzy examples.

Back Up Your Facts
If people see you as an expert in your field, they will want that validated. If you are a contractor or attorney, this means more than giving your license or your JD credentials. They will want a demonstration of your wisdom. What about tips from the master plumber? What about published articles from the expert in landlord law? A calendar of speaking engagements?

Keep It Current
If you have a calendar or dated information, people expect it to be current. Don’t post on your blog or calendar once every month or so. If you make a commitment to calendared content, be committed to keeping it up to date.

If you are missing on one of these points, you website is not representing you well. There are many other ways to please users, but these are the key points that are often overlooked. Always keep thinking: is there a way our online strategy could do better? That’s where you have to put on your thinking cap and determine if you need to invest more in your online presence.