Archive for the ‘web development’ 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.

The Most ANNOYING Mistakes Webmasters Make

1If you want to make a successful website, then it’s rather important that you ensure your traffic likes visiting your site and that you aren’t unnecessarily aggravating them. If people find your site annoying to visit, then of course they aren’t going to want to go there too often and as such you aren’t going to make much money from it.

Now there’s an awful lot of literature online about what you should do on your website, but unfortunately not so much information on what you shouldn’t do. It seems that articles on web design would rather ‘accentuate the positive’ and as such a lot of sites continue with bad habits that could drive away their traffic even when they get a lot right.

Here then we will look at the most annoying, most frustrating and most generally irritating things that many websites are guilty of and at how you can avoid falling foul of them yourself…

Dead Links, Dead Images and Dead Sites

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One of the most frustrating experiences for anyone online is heading to a website or finding an article that you want to read, only to then discover that it’s ‘down’ and won’t work. This is even more frustrating when you then refresh it a few times and find it’s still ‘down’ and can leave you cursing the name of the website you’re meant to be visiting. This doesn’t only come across as highly unprofessional, but it can also destroy your trust in a site – you certainly wouldn’t want make any transactions on there!

So what can you do as a webmaster? Well step one is to search for those dead links and images – and there are many online tools that can help you to do that. Should you find any, then simply replace them with the correct links and make sure to repair them. Meanwhile to ensure that the site itself stays live; look into more creative hosting solutions which may include a dedicated server or cloud hosting. Either of these will help to ensure your site doesn’t go down and that it can handle more traffic.

Music

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Sites with musical backgrounds are clearly well-intentioned, but unfortunately they are also completely off the mark. What these sites forget is that most people who browse the web will do so while also listening to music of their own – which means that sites that play music do nothing but interrupt and make an awful noise. Worse is when you’re browsing the web in a library or somewhere else quiet, and suddenly the website starts blaring out aggressive tunes. So the answer is simple: don’t add music to a perfectly good website…

Large Images

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Also annoying are large images that take ages to load. On a regular PC this is frustrating because it slows you down, but on a mobile phone it’s even worse because it may end up costing you money or using up your data allowance. Keep your site as light as possible unless you have a particularly good reason not to.

Thick Blocks of Text

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Even more annoying are sites compromised of thick unnecessary blocks of text which aren’t at all broken up by headings or different fonts. These are incredibly annoying because they mean the visitor has to spend ages reading all the text thoroughly, rather than being able to simply skin for what they need. Don’t be so arrogant as to think that people won’t want to scan your text at all – we live in a high paced world and people want to get on with what they’re doing!

Annoying Comments and Opinions

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Some websites are simply annoying in terms of what they write, which is a difficult balancing act for the owner to get right. On the one hand, a little bit of controversy on a website can actually be a good and useful thing: if your site is controversial then that will mean it’s memorable and in turn it will mean people are likely to talk about it and spread links.

And at the same time, you of course should write using your own ‘voice’ and be true to your opinions. So what constitutes an annoying comment that your site would be better without?

Well there are many, but examples include ‘facts’ that haven’t been properly researched, opinions that are completely unapologetic and not explained, or anything that’s potentially offensive. In other words bad writing is annoying – so make sure to check your content over and to try and keep it professional.

Author Bio:
Nancy Baker, the author of this article, is a freelance blogger who is currently writing for NetDepot, leading providers of hosting solutions to enterprises. She is passionate about technology and enjoys writing about the latest developments. You can also follow her on Twitter @Nancy Baker.

Can content management systems (CMS) make all your website changes easy?

jce_smOne of advantages of content management systems (CMS) is the ability to edit content easily and in real time. While this is true at face value, it may not be as simple as it sounds. Here are some of the changes that laymen cannot make:

Change in content type– Suppose most of your pages have a small amount of text (50 pages) and perhaps an image. If you want to replace that page with a video or add a large image to the text it as an example, you need to be aware of several things. Will adding the content require another technology tool such as a video player? Will the content be too much so that it looks out of place?

readmoreMost CMS systems allow you to add a “Read More” link, which may help address the issue. But it is always advisable to consider the overall impact before replacing the content.

Clashes between new content and the design framework– As you select images be especially aware of colors that clash with the website accent colors and for images that are cropped inconsistently. It is always best to establish and maintain the standards for content especially graphics and video. Any new content should follow these standards. If there are new silos of content e.g. divisions, develop common standards for content. If the content is inconsistent, you lose the sense of competency that a CMS framework creates through common style sheets.

Content that suggests a change in navigation– If new content reflects a change in services, business strategy, etc. it is always best to consider how that content relates to the whole site. If a customer sees a new product on your site but there is no link to “get more information” form, the new content is not serving your needs as it should. Be careful not to underestimate how important it is to create a consistent look.

PHPmyadminContent managed by database functions– Most CMS have the ability to interrelate several sets of content according to rules you define. The relationship between content is managed through a database and may be done by custom programming or through CMS tools. If you understand that relationship between the data, you can make the edits successfully; otherwise you may not accomplish what you want.

Content linked within the site– To help users find related content easily and to improve SEO, a good website key phrases from one page to related pages. If you change the names of your linked pages, you will also need to change the links in the related pages. It’s not difficult but if you forget, you will have broken links. This hurts your site’s appeal and SEO.

Joomla has a set of these tools generically called content construction kits. The most popular examples are MosetsTree, SobiPro, K2, and Zoo. Some are easy to add categories, some allow easy import of other database content and some are allow the layout of information to be customized easily. A good developer will understand the strengths and use the right tool.

Here are some tips to make the update process easier:

1. Make good decisions before you launch or re-launch you site. Define the basic layout of your site for the long term.

2. Work with developers who inform you of options before you build the site. Ask them questions about maintenance. Ask them what you change and what you cannot without help. Ask them about training.

3. Know your website’s CMS and train your staff to follow your style guidelines.

Black Friday 2011: Hosting Deals Too Great to Resist!

If you don’t sleep late from over-consumption of turkey, you have to check out these incredible Black Friday deals on website hosting! These companies have gone all-out to make you their next new client. So log onto your computer and steal yourself some great deals!

FatCow hosting specialFatCow Holiday Hosting Special!

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FatCow is 100% wind generated electricity, so a 100% green choice for hosting! They are considered one of the best hosting options for Joomla. Sign up for FatCow hosting >

Hostgator Black Friday 2011 Deals!

  • Begins: 12 am CST on Friday, November 25, 2011
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This includes ALL accounts. You could get hosting for $.99 per month! We’re very happy with Hostgator for our Joomla accounts, and we’re certain you will be too! Buy hosting with Hostgator >

Interactive Online Black Friday Special!

  • Begins: 11/25/11
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If you’re wondering which host to choose for Joomla, read our blog post What is the Best Hosting for Joomla to make your choice.

Finding a Great Referral for A Web Developer

Choosing a web developer can be very challenging if you don’t understand how things work at a basic level. Just like cars, everyone admires a good website, but it is hard to know which salesman to believe.

So many people look to a friend or business associate for a referral  to a web developer. This makes sense as long as you ask the right questions of that person. Most people don’t understand their website needs from a technical aspect. This makes it difficult to know whether your friend or associates website is a good measuring stick for yours.

In my opinion, the best source of information on web development comes from someone in a similar line of business. For the most part, you will want similar functionality on the site and perhaps have a similar marketing approach.

Here are questions to ask when getting a web developer referral:

1. How well did the client define their project ahead of time?
Often people will have an idea of what they want in a website but will not have the true scope or details identified. Taking time to answer some basic questions and you will have an easier time managing the project. Specific details to ask about include:

  • Did they have your information architecture (IA) set? IA is the design for the information flow. Did the developer help them refine it?
  • How complex is the content on their website? Is some of the content inter-related? Was the website built in a static fashion or in a relational fashion? Did they need special programming, such as Joomla, to accomplish what they want?
  • Did they have a project plan with milestones? Was it reasonable technically or simply “what they wanted”.
  • How often will they make changes? Are they simple text changes or design changes? Did they allow for this in your design and vendor agreement? Who makes the changes, client or do they pay the developer?

If the responses are not all positive, the client and developer may share the blame.

Developer issues that can cause delays:

  • Lack of key technical knowledge
  • Poor project management skill
  • Shabby ethics

Client issues that can cause delays:

  • “Two many cooks (stakeholders) in the kitchen” may create a confusing project scope and priorities. This could also delay critical decisions.
  • Poor conception of development costs: If you have a comparable website that you are going by, it’s important to know how much it cost to build so you have an idea of the costs involved. If you want super technical by don’t have the budget for it, this can cause disappointments and delays as the client tries to get the developer to create what they don’t have the budget to pay for.
  • Taking too long to develop content. This is the number one reason we see delays on sites we build. Putting content together is the hardest part of a project, so ask your friend to honestly answer how prompt were they about delivering content to the developer?

2. Did they need to adjust their expectations during the contracting process?
If a project has any complexity at all, the developer will need to explore how to implement the client’s design best to meet their needs. This may involve some changes to the client’s vision because of budget, technology limitations, or the desired timeline of the project. This may mean implementing the project in stages or developing custom functionality provided the budget allows for it.

It is common to work with clients who don’t have all their content done. In the course of creating their content and IA, they discover that their original design is poor. In looking at the IA, they often discover better ways of doing business or a better marketing approach, and this changes the scope of the project.

3. How clear was the agreement with the developer?
Some problems in development are easy to avoid by having clear contracting language. If you want results that meet your expectations, you need to ask enough questions to clarify how the site will work. You can express the results you want in an agreement without knowing how a developer will implement this technically. When this is done, it is easy to hold a developer accountable.

4. Was it difficult to communicate with the developer?
Many developers are good at coding but have a hard time understanding the client’s needs. It is important for developers to have a sense of the user’s experience as well as the business purpose of the website. If a client finds a developer does not show an understanding of this part of the project, it will make the project more stressful.

5. If changes were needed along the way, did the developer explain things well?
Did the developer provide options for challenges? If a project has any complexity at all, it is not uncommon for both the developer and the client to learn in the course of the project. As a result, changes in the scope or implementation may be needed. If a developer is not flexible or diligent enough to be a partner, this part of the project will be a challenge.