Q1. What is your portfolio like and have you any testimonials?
You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive, right? While it would be difficult (well, impossible) to test drive your website before it’s built, you can see how a designer’s websites look and feel by cruising around sites they’ve already built. This doesn’t need to be difficult. Most web designers will include a portfolio on their website, especially if their sites are worth showing off. You want to make sure that you like how a web designer’s websites look. Are the sites easy to navigate. Can you find contact info quickly? How about an “about us” page? If your gut is saying “this looks like a DIY or template site” don’t go with this designer, no matter how affordable they are. You will regret it.
Designers should have testimonials on their sites but don’t just take these at face value. Are they on LinkedIn? Have they testimonials and recommendations on there? These testimonials are much more likely to be ‘real’.
Q2. Where are you based and how do I get in touch with you at short notice?
The internet can be an ethereal thing. Website businesses can come and go and it can be difficult to work out if you are dealing with a local business, a fly by night or multinational. Knowing that the business has been going for at least a couple of years and has a physical location and contact phone number where you can talk to a human being are important, especially if things go wrong.
Q3. Will my website be mobile-friendly?
Mobile internet is the fastest expanding sector of the internet and now exceeds desktop internet use. This means that it’s more likely that people will view your website on their smartphones. So your new site better be mobile-friendly.
Most companies that offer responsive or adaptive design or mobile sites will make this clear. Your job is to make sure that mobile-friendliness comes standard — that you don’t have to pay extra so that most internet users can access your site. If you have a choice between responsive and adaptive designs go for adaptive. Adaptive sites change the font, button and image sizes to meet Googles new standards and maximise their rankings in searches.
Q4. Will my website have social media integration?
Integrating Social Media is perhaps the second most important part of establishing your businesses internet presence. As well as mobile internet being the fastest expanding sector of the internet, Social Media is rapidly becoming the key go-to search engine. Google is by far the biggest ‘daddy’ in terms of regular search engines but an increasingly large amount of website traffic is coming through Social Media. An active facebook and twitter account can treble the volume of traffic to your website. This can have a positive feedback effect onto your google search ranking. And to cap it all, it’s free!
A business website without a social media presence is like half a boat on the sea of the internet. You will be missing a huge amount of potential customers. Your designer should be able to offer advise on how to approach SM integration.
Q5. How will I be able to tell how well my website is performing?
Websites and advertising cost time and money. How can you quantify your Return on Investment (ROI)? Your designer should offer you an analytics service, free of charge, to enable you to monitor website traffic and user flow through your site.
Q6. Where will my site be hosted?
Your website needs a home if it’s going to show up on the web, but not all hosting is of equal value. Some companies charge extra for hosting. Some designers don’t include it at all. You should ask about hosting because you need to know whether it is included in the cost of your site and if not, if it can be added on for a fee. You also need to know if you’re hosted on your designer/developer’s personal server or if it will be hosted by a larger and more stable 3rd party server like Godaddy, Blue Host or Host Gator.
Q7. Do I need to hire a photographer? How about a copywriter?
Most professional web designers and developers are not also professional photographers and copywriters. As such, the way they handle sourcing content for the websites they build can vary wildly. You need to know whether you need to budget more money to pay someone to craft your content, or budget some time to do it yourself.
Q8. What are your setup fees and what do you charge if I need to make revisions to my site?
Costs for websites vary widely. Some providers offer extremely attractive startup rates and others load the costs up front. With website design you don’t always ‘get what you pay for’ as the old maxim goes. Some designers have a monthly flat rate fee for continuing maintenance and revisions. Some ‘cheaper’ options have extremely high maintenance fees. Try to work out what to total costs of running your website will be in year 1 and then look beyond that (See Q9 below for more details).
Look out for any and all charges beyond a monthly rate or flat fee. You want to account for any. If a company seems to pile on additional charges, you might want to take the time to figure out how many extras you’ll need so you can figure out the actual estimated cost of a website.
If their pricing structure is not clearly laid out and defined then that should ring alarm bells.
Change is inevitable. Your site is going to need an occasional tweak. Minor revisions should be included as part of the package. Check to see if they are and if not make sure that you know what this will cost and that you can afford it.
Q9. What are your fees for year 2 and beyond?
Paying £500 up front for a designer to create your website may seem expensive when compared to a yell.com ‘off the peg’ website at £48 per month. But looking ahead to year 2 the costs can vary widely. Smaller companies tend to offer relatively low maintenance contracts from £100 pa from year 2 whereas Yell will still be £48 per month. Total outlay at the end of year 2 for the Designer website will be approximately £600 whereas a Yell site will be £1152. Year 3 it will be £700 as opposed to £1728.
This really is key to ensuring your businesses online long term sustainability. Longevity has an impact on how your website is ranked in searches and how people react to your product. Year 2 and beyond costs are the key to this. Websites and Social Media need investment in time and money but they should not bleed you dry.
Q10. Will I own my website when it’s finished?
Some internet making services build beautiful websites on a subscription basis — which means as long as you pay for your subscription, your site remains live. However, these companies technically “own” your site and if you wish to cancel your subscription you have to walk away from all your hard work and content.
Ask if the designer is willing to give you a copy of your site code at the end of your service contract? This will mean you should be able to migrate your site to another maintenance company or designer to manage in future. A good designer and service provider should have the confidence in their own service to do this.