Questions to ask BEFORE you hire a web partner

Web So you need to update your website.  Or, build one for the first time.  It’s easy to get blinded by some of the cool, visually spectacular things that can be done on the web.  But let’s remember that first and foremost — your website is a marketing tool. 

Before you hire a web partner, make sure you ask some smart questions and do your homework.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start.

Seeing is believing:

  • Ask to see samples of their work within the last 6 months.  Get references.
  • Ask to see the user interface so you understand what is required to make changes.

There are many ways to view a website:

  • Ask which browsers (and versions) they test for compatibility
  • Ask how your site will appear on hand-held devices like Blackberries and Palm Pilots.

You will keep your content fresh if it’s easy to do:

  • Do they use a WYSIWYG software to build sites?
  • If you want to update text, photos, add pages etc. – can you do that yourself without knowing any code?
  • If the web firm has to make the changes, how much do you charge and what is the turnaround time?

Will you be easy to find?

  • How does their construction natively help your site’s search engine rankings?

Your audiences:

  • Will the site be handicap accessible?  (If you receive federal funding, you should find out about Section 508 requirements.)
  • What help, if any, do you give you to attract an audience?

Nuts and bolts:

  • Who owns the site?  Can you move it to a different server if you want?
  • What kind of support are you given after the site goes live?  Is there an additional cost for this?

Keep in mind that you need three different kinds of thinkers to help you design a site:

  • A strategic thinker who helps create the user experience
  • A smart designer who understands graphic design, your brand and how to design specifically for the web
  • A savvy, up-to-speed web developer who can actually construct the site

Don’t get boxed in to thinking that you have to buy all of those services from one firm.  For almost 15 years, we’ve fulfilled the first two roles for our clients — but always hire out the final component. 

Come on marketing pros — what questions did I miss that you know should be added to the list?

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20 comments on “Questions to ask BEFORE you hire a web partner

  1. Does the site facilitate easy addition/integration of video?

  2. From a technical standpoint you always want to know what platform your site will be built on as that will determine what experts can help, what programming resources are required, what hosting platform is required (windows or linux), and what databases are compatible, etc. These are very important aspects because you don’t want to choose the wrong, outdated technology and you want to be able to choose a partner who can develop on the platforms you require.

  3. TJ says:

    Another good one for the customer to keep in mind (because a good designer will bring this up) is screen resolution. Usually goes between 800×600 and 1024×768.

    Nice list. This would be very beneficial to people new to the website game.

  4. Mark True says:

    Drew:

    Great list! The only thing I can add is…do you expect the pages to print well? If so, it will effect the margins in the design.

    -Mark

  5. Nice, and important, post Drew.

    Being that I help my clients build their businesses on the web – including web design – I would add “get a few references.” Certainly ask the quesitons about quality of work and such. More importantly, though, ask about the relationship the client had/has with the designer. Were they helpful in bridging technology gaps? Could they explain in non-techie terms? How long did phone calls and emails take to get responses? Etc…

    I can tell you horror story after horror story of clients who have come to me after having a bad relationship experience with their web designer. So know that when you’re hiring a web designer, you’re really entering into a relationship. And if you’re a business, that relationship could make a difference between success and failure.

  6. The best and most efficient designers code their pages with CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and standards compliant code. This is important because it vastly simplifies cross-browser compatibility and precise layouts. Additionally, more of your content will be visible to search engines so they can better index your site.

    Lastly,
    if a designer wants to build a site completely in Flash…watch out! It is near impossible to effectively design a CMS (content management system) for the client to use. Secondly, without code behind the flash defining what the page’s content is all about, it will be invisible to search engines.

  7. Lewis Green says:

    Drew,

    Nice list. Because I update my web site weekly (sometimes more often), being able to do it myself without spending hundreds of dollars was important. I use Macromedia Contribute 3, saved hundreds and hundreds of dollars, and it works great!

  8. Mike Sansone says:

    Solid list here. I’d also ask if the company understands blogging and can produce RSS feeds. Especially on the latter – it’s no longer a matter of “if”

  9. Chris Brown says:

    Drew:
    Good reference post. Along with the strategic thinking, smart designer, and savvy developer I would add a: trusted host and a knowledgeable SEO expert.

    You’ve inspired me to write more on this subject! Thanks!
    Chris

  10. Doug — excellent point — thank you.

    Andy — but for most clients, they don’t understand platforms or database compatability etc. So, how can they ask questions or perhaps what questions should they ask to discover the right answers? I think most clients don’t know what to ask or what answers to be listening for.

    TJ — great point. Screen resolution is something most people don’t think about until they have a problem.

    Drew

  11. Mark — excellent point. We still live in a world where most people feel more comfortable if they can print a digital document.

    Dawud — the relationship is king, I agree. Checking references is one of those things everyone should do but few take the time. And then they pay the price.

    Mario — as always…you add great value in your comments. Thank you. Cascading style sheets and an awareness of how to intentionally utilize flash are the kinds of things the end user doesn’t see but the client of the web developer really needs to understand because the decisions they make significantly impact the end user’s experience.

    Drew

  12. Lewis — is that something that anyone would use, even if they didn’t know code?

    Drew

  13. Mike,

    Thanks for adding that. It’s funny, I just assume RSS feeds are a given. But your point is well taken — they are not.

    Drew

  14. Thanks for posting this list. My company does web development as part of the services we offer our customers and we are aware of all these issues. I’m going to go over these items and see if any additional things can be added to our work flow, sales book or site FAQ.

  15. Lewis Green says:

    Yes. Contribute is software that is easily loaded and then it requires only click and type. No code is needed, including HTML.

  16. linker — nice to meet you. Welcome to Drew’s Marketing Minute.

    SInce you do this every day — which of these gives your clients the most trouble?

    Drew

  17. Lewis,

    Is Contribute both Mac and PC compatible? How long did it take you to get comfortable with it?

    Drew

  18. Leslie Tane says:

    Hi Drew,

    I’ve been a Marketing Minute fan for a while now. This is a great topic, and I wanted to throw in my two cents on some other things you might want to ask when finding a web designer.

    Here are two things that I’d add:
    1) How many designs/design revisions are included, and are these custom designs or are they template based?

    2) Who is in charge of finding/creating content (images and text)?

    I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer to these questions — much of it has to do with the budget you have for your web site project. But I do find that asking these things up front leads to a better developing experience, with everyone in the project on the same page.

    Thanks for a great blog!

  19. Leslie,

    Thanks — I’m glad you keep coming back and finding something of value here.

    Your additions to my list are great ones! As you say…no right or wrong answer on any of these. It all depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

    Okay, having some references is probably a right answer. But other than that — it’s about being a smart shopper.

    Thanks for the excellent additions!

    Drew

  20. Your additions to my list are great ones! As you say…no right or wrong answer on any of these. It all depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

    Okay, having some references is probably a right answer. But other than that — it’s about being a smart shopper.

    Thanks

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