Posted on 11 January 2012.
Louise Stanley from Clarke Associates sets out the questions every website owner needs to ask.
Why invest in a website? Well, the days of the printed Yellow Pages directory seem to be numbered as more and more potential customers search for businesses online. Website addresses are easier to remember than phone numbers and therefore more easily shared, and allow browsers to view information at a time that’s convenient for them. But while the majority of consumers today expect a business to have its own website, few business owners would know how to create a website that looks good but functions, too. Before you entrust your online reputation to web developers that seem to speak another language, ask them these questions.
How will my site be hosted and who pays?
It’s not just design that costs – you need to factor hosting into your budget, too. Some developers will offer hosting as part of the package or you may have to go (and pay) elsewhere – either way, find out how often your site will be backed up, what are the maximum data levels, and how much downtime you should be prepared for. If the content on your site changes regularly, you’ll need it backing-up daily, and many hosts can guarantee downtime of just 0.01%.
Which web standards do you follow?
Web standards are the different ways of coding and designing a site to make sure it looks (and functions) the same on different browsers and operating systems. If your site doesn’t meet World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards then it’s unlikely to work on future browsers. Examples of web standards include XHTML, CSS and ECMA Scripts – you don’t need to understand them yourself but if your developer doesn’t, run!
Who owns the code?
You’re unlikely to switch developers halfway through your project but after the website is complete, you may want to take it to another developer for further work later on. It’s therefore important to establish who owns the finished code – if your initial developer does then all future changes must be done by them. If you buy the code yourself it may be more expensive, but you’ve bought the flexibility to take the site elsewhere for modifications. If you’re not happy with the original work, this will save you having to start from scratch.
Do you design for SEO?
You want your site to be one of the first thrown up by search engines, and the design and coding of your site can be crucial in achieving this. With so many search engine optimisation (SEO) agencies out there you may not entrust all of this to your developer, but they must know how to design your site with future SEO strategies in mind. More text, more content, minimal coding.
Does your design rely on Java or Flash?
Flash looks pretty but in reality it’s not particularly user-friendly as it may not show up on all platforms – particularly iPhones and iPads – and isn’t great for SEO. If you’ve got your heart set on Java or Flash then make sure your developer can code an alternative HTML version.
Can the site be viewed on a mobile?
More and more people are accessing the internet via their smartphones. This can be great for business –people can access your site as soon as they see your advert or shop front while out and about rather than waiting until they get home to log on (if they’ve remembered). Your developer should be able to create a site that doesn’t compromise on functionality when viewed on an iPhone or Blackberry.
Will you use graceful degradation or progressive enhancement?
Throw some jargon at your prospective developer and see if they flounder. A site using gradual degradation has been built to look best on the newest browsers while still being functional on older models, while progressive enhancement means almost the reverse – your site will be built for an older browser, but will be upgraded periodically to keep up the new versions. A good developer will know the difference, and be able to recommend the best option for your needs.
What about the future?
All websites will be tested before ‘going live’ but it’s impossible to catch every glitch and teething problem. Will your developer support you in the early days as part of the package? As time goes on its almost inevitable that you’ll experience the odd problem, and require the odd update. Find out if your package includes ongoing support (and how long for!) or if you’ll need to sign up to a monthly retainer for support and maintenance.
Clarke Associates designs and produces websites for organisations large and small (we also prepare the copy, make creative suggestions and offer more than a straight web design service). For a (near) jargon-free chat send an email to Javan Bramhall (email@example.com) or James Griffin (firstname.lastname@example.org). You’ll find they both talk your language.
Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net