Over the past few weeks I have had the misfortune to come across web developers who frankly should be working in some other industry - and do you what, I don't know which industry deserves them. In practically all of these cases I have been asked by a client to look at their websites and identify what could be done to improve them. In most cases the word "Redesign" has come straight to mind.
It is quite incredible that in 2009 the knowledge of some web developers seems rooted either in 1999 or worse, in print design! Also, I have been shocked by the staggering amounts of money that clients have parted with for amateur websites, which will generate no money, awareness or enquiries for them.
So, how can clients stop being duped by sub-standard web developers? Here's a brief guide as to what to look out for.
- Identify web developers who have created websites that appeal to you? Take a look at their portfolio and have a look at their sites. Have they created websites for people in your industry?
- Click on the websites and have a good look around. Are the links working? Does the site load quickly? Is it easy to find what you are looking for? If it's a website on generators, can you find the products you want?
- What about the calls to action? Are they crystal clear? Do you know what you have to do on each and every page?
- Right, you've found the contact us form, why not pick up the phone and dial the number of the web developer's client:
"I am thinking of going with the web developer who built your site. Would you mind if I asked you some questions?"
1. Has this website been successful for your business?
2. Are you ranked highly on the search engines?
3. Was the developer professional
4. Did they complete the website to plan?
5. Were they expensive or reasonable?
- With regards the above you may also want to factor in any advertising they may do off or online - is this going to naturally drive traffic to the site and so skew the results?
- You may also want to ask friends or business colleagues about people they have worked with. However, you need to weigh this information carefully. I once spoke to a company and had the following conversation:
ME: How is your website going?
Client: Very good. It's been up for a year now and we really like it.
ME: How many orders or enquiries has it generated?
Client: None so far but people do say they like it.
ME: Then it's not working for you. It is clearly not doing anything for you.
Client: I suppose so. I didn't think of it like that.
- Check out whether the web developer understands basic SEO. Do they create individual page titles for each and every page? These are page titles from my website (notice how they change for each page):
- What about meta descriptions? These are useful for accurately describing what your company/organization does in the organic listings. Can you add them yourselves?
- Do they know what H1 tags are?
- Ask them how much they will charge for adding Google Analytics? Free is good, anything north of £150 you should question why.
- What about a Google Sitemap and verification of your site? Do they know what it is and how much do they charge? What about Google Webmaster Central?
- How do they work? What about creating templates or kick-off meetings? Who is going to be in charge of project management - one person or many?
- Are they going to create a new website for you under a brand new domain name? If so, beware! Your old site may be crap but it may have a bit of Google history" behind it.
- If they're building you a content management system (CMS), make sure YOU no them try it out beforehand. Ask yourself, will it be difficult to update when the site goes live.
- Domain names - if it's a new site, consider carefully where the Top Level Domain (or TLD) will reside. If you're targeting UK, best to stick with .co.uk. If it's international, then .com. Country-specific? Consider the TLD of that country.
- Make sure that you have everything written down as to what you expect the web developers to do. Find out what the maintenance fees and ongoing hosting charges will be.
- We are in economic crisis. What happens if the web developer goes bust? Have you got a copy of the website? What happens if it is a CMS or Word Press site?
- Make sure that your domain name is registered to you and not the developer.
And don't forget you know your business better than any web developer. DO NOT give the web developer some basic information and expect them to build a site for you. This is a recipe for disaster. You need to put a lot of work in yourself, working out the products you have, what you want people to do, the issues people have with buying from you and how you will overcome them.
If any of this is too daunting, I would recommend you hire a middleman to work with you and the web developer!