Building your new company website is a big decision and deciding on the web company who will be building it is going to be the biggest factor on how well that goes for you. You may be struggling to even decide on how to start the process of looking for a web design team, or what questions to ask when prospecting. I have compiled a list of important questions to try to make that decision easier for you and to help ensure you make the right choice.
1. Tell me about your staff, do you have separate designers, developers, and project managers? Are they all in-house?
When looking through company web portfolios, you are probably only focusing on the look of the websites, but that is only one part of a good website. Website design is obviously the job of the website designer, but the parts you do not see is the planning that went into a user-friendly design and the efficient, well written code behind the design to make it function. A professional website, done correctly, requires a wide range of skills which can rarely be accomplished by one or two people. It is important to find a company that has a team of people specialized in their specific skill sets, design, development and management. This will ensure you have a professional working on all aspects of your new website to make it the shining reflection of your company that you hoped it would be.
2. Does your company design custom website designs or use templates?
While templates might be an OK solution for some companies who are just getting started, they can be limiting and lack-luster. Most companies should be seeking a custom website design which will facilitate their custom wants and needs for their website. It will also achieve the custom look that they desire for their website instead of looking like a template and seeming plain and common. Template sites are usually painfully obvious and easy to spot.
3. Will my website be optimized for search (search engine friendly)?
This is an important question if you hope to be found on Google (which most people should). The way a website is developed plays a vital role in how easy it is for search engines to find your website and crawl it effectively once they do. Of course this is not the only factor of SEO, but it is definitely the foundation and is very important. It is safe to assume most professional companies will say yes to this question, but do not be afraid to pry a bit more and find out about the steps they take and their experience in doing so.
4. Will I be able to edit (make changes) to the website myself when it is finished?
Knowing whether or not you will have a Content Management System (CMS) on your new website is important. A CMS, like WordPress, will allow you to easily log into your website and make changes to the content yourself. This should not require any HTML knowledge and is much like editing a WORD Document. Having a CMS will most likely add to the cost of your new website but not having one is kind of like buying a new car with no steering wheel. With no CMS, you would be required to edit the HTML files and upload them to the web server yourself in order to make changes without having a web company do it (for money).
5. Do you include training of how to maintain / edit my website when it is finished?
As a follow-up to the above question, if there IS a CMS, you should make sure that your cost includes training on how to use it. More than likely, even if you are familiar with content management systems, your website will require some custom modules that a quick overview would be helpful.
6. Who will own the website once it is finished?
Obviously a very important question! Believe it or not, some web companies will hold ownership of your website even though you paid for it. It is important that in your website contract you receive full ownership of the website that you paid for once it is completed. This is important for a number of reasons but most importantly, web companies who do this are most likely planning for the moment you are unhappy with their service and want to leave them, at which time your website becomes their hostage. You should ALWAYS own the website you paid for, as well as your domain and hosting which I will address next.
7. Who will host the website? Do I have to host it with you?
Hosting is a topic most businesses may not be familiar with so they will blindly take their web companies recommendation. Be very cautious of web companies who require you to host with them or who set up your domain and hosting in their name. This is yet another way unethical web companies with poor service can hold their clients hostage when they wish to move onto a better web company. I have heard and dealt with countless horror stories from clients who want to change web providers but can not get the hosting details the new company needs in order to access the files. As important, or even more important, is the domain name. Your domain name is how people access your website (www.your-domain.com), in which you have put in numerous dollars and time into promoting. If your web developer registered it in their name and decides to hold onto it if you change providers, you could be in for a long battle for ownership. Legally, you can most likely take the domain from them if the domain is your company name, however it will not be a quick and easy process by any means. The safe bet is to register your hosting and domain name yourself and just get a recommendation on where to sign up from your web company. If your web company offers their own hosting, make sure it is not required, and make sure to find out all of the terms of cancellation.
8. Will you be able to add new features to my website in the future?
Finding out about future changes in important because you will almost absolutely want some eventually. When I say new features, I do not mean content changes, but things like adding a photo gallery. You will want to make sure your web developer has the capacity to support your website after launch and is able to add new features to your website post-launch in a reasonable amount of time. It is also important to find out how they estimate and bill for these changes.