Eight questions to ask before you select a web developer

With the world of website design in constant flux and an increasing number of players entering the e-commerce market, here are some key considerations when searching for a web developer.

Engaging a website developer or agency is about much more than who’s cheapest or quickest – it is one of the most important decisions an online merchant can make.

A website is a growing and evolving business asset rather than a fixed product, so it is important to find a developer who is enthusiastic about what you’re trying to achieve and with whom you can have a positive working relationship. Bret Treasure, chair of the Australian Web Industry Association , answers eight questions on how to streamline the process.

1. Where should I start my search for a professional web developer?

The Australian Web Industry Association (AWIA) directory contains around 300 businesses, which you can filter by criteria such as location, software and market experience. All members shall soon be required to sign the Widelines code of conduct, so the AWIA logo will help business owners more easily distinguish ethical web development houses from unprofessional ones. Since the directory is far from complete, I also advise checking the Web Directions database and past winners of the Australian Web Awards. For more developer profiles and tips, try The Australian eCommerce Guide or SecurePay’s own partner listing.

2. Is it best to choose a local developer?

Yes. Face-to-face meetings allow you to get a sense of who the developer is as a person, and to find out where and by whom the work is being carried out on different aspects of your site. There’s greater accountability if someone knows you’re actually going to show up at their premises if you’re unhappy. Large companies can sometimes justify going interstate, and sophisticated clients may save money using overseas developers, but the risks if you want anything more than an online brochure are high otherwise.

3. How do I go about getting quotations for building my site?

Free consultation is common practice, but it’s essential you put a proper brief together before that stage or you’ll be making it hard for a developer to quote accurately. Ideally, you’ll already have your content and each web page mapped out. If you’ve only a logo, a database and little understanding of different CMS, you should consult someone more experienced before meeting any developers. A front-end developer should be able to cover the needs of a start-up requiring basic e-commerce functionality, but you’ll need someone with back-end development skills if you’re looking to integrate existing systems and databases. A detailed brief will help you identify, for instance, three relevant developers and allow them to plot the workflow, timeframe and cost of your site build during the initial consultation. It’s also possible to source quotes through a comparison service like ServiceCrowd. ServiceCrowd’s founder has also created a web development guide for SMBs.

4. How should I review a developer’s previous work?

When looking at examples of a developer’s work, you shouldn’t simply go on what looks nice, because the client may have had a bad experience even though the site came out well. Conversely, the client may have made changes to a site after it was delivered, which now means that it doesn’t work well. I advise contacting three or four previous clients for first-person testimonials; a cross-section of references will give a sense of the working relationship you’d have with that developer. In addition, consider whether each page on the website has been designed with a clear purpose and that they engender trust in the brand.

5. Is it possible to find a developer who can do everything involved in a website build – for instance, project management, coding, design, copywriting and marketing?

Most freelance developers partner with a copywriter; some have both front-end and back-end programming ability; and some do everything. Digital marketing is a specialist area, so you need to check the results of their past campaigns before entrusting this to the developer. Some will say they can do everything, but what they mean is they’ll be subcontracting out some of the work, which is often for the best but should be clarified in the contract. If they have an existing relationship with an expert copywriter and you’re able to check examples of their work – great. If you’re meeting with a salesperson who then subcontracts all of the work to a development house overseas, you’ll regret not asking for clarification at the outset.

6. Which services would be included in a web development package?

Training for your own site is critical, as is maintenance, site testing and security. You need to know how the site will perform under load, what back-ups you have, if it’s compatible with different browsers and whether the developer is outsourcing security or operations – and if they are, why. Some freelance developers are inclined to hand over a site and move on, but you need to ask about and budget for ongoing development, such as software updates. Outsourcing operations may boost the efficiency of your site, but you need to be aware that your future dealings will be with another party.

7. What pricing model should I expect?

Most developers charge per project, with some of the cost due up-front and a contingency in the contract that extra hourly charges will apply beyond a certain number of changes to your site. Get more than one quote and look for an agency that works with businesses of similar size to your own. Visit Widelines for guidance, including a sample contract.

8. Any other tips or pitfalls to avoid?

Even if you’re not techie, you can still ask the right questions – such as checking where your site will be hosted and that you’ll be the owner of the domain. Don’t try to pretend that you know more than you do; instead be a good client and do your preparation. Remember, it’s in your interest to seek out the smartest people with the best processes and the most passion and experience to work on your business.

12 smart questions to ask web developers

  1. Where will my website be hosted?
  2. Who will own the domain name/s?
  3. What content management system (CMS) will be used?
  4. What sort of training and documentation will you provide about the CMS?
  5. Will you provide ongoing website maintenance, testing and security?
  6. What costs are attached to ongoing website maintenance, testing and security?
  7. Are you or your colleagues based locally to me?
  8. Who will actually be doing the work on different aspects of my site?
  9. Are these people in-house or outsourced?
  10. Can you provide me with examples of your previous work?
  11. Can I contact some of your previous clients for references?
  12. Do you have a brief template that you would like me to fill in so that you can quote, or can I write my own brief for you?

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