Ask for a portfolio. Ask if they have built any sites similar to what you are wanting. Are these sites easy to navigate? Do they have a “national quality” look to them?
2. Do they have an office?
I know this may sound like a strange question, but one of the problems we have in the website development industry is that anyone can claim to be a “website designer.” Many so-called webmasters actually have full-time jobs somewhere else and “do” website design at night. Ask to have your first meeting at their office. This meeting will give you a definite feeling of how stable and successful they are
3. Do they use cheap templates or will they build a site that reflects who you are?
Many so-called website designers will take your logo or company name and slap it onto a pre-made template, having your site ready in 10 minutes. The result is often an amateurish mess that makes your company look small. Your company is not like every other company out there. Your website should reflect that fact.
4. How long does a typical website project take?
You will get a broad range of answers on this one. Of course, the answer depends on the complexity of your project. If you only need a few pages of information published, your site can be ready in a matter of weeks. However, if you need some interactive elements (blogs, forms, shopping carts, etc), understand that the process could take longer.
5. Do they have separate graphic designers, developers, and programmers?
Building a website correctly and professionally requires a combination of many skill-sets.
Graphic Designers build the “pretty” part of your site. They are the creative member of the team. Professional graphic designers follow critical guidelines when building your site. Issues such as white space, balance, complimentary colors, and flow are used to put your site’s “look” on par with national companies, like Amazon and Google.
Developers put it all together. Their specialty: HTML and CSS. These two terms are the primary building blocks of successful websites. You don’t need to know what those terms mean (unless you want to impress people at parties), but your developer must be an expert at both. They take the graphical pieces built by the graphic designer and arrange them into an actual website page. They insure that when someone clicks on a link on your site, they go to the correct page. Demand a good website developer.
Programmers make sure the interactive pieces of your site work correctly. They install, test, and launch forms, blogs, and shopping carts for your site. If people are going to buy something from your site, make sure it works. Customer trust is a finicky thing. One bad experience will probably end any future business with someone. Choose a company with a proven record of providing accurate, bug-free programs.
6. What is their rating with the Better Business Bureau?
Have other people had good or bad experiences with them? Only do business with companies that have an “Accredited” rating if possible.
7. When the website is complete, will you OWN it or will they?
Believe it or not, in the state of Texas, if someone builds a website for you, THEY own it. That’s right, even if you paid them for it, the company that built your site legally owns it. Make sure that the company you do business with “waives” ownership and transfers all legal rights to your site over to you. That way, if you ever become dissatisfied with their service, you may take what they created to another developer and not have to start over. Some unethical companies will actually hold your site hostage and not allow you to take it elsewhere. Demand full website ownership in writing from any website designer you do business with. (Learn more: http://copyright.lib.utexas.edu/whoowns.html; http://www.zolmedia.com/Techville/2004/WHOIS-Ownership.aspx; and http://www.digitalmousedesigns.com/websites-faq/who-owns-my-website/ )
8. How much do they charge for hosting?
Typically, you will pay a one-time price for the website and a monthly price for hosting. The hosting price can vary from a very small “hosting only” price to one that includes updates to the site. Make sure you understand EXACTLY what you will be charged every month by this website design company.
9. How much are updates once the website is launched?
Websites are not billboards. You don’t launch them and forget about them. Technically, a good website is ALWAYS under construction. Your website should change every month in order to keep it fresh and relevant. Ask your website developer how much updates are. If they charge an hourly rate, ask if it is in one-hour minimums or is it broken into 15 or 30 minute increments. Some website developers will include some updates in their hosting plan. Ask for details.
Do you have the ability to update the website yourself?
Depending on your technical ability and desire, you may want to update parts of your site yourself. Find out exactly what parts of the site you can update and which parts must be updated by the website design company. While various website design companies offer varying degrees of customer updating, there is no standard. Get specifics.
Bonus: Do they help your website get found in the search engines?
Most people focus so much on the “building” of the website, they give no thought to how it will be found. Keep this in mind. The old adage, “If you build it, they will come,” is not true. Simply having a website does not guarantee visitors or customers. People must FIND you. Ask your website design company about website promotion services.
Why look for a Website Designer? Why can’t I just build the website myself?
Many companies on the Internet offer “Easy Sitebuilders” options for non-technical business owners. However, in order to make these tools simple, most custom options are removed. Your final result will no doubt appear to be a cookie-cutter template copied by hundreds of other small businesses. As I mentioned above, your company is unique. Your website should be also. While a content management system is a great idea for your website, make sure it offers enough features to make you stand out in the crowd!
Adapted from The Key to Choosing an Amarillo Website Designer by Eric Spellman: http://www.ericspellmann.com/amarillo-website-design.html