Ask the Right Questions Before Choosing Your Website Provider. Look for Strategic Advice and a Solid Design Process

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1 Ask the Right Questions Before Choosing Your Website Provider When building a website for your business, your first priority should be to hire the right web partner. After that, everything else will fall into place. A site built by a skilled web company brings in more revenue, ranks well in search engines, adapts well for a mobile user, costs less to maintain and has a longer life span. Being a company who helps businesses get out of a website conundrum, we have seen our share of poorly constructed sites. Unless you had a previously painful web experience, you probably are unaware of the right questions to ask a potential web partner. Just like buying a home or a car, it is not only about outward appearances. Process, construction, communication and ongoing support are extremely important factors to consider. Knowing what distinguishes a good site from a bad one will save you money, time and many headaches. Look for Strategic Advice and a Solid Design Process Are you getting expert guidance from your web provider about design best practices, content, architecture and functionality? Your web partner should be an advisor and consultant. Spending the right amount of time reviewing goals, target audiences and priorities is absolutely essential for a successful website. Can you describe, in detail, your discovery and design process? How much of the overall project timeline is devoted to design? What are your web designer s qualifications? Do you design custom websites that are unique to my business? What factors are considered? How do you ensure my target audiences are engaged and motivated? Will you buy a pre-coded website template and integrate content I provide? Or do you spend quality time custom designing a site specifically purposed for my business goals and objectives?

2 Make Sure Your Site is built in a Reputable, Open Source Content Management System A Content Management System (CMS) allows non-technical users to easily and conveniently edit their website without paying a developer. In the right platform, you can edit content, links and pictures, upload documents, add and remove pages from your menus and more. Fresh content is ideal for search engine rankings. An open source CMS does not require licensing fees and can be customized to deliver precisely the functionality you need. You will have an unlimited number of web programmers who can support the platform you choose and will not be locked into a particular provider or forced into contracts. WordPress is a great open source CMS. Conversely, with proprietary software, your only option is the CMS vendor and the CMS programming cannot be customized for your business. For most website projects, open source is definitely the best choice. Is the CMS open source or proprietary? Will I be able to take my site to another host or developer if I want to change vendors or you go out of business? What are my ongoing costs? Are there licensing fees? Are there contracts I must sign? Educate Yourself about Responsive and Mobile Friendly Websites The use of mobile devices has surpassed desktop computers/laptops so there is increased probability that your customer will access your site from a mobile device. The layout of a responsive website will automatically adjust based on the size of the browser window. If your site is not responsive, your user will be served a hard to read, tiny version of your site and forced to pinch, zoom and scroll left/right. Your web developer should be an expert in mobile design and usability. A responsive layout is important but design elements such as fonts, link spacing and menu implementation are also important. Google now labels sites as mobile friendly in its mobile search results pages.

3 What to Know If you do not offer consumers a mobile-friendly version of your site or if it is misconfigured, Google will demote your search rankings. Even if a website is responsive, it has to be designed and developed correctly in order earn a mobile friendly designation in search engines. 66% of consumers interviewed in a Google study say responsive sites make them more likely to engage with a vendor. 34% of executives interviewed in a Forbes study did not purchase or contact the business because of a non-mobile friendly interface. Does your price include responsive design and development? What factors go into mobile usability and how will you ensure my site passes Google s mobile usability test? Can I see some responsive sites you have built? Note: On your own, search for those sites using Google on your mobile phone and look for the mobile friendly label. How do you test a website s mobile friendliness and diagnose problems? How do you test browser compatibility? Ask to See How You Would Use the CMS to Edit Content Just because your site is built in a CMS does not necessarily mean it will be easy to maintain. That is not automatic. An experienced programmer knows how to code and construct your site so it is easy to maintain. Ease of editing depends largely on the skill of your developer and the site s construction. Business owners become frustrated if their site is difficult to edit and they have to know HTML to make changes. It is important to assess a developer s work from the inside out. Can you show me 3-5 websites you programmed and point out examples of what you did to make my editing experience easy? Can you show me how I would add new pages, edit content on existing pages, edit content in the right or left sidebar, change pictures, add live text to images, edit input fields on forms and, optimize pages for search engines to name just a few of the maintenance tasks that need to be performed?

4 How do you allow users to customize content in the website header, footer or left or right sidebar content? Will I be able to use What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editors to edit all blocks of content on my website? WYSIWYG provides an easy to use input and styling interface similar to Microsoft Word. If short cuts are taken by your developer, you may have to know HTML or shortcodes to edit some content areas of the site including header, footer and sidebars. A good development company will offer alternatives so you don t need to know HTML. Be Aware of the Importance of Website Security Security is important to protect your business and website content. Websites are secure if the correct hardening measures are taken, core and plug-ins are up to date, and common sense measures are taken to minimize hacks. Maintaining security is an on-going process and regular site reviews are essential. Experienced web developers take the necessary steps to harden websites and minimize vulnerabilities by utilizing safe practices such as changing database and database table naming conventions and restricting access to protect key websites files. User interface measures include use of strong passwords, login security and correct use of roles. During development and deployment, what additional hardening measures do you take to ensure my site is secure? What plugins or extensions do you implement to avoid hacks? Do you have a support plan that keeps my website secure and updated? What is the cost? Do you monitor website upgrades and security releases for me or will I need to worry about those on my own? Inquire About Search Engine Optimization Process and Best Practices Your website should be developed with a carefully planned search engine strategy in mind. Design, content, and good programming all play a role. Your web developer must understand and consider all Search Engine Optimization (SEO) factors. You will want to

5 do some research on your own and review how the web company ranks for their own keywords. If they cannot achieve SEO results for themselves, how can they for you? How do you incorporate SEO into your design process? What are the most important factors in a high search engine ranking? What steps will you take to optimize my site for SEO? Trick question: Do you offer a placement guarantee? Note: If they say yes, beware. Even Google tells you no one can make this guarantee. How does content play a role in search engine rankings? How is live text important to SEO and how do you make it easy for me to integrate search engine friendly content? What plugins do you use for SEO? How do you generate XML sitemaps for Google and assist with Webmaster Tools? Request Information About Ongoing Support A website is like a car. Even a well-engineered car requires a bit of ongoing maintenance and support to run well and last. Technology changes every day. Web browsers are updated, new features are introduced and damaging viruses/malware are released. You need to know what services your web partner will provide to help you keep up with your competitors and keep your business and content safe and secure. How can you help keep my site software updated? How often should I upgrade my underlying CMS software? Do you have a maintenance plan or annual service plan? What services are provided and what does it cost? Do you offer regular workshops or webinars that keep me educated? If so, what are some of your recent topics? If I experience a problem, have a question about my website or want to add new functionality, what is your support process? What is your standard response time?

6 Know What is Included in the Cost of Your Website You must know what you are paying for and what services are included in your all-in bottom line price. How many hours of training are included? Will you travel to my office? How much of my website content will you integrate during development? What topics are covered during training? Do you integrate Google Analytics in my website and will you teach me how to use it? Do you charge extra to launch my site to a production environment? After my site launches, do you offer a support period? Are there associated costs? What is your website warranty? What operating systems and browsers will my site be tested on?

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