logo

Before you Hire a Website Developer, Answer These Questions About your Project…

Ten years ago, Construct Marketing developed an”interview” to help clients understand the needs of a website development project, create a clear vision, and define expectations for a project’s outcome.  We’ve expanded on this to give readers a running start on their website development projects with some developer’s perspective and experiences.  Investing a little time now will pay significant dividends in the development and programming phase, and ultimately the outcome, by reducing gray areas and assumptions.

Get a yellow pad of paper.

3 Key Points

Stakeholders

Identify stakeholders and project team members in your organization who hold interest in this web development project.  (You might ask them to complete the interview separately).  Defining who the stakeholders are in the project, gathering their input, and centralizing the site direction with everyone onboard early is healthy for the outcome.  Yes – this includes the ‘final say person,’ i.e., president, etc.  Many websites that lack focus are the result of projects that were bent back to meet the demands of critical stakeholders who weighed in late.

Consider creating a BRD (business requirements document) to set transparency on what you’re working with.

Likewise, ask, what constitutes “A successful website” when you circle back to assess?  Stakeholders should define what you’re working toward.

Do not fail to communicate that stakeholders need to make time for this project, and how much time.
Meetings, phonecalls, timely feedback, contributions as necessary are on the horizon to deliver this project, and we have a deadline, people!

Most importantly, don’t forget Stakeholder #1 – the customer/client/enduser!
See: “It isn’t really YOUR website!”

Vision

What is the image you would like to convey for your organization?  If you’ve avoided this question in the past, now is the time to answer, “What is your brand?” In other words, with stakeholder #1 in mind (see above), articulate to the developer what is your company brand, what the website vision looks like, what it can do, and what does it communicate to the user?

Orient the new website in the context of your overall marketing strategy, your social media program, and your brand.  In this realm, the knee bone without question is connected to the thigh-bone, etc.  Don’t undermine your overall marketing strategy by creating a website that was built apart from other marketing elements.  Therefore, to maximize effectiveness, they should all play nicely with one another.

Wireframe

A wireframe is a graphic outline that defines the scope of the website, functionality, architecture – all the way down to the pages you’ll have.  For some sites, this may be very complex. Other sites may have simpler requirements and  Either way, the wireframe, or outline will be the basis for what is expected at delivery and that everyone, the client and the developer, is on the same page working towards the same outcome.

Design

OK, I lied, there’s 4 key points. Design is the bloom on the rosebush.  Its what makes users go, “ugh,” “sigh,” or “wow!” when your site pops up.  This speaks to your company brand.  It may help them linger a little longer. Indeed, it can’t hurt bounce rates, or visitor duration, or first impressions or communicating brand quality to a potential client who just went looking to find someone like you.  Today many developers will use templates for WordPress sites that are retrofit to a project’s design needs.  Many variables and options make templates an excellent economical choice for website projects.  You can view multiple themes and decide what suits and then fit to your preference.  Themeforest is one such marketplace for themes.  There is a fee to license.

If your developer is planning on creating their own design to your specifications, ask for compositions for main pages and subpages so you can know where you’re headed.  Regularly provide direction in the design phase.

Now, where’s that yellow pad?

INTERVIEW

Expectations

  • Describe what you would like to see delivered at the project end.  See “3” Key points above.
    After doing that groundwork, you will have a clear “expectations guideline” to hand the developer.

A LITTLE DEVELOPER-SIDE ADVICE…
Have one primary contact for the project – the sole contact with the developer.
Communicate with stakeholders regularly.

Messaging

  • With the client/customer/user in mind, what is the Tier 1 message they need to see?
    Tier 2? 3?
    Prioritize.
  • Goal: Create copy or pages that is/are in support of Tier 1, 2, and 3. Prioritize.
    For example, copy for subpages, case histories, or blogs. Assess for strong copy.  
  • Ancillary copy: In the creative pursuit of 1 & 2, you may light on some ideas that fit neither but still communicate to your brand and provide relevant detail.  Hold on to it.  You may need it.  The editing process is a beautiful thing, and even though it may not make the cut, it could lead to other outlets, i.e. blogs, social media posts, etc., and content is an asset.
  • An SEO consultant may interject at this stage to optimize your page text for search engines.

Draft Outline

  • Feeling techy? Checkout Jumpchart: jumpchart.com.
  • Feeling Low-techy? Or sit down with a big old yellow pad and some coffee and outline your new website.   

Imagery

Don’t forget, in the 21st century, the image sells, not the text. You need clear, optimized copy to be found, but the image will make your customer stay.

I got a TON of photos.
Are they good?  For example, you would think your fancy camera-phone would provide high-enough-quality photos, but it won’t. Not just because it’s not capable of doing it (for specific scenarios, it’s pretty good), but the focal length of the camera phone lens warps the content.  Every image should have a different one to lend to a professional impression.  Photographic skills matter, composition, lighting, etc. to present a strong impression through your site’s images.
At least we don’t hear, “We got a ton of photos,” only to find most of them were taken with a flip phone and are <147 KB.  Still, even a blind squirrel gets a nut once in a while.

Hey. Stakeholders: “Whatcha got?”  Create a shared Dropbox folder and invite everyone to contribute their own sub-folder of images for use on the website that communicates your work and your brand.  Stakeholders may also identify other sources of images, such as clients, partners, and past employees.

Round it out.  Getting a good professional photographer will cost a few bucks, but it will be worth it. Ten professional photos are better than 100 low-quality ones.  Imagine the value of what a striking image can do across multiple projects, media, and over its lifetime. The best photos can be a central hero image on the website where you need strong imagery to project your brand in the best possible light.  Similarly, you can also use a hero image to represent your brand across different media and collateral and tie different channels together.

Be aware that professional, available to license photography is available on sites like Shutterstock, Storyblocks, etc.  As long as it fits your brand, website image scheme, and helps to tell your company story, these image, illustration, and graphics sites can be a solution to bringing professional imagery to your site.  But be careful it doesn’t look forced or out of place with other images.

Look for: “How to Capture Quality Construction Photos Like a Pro.”  Coming soon.

Design Planning

  • What are the key designs and attributes you would like to have included?
  • Are there any current standard corporate guidelines i.e., fonts, color schemes, or design styles that developers should adhere to?
    If “Yes” above, are you open to color variations and alternatives?
  • What kind of imagery would you like to see?
  • Does the company have graphics and images organized and ready for use on
    the project, or are some graphics to be developed for this project?
  • Copy: Do you feel that all the copy/text (page content) is ready for use on
    the project, or is some copywriting required for this project?
  • Draft a brief description of the design direction vision/intent that you have in mind for the project.
    You can include as many examples and descriptive words as you wish to convey your design expectations.
  • Strategize how your website can be “responsive” to users.

Developer Reference

  • Do you have an existing project that a developer can reference?
    What do you like about it, and what are the things you would like to see done differently?
  • Cite existing websites that you would consider as benchmarks for this development effort?
  • Likewise, communicate the things you would like to avoid, in design, site architecture, and overall user experience.

Site Use

  • Firstly who are your customers?
  • Secondly, who are your competitors?
  • Please describe 2-3+ typical end-users of your website and how you see them using your site.
  • Please provide as many KEYWORDS as you can that someone might use to find your website.

SEO: Search Engine Optimization

“Search engine optimization is the process of making web pages easier to find in search engines for different keyword phrases searches by “optimizing” elements of website site pages, or even the site itself as a whole.”
– SEO Expert, Alisa Meggison, President, Green Sky Development

Google Analytics

Gotta have it.  Its as if there was some magical source of information that could tell you how many people or visiting your website, how long they’re staying, where they’re from, and what the most popular parts of your website are, among many other analytics.
They do.  It’s called Google Analytics, and you gotta have it.  So build this into the development phase, so you’re collecting intel from day 1.

QA/Testing

We have a “golden rule” – double the time you estimate for your project to get the “deliverable,” i.e., a live website. Testing and small “final” adjustments will take a lot of time—almost as much as the development did.  Leave a generous window at the end of your project schedule when setting your launch date. You’ll need it.

Have a candid conversation with the developer about the testing phase and what you’ll be looking for when you quality assurance.  This is where the legwork of a well-articulated vision, wireframe/outline, and approved comps pay off.

This is important – bears a mention in your developer agreement.

Hosting & Launch

At the end of development, the developer will deliver your project by “launching,” which entails pointing your website domain (i.e., “constructmarketing.com”) to your files that run your website.  These files will be stored on a server.  During development, the developer will typically host the development site.  After launch – the project has been delivered – now the hosting is up to you, the website owner.

You should ask the developer:

  • What are the technical requirements of the website and/or platform-specific information related to hosting server needs?
  • Do you have a recommended Website Hosting Provider?
  • Please provide the plan/services provided by your recommended Website Hosting Provider.
  • Will plan include updates to the software used to run your website, i.e. WordPress, Plug-ins, PHP, et. al.
  • If this project requires server access and/or database access, please provide us with your server information.
    Server URL/Username/Password:
  • Website login: Per the above, please provide, if necessary.
    FTP Info/FTP URL/Username/Password:
  • If WordPress: URL, Username, and Password to access the WordPress dashboard. 
  • Other “If my developer gets hit by a bus’ info that could save a website owner?

A LITTLE DEVELOPER-SIDE ADVICE…
Upon project delivery, the developer is to deliver to you, the client, a duplicate copy of all website files that are uploaded to the host server at launch.
Keep in a safe place.

A Quick Word on WordPress…

A super-complex site may not be the right candidate for WordPress, however for the average, or even the not-so-average website, WordPress is a phenomenal platform (CMS: Content Management System) upon which you can build a professional website.  Capabilities and add-ons abound make WordPress a versatile solution for many projects.

Read a little about WordPress on Wikipedia.

Post-Launch

Now that the site is live and people are visiting, you’re done, right?
NO.

  • Who’s keeping it fresh and adding new content? Who’s accountable?
  • Are there sources for new content?  What are they? Who are they?
    See: “Content 101: The Value of Content & Why You Need a Quarterback”
  • What is the website backup plan? Who’s accountable?
  • Is SEO being managed?  Most importantly, is it budgeted?
  • Avoid fly-by website suggestions.  Leave your Stakeholders team intact for a periodic website review.
  • Budget resources (Time AND $$$) for post-launch website development and enhancements, landing pages, photography, campaigns, content support, updates, etc.
  • Updates:  The website runs and operates on software, just like the applications on your computer.  Suppose you tried to open a new MS Word .doc on Microsoft Word 2003?  Or Wordperfect?  Yikes!  Similarly, the software that runs your website (and it will be multiple) needs regular updates, or your site will suffer.  Consequently, speed, functionality, SEO, and even security will decline without regular updating and maintenance.
  • Watch those Google Analytics.

Random Checklist for the Agreement

  • Does it tie back to a separate wireframe or guideline?
  • Includes schedule and performance verbiage?
  • Does it specify the website to be mobile friendly?
  • Does it specify the site will be ADA compliant?
  • Failure to perform:  No developer wants to rescue a troubled website.  Keep this in mind when reviewing the clause related to incremental payments and milestones.  If the developer underdelivers, do you get a half-finished website or code for 50% of the project fee?
    No thanks.
  • Does it specify different browsers compatibility? It works and tests on Chrome.  How about Safari?  Edge?
  • Who owns the website, code, files, images, etc. Needs to be defined in the agreement.

 

Good luck!

 

READ MORE

Analytics:  Familiarize yourself with the basics:

7 Website Analytics That Matter Most

SEO:

Guest Post by Alisa Meggison: SEO 101 – SEO is Like Investing

Guest Post by Alisa Meggison: SEO 101 – SEO Basics

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *