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What to ask for from your web developer

What to ask for from your website developer

Website requirements

Knowing what to ask your web developer as part of your brief to them can save you a lot of grief and disappointment by making sure you get some web fundamentals addressed as part of your initial website build.

The number of times I’ve looked at a website, and some basic best practice features have not been included is alarming. The worst I ever came across was about 10 years ago, before cloud and solution based web platforms like WordPress and Joomla etc were common. The site was built entirely out of images and not a word of text showed on the site. This meant that the site looked great but it never saw the light of day in a search engine because there was no content to be indexed - yes I did say this was few years ago before the search engines got savvy with indexing images.

Today, making a website is pretty easy with so many sophisticated hosted/cloud based tools and platforms out there. Web developers and savvy tech types can easily make a website in no time. The problem is that people don't know what to ask for from their web developer. This is why so many small businesses end up with a website that doesn’t return much value.

With this in mind, here’s my top 7 things to ask for when your brief your developer. This way you can ensure that your website will bring value by bringing and converting your visitors to loyal customers/ followers.

Ask for a Search optimised website

Again, you might not think it’s necessary, but I’m on a crusade to stop the most common complaint of ‘my websites not found in the search engines.’

Being found in Google and Bing and other like engines is very powerful. It means that your offering/servicing/product is right in front of the potential customer at the very moment they are looking. It has contextual, in-the-moment power!

If you honestly can say that you don’t want to be found in any search engine then skip on by my friend, to the next point.

For your developer, this means that they must make sure that page titles, descriptions and H1 tags can all be accessed in the CMS by you to optimise the keywords easily unless you know all the keywords for each of your pages now - and you are never going to need to change them again. Guaranteed, from an ongoing perspective, you’re best off being able to tweak and optimise these as you go along.

You should also have the discussion about what 'keywords' and content need to be populated, but this is usually outside the remit of a website developer, they are just building the site not 'designing' the internals such as content and keyword strategy.

They - the developer - should also know exactly how your website will perform from a speed perspective. This matters to the search engines when ranking sites. Slow sites are ranked down. This means that any decisions that are made around fonts, images and plugins should all be assessed for speed and involve a discussion with you.

Another must-have is an xml sitemap. Search engines love sitemaps and if you don’t have one in place, then this will be a problem to get good rankings in the search engines.

I reviewed a website recently for a client in healthcare, frustrated that the site didn’t appear on site engines - not even for her company name. I discovered that there was no sitemap and the site description contained keywords for the actual web developer and CMS they used. Sigh.

List transactional needs to meet your website goals

So this is a bit work for you, but really if you go to a web developer without a clear list of exactly what you need your website to do and have, then it’s not your developers fault if it doesn’t live up to your expectations. After all, it’s not their job to analyse your business and determine your digital requirements - unless you have paid them to do this??

So this means you need to know if you need a contact page, a shop for check out, do you have to integrate a booking system or other into the site?

If you need a help identifying what you need for your site, use our How to build a website article which comes with a handy list to help you brief your developer.

You're hiring them to build the thing. After all, you wouldn’t hire a builder to design and draw up plans of your perfect house, right?

By doing this you’ll also know what goals you want tracked in the next step.

Google analytics setup and operating

It is fundamental to know if your website is doing what it should be doing for your business. Otherwise, you're wasting your time with a ‘close your eyes and hope for the best approach’.

You'll need to have your goals from point number two above, because to setup your Google Analytics (which is free) properly, the web developer will need to know what goals/events you need to track and ideally the value of each goal. Part of the deal with your web developer should also be testing that your web statistics are working before they hand the site over to you. It can be a technical minefield to work out what’s wrong with tracking code - so your web developer is the person to sort this out.

Negotiate how many times you can ‘change your mind’

Upfront negotiation with the developer around how many ‘changes’ you get to the design, colours, fonts, functionality, forms etc is important. This is quite often where you end up spending far more than you expected because it’s on an hourly basis over and above the quote price or you end up compromising because a detailed discussion wasn’t had up front.

Who’s doing the content?

Not the developer, I hope. But if they are, ask "Do you have copy writer"? Rare is the tech guru web developer who is also a dab-hand at copywriting (apologies to the rare beast out there that is - I tip my hat to you).

If you expect the copy to be written for you, then you need to know who is writing it and the quality that will be provided.  Ask for writing samples up front and ensure you’re happy with the quality.  Content is also important if you expect to rank in search, as the keywords you want to be found for need to incorporated into the content as well.

You can spend hours and a lot of money fussing with the design and size of buttons and headings etc, but key points to a great-looking site that converts well will also be about the copy, heading, and how this all flows.

Be mobile responsive

Lord help us but this should be a matter of concern, but make sure that you’re getting a mobile responsive website.

Too often the site design and the way you will assess design and usability with be from a laptop. Which means you are not checking if everything looks ok on a mobile. While it should be a duh moment, it's not always so.

Most web development platforms actually allow for easy review of these different views, so it shouldn’t be a problem for your web developer.

A detailed list of what you can and can’t update

Nowadays, all websites are built with a Content Management System (CMS) so that anyone can update content on a page, insert new images, create a new page etc. CMSs come with varying flexibility depending on what you want. You might think that this is a pretty minor thing to be thinking about right now, but when you go back to your web developer in three months asking for a change in the site menu and a new page to be added, and there’s an hourly price tag attached, you might be very happy to have thought about this upfront.

By understanding upfront what you can and can't change without the need to go back and pay more to your developer for changes, you can save yourself a lot of grief and potential expense.

Your website developer should deliver a list of what can and can’t be updated, so you understand exactly how much flexibility you have.

You might also ask what platform they use (such as like WordPress, BigCommerce, Magento, Drupal, Joomla etc). Once you know you’ll be able to investigate yourself. It may be that a different platform might suit you better than the platform that the web developer prefers to build on.

They should be able to give you a list of reasons why the platform suits you best. Note I’m saying ‘you’ not ‘them’ the developer.

You may find our helpful Building a website checklist PLUS
Website Developer Briefing Template useful to download and use.

These are my starting tips to brief your web developer and remember if your developer is not happy with your requests, then there are many many talented and well trained developers waiting out there to take your call.

Good luck.

Go forth and prosper my friends.

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