Here’s some valuable advice on engaging a Web Developer; don’t become another horror story…

I am noticing that more and more Sunshine Coast businesses are falling victim to operators who maintain that they are “Web Developers”. This awareness simply stems from the volume of phone calls we receive from business owners who have been left with varying degrees of frustration after paying good money to self-tagged Web Developers, who have not produced a functional website in return.

As Six Elements is structured as a boutique agency with multi-level marketing and branding offerings, we can only allocate our resources to a certain amount of web development projects at any given time, which is a bit of a shame considering how many business are approaching us for help.  As such, we are becoming more and more concerned about the volume of (phone) calls for help and now we feel compelled to share our take on what you should realistically expect from any Web Developer before you commit your well earned money.

I would go on to hope that other professional agencies would also post their own benchmarks to help form useful public information – and a bit of protection for smaller businesses on the Sunshine Coast.  I have aimed the following tips at Small Enterprises who are prepared to accept that a minimal investment of $5,000 is a realistic spend for a well built, open source CMS site. (Examples of these platforms are, Wordpress, Joomla and Drupal). I stress that the tips below are based on our own professional view only, and I have no doubt that some other parties may believe some of my points are unnecessary.  Ultimately, I ask that after reading on, you would make your own judgement. After all, this information is free! 

Here’s our basic advice:
  • All new websites should start with both a design and a plan.  Don’t restrict yourself to library templates, as (generally), library/paid templates are built by various Developers around the world and not all are necessarily well built.  When a Developer customises a third party template, it is likely that more technical errors will evolve, which can result in complications.   A qualified Developer should know how to build a site from scratch.  So if you engage a Developer who suggests the use of a library of templates, they should also have the know-how to avoid “bugs” whilst it is being customised to your requirements.
     
  • Keep in mind that a fully completed web design and development process requires team work.  You should expect to meet the designer, the developer and the copywriter, and ask them plenty of questions. Do not feel intimidated by “tech talk”. If the answers are too technical, insist on a simple explanation in an email. 
    Ask questions such as; which CMS (content management system) are they using, why have they chosen that particular system, what is their approach to the fundamental optimisation of the type of site they are proposing?
If you don't understand them, don't engage them!
  • Ask for at least two client references to confirm your prospective provider’s track record. Referrals are also a great way to get the right guidance; ask around within your networks for recommendations of completed projects that are success stories.
     
  • During the development process, expect your Developer to be pro-active with content generation (copy and visuals).  We have been told by many businesses that some Developers expect clients to trawl through on-line photo libraries and buy the images they choose – we totally challenge the reality of this! You have a business to run; it is the job of the Designer to generate and manipulate images to suit your business offerings and liaise with the Developer on their realistic application - static or dynamic.  Of course, it’s entirely possible that you already have a good image library of your own – but be guided! As far as copy is concerned, guidelines from you are imperative, as only you can describe your business. Provide some basics and from there it is realistic to expect that professional copy can be produced from this.
     
  • Now this is the surprising bit; a good Web Developer (along with the support of a strong design and copy team) should be able to complete a fully functional standard site (10-25 pages) in under 3 weeks.  Of course, this is based on the lines of communication between both parties remaining constant. Unfortunately, we have learned that some Developers are prolonging this period unnecessarily as justification for outsourcing* the work to another country or over-inflated valuation of your project. (* raises another area which is open for argument; outsourcing your web project in such a way could be a cost effective solution, but it becomes a lottery as there is no guarantee that the provider can deliver a performing product).

    The next step is to enter a testing period for the site. This period is important as it allows for the new site to gain traction on the search engines whilst the content is being refined. 
  • During the testing period, the Developer should offer comprehensive training on how to update the content on your website.  This enables you to become independent and know your site well – this also saves a potential monthly update bill.  Having said that, we have quite a few clients who really have no interest or time to do this and ask that we have a management plan in place for them.  It should be a choice!
     
  • With the current (and emerging technology), it is a fair expectation that all newly built CMS sites should be "Responsive". This means that they are built to adapt the visible and useable components of your site to any number of the screen sizes on offer (e.g. smart phones and tablets).
     
  • Once your site site goes live I strongly suggest that you test your site at http://validator.w3.org/ (W3C). This worldwide renowned resource will measure the amount of 'errors and warnings' that your new site contains. It goes without saying that these should be minimal!  If in doubt, ask your Developer to review the outcomes and ideally fix them all.   You can use this validating reference as a benchmark for technical quality assurance and make it one of the conditions for final payment.  However, please also note that some Developers will dismiss the credibility of W3C and the reasons can be all sorts of things.  I have a lot more to say on this particular topic but ruffling feathers is not my point!  Alternatively, your Developer should be able to suggest another universal platform in order to validate the site they have built you. If they don’t have the technical skills to fix their own errors, it is fair to start hearing alarm bells ringing.
     
  • Without exception, all newly built sites should have a strong element of fundamental optimisation included.  I don’t recommend that you enter a monthly payment structure for SEO unless you have a business that relies on a strong national or global ‘search’ presence.  A well-built site with fundamental optimisation applications in place should naturally perform very well.  However, if you need advanced SEO support to really cut through, you will need to engage a specialist firm to assist you.  From our perspective, there are only handful of organisations on the coast who can competently achieve this, and they mainly manage national brands.  Do some really strong ground-work before committing!
Ultimately, we would like to help everyone but that just isn’t practical!  Please remember that your website becomes a digital asset, so don’t underestimate the value of your investment.

You may also like to keep this brilliant quote from Red Adair in mind:

"If you think it's expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur."

Good luck!