Questions to Ask When Building a Website

Let’s face it – technology is constantly growing and evolving. What’s trending today could become outdated in less than one year.

Take the iPhone, for example. The first version was released in June 2007. Six years later, Apple enthusiasts are eagerly awaiting the release of the iPhone 5S.

A technology timeline like this demonstrates the growing importance to have both a Web and mobile presence. As we begin 2013, it’s time to start thinking responsively. This means visitors will have the optimal user experience on your site whether accessing it via desktop, laptop, mobile, iPad or tablet.

Your website is your marketing hub and your mobile site is an extension of it. If your website is not part of your 2013 marketing budget, these projections from Cisco and Pew Research Center may influence your decision:

  • By 2016, there will be about 3.4 billion Internet users, which is more than 45 percent of the world’s projected population.
  • By 2015, brands will be generating 50 percent of their Web sales through social media and mobile platforms with a projection of $30 billion.
  • The number of smartphone shipments is expected to be almost one billion in 2015.
  • Mobile apps will grow from a $6 billion industry today to $55.7 billion industry by 2015.

When it is time to update your website?

If you sell a product or service or have a need to share content, a Web presence can help your business achieve those goals. With rapidly growing initiatives like Digital Learning Day, a national campaign to incorporate new ways of teaching with digital technologies, it is more important than ever for brands to keep up or risk getting left behind.

Getting your website up and running is one thing, maintaining it is another.  It’s time to refresh the content and features on your website if:

  • Your website is more than two years old.
  • Your company is rebranding or has new graphic elements.
  • You’ve changed or added services.
  • You do not have control of your site – meaning your site is not on a content management system (CMS) – or if your CMS is not supported by the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, IE, etc.
  • Your analytics are showing a decrease in website traffic over time, a high bounce rate, visitors are dropping off quickly or not navigating past the homepage, and/or low conversation rates.
  • Your site is not rendering properly on a mobile device.
  • You are using Flash on your homepage without a fallback option.

How to hire the right Web designer and developer.

When you don’t have the time or skills it takes to build a website, it’s best to hire a digital agency or freelancer with both Web design and development experience. With thousands of Web designers and developers to choose from, the hiring process can seem overwhelming.

First, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is your budget?
  • What is your timeframe?
  • Who is your targeted audience? What operating system and browser do they use?
  • Will you be selling products on your site?
  • Will you need a database to store and retrieve information?
  • What type of information do you want to share and how many Web pages will your site have?
  • Will your site require regular updates? Do you want to manage and update the site yourself?
  • Do you prefer to work with a local company?

Once you’ve answered these questions, it is time to into the marketplace for inspiration. Start by researching and sourcing websites you like and document what you like about them. Pay close attention to the navigation, functionality, and presentation of the site and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does it offer a quality user experience?
  • Is it easy to find information and return to the homepage?
  • Are the pages accessible (no broken links)?
  • Are the pages and overall design consistent?
  • Does it load quickly?
  • Does the site have a contact page and site map?
  • Is the text easy to read?

Once you compile a list of sites you like, create a wish list of features you would like your site to have and prioritize your list. Build a requirements document and be prepared to distribute it to your potential Web experts. Before you go any further, make sure you know your hosting information, FTP access and URL ownership.

There are many things to consider when interviewing potential Web designers and developers. The first step is to browse their website and portfolio. Learn as much as you can about them and ask yourself:

  • Do they follow common Web standards?
  • Do they offer both design and development capabilities? If they only offer one of the services, do they work with a partnering agency?
  • Have they built sites for other businesses in your industry?

Narrow your list to three prospects, and contact the companies to explain your project, ask for a proposal, timeline, price quote and references. Review all of the proposals and schedule meetings to discuss in person. During your meeting, pay attention to their communication style. Are they friendly? Do they explain things properly? You want to make sure they communicate openly and truly listen to your goals.

Referrals are a good place to start. Depending on the size and complexity of your site, a full-service digital agency may be the right choice. An agency should have the manpower to deliver larger and more complex projects quickly. A freelancer, on the other hand, may be in a position to offer a more competitive price tag. Either way, make sure they offer the technologies and expertise to meet your expectations. Most importantly, make sure they have a proven track record.

This article first appeared in the Northern Nevada Business Weekly.