In today's marketing landscape, businesses live and die by the success of their website. If your business has decided to build a new website, it is important to know how to choose a web development company to be your partner. This document outlines 12 things you must consider when selecting your next web development company:
You received a quote without much conversation
If you filled out a simple online request for a quote and received one back without an in-depth conversation about your goals, objectives and needed site functionality; throw away that quote. Good companies take the time to truly understand your project goals and objectives as well as fully grasp the functionality your website requires. This process often involves several conversations and an investment of time from both parties. The quote you receive should detail all the required work, and break out each piece on an estimated hourly basis to ensure you are getting what was requested. The better the detail in the quote, the more likely they understands your project and will deliver it on time and on budget.
Experience in the industry
Your web development company should have experience in your general industry.If you are a manufacturer of B2B products selling through distribution, your target market and website functionality needs are going to be much different than a retail service business. Choosing a company with B2B manufacturing experience will not only save you time in educating your new web developer about distributor relationships, but if they're familiar with the industry, they may also be able to suggest tactics and strategies that are working well in the industry.
Open Source Technology
There is still a fair amount of businesses building sites in their own proprietary content management or eCommerce systems. An alternative to this, is to look for someone that specializes in open source software. Open source software uses source code that is available for modification, or enhancement, by anyone and is often free, or low cost, to use. A business that builds your project on the back of an open source code base, will not be able to hold you hostage down the road should you wish to change developers. This software can also reduce your costs for many web projects. One note of caution here, look for a web developer that has extensive experience in their open source platform of choice and has the ability to make source code modifications, should your project require custom functionality. Be sure to ask your perspective developer to show you some customized applications they have developed in your open source software of choice.
Dedicated Server Experts
Today, websites are much more then basic brochures. Depending on your specific needs, your site may connect to back end or internal databases or collect sensitive information that requires a high level of security. For sites that require robust or highly customized technology, it is very important to ensure that your web company of choice has experts on staff in server side technology and can build a site that will run efficiently and securely. Over the last 13 years, I have heard countless stories from companies that are stuck in the middle of a war between their hosting company and their development company when something goes wrong on their website. If your web company controls the hosting and the development, you will have one point of contact should problems arise with your site. This means they are more motivated to ensure that the code and the hardware work together efficiently and securely. Make sure to ask your prospective company about their hosting capabilities, and who specifically manages their hosting hardware, as well as who you will be talking to if your site goes down at 5:00 PM on a Friday night.
Years in Business
It seems as if just about anyone with a little HTML knowledge and a computer is advertising web development services these days. Your company should be well experienced and have a long list of repeat customers. The average shelf life on a typical web design is around 3-4 years. Businesses with a proven track record of maintaining clients across several redesigns are typically companies that stay up-to-date with the latest online marketing strategies. A well-established web development company will be with you for the long run and will ensure your business has the long-term support and advice you will need to run a successful website well into the future.
An In-House Team
Many web development companies actually outsource much of their work to third parties (often offshore) in an effort to reduce labor costs. This model often results in long delays due to communication breakdowns, scheduling conflicts, and no direct control over the company actually doing the creative and coding. Everything you tell your web company will be re-communicated to the third party doing the work. Look for a company that does all the work in house, and has a dedicated project manager and development team for your project. If it is physically possible, go to their office and meet their team. You are going to be spending a lot of time working and communicating with this group of people and it is important to ensure that they are a good fit for you and your business.
A Real Office You Can Visit
Does your web development company have a physical location you can visit? Complex sites require a lot of internal communication between the members of the team. If the company is working with remote employees across the country, you may run into the same types of issues you would with companies that outsource their work. If it is physically possible, go visit their office and meet the team members you will be working with. Observe their communication while you are there and get a feel for their culture as well as employee retention. Ask questions about after hour emergencies, weekends and holidays, meet the folks in the support department, and learn their hours of operation.
Work Flow Systems
Good web development companies invest in software and systems to help manage projects, service requests and website configuration information. Ask your prospective partner which software solutions they use to manage ticketing, code repositories and projects. If the company manages their entire business off email and note pads, you may want to keep looking for a solutions provider. A good web company should be tracking important data, like domain expiration dates, ftp access, software versions and necessary critical updates for you.
If your web development company only has one developer, or graphic artist, your project could come to a dead stop due to a vacation or change in careers. Look for a company that has redundancy at all positions to ensure you can always get the help you need when you need it.
A good proposal should come with a list of references. Call or email the references provided and ask them about the topics on this list. Spend time looking at their gallery of work and look at how often that company launches new websites by following their Facebook or Twitter feeds. Is your prospective web development company keeping up with the latest technology on their new site launches? If you are hiring an SEO company, ask them which search terms they rank for. If they don't show up on the search engines themselves, they may not be a good choice for your site.
Return On Investment
The effectiveness of a website can vary greatly depending on the unique goals and purpose of that site. Ecommerce sites, for example, are fairly easy to evaluate in terms of dollars and cents, because at the end of the day you can track what was sold verses what was spent on the site. With marketing of informational sites, that calculation becomes a bit harder to track. At launch, the business should have a plan in place to track effectiveness, or return on investment of your website. Learn more about Evaluating ROI For Your Website here.
If your project involves redesigning a well-established website with good search engine rankings, it is very important to have a migration plan in place to ensure your site maintains high visibility to the search engines. There are specific steps that need to be taken when a site changes page structure and navigation. Make sure your site has good analytics in place to track traffic both before and after launch and that your prospective web development company has a search engine migration plan in place as a part of your project proposal.
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