A well-planned, nicely executed website is a good investment that will provide many years of service. Follow these steps to ensure the development process goes as smoothly as possible. Have fun with your designer and enjoy your new site!
1. Do Your Homework – While you don’t have to walk into a meeting with a stack of drawings and notes, it is a good idea to form some opinions to help you select the best design partner and to communicate to that person what you would like. Do some web browsing and make notes on what you like and don’t like about other sites. Review a selection of competitive sites, and also out-of-industry efforts. A lot of great ideas come from cross-pollination and a fresh perspective.
2. Your Name Precedes You- If you don’t already have a domain name registered, come up with some possibilities. Check to see if they are available using a domain purchasing service like GoDaddy.com and if one you like is available, snap it up! Names can be registered at a cost of about $10 for one year, so it’s worth getting a few lined up, to increase your options, and let the ones you don’t use expire. (Keep in mind that while it’s nice to have a few potential names in your back pocket, a good web builder will be able to offer insight into the name game.)
3. Portfolio – Based on the opinions you’ve established, you will be able to get a sense of which firms are worth meeting with based on their portfolio. Make sure any company you are considering has experience developing interesting, user-friendly websites. Look for evidence the firm shares your aesthetic and feels like a good fit for your brand. For example, if the design firm in question does mostly e-commerce sites, and you are more interested in corporate identity, indications are it will not be a great match.
4. Customization – Ascertain that this site and any attendant social, mobile or e-commerce solutions be built around the needs of your company, not ripped from worn-out playbook and mapped onto a generic template.
5. SEO – Do the company’s existing sites deliver on search engine optimization? Launch some searches and see!
6. Autonomy – Will your site require frequent updates, or is it a launch-once live-forever arrangement? If the former, are you prepared to learn the few easy steps it will take to update the site yourself, or have a member of your staff do it? Or is this a service you would prefer to outsource?
7. References – Ask if there are past clients you can talk to about their level of satisfaction. You can also use a posted portfolio to track down references independently. Call or email and ask if there is someone you can speak to about their web design.
8. Cost – Find out if there will be any monthly hosting costs and expect to have spelled out exactly what is included for your fee. Interview a few firms and see how their offerings and prices stack up. Be prepared to pay a portion upfront and the remainder on completion of design.
9. Written Agreement – Be sure to get a written agreement you can review in advance, to ensure you are getting the products and service you expect.
10. Code in Perpetuity -Given the nature of open-source programming, it’s unrealistic to expect to “own” the code. That said, you should expect to own the right to use the code as written, in perpetuity, for the scope of the designated project. That would include the right to use the code and site launch elements ongoing.
In short, from the client’s perspective, an ideal web-building agreement specifies that at the end of the process the client “owns” the site. That includes the content, the domain name and the right to use the code. Make sure this is spelled out in your written agreement. Unless you have a specific incentive for deviating from ensuring this level of future-proofing your rights, this would be the idea. You do not want to be entering into a “lease-style” arrangement where if at any point you decide to change vendors you can have your existing site yanked away.