Before you get started on your next website design project, it’s important to ask a few questions in the hiring process to be sure you are making the most informed decision. Although there could be many more niche based or project based questions that would be important to your particular project, here are a few baseline questions that will make sure you are covering your basis and comparing apples to apples between website design/development companies.

1) Will my site be built on a Content Management System (CMS) or be a Static Site?

By having your website built on a content management system, you will be able to edit your own text, pictures, pages, etc., through an easy to use administration portal. Some of the most common content management systems available today are WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. Although WordPress is the most common, they all empower you to be able to edit your own content in a fairly simplistic way. Just like anything else, it does take some time to get used to, but once you practice at it, you will see that you really do have the power at your fingertips to control your website.

At NEXTFLY, we typically design custom page layouts and then integrate them to WordPress. We find WordPress to be the easiest and most intuitive for users to understand. As part of our website design process, we provide a 2 hour training right at the launch of your site. We want you to feel comfortable editing your site, and we will always be standing by to support you should you have any questions post-launch.

If you choose to go the static route, then even the simplest text edits would require someone with at least a basic knowledge of HTML to be able to make those changes. You may save money upfront by taking this approach, but it usually makes for a nightmare down the road as you continue to load content. And, of course, you will be paying much more in the long-run to hire a developer to continue to work on your site. It usually doesn’t make sense to take this approach these days.

2) Will my site be a customized template or a custom design?

This is an incredibly important question when hiring a design firm, as it tells you if your site will be unique to the Internet, or just a customized version of a cookie-cutter template.

There are tens of thousands of templates out there that you can download, install to your CMS, and start customizing. But literally, thousands of people also have that same design layout. Moreover it’s usually pretty difficult to fit a brand into an already developed design. Usually doesn’t make a lot of sense and looks a bit awkward or forced. Although this is a cheaper approach, it usually ends up not working out for you in the long run. Again, it will usually be more cost effective, but not the best long-term solution.

In addition to not having a unique site, many of the templates you buy these days have these incredibly heavy frameworks that come with them. Which makes the website management incredibly difficult to use, update, and many times have huge security/malware risks associated with them. We’ve had several clients pick a template that looks great, but they aren’t able to update the content because it’s just too confusing. As far as security is concerned, think about it from the perspective of someone wanting to do malicious acts on the Internet. They could target a template or framework that have thousands of websites on it, thus giving them access to all of those sites once they find a way in to just one of them. All the sites are the same, coded on the same platform. So once an exploit is found, they can now crawl the Internet looking to exploit the other thousands of people using that same template. No bueno.

By having a completely custom built design, you’re not cutting any corners and building out the site exactly as you want your visitors to see it. Allowing you several advantages like:

  • Completely unique site on the Internet
  • Much easier to manage and update
  • More secure
  • Keeping consistent brand guidelines
  • Call To Action (CTA)  placement on your terms
  • Control of the story as users scroll down the page, rather than just using what is already there and forcing the timeline in the boxes already provided
  • Custom functionality required that fits in with your company or product narrative

Although this approach costs more, it’s a site you can build and grow into rather than just forcing things to fit.

3) Who are some of your clients you’ve worked with lately?

This is a great way to research the quality of work of the website design company. You can dig through some of their clients sites, see how they function, figure out if their design work seems modern and in tune with what you are looking for. Also, you can ask for references and have discussions with how the process went and how happy they are with the design firm.

4) Who will own the files after the site is complete?

Many website design firms out there will hold your site ransom, even after you have paid for it to be custom built. Be especially mindful of this if they start talking about their proprietary content management systems, that are not open source like the ones referenced above. One of the worst case scenarios you can be in is to spend a tremendous amount of money on a new custom website, and then you are not able to take that site wherever you want. Which leads me into the next point:

5) How much are the monthly/annual fees after the website launches?

Here is another area where you will want to get some clarification. Many times, web design firms will charge an astronomical rate to host your website, which is not necessary. Now, I’m not saying go run to a discount web host provider like GoDaddy or Host Monster, but make sure you do your due-diligence to be sure what you are paying for is legitimate. In a future blog I will discuss the differences between web hosts and why discount providers can be so problematic, but for now, I would make sure you find a quality provider that does not overload their servers.

They may also talk about monthly maintenance fees. This may or may not pertain to your particular situation, but in many cases, it’s not necessary, especially if you plan on being hands on with your website. It’s important to keep your site up to date, including CMS software and plugins, but usually, that is just a click of a button to update.

The ongoing fees may make total sense with your project requirements, but just make sure you ask the questions to get details. It would be a pretty bad day to wrap up a website project, and then the design firm asks for $500/month for web hosting because you need to be on their specialized server, which is most likely bogus anyway.

To sum things up…

Do your research, practice due-diligence, and just be mindful of the overall approach of your website project. You don’t want to get thousands of dollars into a project to find out that the relationship isn’t a good fit at all.

There could be many more questions you may need to ask, depending on what your project entails. But, these are some of the basic questions that will at least help you get on the right track with a design firm!