Top 10 Things to Look for in a Web Development Firm7 min read

Gone are the days of placing an ad in the Yellow Pages or going door-to-door to ask your neighbors for business. Today, when people need a product or service, the Internet is their first stop, bar none. But it’s no longer sufficient to just be present online. These days, your potential customers expect your web presence to look great, load quickly, function intuitively, and provide them with whatever information or resources they might be seeking.

Understandably, finding a firm to help you meet these expectations can feel a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, our experience building and marketing websites for hundreds of clients in dozens of industries has given us some unique insights into what criteria are most important in a web development partner. Following are the top 10 questions you should ask when entering into a new partnership, to not only aid you in getting the ball rolling, but to also give you a better understanding of what kind of relationship you are forming.

1. What do I need to do to get started?

You probably have a general idea of what you want from your website, including some ideas about design, content, and desired actions. These are all important, but have you thought about where you want to be in a year from now? How about 3 years from now? What about your competition? A good partner will offer to consult with you about both your initial thoughts, and deeper questions about your overall business goals (beyond just the website). They may also ask you to fill out a questionnaire to get started (questions about design, colors, navigation items, or other basic things needed to get your project underway), and any resources you may currently have available, such as logos, content and imagery. But none of these should typically be considered a requirement.

2. What services do you offer and are there examples for similar projects?

To ensure continuity in messaging and execution, it’s important that the company you choose to build your website can see the project through from concept to completion. There are many different elements that can go into the creation of a website, including design, programming, copywriting, hosting, marketing, and more. If a firm can’t provide any one of these core abilities in-house, you will want to inquire how they will be addressing that deficit. Asking for examples of completed, live projects that are similar in size and scope will also help you determine whether or not they can handle a project like yours.

3. Who will be doing the work?

As implied above, developing a robust, properly functioning website requires a diverse set of skills. If the company you partner with regularly outsources work, ask how easy it will be to give direct feedback, request revisions, and speak with the people working on your project. Similarly, if you are being sold a template-based product, ask if the firm has people on staff to answer questions, fix bugs, and make updates or customizations. The Internet is a dynamic, growing organism that is in a constant state of flux, so you need a solid team of professionals capable of addressing any number of needs that may arise.

4. How long until the website is up and running?

The answer you receive to this question will often depend on how methodical your partner is in their process. If the answer is “2 weeks,” something is most likely being overlooked. Similarly, if the answer is “2 years,” this firm should be working for the government (not for you). In fairness, if you are the one holding up the process (not providing input, not giving timely feedback, or not giving approval to go live), then you should not expect your partner suddenly turn on a time once you decide to get moving again. They have a business to run, too, and it’s in their best interest to work with groups who are motivated to keep their projects moving.

5. Will you test my website design for cross-browser/device compatibility?

You want to be sure that no matter how a customer may be visiting your website, that they are getting the best experience possible. You don’t want a website that works great on Google Chrome but is broken in the more recent versions of Internet Explorer (no matter how much we all hate it, a large percentage of the population only uses IE). Similarly, as more people are browsing from their phones and other mobile devices, you want to ensure the website is “mobile friendly,” as well. We include mobile-friendly, search engine-friendly “responsive design” as a standard process for all of our website builds. This means no matter how your customers visit your website, it will scale and display properly.

6. Who owns the site design when it’s completed, and will the code be usable if I move to another firm?

Your website code should be standards-based, giving you the freedom to work with any company you should so choose. In addition, you should be able to retain full ownership of the website domain and assets. If the relationship turns sour or has otherwise run its course, you want to be sure you own the website and don’t have to start from scratch

7. How often can I make changes and how much will this cost?

Depending on your particular business, your website may need quarterly, monthly, weekly, or even daily updates. Is your web partner staffed adequately to handle those demands? How easy is it to submit a request, and what kind of turn-around time will be required? Will local staff handle the problem, or will it require someone from overseas (and in a different time zone) to address the issue? Remember, actually building the website is a relatively small part of the experience—ongoing support is critical to getting the most of your investment and ensuring your visitors have a positive experience.

8. Will I have to spend more on my website in the future?

Once your website is live, you may begin thinking about additional ways it can be leveraged to do more for your business and provide a stronger return on your investment. Additional functionality may include social media (like a blog), or perhaps you’ll want to add a news section that you can update. Perhaps one day you actually want to dip your toes into e-commerce. While it may be sufficient to simply put your new site live and only pay for hosting and annual domain renewals, you may find that site updates need to be made more often than you had anticipated. Having multiple support and maintenance options available can make that a more cost-effective proposition.

9. What marketing do I need to do for the website?

Forget the idea of “if I build it, they will come.” It has been estimated that on any given day, approximately 140,000 new websites will go live. But with the right partner, there is still hope. There are several, time-tested ways you can promote your website online, including pay-per-click (PPC) to drive customers for a modest advertising budget, organic search engine optimization (SEO) to boost your websites rankings naturally in Google, Yahoo, and Bing, and social media marketing and blogging to gain additional traffic and word-of-mouth both online and off (viral marketing). Lots of firms advertise these services, but many of them outsource the work, or have limited resources and experience in each of these areas. Before spending any money with a group that promotes “first page on Google!,” find out how they are making that claim (either paid ads or non-relevant keywords, most likely). Search marketing is just as much art as science, so be wary of claims that seem too good to be true.

10. How do they measure results?

Is your new website worth the investment? Are the goals you set out to accomplish with the website being met? How can you tell? Using tools like Urchin and Google Analytics, a reputable firm will help you make sense of what is happening with your site, and where it might be possible to make improvements.

Knowing the right questions to ask when you begin the process of building a new website will not only help the firm you choose to work with complete your project to your expectations, it can also help ensure you find the right partner for your particular needs—not one with too few capabilities, nor one with overhead that you don’t need.

At Sharp Innovations, we’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about the above, and consult with you about your particular needs. We welcome you to browse our web design portfolio and contact our team for a free consultation, either through the link provided, or by giving us a call at 888-575-8977.