The Web has become an infinitely complex place to bring your business to. A few years back, the WWW could have stood for Wild Wild West instead of World Wide Web. People easily put up Flash-based websites that did cool “things,” proper HTML was forsaken in the attempt to make sites pretty, but these attempts were workarounds and left the realm of solid web development.
Thankfully, albeit gradually, order came in form of thing like: Web Standards, CSS, Search Engine Optimization and Google Best Practices. And of course we can praise Steve Jobs for driving the last nail into Flash’s coffin with the creation of the iPhone and iPad.
While many of the standards and practices above have made life easier for web users, the implementation of those standards can vex common business owners that just need to get their site up. It can be analogous to herding cats, and requires a broad range of skills to manage. Because of that, I highly recommend that when you do look for someone to build a custom site, you find a Web Developer instead of just a web designer. They will be skilled in the various areas (or have a team of people skilled in those areas). Here are a number of the skills required to put together a solid, custom website:
* General hosting server operations. The knowledge to move sites, and be able to handle Redirects, 404 errors, etc. is absolutely critical.
* PHP, HTML and CSS experience. These coding languages are the building blocks of the Web.
* SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Google's algorithms are constantly changing, and then every 9 months to a year there comes a big change that turns the SEO industry on its head. A good developer will keep up with this or have a person that they work with directly to stay up to date on these changes.
* WordPress expertise. This is of course assuming you're using the best CMS out there. A developer knows how to use template files, Custom Post Types, and advanced plugins that enhance your custom website.
* Security. Having a secure website is a big deal. There have been a number of brute force attacks on sites that have rendered them completely useless. GoDaddy's entire infrastructure was down for a full day! A developer will know where you should host and what you should do to prevent these types of attacks.
* Mobile. Responsive website design “responds” to the size of the device you're on whether that's desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone (small device). There are very important things to consider when developing and designing for the various sizes. You definitely want someone well versed in that world.
* UX/UI. User Experience / User Interface. Your website is a tool to make sales for you. How efficient it is at doing that will depend on how well your Developer understands the process that people go through when entering a site. A good developer will suggest strong CTAs (Call To Actions) on home page, and wherever else a potential customer could be enticed into reaching out to you.
* Design. Of course, you want this thing to look pretty, right?!
Who To Hire?
Different developers have different strengths. Personally, I'm rock solid when it comes to SEO, HTML, CSS, UX/UI and WordPress, fairly strong when it comes to PHP, server functions, and security. I'm OK with design, but I still want my clients to have great designs. So I hire a great designer for our custom website builds.
Finding a developer that has these areas under control, either by himself or with a team, is a must in order to get the absolute best product. I've heard a lot of stories of people not getting what they expected. I even know a photographer that had a custom site performed, but was told to never update WordPress! This is a very critical step in preventing security problems, and an example of someone not familiar enough with WordPress to make the site work properly.
I also see beautifully designed sites that will never see the light of day if searched on Google because they failed to structure the site properly, and the SEO is poor. Do yourself a favor and interview the developers you have in mind and find out what their knowledge is in each area. Thoroughly test out the sites in their portfolio. Ask yourself if they have good designs (beware of the “I don’t like the paint on the walls” thing that people say on those HGTV shows). Pay attention to the level of design. Do elements on the page stick out, do they do a good job of balancing the needs of a website with the design, do the sites look like they were designed in the 90’s, does it appear that the designs get better with each and every website?
I'm happy to help you find the right person too. Even if Flaunt Your Site isn’t the right fit, I often help people figure out what the best path is for them. And we’re not always the answer. (I'll even pose as your web developer brother that works for Qualcomm and can't work on your project, if it helps you).
Who Not To Hire
* First and foremost, avoid anyone that mentions the word Flash. That should elicit the response of you hanging up the phone, or pretending you don’t speak English. Even if they say it’s mobile friendly, you should still print their email out, and then light it on fire. (Cackling like a witch is totally optional.)
* Anyone spouting anything about HTML5 or CSS3 or other technical mumbo jumbo to influence you into working with them. First, websites are about people and their businesses. The developer’s job is to use the technology to accomplish your goals, not to use buzzwords as leverage to get you to hire them. (I’ll also add that HTML5 doesn’t mean what most people think it means).
* Someone without a portfolio, or a list of previous clients and links to their site. You really want to look at the websites they’ve worked on before.
* The guy that will do an “amazing full custom website” for $500…
Do you remember the last time a $500 wedding turned out “amazing?” … Yeah, neither do I.
What Developers Cost
Cost is, of course, a huge factor to consider. Custom websites can vary from developer to developer. It will also vary depending on what functionality you want for your site. To give you a range, Flaunt Your Site does full custom sites from $3,000 to $5,000. We can do sites beyond that price point as well, but that tends to be the averages when it comes to our clients.
You will find developers that charge less than that, and you’ll find developers that charge more than that. My suggestion would be to interview more than one person for your project. Just as your clients have no doubt interviewed more than just you to find out who the right photographer.
Whether you hire someone for $1,000 or $10,000, your aim should be to have your new website be the type of investment that actually makes you money. If this isn’t on yours or your developer’s radar, you need to make it a priority quickly. If you’re doing it just to have a pretty site, then that is narcissism or “keeping up with the Joneses” getting in the way of running your business.
The only reason to spend money on a custom site is to increase your bottom line.
I have a personal goal that each website Flaunt Your Site does is directly responsible for our clients gaining 5-10 new clients in that first year.
Be sure to read William Bay's first article in this series.