As new trends emerge and web technology advances, marketing executives are continually evaluating when is the right time for a new website. When that time comes, choosing the right firm to develop your site is critically important. The right team can help you craft the website of your dreams, while the wrong team can make turn your project into a nightmare. So how do you pick the right team? Here are a few ideas to help get you started.
Determine what type of website you need
There are many different types of sites. Do you need an informational site to establish credibility? Do you need a site that is focused heavily on lead generation? Perhaps you’re looking to develop an e-commerce site. Once you have established the specific type of site you need, look for developers who have extensive experience building your specific type of site.
Define the scope of your site
All successful web projects start with a well-defined scope. The scope helps protect both sides. For the developer it gives them the information they need to formulate a detailed quote. For a client, it protects you from additional costs or unwanted surprises. The key is to try to remove as much ambiguity as possible.
To establish a scope, start by defining the overall goal of the site and the type of site desired. Then, determine what core features you are going to want as part of the site build. This could include a content management system, an e-commerce platform, integration of SEO tools or responsive web design programming. Once you’ve established the core features, define the custom sections of the site you desire such as a projects gallery, a news blog and a careers section. As much information related to each section is helpful. For example, if you desire a projects gallery, additional information in regards to searching, sorting or filtering projects is quite helpful to the development team. Lastly, determine the desired user behavior you want from a site visitor. In other words, what do you want the site visitor to do?
Share strategy, branding and target market information
In addition to the scope, documentation related to your strategy, branding efforts and target markets could be very beneficial. Let prospective web developers know the overall marketing strategy and how your firm is different from others. Provide them with as many elements of your brand as possible. Let them know how each brand element works within the overall marketing strategy. Lastly, provide them with detailed information on your target markets and customers.
Do a little research
While you may feel web developers speak a different language, it can be beneficial to learn as much as you can about web development. Read some of the industry blogs on popular apps such as Flipboard, Prismatic or Feedly, join a web development group on Linkedin or watch some web development videos on YouTube. While you won’t be expected to become a developer overnight, understanding some of the latest trends can help you determine who is utilizing new and exciting technology.
Create a list of sites you like
As you think about your web development project, develop a list of sites that reflect the quality and features you desire from your site. This can be very helpful to the web development team. Also, create a list of competitor sites. Provide feedback in regards to the strengths and weaknesses of each site. This will help the web development team understand your industry better and can provide the insight needed to identify opportunities.
Check out the work of potential firms
With web development, anyone who knows a little code can claim to be a web developer. So it’s important to be selective when reviewing firms. Visit the websites of potential firms and take a good look at their portfolio. If you like what you see, go a step further and actually visit the sites featured in their portfolio. This will give you a strong understanding of the user experience for each respective site.
While the bells and whistles of each site can be impressive, don’t forget about the overall design of a website. You want your site to look fantastic, so make sure the firms you review have strong design skills. After all, there is no strategy that can save an ugly website.
Interview potential firms
After reviewing the portfolios of potential firms, create a list of potential firms and conduct interviews. Have each firm present their capabilities and portfolio. Identify sites that are similar in scope to your project and ask questions in regards to the goals and custom features of these sites.
When reviewing sites, look at more than the front end. Ask to see the back end or administrative side of the site and have them walk you through a common task. For example, if it’s a content management system, have the firm demonstrate how you would add a project or a news story.
From the design side, ask about how the design was achieved. Inquire about who developed the design and what designs were presented to the client. For example, did the firm present desktop, tablet and mobile designs. Lastly, make sure the design is not a template.
Ask about roles, processes and communication
While technology drives every website, it’s the talent of the team that makes the difference. Ask who is involved with your project and the roles each person plays. Review the competencies of each team member and inquire about the ways in which you will have access the team.
While it’s important to understand the web development process, often it is overemphasized. Typically most web development firms have similar processes. Of greater importance is communication. Inquire about how the team will communicate with your team. Do they have a system in place or is it random emails and phone calls? Your website project will require a tremendous amount of coordination and communication, so establishing the means of communication up front is important.
Request a complete proposal
When meeting with each prospective web development firm, provide them a written scope of your website project. Request a full proposal based off of this scope. This will ensure you’re having each firm compete fairly. Also, request a timeline for the development.
Review each proposal carefully
A proposal will give you insight into the quality of the work of the firm. If you receive a highly professional, comprehensive proposal, odds are this firm is quite capable. On the other hand, if you receive a simple, one page estimate, that can be a red flag in regards to their sincere desire to work with your company.
As you review each proposal, carefully evaluate if they understood and accounted for the scope you defined. A good proposal should have the scope defined, as well as cost estimates and project timelines. Also, make sure they have included ongoing site maintenance costs. Typically monthly maintenance costs can include hosting, backup services, SEO services, spam prevention, site updates, server updates and 24/7 site monitoring.
Get a website contract
Once you have selected the firm to develop your site, request a website contract. Putting it in writing protects both sides and provides clarity. Keep in mind that many contracts are written favorable to the web development team, so have your attorney review it to make sure it’s fair for both sides. Of particular note, make sure you own the site should your firm part ways with the web development team. Often contracts are written to specify the “creator” as the owner of the website.
Make sure you are happy and comfortable
Developing a website is an awesome journey. As the client, the web team is there to make sure your experience is always positive. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to get clarity (no geek speak) and demand the best for your organization. Above all, make sure you are working with a team that communicates well, delivers on their promises and is friendly every step of the way. You deserve nothing less.