Selecting a web developer can be a difficult decision, especially if you are not familiar with the intricacies of the internet, browsers, search engines, search engine placement optimization, web accessibility, web standards and other nuances of creating a successful web site. Often the developer will talk a good story and give you a convincing presentation, but how do you know what their real level of expertise is?
I've talked to business owners who already have a web site and don't understand why they aren't at the top of the Search Engines. If we lose potential projects to other web developers we like to know why, and this often involves visiting the new web site that we didn't have the opportunity to develop. Often what we find appalls us! We can tell by looking at the source code that the new site is most likely going to disappoint the client who will be telling his friends "I paid for a web site and it didn't help my business - no one can find it in the search engines."
Naturally professional ethics prevent us from contacting the potential client who took his business elsewhere and telling him where his developer is going wrong, but in the hopes of educating businesses planning to have a web site developed, we're going to give you some tips on what to look for when you're choosing a web developer. We may not be the right developer for your project but here are some things to look for before you make your decision.
The site might have pretty colors, flash headers, moving graphics, music and other bells and whistles to impress the client, but will it rank well in the search engines? Will potential customers be able to navigate through the site? Will potential customers with sight or hearing handicaps be able to find what your business is trying to sell or will they abandon your site when they can't read the small fonts or their screen readers can't read the content for them?
If your business falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 or Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, your site MUST be handicap accessible.
If you are not required by law to have an accessible site, it may be a good business decision to have an accessible site, keeping in mind that according to census data, more than 750 million people worldwide have disabilities and those numbers are increasing as the population ages. Do you really want to prevent 750 million potential customers from viewing your web site?
Optimizing web sites for top search engine ranking is almost a science and there are companies devoted to placing your website at the top of Search Engine results.
This doesn't mean that your site can't be attractive and unique or feature rollover buttons and animations - it just requires some alternative technology that meets web standards to achieve the look you want.
Keep in mind that you don't need to like the design of the developer's own web site - it was created for their individual purposes which may not be the same as yours.
DO check out other sites the developer has created. Their web site should include links to examples of their work. Do they convey a good impression of the business or individual they are representing? Are they easy to navigate? Can you find what you're looking for? Do they load quickly in your browser? Do they look professional or amateurish? (This is, of course, a subjective opinion, but if YOU don't feel they look professional chances are others won't either - steer away.)
DO see how the other sites rank in the search engines. Enter a phrase you might use in searching for the site in Google (NOT the business or web site name) and see where the site displays. If it doesn't make it to the first two or three pages in a relevant phrase search - you will probably want to do more investigation! No developer can guarantee search engine placement and sometimes it takes awhile for a site to attain a top placing - but it's worth your consideration.
DON'T be afraid to ask for references and DO CONTACT them about their experiences with your developer-under-consideration. This is one of the best ways to determine how successful the developer has been in achieving customer satisfaction! If you are going to shell out your hard earned cash for a web site, you want satisfaction.
There are many tools you can use to analyze a web site (you'll find links at the bottom of this page).
DO check for valid code - just enter the web site URL in one of the validation sites listed below. You'll quickly be informed whether the site meets standards. Valid code is an indicator of professionalism - it demonstrates that the developer has taken the time to check everything was formed correctly....and valid code improves your chances of higher search engine placement.
DO check for load times. The speed with which a site loads is probably one of the most crucial elements to check. On the average, if a site takes more than 8 seconds to load, for every extra second the odds increase that your visitors will just abandon your site and move on - a lost sale or opportunity.
Fortunately you don't have to take our word for the validity of a web site. There are a number of tools available on the internet to help you test out some of the sites already created by your potential web developer.