What to look for in a website development company? Times have changed. They’ve actually gotten simpler. Once upon a time, it made sense to have a professional website company design a scratch site for your business and wait 6 months to a year for it to come to fruition. Once upon a time it made sense to have discussion after discussion about look, feel, content, and functionality. Once upon a time, it made sense to spend $5-10K or more for a small business website. But like the dinosaur, those days are dead.
If you are a mid to large size business with complex logistical, accounting, manufacturing, or other systems, then read no further. You should still have a hand tailored custom website and this info does not apply. Stop Reading now.
But if you are a small business that wants to have a presence on the web, showcase your products, and or services, sell products or services, rank well with the search engines, have membership layers, and add content easily on the fly, then read on.
It is no longer necessary to build sites from scratch, have complex development schedules, and pay a lot for a website. Websites have evolved over the last 10 years (for the better). Website development platforms have become Open Source. Check out the Wiki on Open Source. An example of open source is Apple. Apple made their platform open source and allowed 3rd party programmers to develop cool “apps” for the Apple platform. Apple allows those programmers to sell their stuff in the Apple store and Apple takes a cut.
Websites are similar now. Website platforms like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal are all written on the PHP platform and actually store all their data in a SQL database. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry, the point here is that they are Open Source.
WordPress is, by far, the most popular and has 1000’s of 3rd parties writing code for “add on functionality” to the basic WordPress foundation. The great thing about WordPress is that it IS an excellent foundation from which to build a website. Think of it as a solid foundation from which to build your home. All you need to do is add a theme (the look and feel of the site), and some “Plug-ins” (added functionality to a site). That’s it. You can actually do it all without writing a single line of code!
But it’s still complicated and not for the technically challenged. It’s also not for a business owner who has better things to do (like run the operations of their business). Lastly, many clients do wish to have some custom code added to make it just the way they want it.
So now that you know what WordPress is, you’ll understand why so many web design companies (whether they tell you or not) are designing sites with WordPress or one of the other content management systems like the others already mentioned.
So, if everyone is using the same foundation, what makes the website developers different? Experience! Anyone can throw together a WordPress site, it’s not hard, (it’s just time consuming for the uninitiated). It is what comes AFTER the basic installation that separates the wheat from the chaff. You’ll want a company that has 1000’s of hours of researching these 1000’s of add on programs that make your site go way beyond the basics. One of the BAD things about open source is people write evil programs that masquerade as something cool and shiny, but it’s really a Trojan Horse that will eventually destroy a site. You’ll want a developer that knows the good from the bad, and won’t need an additional 3 months of time to research the difference.
One huge differentiator is how a website designer will apply security to your site. Think you won’t get hacked? It is not a matter of “If” nowadays, it is a matter of “when”. ALL websites are targets. Hackers in Russia, China, and many other foreign countries use automated programs to hack sites. Why would they hack your little ole’ small business site? Because they can. They can take over your site, turn it into Swiss cheese and link out to porn, Viagra, fake sunglasses, and fake handbag sites – and they get PAID to do this. They can take over your mail server and send spam to the world until your host deletes your account for violating their TOS (terms of service). Hackers don’t care who you are. It’s all automated, and their programs seek out the path of least resistance, and hack hack hack until they break in and take over. By the time you realized you’ve been hacked, it’s too late – it’s usually when you get delisted by Google that the business owner notices – and then you have a long road to recovery.
If you’re considering letting a website design ‘expert” create a website for you and they say, “It’s totally ok to host your site on a shared server like GoDaddy.com”, then run away, far away, fast. If they say, “Oh, WordPress is secure by itself, and you won’t get hacked”, run away, far far away.
Shared servers are famously thin and easy to hack. They are also alluring due to their low cost. Do you really want to trust your website to a $7.99 per month shared server on GoDaddy? I’ve actually heard “developers” tell people this is OK as a way to undercut cost and try to get the job. GoDaddy shared servers are awesome for a blog about your cat, but for your business? Your livelihood? I don’t think so.
Look for a web design company that uses dedicated servers and incorporates an additional 10+ layers of security to shield your site from hackers. A company that educates your users on safe website practices from their keyboard to the Linux server their precious data resides on. What about backups in the case that the worst actually does happen? Oh, yeah – you’ll want that, too!
Another differentiating factor between website developers is – what if you already have a site that ranks well on Google and you just need a facelift and added functionality? Do they have the skills to make sure you don’t lose any of that “Google Juice” that is already contributing to good search rankings? This part actually requires the ability to write some code, so get details from the potential developer. You can get “snake oiled” here and you won’t know the results until after your check has been cashed and spent.
There’s more! Tons more! SEO; Social Media Integration; “Share-ability”; Scalability, the list goes on. These are just a few of the things that separate website design professionals from the ones who simply know how to throw a site together and make it look pretty.
Remember, ask a lot of questions, check out several of the sites they’ve already done, and spend just a few minutes speaking to their references. This is the only way to tell if they can get the job done on time and within budget. You may end up saving a ton of $$$ and you will certainly save a lot of time and aggravation!
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