Choosing a good web designer is not just about getting some guy to build you a good looking web site. There are many factors that can and will affect the success of your site. For you to know what qualifies as a good designer/developer you need to be educated. That is the intention of this article.
I believe that your web site development begins with a plan. A solid plan that incorporates search engine optimization,(SEO) and usability at its foundation. Building your web site in this manner will enable your SEO to be much easier with just minor tweaking and updating. At the time of this writing it is still not yet possible for search engine spiders, a.k.a: robots, to make sense of everything you have on your website.
So what does all this mean to you in your search for a web designer or web developer. In case you're wondering why I refer to designer and developer as if they're two different things, the fact is, is that they are.(if you want to be technical). Web designer seems to be the general term thrown about as one who makes or builds web pages. However this is usually the person who designs the physical appearance of the web site. He usually just works with images. Since there's more to building a functional web site than just pretty pictures and fancy moving graphics, it may surprise you that a web page can in fact also be a computer program, or more appropriately, a web application. This is the behind the scenes code that gives the site its intelligence, so to speak. Some web designers are only responsible for completing a physical design for your site. If they don't code in HTML or CSS, the design usually photoshop or fireworks, then goes to the coder, who actually puts it all together using html, CSS and in some instances a scripting languages like PHP, asp.net or ruby for back end programming. The end result is a web page that renders in the users browser and depending on whether some scripting was included, also allows the user to interact with the page and make choices and decisions. This is the very short version of a somewhat complex subject.
If you can keep this in mind when you go over the contract it will help you understand why the programming aspect (developing) of your site is usually pricier. Any serious web design company will have an in depth contract and should not hesitate to explain details of the contract to you.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) defines standards and best practices for web design and development and you should make it a point to ask your web guy whether they will be designing your website with standards compliant code. This just means adhering to the W3C standard.
If they say that they intend designing the layout of your web page using tables, insist that they don't. For two reasons:
- Using tables for layout is not standards compliant and could adversely impact page loading times. (not good) The more code in your page the larger the file and the larger the file the longer it takes to download.
- Updating and maintaining web pages will be much harder, and could take longer, which may translates more being more expensive.
When you think of your website project try thinking ahead and plan for the long term. You want a site that is extendible and can be managed more easily. Best practices are not called such for no reason. I stress this point because it's an important one.
A portfolio will give you a glimpse of what the designer / developer is capable of will allow you to see the design style. Any web designer with sense won't include customers in their portfolio who were not happy. It's bad for business. Searching for a good designer in reputable online listings is a good place to find a web designer or any other service for that matter where the company or individual will be rated by the public.
It is of greater importance to that firm that they perform well since their rating is available for the public to see. An example of such listings would be Yahoo's Local Search listings, or online Yellow pages. A good source for finding a good web designer is to speak to people who you know who have had first hand experience and who built their web sites. If people have been given good service they usually don't have any problem recommending their designer to you.
It is ok to ask for a mock up site. Usually designers will tend to make 2 mock ups for you to compare and sometimes they may even show you an array of various web styles and templates prior to commencing. This is a way of narrowing down the style, how many columns, colors and themes he will need to design for.
The web developer needs to advise you on every aspect of the design process. He should educate you and explain in very plain terms the reasons for doing things. Don't just take his word for it. Ask why. He needs to give attention to what content you intend putting on your site also, because SEO is all about content, keywords and relevance. Obviously the content decided on is ultimately the client's decision, but a responsible designer should inform you of how you could optimize your content. It is important to note that some web designers usually are not experts at SEO and there are specific SEO companies or individuals that do just that, however it is best if they work hand in hand with the designer of your website. If you do find a web designer that can do a good job of SEO then you stand a better chance of your web site being easier to market and rank.
So here are a few points I believe would make an overall good choice in a web designer/developer.
- Expresses the importance in planning your site for user friendliness
- Understands good web design that is standards compliant
- Can think through the eyes of the potential visitor of the clients site
- Uses colors well and researches the target audience.
- Educates the client and explains web terminology in layman's terms.
- Plans a site from SEO perspective, with attention to file structure and naming schemes.
- If doing any programming, all the above applies and also strong focus on usability of the application. Easy user interface, secure and full featured to name a few..
These points are by no means the hard and fast rule, its just a guide. However, I believe most importantly above all, you should get good service. Good quality service is the best marketing tool for any business and you should expect it.
Roger Samboer is the founder of Alien Design LLC, a Seattle based web site development company. They create streamlined, professional looking web sites at very competitive prices. The main focus is on providing new start up companies with affordable yet high quality web sites as well as coaching and training companies to market their site better online. Information is always free!