Prevent problems when commissioning a website

By: Zoe Brown

Date: 9 May 2011

Commissioning a website can be a minefield. As with all industries, there are some cowboy web developers and designers, but I firmly believe that most problems between businesses and their web suppliers are caused by miscommunication. And it’s no wonder when there are so many different options and technicalities to understand. Here are some of my tips on how to avoid problems when commissioning a website:

  1. Your website address (www.mybiz.co.uk) is a really important asset and you really do not want to lose it. Domain names only cost a few quid, so buy them yourself. You can go to www.123-reg.co.uk. It’s fine for your supplier to buy your domain, just as long as it is in your name. You can check the public records for your domain at www.who.is.
  2. Make sure you review your content management system (CMS). Is it easy to use? Does it allow enough control over the website? What kind of support is on offer? How portable is the website once built (you don’t want to be stuck with a CMS that only works on one hosting supplier or cannot be moved). It is not usually easily possible to add/change your CMS once built since the website is normally created within the CMS itself.
  3. How much support does your prospective supplier offer, does it match your requirements and how much does it cost? While there are many talented developers and designers out there, you will usually receive more support from an agency than a one-man-band working from home.
  4. There are many different types of website so check your supplier’s portfolio of work matches your requirements. Don’t judge a portfolio by looking at pretty pictures: visit the websites and contact the owners for references.
  5. It’s often easier to allow your supplier to organise third party requirements. Don’t try to shop around for your own hosting, CMS, merchant banking, shopping cart, etc and then expect to find one supplier who can bring it all together. It will be cheaper overall (and much less stressful) if you find a supplier you trust and allow them to recommend the tools they usually work with.
  6. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is rarely included in the price of a website. This is because SEO takes time, uses different skills and is an ongoing process. If your supplier tells you your website will be optimized (so it appears high up in search engine results), double check. Ask for a list of what they will do. If they are not doing keyword research or offering to help with your website copy –they are not really optimising. They probably mean it’ll be search engine friendly. Having a search engine-friendly website is a great start, but make sure that you can add SEO if you want.
  7. Ask your supplier how compliant your website will be with industry web standards and accessibility regulations. You also need to know what browsers (eg Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer) they support. This may sound boring but loosing 20 per cent of visitors due to a poorly coded website is not much fun.
  8. Designing a website is a service and ultimately you’re paying for time. If you know you’re going to want to have discussions about the website and lots of help, you’ll need to increase your budget. Designing and coding a website correctly takes time so ask how many hours/days is included in your quote and work out if this reflects your needs.
  9. You need good copy and great images. If you’re planning to create your own content, before you begin, read around the topic of writing web copy.

You need to be confident your supplier will supply a website that looks and performs how you want it to. Whatever your budget, make sure you understand what you’re getting for your money.

Zoe Brown, B Websites Ltd

A version of this post originally appeared on the B Websites blog.