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Questions you should ask your web developer
(and how we answer them!)

There are a few fundamental things that you need to ask your developer before they start work on your website. Over the years we have had quite a few clients who failed to do this with their previous provider and found themselves with a site that was impossible to update, or didn’t even belong to them so that they could not move to another host!

Opinions will of course differ, however if your web developer is honest enough to answer these questions, you're probably in safe hands. Below we have asked the question and where needed explained what the question means, and then given our answer. We hope this article will give you the knowledge you need to recognise the warning signs, before it is too late.

1. Can my website be easily hosted somewhere else if I am not happy with your service?

Some web companies (particularly ones offering free site building tools) insist on hosting your website, locking you into staying with them. This is not always a bad thing, particularly if your site budget is very small and you are not totally reliant on it for new business; however, make sure you consider what you are getting tied into and what your future requirements may be.

A website hosted in this way can seriously hinder search engine optimisation. For example, you could end up with a url that looks like this: http://www.hostwebsite/yourwebsite.index.html. The reason this affects your SEO is that your content is in a lower level directory, making it almost invisible to the search engines. It also looks unprofessional – all serious businesses have their own url. Even worse, if you eventually decide to improve your site, you may find that you have to pay additional fees for extra functionality, or that extra functionality isn’t even available. Because the site has been built using the hosts development tools and relies on being on their hosting, you cannot move the site to a new host; you have to start again from scratch.

There is a definite advantage to being able to move your website from web host to web host over being chained to a single host which might not deliver the performance your website needs. Make sure you know the facts before you begin so there are no nasty surprises further along the road.

Our answer:  Should you chose our hosting your site will always be at the top level and if you wish to move your site to another host, we will package it up and supply it to you on a disc with instructions for your new web host. We do recommend that you use our hosting, simply because it means we can give you a better end-to-end service, however you are in no way tied to us should you decide to move.

2. Will my website naturally perform well in the search engines?

Websites are regularly indexed by search engines like Google, Yahoo! and MSN and it's extremely important to use every opportunity to increase the chances of your site being found. Naturally optimised sites are ones that perform well without extra SEO. They use well coded CSS designs, proper meta keywords and semantic XHTML for marking up your web page documents - that means using text for title and headings, not using images in place of headings or text and even having description names on the address bar for your website.

Some content management systems don't create search engine friendly URL's . For example, a bad url for a page on "High pressure pumps in the UK" might look like "http://www.catpumps.co.uk/page.cfm?id=30020", whereas a good search engine friendly URL might look like this "http:// www.catpumps.co.uk/high-pressure-pumps-uk.html".

There are many simple techniques for helping get your pages higher in the rankings in search engines, and often it's the small things that can make a big difference.

Our answer:  We do our utmost to ensure that your site will perform well without any extra SEO, though of course if you are in a competitive industry you may need a little help to get ahead of the pack. The sites we build are lean, well designed and logically coded. We will also assist you with ensuring that you have the right keywords and meta tags so that your customers can find you easily.

3. Does my site use current web design techniques and adhere to W3C standards?

The web is constantly changing and website design methods continue to evolve. It is important to use current design techniques like table-less design with logical separation of content, style and behaviour. Some web design companies get stuck in a groove of creating the same kinds of sites for years, over and over again, refusing to further themselves as methods move on.

Taking advantage of current design and build trends will give your website an edge with the search engines. It will be smaller and therefore faster to download, and be easier to use by your visitors: an intuitive experience that will encourage your users to return and read or return and buy.

Our answer:  Yes!  Our team is dedicated to keep on top of all the latest developments and we do our very best to ensure that out sites are compliant. 

4. Will your code be compatible or usable if I switch to another web company?

Coding styles differ from company to company and programmer to programmer. Usually if you change to a different development company, they should be able to pick up where it was left off. However they would need to have the complete source code for your website. This can sometimes be tricky to acquire, especially if your relationship with the first company ended badly.  Also bear in mind that if your site uses the first companies own CMS system, then you may not be entitled to take the code with you, in which case you would have to start from scratch.

Our answer:  Yes!  All our programming is done using best practices (see question 6 below) and so other developers will be able to edit and add to it.

5. Do I own the intellectual property behind my website? Who owns the content? And who owns the design rights?

When you buy a website you would think that you own the rights to it in its entirety. Some web development agencies neglect to tell customers that this may not in fact be the case, which can lead to problems further down the line should you want to move your business away.

The code, html and scripts used to create software, a website or an application usually remain the intellectual property of the company that created them i.e. the developer. Some developers will charge you for a licence to use software (for example a CMS package) to run your website on. Since the content management software is a product of the web development company, the intellectual rights will be retained by them. Content management systems like this often require hosting to be controlled by the web design company, usually because they don't want their valuable source code going outside of their control.

The actual design is normally the copyright of the artist or graphic designer that created them. The copy on your website usually belongs to the person or organisation doing the writing. In the case of a CMS, where you have the rights to use software, you will retain copyright on the content within it.

Our answer: For many of our sites we use Joomla! which is an open source package, available to everyone for free under the GNU licence.  Joomla! is used by thousands of developers all over the world and is constantly being updated and improved. This means that there are no issues over the ownership of the CMS framework itself. In most cases the website we build for you, will belong to you.

The only time this may not be the case is if we develop something which we intend to sell on to other clients to keep the cost down to you, in which case we would maintain ownership of Intellectual rights for the source code.

As per our general terms and conditions, and we know this is unusual; ALL design work belongs to the client once it has been paid for. We do though reserve the right to charge a small fee for collecting and sending work in the unlikely event you wish to take all the design work to another designer.

6. Do you follow best practises when building web sites and programming web applications?

An extremely important part of programming and building websites is the following of best practise guidelines which govern how a task should be carried out. For instance, there are best practises for optimising a website, instructions for developing HTML and code and extremely important guidelines for writing the code for an application.

This is a difficult one for a non-technical person to get into too much depth on, but if your web developer can show that they follow the W3C's HTML and CSS guidelines you won’t go far wrong!

Our answer: Yes!  In fact our programming partner “You Web Services” are members of “The Guild of Accessible Web Designers” who insist that all members work to the guidelines.

7. Will my web site need on-going maintenance?

Our answer: This really depends on the individual website, but really the answer ought to be “yes”. It is good practice to add new content to your site, however small, on a regular basis as this will keep search engines like Google interested in your site, encouraging them to come back and index you regularly. If this isn’t so important to you, you may just want to change your contact details or a small amount of content. However, you should bear in mind that your website will realistically have a shelf-life of 18 months to 2 years. After this it would be advisable to do a major update in order to take advantage of the latest technological advances, design and user experience changes and perform optimisations for better search results.

8. Will I have to spend more money on my website in the future? How much and how often?

Our answer: Unfortunately yes! Developing a website, and keeping it competitive in the search engines can be a time consuming affair. You also need to understand that even if your site works perfectly when it is launched, technology on the hosting servers and within the web browsers will be always changing and eventually your site will develop problems and these need to be fixed to keep the site working properly. You should always get a quotation before asking your developer to embark on work of this nature as sometimes it could end up being cheaper to create a new site.

9.  Do you offer on-going support in a timely manner?

One of the biggest complaints we hear from clients moving to us from other web developers is that they find the service great when the site is being built, but when it comes to subsequent support, even if they are on a contract, they can be unacceptably slow and unresponsive. Most developers will tell you that they offer fast support, but if you know any of their customers, check with them – they will be able to tell you if this is true.

Our answer: Yes!  It’s one of the many reasons clients choose us – we do our best to make your changes as quickly as possible, often within the same day if required. We offer a variety of support packages covering all aspects of your website. We also run training sessions so you are able to update your website in-house, should you wish to.

You might also find our article "Creating a new website - how does it work?" useful

If you have any questions about this article, or would like to chat to us about your website,
please call us on 01420 540 223 for a free, no obligation chat