And So I Digress… hiring a web designer

Blog - And So I Digress...To a client, the world of web development ranges from an enigma to clear-as-day.  There is also the muddle (I said muddle not middle) ground –having just enough knowledge to either flourish or perish.

As with any endeavor, the more a person knows the easier it is to comprehend the skills needed to accomplish a task.  Building a website is no different.  In web development, the skills required to launch a successful website are broad and the questions are numerous.  Even the simplest website  involves many steps and considerations.  From a macro level, the  considerations are:

  • Site name
  • URL
  • Logo
  • Design
  • Content

Delving deeper one may ask:

  • Is the site name I want in use by another company?  Is the company of like product/service?
  • Is the URL I want available, if  not, what do I do? Do I need to change my company name?
  • Is the logo I like too much like “X” logo?
  • I know what I want my website to look like, but is my design idea commensurate with my content (products/services)?
  • How do I write all the content needed for my site?

The questions begin snowball from here into minutia:

  • How do I make updates to my site?
  • I have 100 products, does my site need a 100 pages?
  • How do I get listed in search engines?
  • What are Google Ad Words?
  • Where do I host my site?  What is hosting?
  • I need an email address for my business.
  • How do I know how my site is doing, stats?

The above list can go on forever.  For some, this process of muddling through works itself quickly to reaching out to a professional web developer.  However, some may try to build a website on their own.

The former discovers that there is a plethora of web developers out there to sift through.  The latter typically finds the tools to build a website on their own are lacking.   For both, confusion, frustration, and sheer annoyance can set in.  And why shouldn’t it?  After looking at a dozen of web development companies with a myriad of development approaches, product offerings, pricing structures or trying out several “build your own site-packages” or using a family member who does “web stuff”,  making a decision on what to do just gets confusing.

Here is my take on it, based on a summation of 17  years of phone calls and emails from new clients:

  • Your “cousin” can build your website.  So can your niece, nephew or that “guy” down the block.  These services are enticing being “free” or inexpensive, however, you will eventually be talking to a professional web developer.  Websites take time and free and/or cheap does not afford the resources required to build a proper website.
  • “This company contacted me to say they will build my site for free and all I have to pay is monthly hosting”.  Great, you own nothing!  Stop paying hosting and watch your site vanish; Need an update to the site?  Watch the hours creep; Need support? Don’t hold your breath. You will eventually be talking to a  professional web developer.  Companies that charge little-to-nothing for a website make their money on hosting and up-selling.  This type of site is call ransom-ware.
  • “I just built my site in MS Word, iWeb, Four Square….  Now what do I do?” By asking the question “now what do I do?”, you will eventually be talking to a  professional web developer.  These tools offer a quick way to get on the web, however, the look and code behind this site are clunky, slow, and not very friendly to all web browsers, thus limiting your audience.

Hiring a web designer is not the panacea, but is a start.  As with any industry where you are seeking a service, do your homework.  At Four Eyes, we are professional web developers and we know a lot of professional web developers.  From our experience, here is what we know about our industry:

  • Design does matter: Take a look at the company’s site.  Do you like the look of it?  Do they show off some of their work?  Do you like the look of that?  Well, this is a good indicator of the quality of work and a good way to vet companies to your shortlist. Does every site on their web company’s portfolio look the same?  Chances are your site will too. If you like this look, great, if not this is another way to cut the shortlist.
  • Size doesn’t matter:  I have seen a 2-person operations put out amazing work and 15-person operations put out mediocre work and vice-versa.  You can hire an individual web developer whose skill-set can make them equal to four people.  All I am saying here is that find the company that is right for you.  Typically a smaller boutique shop gives better attention to their clients than a really large web-company.  On another note, in the web world we do not need that many people to do great work.
  • Price does matter:  In the web industry, if sounds to good to be true it typically is (this holds true in any industry).  Whether your idea is a simple blog or you want to compete with Amazon, think about the person(s) you want working on your site.  Are they just scraping by because they take on any project in any budget and are not really liking what they do for the living?  Or are they  a company that charges fairly for quality work, takes on projects commensurate with their development direction and puts out really nice sites.
  • Location doesn’t matter:  We live in the digital age and build on a digital platform.   Many effective web relationships are not built on sitting at a table mulling over pieces of paper.  Web work is done on a computer where files, mockups, thoughts, ideas, and concepts can all be shared via email, web-based screen, and video conferencing and even the telephone.  Great web shops are located everywhere from major cities to smaller locations and communications make them all seem right next door.
  • Technical matters: From a static site or a blog to an e-commerce site or a large content managed website, there are many solutions and approaches to web development.  For the purposes of the article, it does not matter what they are using to architect your site, just that they are using something.  To make this easy, just ask this question to a potential web developer, “What type of framework or architecture would you use to build a site like mine?”  Here are the answers and your response:
    • Small static site answer:  “Your site is small enough that HTML, CSS, JavaScript and perhaps some AJAX will be fine”.  This is a good answer.  Do not worry about the technology acronyms, because there are a myriad of approaches.  The above represents the most basic approach.
    • Blog site answer:   ” We use WordPress, Expression Engine, Mango or a like blog.”  Great because about a bazillion other people use these tools too! More on this in a future post.  Not all WordPress site are created equal.
    • E-commerce  or CMS site answer: “We use X platform” X (PrestaShop, Shopify, Woo Commerce, Lemon Stand, Magento, etc) being an application where the developer can give a URL to check it out before you opt to build on it.

Here is the important part, if you hear, “We roll our own solution”, “We have a custom proprietary system” or “What is a framework?”.  RUN! Professional web developers know about both open-source and commercial solutions in the marketplace that they can use to build robust sites.  These solutions come with application-author/developer support, community support and, of course, the support of your web developer.  Not using a  more broadly community supported application means you are the mercy of your web developer with code that probably did not go through enough testing for primetime.

This post can keep going as the process of finding and hiring a web developer opens up a lot of questions that go way passed just having a cool site.  If you have a site you want to talk about, reach out to Four Eyes and we can give you some really good answers!