What to ask for from your web developer

briefing your developer

Ok, so this is your first website or maybe you’re revamping your current website.  

Knowing what to ask your web developer as part of your brief to them can save you a lot of grief and disappointment by making sure you get some web fundamentals addressed as part of your initial website build.

The number of times I’ve looked at a website and some basic best practice features have not been included is alarming. The worst I ever came across was about 10 years ago, before cloud and solution based web platforms like Wordpress and Joomla etc were common. The site was built entirely out of images and not a word of text showed on the site. This meant that the site looked great but it never saw the light of day in a search engine because there was no content to be indexed - yes I did say this was few years ago before the search engines got savvy with indexing images.

Today, making a website is pretty easy with so many sophisticated hosted/cloud based tools and platforms out there. Web developers and savvy tech types are easily able to make a website in no time. My problem is that they are so rarely built with proper thought put into what the business and it’s customers need. This is why so many small businesses end up with a website that doesn’t return much value.

With this in mind, here’s my top 7 things to ask for when your brief your developer. This way you can ensure that your website will bring value by bringing and converting your visitors to loyal customers/ followers.

1. Site is optimised and ready for you to start ranking in search engines.

Again, you might not think it’s necessary, but I’m on a crusade to stop the most common complaint of ‘my websites not found in the search engines.’

Being found in Google and Bing and other like engines is very powerful. It means that your offering/servicing/product is there, right in front of the potential customer at the very moment that they are looking. It has contextual, in the moment power.

If you honestly can say that you don’t want to be found in any search engine then skip on by my friend, to the next point.

For your developer, this means that they must make sure that page titles, descriptions and H1 tags can all be accessed in the CMS by you to optimise the keywords easily unless you know all the keywords for each of your pages now - and you are never going to need to change them again. Guaranteed, from an ongoing perspective, you’re best off being able to tweak and optimise these as you go along.

They - the developer - should also know exactly how your website will perform from a speed perspective. This matters to the search engines when ranking sites. Slow sites are ranked down. This means that any decisions that are made around fonts, images and plugins should all be assessed for speed and involve a discussion with you.

Another must have is an xml sitemap. Search engines love sitemaps and if you don’t have one in place, then this will be a problem to get good rankings in the search engines.

I reviewed a website recently for a client in healthcare, frustrated that the site didn’t appear on site engines - not even for her company name. I discovered that there was no sitemap and the site description contained keywords for the actual web developer and CMS they used. Sigh.

2. List your site goals and transactional needs

So this is a bit work for you, but really if you go to a web developer without a clear list of exactly what you need your website to do and have, then it’s not your developers fault if it doesn’t live up to your expectations. After all, it’s not their job to analyse your business and determine your digital requirements. You're hiring them to build the thing. After all, you wouldn’t hire a builder to design and draw up plans of your perfect house, right?

By doing this you’ll also know what goals you want tracked in the next step.

3. Google analytics setup and operating

Knowing if your website is doing what it should be doing for your business is fundamental. Otherwise your wasting you time with a ‘close your eyes and hope for the best approach’.

You'll need to have your goals from point number 2 above, because to setup your Google Analytics (which is free or you can chose another tracking package) properly, the web developer will need to know what goals/events you need to track and ideally the value of each goal. Part of the deal with your web developer should also be testing that your web statistics are working before they hand the site over to you. It can be a technical minefield to work out what’s wrong with tracking code - so your web developer is the person to sort this out.

4. Negotiate how many times you can ‘change your mind’

Upfront negotiation with the developer around how many ‘changes’ you get to the design, colours, fonts, functionality, forms etc is important. This is quite often where you end up spending far more than you expected because it’s on an hourly basis over and above the quote price or you end up compromising because a detailed discussion wasn’t had up front.

5. Who’s doing the content?

Not the developer I hope. But if they are ask - Do they have copy writer? Rare is the tech guru web developer who is also a dab-hand at copywriting (apologies to the rare beast out there that is - I tip my hat to you).

If you are expecting the copy to be written for you then you need to know who is writing it and the quality that will be provided.  Ask for samples of writing up front and make sure you’re happy with the quality.

You can spend hours and a lot of money fussing with design and size of buttons and headings etc, but key points to a great looking site that converts well will also be about the copy, heading, and how this all flows.

6. Be responsive

Lord help us but this should just be a matter of fact, but make sure that you’re getting a mobile responsive website.

This means that when your developer provides you with design mockups to review and signoff you must have a minimum of three sets, desktop, laptop and mobile - at a minimum - to allow for the different ‘breakpoints’ that are used to resize and re-render your site depending on the device. There are no common screen sizes unfortunately, so make sure that you’re web developer is actively thinking about the minimum size versus the desktop size so that you’re getting a user friendly and good looking site across multiple devices.

Most web development platforms actually allow for easy review of these different views, so it shouldn’t be a problem for your web developer.

If your web developer offers you more than these standard designs, then praise them as Gods of the mobile age!

7. A detailed list of what you can and can’t update

Nowadays all websites are built with a Content Management System (CMS) so that anyone can update content on a page, insert new images, create a new page etc. CMS’s come with varying flexibility depending on what you want. You might think that this is a pretty minor thing to be thinking about right now, but when you go back to your web developer in three months asking for a change in the site menu and a new page to be added, and there’s a hourly price tag attached, you might be very happy to have thought about this upfront.

By understanding upfront what you can and can't change without the need to go back and pay more to your developer for changes, you can save yourself a lot of grief and potentially expense.

Your website developer should deliver a list of what can and can’t be updated, so you understand exactly how much flexibility you have.

You might also ask what platform they use (such as like Wordpress, BigCommerce, Magento, Drupal, Joomla etc). Once you know you’ll be able to investigate yourself. It may be that a different platform might suit you better than the platform that the web developer prefers to build on.

They should be able to give you a list of reasons why the platform suits you best. Note I’m saying ‘you’ not ‘them’ the developer.

You might also be interested in Do you need a web developer to build your website?

These are my starting tips to brief your web developer and remember if your developer is not happy with your requests, then there are many many talented and well trained developers waiting out there to take your call.

Good luck.

Go forth and prosper my friends.