Tips for Finding & Hiring the Right Website Developer

Brandon Schmidt | January 10, 2019
Website Design & Development

You know it’s time to rebuild your website. But who do you hire? Here’s our advice for who should build your website and tips for hiring the right website developer.

website design agency in lancaster, pa

Who Should Build Your Website? – Four Website Developer Options

Local businesses have several options for building a website, each with their benefits and downsides. No matter your website budget and marketing goals, you can find a website development solution that’s right for you.

1. Do It Yourself

The rise of easy website builders — including Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace — have empowered independent contractors, startups, and small business owners to create their own website. Featuring drag-and-drop functionality and tons of stunning design templates, these systems are great for creating an affordable website without any knowledge of HTML or a programming language. But as your company grows and expands your marketing efforts, you may find these platforms are not flexible enough to meet your marketing goals.

Advantages:

  • Cost-effective
  • No technical experience is necessary
  • Great for smaller sites
Disadvantages:

  • May look similar to other sites on the same platform
  • Limited functionality & SEO benefits
  • Hard to scale with growth

2. Freelancer

A freelancer is an independent contractor who specializes in designing and building websites. Whether it is their full-time job or a moonlighting gig for additional income, freelancers can be an affordable option for a local business looking to improve their website.

Many freelancers focus on both designing and developing a website, yet their strength lies within one or the other. Some will design a website from scratch, while others will modify an existing template for your design. Skilled freelance designers can also provide you with branding, logos, and print designs. It’s rare to find a freelance web developer who is skilled at advanced search engine optimization, so you will likely need to follow up with an SEO expert or agency to make your new site rank well.

Because of the wide variety of skillsets and capabilities, it is crucial to do your homework and vet potential freelancers. Look for reviews online, seek recommendations from past clients, and talk to another business owner who has worked with them. It’s especially important to find out how well & how often they communicate with the client; communication is often a weakness of web freelancers — and it can be scary to invest money with a person you don’t hear back from for months.

Advantages:

  • Affordable way to have your website built by a professional
  • May provide additional design services (branding, logos, print)
  • Support local artist & entrepreneur
Disadvantages:

  • Skillsets can vary from freelancer to freelancer
  • May experience limited communication
  • Need to hire an SEO agency afterwards to fix code, add content, and make sure it ranks well

3. Internal Team

Larger local businesses who have an internal marketing team may consider looking in-house to design and develop their new website. Some may even hire a developer to manage and maintain the brand’s website(s). In this situation, you’ll find similar advantages and disadvantages of working with a freelancer — skillsets can vary from individual to individual, and communication can be a weakness.

An in-house website developer spends most of their time in maintenance mode (making sure websites are functioning or adding new products), instead of innovation mode (looking for new opportunities to scale and grow the sites). They also wear multiple hats — including IT director, database administrator, or marketing manager — which often takes priority over maintaining the website. That’s why many businesses with an in-house developer will still work with an outside partner for strategy, questions, and support.

Advantages:

  • More control over costs, timeline, and end product
  • Faster turnaround
  • Better integration with in-house sales, marketing, and support teams
Disadvantages:

  • Limited by the skill & expertise of your team
  • Focused on maintenance, rather than innovation
  • Still need to rely on outside partner for strategy & support

4. Agency

A web building agency brings together a team of designers, developers, and project managers to build custom websites for local businesses. While many agencies target larger or more complex web projects, there are agencies that cater to smaller businesses as well.

Web agencies can vary in size and speciality, anywhere from a small agency that’s really just a few freelancers to a large agency that has multiple offices, hundreds of employees, and builds large websites. Some agencies specialize in building websites for one industry (like plumbing/HVAC, lawn care, or medical), while other agencies build websites as part of their overall digital marketing services.

By working with an agency for your new website, you should expect a higher level of value and professionalism; after all, you are not hiring a generalist freelancer, but rather a team that’s skilled in their specific areas. You should also expect better communication; most agencies assign a project manager or account manager to be your single point of contact and to make sure your project stays on schedule.

Website development agencies are not an ideal fit for everyone. If you are looking merely for a website for the lowest cost, a freelancer may be more within your budget. Some agencies may lock you into a proprietary CMS or website backend so you are forced to keep working with them — and paying them — for as long as you keep your website. And working with an agency may mean tighter deadlines for providing feedback so that you stay within their production schedule; any delay on your end may mean pushing your website launch date by months.

Advantages:

  • More experience working with clients
  • Improved communication & scheduling
  • Skilled team of specialists should result in better performing website
Disadvantages:

  • Larger investment in your website
  • Firmer deadlines to fit within agency’s production schedule
  • May lock you into monthly contract or proprietary system

 


 

Tips for Hiring a Website Development Company

Working with a website development agency on your new website can be an expensive, time-consuming project. Here’s our advice on what to look for when hiring a web development partner.

1. Open, Modern Platform

Do they build websites on an outdated CMS? Worse yet, do they build sites on a custom or proprietary web platform that only they can manage and update? If the answer is yes to either, be prepared to be locked into a monthly contract with the web developer for as long as you want your website to be online.

2. Realistic Timeline

We’ve seen agencies brag about being able to build a website in under a month — with some compressing the timeline to two weeks or less. This aggressive timeline may be desirable for the impatient, but it is far too short for any reasonable website that will last longer than a few months. An expedited timeline for a website build means the web developer is cutting corners somewhere:

  • Design by using a ready-made theme they fit every client into.
  • Content by using boilerplate content to which they’ll add your company’s name.
  • Development by relying on pre-built themes & plugins that add some of what you want — and a lot of what you don’t want.

Realistic timelines will give you an accurate expectation of how long the project will take, with the knowledge that it’s being built right the first time.

3. Milestones and Deadlines

Realistic timelines include setting up milestones for when certain parts of the website are due. Typically this includes the site structure, content, first round of designs, and development link. You want to find a web development partner who will make and meet these milestones, so you know your project is on schedule.

Common milestones for a website project include deadlines for client design feedback. The project can’t move forward without you and your team’s feedback and edits, so providing it by your established deadline is crucial to keeping a project on track. Be upfront with your web partner in establishing these deadlines and let them know in advance if you won’t be able to meet them.

4. Realistic Budget

Too many website projects are won or lost based on the client’s budget — yet so many of the lowest quoted projects either cut corners to save money or blow past the original budget with additional charges. When you are comparing several web proposals, don’t just look at the final dollar amount; compare the quotes on additional merits. Do they allow for design revisions? How much do they charge for additional rounds of revisions? Are there any hidden or additional charges for the project? Will you be paying them to host and maintain the website after it is built?

5. Transparency & Honesty

Building or rebuilding your website can be a long, tireless, and expensive process; make sure you are working with a good company that is open, transparent, and honest with you.

Some website developers try to increase the cost of the project by including unnecessary functionality or add-on services. Don’t get talked into bells and whistles that you don’t need; ask how these new features will help you achieve your goal of more traffic and leads.

You should have several opportunities for giving feedback on the site layout, content, and design throughout the process. You also want a web agency who will help you provide the best feedback for improving the site. Sometimes that means pushing back on your feedback and explaining why a design element is crucial to user experience and conversion optimization. Don’t hire a web designer who will just agree with all your ideas; hire a designer who will work with you on creating the best website possible.

6. SEO Experience

Most businesses get so focused on making sure their new website looks awesome, works well, and has the right language and photos on it that they forget one of the most important questions: How will the new site perform on Google?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is not something you add to a site after it’s launched; good SEO is at the core of any website development project. SEO involves what pages you include (or don’t include), the URL structure, and how the pages are linked to each other on the website. Without taking these things into consideration, you can build a beautiful site that tanks in the rankings.

We recently saw a local business launch a new website design that did not take basic SEO principles into account. Within a month, their online rankings plummeted and site traffic went down 50%. Six months (and thousands of dollars in rework) later, we are just now getting their site back to where they were pre-launch.

Vet your potential website development partner by how they view SEO. If your freelancer or website development agency think SEO just has to do with having the right keywords on a page, or something you can do after the site goes live, be prepared to see a loss of traffic until the site is optimized by an SEO agency. However, if you have your website built by an SEO or digital marketing agency, you can rest assured that your new site is fully optimized from day one.

Run away from any companies offering performance guarantees; the digital marketing world changes so rapidly that any promise or guarantee will be difficult (and expensive) to carry out, or they will only focus on site metrics that will make them look good.

Ready to Rebuild Your Website?

Are you planning to rebuild your website? Talk to YDOP; we’ll help you think through your site structure, functionality, and design so you are confident your website will increase traffic and leads. To schedule an introductory meeting and proposal, contact YDOP today.

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