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How to choose a web developer

Summary: A web developer generally works with all of the technical details of your web site. A very good web developer will also help you with web marketing, writing effective content, and achieving good search engines rankings.

Why are so many web sites profitless? Many web "professionals" are clueless about how to create a successful web site and haven't kept up with changes in web marketing and technology.

I provide a list of eight questions to ask a prospective web developer. Their answers will tell you whether they have the knowledge and skills required to create a successful web site for you.

What is a "web developer?"

Compared to a "web designer," a "web developer" usually has a much broader range of skills. A web developer will handle every technical aspects of creating and maintaining a web site, including:

  • designing the graphic layout,
  • designing the web site architecture and navigation,
  • coding the XHTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS),
  • creating graphics and adding photos,
  • creating links,
  • testing for adherence to usability, accessibility, and web standards,
  • programming web applications, and
  • creating databases.

The very best web developer will also assist with your marketing strategy, search engine optimization, and copywriting.

How to evaluate a web developer

If you've read the article on web site success, you know that most web sites lose money. That's why choosing a web developer is so important.

First, of course, you'll want to look at their portfolio to see if you like their design work. But don't stop there. Great design isn't enough.

Call your prospective web developer on the phone to talk with them about your project and their skills. Then email them to ask a follow-up question. If it's hard to communicate with them or they are slow in responding, look for another web developer.

Stumped for what to ask them about their skills? When you're interviewing web developers, ask the eight questions listed below.

If they can't understand a question, you should assume that they haven't kept up-to-date. If their answers leave doubts in your mind, trust your instincts: find another web developer.

Eight questions to ask your web developer

1. What do you do to help clients create their web marketing strategy?
A brief answer should include understanding your target audience, your product or service, and your competition. It should also ask about your objectives and how you'll measure your success. They should also see themselves as implementing your marketing strategy.
2. How do you help clients prepare marketing copy?
The answer should show that they understand that copywriting is a specialized skill and that writing for online audiences is different than writing for print media.
3. What do you do to support high rankings in the search engines?
A solid answer will mention determining which key phrases are used by your target audience to find businesses like yours and making sure these key phrases are used naturally in the text of pages. Run like the dickens if they create special pages just for search engines!
4. Can you tell me what "web standards" are?
Web standards are guidelines for creating web sites that will work well on a variety of web browsers.
5. How do you test your sites for compliance with web standards?
The answer should be that they use online tests of XHTML and CSS provided by the W3C, the organization that creates the web standards.
6. What do you do to ensure good usability and accessibility?
The answer should indicate that they have studied these issues and that they test each site.
7. Do you use tables or frames for layout?
The answers should be "not very often" and "never." Tables are still useful for presenting tabular data. Otherwise, tables and frames are clunky old methods that are no longer necessary.
8. Do you have some ideas of how you might save me time and money by automating routine business operations?
If they don't come up with several relevant ideas, find someone more knowledgeable.

By now, you may be asking, "Why do I need to understand these problems? I'm hiring professionals to take care of these details."

Shouldn't my web developer know all of this?

Yes, they should.

Unfortunately, most web developers only know one or two of the essential fields. Your web developer may know graphic design and basic coding. But do they have training and experience in internet marketing, copywriting for the web, accessibility, usability, web application programming, and web standards? Probably not.

We know that the vast majority of web sites aren't working. Many of these failed sites were created by professionals. How is this possible? Because those professionals only know part of what is needed to develop successful web sites.

To have a successful web site, you need to find a web developer who has the necessary knowledge and experience.

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