Often times you’re going to get a very canned design template or the ‘logo’ won’t be vector-based or even large enough for you to use for anything but your website. Here are some questions to ask a potential web designer:
1) What Content Management System will you be using? (CMS)
Ideally you’ll want them to be using something you can easily use and learn, like Drupal or WordPress. Possibly Joomla. If you don’t understand what they’re suggesting. ASK MORE QUESTIONS. You should have a very strong understanding of what you’re getting into before you sign any contract or send them money. A website that you cannot edit easily or add content to regularly is not going to do you any favors. You’ll be stuck buying their repeat services forever.
2) Will you train me on using the CMS?
If you need training, ask for it. You wouldn’t buy a car without knowing how to drive it. Don’t do the equivalent with a website. The days of ‘set it and forget it’ are long gone. Of course many designers will offer to be your content editor, posting new stuff on your website for you. You can go this route if you like but I find it cost prohibitive until you’re making lots of money and your time is so valuable that keeping someone on-staff to edit the website is a worthy investment.
3) How search engine friendly will it be? (SEO)
Anyone who promises that your brand new website will end up highly ranked on Google is lying or about to do something against the search engine’s rules. If your website is breaking rules and Google figures it out, they might just remove you from their search engine entirely and no one will ever find you again. So beware of promises of ‘special key techniques’. A good web designer will explain that SEO is best achieved through regular high quality keyword-rich content. That’s blogs, videos, podcasts, white papers, e-books, FAQs, etc. Side note: There are some advanced methods of enhancing your online content so it gets seen and shared more. This is where a –good- SEO company can help, but this is not where a startup should be focusing. You’ve got to have lots of great content first.
4) How long will it take and what do you need from me?
This will often depend a great deal on you, your needs and how fast you can provide them with the content they’ll need. They’re web designers, not mind readers. They need promotional text, photos and so forth about your company to build the website. Ideally have all that stuff ready to go if you can. It will streamline the process and reduce your costs if the designer doesn’t have to spend hours working with you to create and find the best content.
5) Where is the website going to be hosted & what is the domain?
If I had my wish you would already have a webhost picked out and have purchased a domain. You can get a year’s worth of both from godaddy.com for under $100 total. Shop around. If your website is super heavy duty, maybe there’s a better host or larger service package for you. However, be wary of letting your website be hosted someplace that isn’t a major online company. You could lose everything if your ‘local web host’ suddenly goes out of business.
I’m a big advocate of owner-control when it comes to websites. I would rather walk people through purchasing the hosting and domain via their own credit cards so that they have full control and don’t have to rely on me for their website’s survival.
6) How do I back up my website?
They ought to be able to find out an answer even if they don’t know right away.
This whole blog post came from a revelation that a low-cost ‘blog designer’ promised a customer of mine they would redesign her blog. What they actually did was create a free blog on blogspot that doesn’t even use her same company name. Worse, she had a perfectly good working blog on the website I created for her. It just wasn’t as ornate as she’d like. Unfortunately, she has traded having an ornate blog for all the SEO benefits of having a less ornate blog on her actual shop front. That’s her choice, but I suspect she didn’t realize that was what she was buying.
Please, please ask questions! Know enough or have someone who will be your advocate who –does- know enough. Will you sometimes have to sacrifice your vision for the practical? Yes unless you have a lot of money so a web designer can really give you their all and customize a template to the gills. But the prettiest website in the world that doesn’t get traffic is a failure if you ask me.