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How to Choose a Web Development Company

by Jennifer Beever on July 10, 2009

A friend who is starting a new company contacted me recently for a referral to a web development company that could create a great web site but not break the bank.

Choosing a web development company is difficult for most businesses. I think the number one reason is that most business owners don’t understand the technology options where web sites are concerned. It’s tough to keep up with the ever-changing technology in any industry, but especially so if it’s not your own.
The number two reason choosing a web developer is difficult is that the web development industry is very fragmented. There are non-programmers who put sites together using templates. There are graphic designers who have learned to do some programming, but they are not the greatest programmers. There are programmers who don’t do good graphic design. Then there are Search Engine Optimization (SEO) professionals who also develop web sites. All of them have different opinions about which technology platform to use, which is confusing. And, they offer a wide range of price points. Do you get what you pay for?

Below are six key steps to help you choose the right web development company.
1. Research the technology.

In order to make a sound decision as to which web development company to use, you should understand the different technology options at least at a high level. Should you use Flash on your web site? Should you create a web site using www.wordpress.org or www.wordpress.com? Should you use an Open Source technology platform with a content-management system?

Right now I’m hearing web developers disparage sites created with blog utilities like WordPress. WordPress has web site design templates and content management systems that are relatively easy to use. According to one of my web developers, even a child could use WordPress. Do web development companies put down blogging utilities as web site platforms because these sites are truly lacking or because they put the web developers out of business?
2. Get referrals from sources you trust.

Talk to marketing and technology professionals in your network. Whom are they using? Were they responsive? Technologically savvy? Innovative, so that when a new need or a problem came up they found a solution? What is the company’s core expertise – graphic design, programming, blogging, SEO?
3. Review sites the company has recently developed.

Look at the sites from several perspectives: Design (graphics and page layout), performance (speed, all pages working), ease of navigation, etc. Don’t just view the home page of the sites and move on to the next one. Spend some time navigating through different options, viewing different media.

4. Ask the company for a detailed proposal.

Provide a web site update plan that details your objectives, the site architecture, and the planned page content. Have the web development company base their proposal on the plan. When you receive the proposal, ask whether or not it addresses your specifications for the site? Did the web developer question anything in your specification? Did they make new recommendations based on their experience developing other sites?

5. Talk to references.

Ask the web development company’s clients how well they liked working with the web development company? Did they respond to requests in a timely manner? Did they complete the project within budget? Did they complete the project on-time? Does the site generate the results they wanted? If the site has a content management feature that allows the owners to maintain web site content, how easy is it to use?
6. Get it in writing.

Make sure you get commitments about number of pages, features, timeline and cost in writing before you start the project. Don’t pay the entire cost upfront. Make two to three payments based on milestones such as web site design approval, content upload, testing/go live.

In my experience, the number one delay in web development projects is content. Have a plan and a deadline for creating content and make sure you meet it. Armed with a web site plan and timeline, great content, and a great web developer, you will be more likely to have success with your next web site project.
What’s your web development story? Was it positive? Negative? Please use the comments link below to share your story.

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