Anyone these days can "design" a website, and make it pretty. But a website is so much more than just a pretty window to your business. It IS business itself. What should you look for when choosing a website developer?
1. Mobile first
More people are browsing the Web or checking their social accounts on their smartphones today. Less people are doing all these on their desktops or laptops, and the numbers will decrease exponentially within these couple of years. Even tablets are beginning to suffer a decline compared to larger-screen smartphones. Most phone vendors, whether Apple, Android or even Blackberry are moving to larger-screen smartphones. After all, there are only so many hours a day, and carrying a single device to handle most of the daily tasks, is preferred over carrying multiple devices.
Therefore, when you choose a website developer, make sure the developer understands the "mobile first" strategy, and design your website to be responsive. A responsive website is one which adapts its content presentation to any screen size. A website fails when you have to scroll horizontally on a smartphone, showing its utter deficiency in catering to smaller screen mobile devices. If your developer is using a modern CMS (content management system) such as WordPress, it is almost criminal if he cannot ensure that your website is responsive for all devices and screen sizes, since most modern templates are already responsive.
Some website developers are primarily graphic designers, and may not understand the techniques of lightweight content and bandwidth optimization. To design a website may be easy, but it is a lot of work to ensure that your website is as lightweight as possible to deliver content efficiently to everyone. Even search engines will place a penalty on slow-loading websites. And not everyone is viewing your website on a fiber optic network. The best way to test your website is to view it on various devices running on different bandwidths, whether on fiber, DSL, 4G LTE, or 3G as the case may be, or use a bandwidth simulator. If you have to wait for a graphics or animation-heavy website to load for a long time, you would have lost most of your prospective visitors.
So, when designing a website, remember to optimize your still and motion graphics. High-resolution graphics may be pretty to you on your large-screen monitors, but may be impractical on narrower bandwidths and smaller devices. The trick is to understand what the human eye perceives and to what lowest acceptable quality the graphics can be. Experiment and you may be surprised how forgiving our eyes can be, especially when you have good textual content.
An aesthetic website can only capture your visitors' attention for a brief moment, but the real content is what retains your visitors, and engage them to visit again and again. No amount of window dressing will entice visitors to retain, especially if they are bandwidth hungry and serves no practical purpose.
Focus on developing good quality textual content on your website, whether through your internal content, editorial or marketing teams, or through external agencies. Good textual content is also SEO-friendly (search engine optimization), and will trump any animation or graphic. It is far more difficult to tell good stories, or to present well-researched information, but the payoff is priceless. This is where you need to put good people and financial resources on.
What kind of content do you develop? It should be a good mix of short pieces, to longer pieces. Short pieces can be abstracts or comments, while long pieces can be analytical and research pieces. All of such content will have uses, and will attract difference audiences. The important thing is to keep the textual content fresh, with frequent updates. Search engines welcome fresh and good quality textual content.
4. Security conscious
We live in an increasingly menacing world today. You hear of frequent hacks on branded and lesser-known websites. It is not an easy task to manage.
A typical graphic designer turned website designer may not be adequately equipped to understand network and Internet security, including the securing of websites to back-end servers.
Therefore, audit the experience of your website developer to ensure that they are capable of not just doing up the front-end of your website, but take care of important matters such as website security (forms, plugins, themes), account security (.htaccess for example), and server security (Apache and SSL for example).
And security is not a once-off affair, but requires constant diligence. What is secure today may not be secure tomorrow. You need to find a website developer who is passionate about security, and treats security as even more important than website design. It is that important!
The trouble with some website developers is that they may either have many projects on hand, or have less commitment to your project than you hope for. It is important to find a website developer who is committed to your needs and will try his best to get the job done wisely, efficiently, and securely.
While you, the client, have a part to play in trusting and empowering the website developer to get his job done, you also need a long-term partner who will help you get the website up, be ready for business, and be with you as long as possible. Think of such a relationship like a marriage. It is certainly not a project-only relationship. It is much more, especially since many companies do not have in-house experience and expertise. You need someone or an agency who can keep your website up and running, and work, even if there may be crises or hazards that befall your website along the way.
When looking for a website developer, remember to look for deep expertise, and never be swayed by mere presentation. Your business today and tomorrow depends on a fast, compatible, secure website. A pretty face? It will pass.