Hiring a web designer can be an intimidating process for many small business owners.  If you don’t know the language, how do you know what to ask?

In this list I present some of the most important questions and some guidelines for good answers.  If your prospective designer answers these to your satisfaction, that’s a good sign that he or she is at least a reliable professional with a style that matches your own ideas, and that’s a very good place to start.

  1. Will my website look uniform in all browsers?

Different browsers will present your website differently.  At a minimum, a designer should test your site in Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, and Safari (for Mac users).  Internet Explorer and Opera are also common browsers.

  1. Can you show me some other websites that you’ve built?

The designer should have a portfolio available for viewing online.  Review it carefully and make sure that the look and feel of their past work is comparable to the look and feel you want to demonstrate on your website.  Check out the sites themselves – do you see any obvious errors?  Do they work properly and are they easy to navigate? Do you like their work?  If you don’t, probe a bit more to see how they react to your vision.  If you can’t come to an agreement now, then they’re less likely to come up with something that will please you in the future.

  1. Do you offer web maintenance, or will I be able to update the website myself?

The designer should tell you how your website was built – straight HTML code, CMS (content management system) or private label alternative (proprietary).  A website built for easy content management will allow you to make edits and add pages without knowing anything about HTML or other coding language. The designer should show you some examples of how this works and training should be included in any quote.

  1. How will you make my website more accessible to disabled visitors?

The designer should be able to describe what he or she will do to make a site accessible and should have basic knowledge of Section 508 accessibility standards.

  1. How will you make my site search engine‐friendly?

A professional and proactive web designer is knowledgeable about SEO and can tell you what he or she will do to improve your website’s search engine rankings.  If your web designer implements SEO strategies while the website is being constructed, that will save you time and more importantly, money in the months after your website has launched.

  1. Who owns the rights to the website when you’re finished building it?

This is an easy one – you should own the rights to the website. And you should be able to pick up and move to another designer with little difficulty and no legal issues, if needed.

  1. Will you give me all the website files after launch?

You should get a copy of all files created or used in the development of your site, as well as backups of any databases the designer created.  If the web designer is also hosting your website for you, you should also have an account to access both the administrative backend and the web hosting account unless he or she offers backup and restore services with their hosting package.

  1. Do you have references I can contact?

This is a must! Find out if the other clients were pleased with the work and the relationship.  You can even check their portfolio website for testimonials.

  1. Do you write clean, valid, table‐less code?

If they say yes, this means that they use modern web design techniques and are familiar with the current best practices in the industry. Valid code means code that’s been checked for errors. Table‐less refers to the use of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), which help separate the content of your site from its appearance. Sites that are designed this way are much less expensive and time‐intensive to update or change in the future.

  1. Will you register domain names for me?

The answer to this should be no.  A good designer will tell you how to register your own domain name. There are many horror stories about companies who had someone register names for them, then had to fight a legal battle to get them back.

  1. Are you experienced in designing _______ websites?

Does the designer have experience in your industry or in a similar industry? If they don’t, it’s not necessarily a bad thing because to some extent websites are websites; a good designer will learn about your industry as they work with you – this should be the case on all the websites they design – as part of their design process. But if they do, you’ll want to see those examples in more detail.

  1. Will I be working directly with you?

Find out if the designer will pass off your website to another developer or even outsource some or all of the work. If you want a personal working relationship with someone you’ve met, this could be an issue.

  1. Will I be able to see my website while you’re building it?

It’s easy for the designer to put up a mockup of the website on a production server so that you can view the work in progress.

  1. How much will it cost?

To most business owners, this is the most important question.  After a full consultation, the web designer should be able to provide you with a thorough quote explaining the tasks involved, what you, the client, must provide, and itemized costs.  Do not be discouraged if your designer doesn’t tell you how much your website will cost in the first 30 seconds after asking this question!  Be leery of flat rate pricing; all websites aren’t created equal so your pricing should be based on your individual needs and the components the website will require to accomplish your goals.

  1. What about security?

This is also an important question. Any website in today’s day and age is collecting some information from it’s visitors; this information is valuable to you as you try to cater to your customer. But it is also valuable to cyber criminals.  Your designer should include a Terms of Service page and a Privacy Policy page to be compliant with today’s privacy laws.  This should not be an extra cost unless you are required to secure all communication on your website via an SSL certificate – for example, if your website is of the eCommerce variety.

I’ve been designing websites for 20+ years and I’m passionate about technology and helping people. I create new websites and redesign outdated websites for small businesses and offers web marketing advice to get my clients involved with their customers via their website – your website launch should be the beginning of your business relationship, not the end!

You may reach out to me directly if you would like to get started on your business’s website!