In this article, I will be covering some of the most important questions that I advise business clients should ask of prospective web developers. Of course, I also welcome people to ask me these questions and others as well.
How long have you worked with your preferred CMS’s?
This is tricky since there are additional factors that are also involved. For example, if the developer knows HTML, CSS, MySQL, and PHP very well, then it is probably fine to be less familiar with another chosen CMS. If the necessary web development skills are there when the individual starts to work with the CMS, then likely a few months of experience of serious CMS work would probably be the minimum, although 6-9 months would be preferable. However, if the developer does not possess the other web skills, then you might want to find someone with one to two years of experience with heir chosen CMS. (Therefore, you should ask both questions – general web development and CMS development.) As I have said previously, an individual’s ability to execute is more important than the CMS.
How many CMS websites have you worked on?
This is another tricky question, for the same reasons discussed above. Also, some websites are more sophisticated or larger than others. However, in general, search for a developer who has worked on a handful of various ones – perhaps 3 to 4 at a minimum. (However, if you are planning a simple website, have found somebody who is willing to “learn” on your website, and you have faith in the individual – then go ahead and give them a try! This world’s business community is in need of more people who are willing to work with beginner web developers. Most likely you will get a price break as well. However, if you have a more serious website, then I recommend you find a more experienced developer.
Can you customize templates?
A couple of points. First of all, be aware that no matter who you choose, the more that you deviate from a specific design template, the longer it will take a developer to meet your desires. I am not advising against customizations (I am actually a strong believer in them). However, it does take some skill to customize templates, and I believe they really need to be done “right” when it comes to different technical perspectives. Therefore, the more that you want a template to be customized, the more that I recommend that you look for someone who has a lot of experience doing this.
What capabilities do you have with server environments?
Fortunately, this doesn’t come up too frequently with Joomla or WordPress installs – especially if you are going to develop on a service that is hosted by a company that specializes in major CMS websites. However, those who are inexperienced in bigger CMSs frequently make the mistake of viewing hosting as a mere commodity and end up servers that are not particularly CMS friendly. That often results in a lot of wasted time (for both the developer and you) in solving problems that shouldn’t be there in the first place. My company hosts client websites on our own server space. Therefore, we do not run into server problems very often, and we have specialized tools s well on our servers so that common server settings can be addressed for functionality.
How familiar are you with MySQL and PHP?
This might not be critical for everyone. However, once you start to customize the system, it does become important then. Major CMSs such as WordPress and Joomla are written in PHP. Therefore, it is an important component. If a developer has good experience in those two areas (MySQL and PHP), then customizing and extending the CMS will take a lot less time (which most likely will translate into cost savings for you).
Which SEO services do you offer?
Although WordPress and Joomla do come with some good SEO settings, and they can be extended using some great SEO extensions, having personal SEO experience really can be beneficial for businesses. Not everybody needs or wants to be found within the organic search listings. However, it is a very common request. It can be very helpful if your developer is able to do this instead of having a developer create your website and then having to farm out your SEO to a different professional. My company gets requests occasionally to retrofit the SEO best practices for a website that others have set up. We also do encounter situations where the website could have been set up significantly better if the web development company that originally set up the site would have had better SEO and marketing knowledge along with their technical capabilities.
What type of marketing experience do you have?
It relates to the previous point but extends past SEO and into other fields such as traditional marketing and internet marketing. One glaring example that I often see is when websites host their own videos. There is almost always a huge missed SEO opportunity since if you posted them on YouTube and then embedded them, you could link from Youtube to your website, include keywords and descriptions on YouTube, and enjoy other benefits. (Another reason for hosting them off-site is bandwidth. Why not let Youtube deal with the load for free instead of pushing your own bandwidth limits?)
How familiar are you with CSS?
This is a big one. CSS mastery (or near mastery at least) for developers is like have an entire extra set of tools to customize a website with. It also lets you make tweaks to a template so it is exactly the way you want it instead of simply accepting 100% what a template offers. When it comes to content, this translates into having cleaner HTML code – which is styled based on current standards rather than a ton of inline spaghetti code (which tends to be worse for SEO). CSS is, fortunately, an internet-wide skill – not simply a WordPress or Joomla thing. Therefore, many developers are already very familiar with it
What process do you use to develop a website?
Every developer has her or his own answer to that question (or, potentially, no answer at all). However, I do still think it is worth it to ask this question, so you can get an idea of what a developer’s process is like.
What complementary skills can you offer?
Bonus Question – Security.
Security is a serious concern these days, with hacking and hacker stories in the headlines. Ask a prospective developer what their plans for security are. For example, does the developer use a software firewall? Have they fixed hacked websites before? Do they know what the best coding practices are for preventing SQL injection attacks? What recommendations and backup plans do they have to offer? These issues are all becoming increasingly critical.
I didn’t really cover “price” in my questions above. It is fairly complex and I have covered it elsewhere. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for. This is just as true when it comes to the web as anyplace else. I recommend that you don’t let seemingly high rates scare you off. Although there are certainly overpriced developers, it is also true that usually a $120/hour developer will most likely have more extensive skills and be more efficient compared to an $80/hour developer. I have personally seen numerous situations where the bottom line cost (and ROI as well) of a company would have been much better if they had hired a higher-priced developer!