How to Choose a Web Development Company

By Mamie Patton | May 27, 2016

Choosing a web development company is much like building your own home. You want someone reputable, affordable, and most of all someone who understands what you want. You want a home that is perfect for you long after the builder completed the job. Choosing a website company is like choosing a builder. It can be daunting. Here are some pointers to guide you through the process of choosing the right development company.


Giving (and receiving) the 3rd degree

First things first: why do you need a new website? It could be you don’t have a site at all, but most businesses already have an established domain with a site in place. That site may have problems with functionality, aesthetics, or may not properly reflect your organization. Whatever your reasons for wanting a new site, try to pin down how and why the current site is failing you, and the main things you want to accomplish by building a new one. Communicate this to the web development company as best you can. Provide examples of what you like and don’t like from your existing site, or even other sites—especially competitors.

Any designer/developer worth their salt will ask (a lot of) questions in an attempt to get at your company’s roots. If she doesn’t seem curious about everything from your business goals to your target audiences to the history of your company, grow wary. You want to work with someone who has a deep and sincere curiosity about your wants and needs. That way, they can create your opportunities.

Also recognize this is your investment, and you’re allowed to ask questions too. Website builders have a language all of their own, and they may assume you completely understand it when they ask, “Since Drupal is more flexible with API dev’, are you okay working with a CMS outside of WordPress?” Ask them to stop and explain anything you don’t understand. A good developer welcomes your questions, and a great developer can give you a layman’s answer.


Great Plans Lead to Great Sites

Following our analogy, a top builder will not just start building your home once you have selected them for the job. They will insist on a long (seemingly tiresome) and disciplined plan. Every detail of the architecture must be defined in specifics. It’s not enough to say, “Give me a big kitchen.” How many sinks? Do you want a faucet by the stove for your pasta cooker? A professional grade six burner stove that requires special hookup? A super quiet ventilation system so your bedroom doesn’t harbor the odor of steamed mussels? You get the drift.

Websites are as complicated as houses, and the details must be defined in the beginning if you want to avoid extra cost and disappointment down the road. If your prospective developer is not insisting on an analysis of needs and planning, then pump the brakes. Website planning is akin to the measure twice, cut once rule. We’ve seen the results time after time when developers just built a site without really understanding the functional and performance needs, and as result the clients end up with a site that does not deliver on the investment. In short, they’ve a brand new site that didn’t solve any problems, or help them reach any business goals.

(Side note: We frequently get new clients who say, “Oh, we don’t need to spend budget and time on that initial analysis phase, we know everything we want.” Then we start asking questions, and all kinds of, “Oh yeah, we forgot about that!” discoveries arise. They end up thanking us. Only by doing a thorough analysis can we provide a plan that will deliver your dream site.)

Along with a complete plan, there should be specific recommendations for measuring results. Ask questions to ensure there’s tangible value for this investment six months down the road. A quality web development company will welcome this.


Check Out their work.

Before you’d allow a construction company to dump a ton of bricks onto your fresh acreage, you’d want to see their previous work. If you’re seeking someone experienced in building two-story brick homes on a hillside, you shouldn’t hire the Log Cabin Boys. Do your research and ask to speak with someone for whom they’ve recently built a home.

While it’s important you’re confident in the case studies presented by each company, a first-hand referral is sure to ease the mind. Peruse the sites they’ve chosen to feature, and approach them critically. In an ideal world, they’ve produced sites within your industry, and you can navigate each page with the same mind a customer would swim through yours. That said, keep an open mind to developers who’ve build a variety of sites. Sometimes varied experience is better than area-specific ability. Of course you want to find someone capable, but preexisting advantages don’t always reveal themselves plainly. In short, research pays off.


Be Real About Your Budget. And Realistic About Website Costs.

Today’s websites are far more complex, and thus costly, than websites of even a few years ago. Consumers expect better performance, more functionalities, and top quality user experiences. If not, they are quickly off to a competitor’s site. It’s not unusual for companies that haven’t built a site in five years to be surprised at the cost of one today. So be real about your budget, but be real about today’s marketplace, and realize the internet is an ever-changing environment. Reputable website companies will work hard to get you most for every dollar invested, and in most cases, you’ll get what you pay for.

Know how much you’re willing to spend on the site, and don’t lose sight of the project as an investment. You want to connect to your customers in the most effective way possible, and knowing a budget gives the developers a good idea of how best to prioritize your site needs. They may recommend that it be built in phases, meaning facets X and Y come first, with Z and Q to come down the road. (Having that analysis and plan in place will help you do this.)


The bottom line:

Look for a web development company that will guide you through the process and help you create a detailed plan before they begin development. You should feel comfortable with them and they should welcome your questions. Mutual trust is mandatory with any big investment, especially one where your business is on the line.

Know your budget within the context of marketplace realities and work with your website builder to maximize it. Approach the scenario openly. Don’t think of developers as untrustworthy car mechanics. Look out for your best interests, but realize that no one is planning on shaking you down.

Ask lots of questions. Any web development company with expertise will welcome them. For that matter, ask us. We’ll be happy to talk.