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The aim of this guide is to assist anyone who is looking to have a website built by a web designer or developer and arming them with some key questions to ask a potential supplier before engaging their services.

The key questions below can equally apply to someone who has an existing website and would like to check off on how their website has been built.

Key Questions

What is the strategy for the site?

The first phase of your website project should be to work out the strategy. Like any decent sized undertaking, there needs to be a clear plan of what the website is about and what its purpose is.  Make sure you ask any potential supplier what they intend to do in regards to understanding your needs.

What technology will the supplier use to build the website?

There are many different technologies that can be used to build your website.  You need to make sure your potential supplier is able to clearly explain their choice and the benefits.

Will the site be built with security in mind?

You need to make sure that your potential supplier are aware of the many threats on the internet and are able to implement a website that is coded to defend against these.

You could ask your potential supplier if they know how to defend against “SQL Injection” or “SPAM Relay Attacks”.

Will the site be built with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) in mind?

There are many web designers that don’t understand how important SEO is and how the coding of your website will deeply impact your results in most search engines.

For example, if your potential supplier is pitching to build the website entirely in Flash then your website content could be invisible to Google.

What about usability?

Does your potential supplier understand usability and follow best practise.  If not, you could end up with a website that confuses visitors and loses them.

What about accessibility?

Does the potential supplier know about accessibility standards?  You want to make sure this is considered when having your website built.

Does the supplier have sound procedures and processes they follow?

You want to make sure your website is built well from the start; a supplier should have sound processes in place to manage your website project life cycle.

Who retains the intellectual property (IP)?

Check that you own the website you are paying for at the end of the day.  If you want to pick up your website and move it to another supplier one day, you want to make sure you are able to do so.  Some companies retain the IP used to build your website, which means that you don’t own it.

Tip: You could ask for “full website source code” and “technical/configuration documentation” as part of the deliverables.

Does the supplier use source control when building your website?

You will want to make sure your supplier has implemented best practice when undertaking your website development project.  Source control will aid in the tracking and versioning of your web application and can prevent major issues cropping up during the development process which can lead to delays.

 Do they follow strong change management principals?

This is important for the ongoing well-being of your website.  You don’t want a developer making changes “on the fly” on a live website that may break it; you want to ensure that there is a clear plan for rolling out changes to your site and a roll-back plan should there be any issues with the deployment.

 Is the supplier well established?

The longer a supplier has been around in business, the more likely they are to have the right things in place to build and manage your website.

 What is the size of the team?

You want to make sure there’s some substance to the development team.  You don’t want your website built by one person who has no back-up/redundancy.

 Is the website going to require regular updates and maintenance?

You want to know what you’re in for when it comes to ongoing costs.  Some systems require regular updates and patches.

 Is the website built using open source or 3rd party systems?

This is important for you to know so you understand what you are getting.  There is definitely a place for open source and 3rd party systems in the market; make sure you understand what ongoing maintenance there may be with the proposed system.

For example the platform used may require regular updates and patching for the ongoing health and security of your website.

 Does the supplier outsource the hosting to another company?

It’s important to know what relationship your developers have with the hosting company.  A development company that has close ties with hosting are often in a better position to diagnose website issues and won’t shift blame when they crop up.  It can also lead to faster problem resolution; important if you’re relying on your website to have maximum up time.

 What is the physical location of the hosting environment?

If your target audience is Australia based, then you don’t want your website hosted overseas; this can lead to poor website performance.

 Don’t trust your e-Commerce with just anyone!

Make sure your supplier has proven experience in the field and has produced e-Commerce websites that hold up to PCI compliance standards and testing.

 Does the supplier have professional indemnity insurance?

You just don’t know what can happen and you want to make sure your potential supplier is covered should there be a major issue.