What should I know before getting my website made?
April 21, 2011 1:26 PM   Subscribe

What did you wish you knew before you had your first website built.


We have picked out a web developer! It's actually an ad firm that does web design in-house. We have toured their studio and it's seems like a pretty good operation. Their websites are nice, too. They are also making our logo.

Since this is our first time getting a professional website built, I wanted to ask you mefites what did you wish you knew before you had a website made?

We are a small company that doesn't need a highly dynamic website. We will be using it to inform clients about our services and to contact us with scheduling request via an online email form.

We are having them make us a simple website with 5 pages tops. We will have a CMS for us to update it once a month. It will not have any video and will have minimal graphics.

Thanks in advance for any feedback and advice.

posted by NatProp to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
If I were having a web site designed, even if I didn't expect the content to change frequently, I would ask that they use some kind of content management system that would allow me to log in through a web interface and update all text, anywhere on the site. It's inevitable that there will be something you'll want to change or update or add, and being able to do that from any web browser, or even your mobile devices, will make that so much easier.
posted by jardinier at 1:33 PM on April 21, 2011

Have them develop your website using a content management system (CMS) so that you don't have to depend on them to make changes. You don't need anything heavy duty, but do use something that a lot of people are using so that when you outgrow this company (and you will), you'll be able to easily find another vendor, or train someone in house to do the work.

Have them give you the original artwork and the original template for your site as photoshop/illustrator files and the template as HTML/CSS so that if you need to move your site or modify the template you will have the original files to work from.
posted by elle.jeezy at 1:35 PM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

You should get the original artwork for your logo as well. Plus any special font(s) they might have used. Original being Photoshop or Illustrator with layers (unflattened).
posted by elle.jeezy at 1:39 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

The OP is going to have a CMS - third to last sentence it the post. I would make sure that the developer is using an off the shelf CMS, preferably something open source (Drupal, Joomla, Wordpress, etc) that has been extensively audited for security holes. If they created their own proprietary CMS it is almost certainly rife with security holes that will be exploited eventually so it looks like your organization is selling viagra or pirated software.

My biggest piece of advise is to make sure everyone in the decision making tree is on board with your final specification and sketches. It can be very frustrating with everyone if the end product has to be revised again and again because someone with veto power was not on board from the beginning.
posted by ChrisHartley at 1:40 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nthing elle.jeezy. Avoid flash like the plague. My company had a bad experience recently with a developer who said he was just doing a small portion of our site in flash and leaving the rest as easily editable. The whole website ended up being flash.
posted by HeroZero at 1:56 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am going to go against what ChrisHartley mentioned about off the shelf CMSes being "better" than proprietary CMSes. Most of the popular open source CMSes like Drupal, WordPress, etc actually have MANY security holes and have to constantly updated as new patches and versions are released. This does not mean proprietary CMSes are any better or worse.
If it is well built, it is possible that it has fewer security vulnerabilities than Drupal/Joomla. But of course you also run the risk of it not being built well and your site being prone to hacking. Also keep in mind, Drupal, etc are actually "easier" to hack since these platforms are so popular that they are targeted very frequently and have exposure to how the system works -- it's open source so you can find the vulnerabilities.

That being said, things to consider:
- QA/Testing: is there a QA team or people that will test the site to make sure it works properly, and check for vulnerabilities as well.
- Usually you can request to be sent a copy of all raw assets used in making the site. So the codebase, images (in psd form), etc. Even if you may not know how to use these, keep a copy in your own records in case you wish to have someone else modify the site in the future.
- Square away what type of OSes and browsers you want the site to look good in. Chrome, Firefox, etc. Don't ask for it to be compatible in IE6 unless you really need it to be compatible for some reason. The developer will certainly thank you for that.
- Have questions. Ask questions frequently and EARLY to make sure you get inconsistencies or problems figured out before they are built and require more time and resources to undo. This includes if you have any interactions (fades, moving items, etc). Like say, what happens when you click the form button. Any little things you may or may not expect.
posted by xtine at 2:02 PM on April 21, 2011

Don't use the phrase "new website" and avoid putting dates anywhere on your site. If you aren't going to be updating the whole site regularly (sounds like you won't need to) then avoid anything that will date the site to visitors. One of our sales guys has "visit our new website" at the bottom of his email signature and our website hasn't been 'new' since 2009. It is updated with new content but it isn't a new website. It bugs.

Understand that if you want people to give you their business, having only an online form may eliminate a portion of your potential customers. Some people don't like to fill out those pesky web forms. Some people might want to be able to contact you when they aren't sitting right in front a computer. I've also experienced giving in & filling out the form to never hear another word from that company. Maybe they aren't calling or maybe the form didn't work. Who knows?

Maybe that's not the nature of your business but give people many different ways of contacting you. It can't hurt.
posted by jaimystery at 2:03 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Really, really nail the requirements down before you initiate work. Get a sitemap included with the requirements. Get branding (including design) nailed down in the requirements. Prioritize features at the very start, and get the highest-priority features completed first. Go for a fixed-price contract. Reserve 10-15% of your available funds as a contingency (but don't tell the web dev).

But above all, nail down requirements at the beginning; really define them, right down to user behavior and site nav.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:19 PM on April 21, 2011

One thing I've seen website owners get screwed by is domain registration. Make sure you own and control the domain for your website, or there will will be a world of pain at some future date when your webmaster decides they're underpaid.
posted by pwnguin at 2:19 PM on April 21, 2011

To piggyback on jaimystery- avoid them temptation to pull in feed-based content like Twitter feeds, blogs, etc., unless you are absolutely committed to adding fresh content regularly. Nothing says neglect like a blog that hasn't been updated in several months.
posted by mkultra at 2:37 PM on April 21, 2011

Beautiful typography, simple but eloquent design, fast load time.
posted by Spurious at 5:11 PM on April 21, 2011

Most cms's do it, but make sure your urls look more like this:


And not:


Links end up being a little more permanent that way. You can switch to something running asp and keep the same URL structure.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:21 PM on April 21, 2011

Check out Paul Boag's Website Owner's Manual
posted by ahughey at 6:53 PM on April 21, 2011

Have an analytics strategy from the start: determine goals for your site and how you will track progress towards those goals. (For example, you mentioned a form—you'll want a conversion funnel for that process so you can see if people are dropping off at a certain point.)

Since they are going to give you a CMS, make sure that there's a maintenance or support section to the contract, as you definitely don't want to have your site taken down by an exploit because nobody applied a security patch from months ago.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 6:11 AM on April 22, 2011

I don't recommend using a Content Management System. Small changes made by a developer are less costly and less of a headache overall. Once you buy a CMS, you are generally locked into its layout and constraints. SO - if you're updating content somewhere weekly, sure, use a CMS. If not, I wouldn't bother.
posted by xammerboy at 11:48 AM on April 22, 2011

xammerboy - as someone who builds sites mostly because I can, I have to say that using a CMS might be a better idea for anyone who doesn't want to be beholden to the web designer forever. I don't use a CMS. But I wrote my own code, or cribbed it from elsewhere and adapted it to my site. Because I know how it works, and it's commented in ways that allow me to recognize which does what, it's easy for me to edit the content or design. For anyone else, it would be a mess. And this isn't slapped-together code, it's clean, validated, commented, code, with design and content fully separated.

I'm in the planning stages of helping a friend build a small 4-5 static page site for his business. I'm recommending he use a CMS, because I'm happy to help him but I want HIM to be able to change it as needed, without needing me to do it for him. That wouldn't be good for either of us. He may need changes that can't wait on my schedule, and while I'm happy to work for beer money I am not going to try to lock him into a situation where he needs to either pay me or learn HTML.

My advice? Keep a CMS in mind, with the recognition that you may end up being limited in some ways by the back-end. But despite the drawbacks xammerboy points out unless you are going to get someone in-house to do the updates it might be easier to use the CMS in the long run.

Lastly, validate that SOB. If you aren't getting a site that is written using clean code, you are asking for trouble in the long run. Assume that at some point someone other than the original designer is going to have to work on it. If you start with valid, standards-compliant code now, you'll be much better off in the future.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:34 PM on April 22, 2011

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