Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Website Developer

The following is a list of helpful interview questions that can help you determine whether your potential website developer is an experienced professional. Your website is essentially a collection of graphics plus files that contain programming code of one type or another, and ideally you will hire someone who has experience with both design and development.

1. What program do you use to write your code? Do you or can you write much of your code by hand / from scratch?

AIM: to find out if the developer has scripting or programming skills. This is a good indicator of someone who is experienced in the field and has the kind of technical knowledge to create a good website, who can build custom tools and features into it, and who knows how to troubleshoot if a problem comes up.

AVOID: someone who doesn’t really understand the question, or who exclusively sticks to programs like Dreamweaver or GoLive, which allow a developer to create a site without necessarily writing any code by hand. This often results in a website that’s very difficult for someone else to update later, and you might have found someone whose skills tend more toward graphics and less toward technology. It’s better to find someone with skills in both areas, or a company where the designer creates the initial mockup and the developer then makes the design into a functional site.

2. What graphics programs do you use? Do you have a graphic designer on staff, or do you have graphics education yourself?

AIM: to end up with a site that’s both functional and attractive – and where user experience and information hierarchy gets taken into consideration.

There are many talented programmers out there who can create a terrifically functional site on the code layer, but if he or she has no graphics training they’re not likely to know how to organize information so that your most important content is immediately evident. The graphics may not be optimized for the Net (resulting in long load times), or they simply may not look good. Check out the person’s portfolio to see if the sites look professional. If you’re not sure, find a designer and ask for their opinion.

3. What kind of SEO service do you offer?

AIM: to discern whether the candidate knows about Search Engine Optimization and the importance of adding what’s called ‘meta data’ to your site, which allows the search engines to find you. The developer should have an SEO plan for your site. The developer should not charge an excessive amount of money for this service; adding basic meta tags is a simple task that should be done while your site is being built, and you generally no longer need to register your site with each search engines individually.

4. What kinds of statistics tracking tools do you have?

A good developer understands that you’ll want to know where your web visitors are coming from, if your print ads are bringing people to your website, and which keywords are effective in helping people find your site via search tools. A good developer will be able to make use of the stats tools that come with a hosting account, or will offer to install a quality stats tracker like the Google Analytics product. Web counters that display numbers on your webpage are no longer particularly cutting-edge or desirable compared to the newer options now available.

5. Where will my website be hosted?

Get the name of the hosting service that will be used to store your website files. You’ll likely get billed monthly or annually for this service, and unless your site is particularly large, contains many images (such as a comic strip website) or is resource-intensive (lots of tools and scripts for various tasks), a reasonable rate is between $15 and $30 a month. If the developer sets this up for you, make sure you have contact information for the hosting company and permission to speak to the hosting company about your website. I’ve often run into cases where the developer goes out of business and the owner of the website can’t access the site because the hosting company won’t release the login information to anyone who isn’t on their list of approved contacts.

Once you have the name of the hosting company, look them up – is their website professional looking? Where is their head office? See what they charge for hosting (so you can see how much the service is being marked up, if the developer is reselling the service to you).

6. Where will my domain name be registered? How much will it cost me per year?

If you are allowing a website developer to register your domain name for you, make sure you know the name of the business where it’ll be, and ensure that you or someone at your business is listed as the Administrative Contact so you maintain some control over your domain. If the website developer refuses to share this information, it’s a warning sign that they’ll likely make it difficult to to go elsewhere if you’re not satisfied. A reasonable rate for domain name renewals is between $5 and $25 per year. Any more than that, and the developer is likely marking up the price significantly.

7. Who owns my finished website?

The answer to this question should be “You do”. You’ll want to determine that the developer is willing to release the site’s files to you should you choose to take your business elsewhere (assuming that you’ve kept your accounts paid up).

8. How often do you take backups?

An experienced website developer will have your website hosted someplace that does daily or weekly backups automatically. It’s also good to hear that the developer takes a backup before upgrading anything or making major changes to your site.

9. What’s your standard turnaround time for updates after the site is launched?

Look for a number that you can live with here.

10. How do I get a hold of you if I need anything?

You should be given a phone number if you specifically ask for it. It can be easier for a developer to take task requests by email because that documents the work to be done, but in case of emergencies the developer should let you call during business hours. If you’re working with a freelancer, he or she may not answer the phone immediately but you should expect a response of some kind within a reasonable period.

11. What are your qualifications?

Whatever the person tells you, do a little research. Not all web development classes are created equal. There are quite a few developers who are self-taught to a degree, and their work will speak for itself in terms of quality.

12. How many years have you been doing this?

The more the better, although if the person tells you they’ve been building Web 2.0 sites since 1983, they’re not being honest with you.