Let's face it. No matter what you plan to do with your online marketing, once you've decided your business needs to be on the web you're going to have to get a website.
Figuring out exactly what you want, or rather need, is not easy. Especially if you're a newbie and have never really done much on the web except visit Facebook and send a few emails.
Approaching web designers can be a bit daunting – especially if you're not as geeky as you'd like to be. Fear not: here are a few things to ask, and why you need to ask them.
1) Can you show me some sites you've already made?
Why?: Because you want to see what they can do in the first place.
2) How many preliminary designs do I get to choose from?
Why?: Designers will often ask you some fairly detailed questions about what you want and then go away and offer you a few designs to choose from. Make sure you understand that you can't endlessly keep asking for more and more designs, unless you have a big budget. From the outset you want to know how many preliminary designs you can look out and how much tweaking and changing you can make. Once the design is agreed, be prepared to pay if you want any further changes.
3) How SEO friendly will my site be?
Why?: No matter what people tell you, your site needs to work well with Google to help you get up as close to the top of search engine results.
Many WordPress designers and developers work with either use a premium theme like the Genesis Framework or Thesis and customize these. They are robust frameworks that come pre-installed with lots of SEO goodness. However, this can be increased if they install the Google XML Sitemaps plugin, which tells Google when your site map is updated.
If you're not sure what a plugin is, just think of it as a bit of extra code that you can add into your WordPress to help it do cool, custom things that the standard install of WordPress doesn't do.
Designers that create templates from the ground up can also produce excellent sites, primed for SEO. They'll use plugins like the All-in-One SEO pack.
Others might recommend you use things like Copyblogger Media's Scribe plugin, to help you with writing SEO copy. See Scribe for WordPress In Action!
4) How fast will my site be?
Why?: Google wants your site to load quickly, but so do visitors to your site. Remember: we have the attention span of gnats nowadays. You want your site to load super quickly.
Now some designers will expect you to take care of sorting out your web hosting yourself; others will recommend you host your site i) with them or ii) a specialist hosting company they recommend.
Web hosting has a lot to do with the speed of your site. If you're a business just starting out I'd recommend you look at MediaTemple. If you're a small business just starting out the Grid Server is fine. You can always upgrade if you're getting more traffic or selling a lot of digital products from your site.
You might also want to know if they're going to install the W3 Total Cache plugin. This is a great WP for helping speed up sites.
5) How easy will it be to post to my site?
Why?: You need to have some idea of what's involved running your own website. Try to make sure your new site includes a bit of help getting started using the site. Ask if you can be shown how to: upload pictures, add audio files, embed a video, etc, as well as adding new posts and pages.
6) Who is going to update my site?
Why?: The thing about Open Source software like WordPress is that it is updated several times a year. Plugins are also updated and some become obsolete. A well-functioning WordPress means keeping it up to date to ensure it keeps working and is secure from attacks.
Updating your site is not necessarily as simple as point and click. Sure, it's meant to be nowadays and this is often the case; but do you know how to update your site ? Do you know what to do if it breaks ? Do you even want to be bothered with this kind of stuff?
It's a good idea to try and agree a price or process for keeping the site in good running order when you agree the project. Some folks will be able to handle themselves, and to be honest you can do this quite easily if you're prepared to hunt information down from time to time. Others will pay an hourly fee to have their site updated.
It's important you agree a service contract. Personally, I would want to know if the company provide support and continued service – for a fee, of course – before I hired them to build the site.
I'd be mightily frustrated to get a finished site to be told; “Hey, you're on your own now.”
7) How do I back up my site?
Why?: Sites crash and burn. Period. You need to know what data you should back up or if there's a process in place. Personally, I recommend you ask them to install the WordPress Database Backup plugin. It's so cool that it will send you a back-up by email each week, if you like. Remember, though: you need to back up the media (images, audio, etc) to your site separately.
There are, of course, a stack of things to ask a potential web designer. What other questions should we ask ? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.