A website is an essential tool for marketing your business. Just like you would do your research when buying a home or vehicle, you need to understand what you’re committing to when you pay someone to build your website. A website isn’t a tangible item that most people have, so it takes a little more research to fully understand what you’re getting. That’s why we put this guide together for you as asking these questions upfront will eliminate most of the potential problems you could run into. We created it based on years of conversations with our clients as well as the other web designers and developers that we work with.
1. Can you please explain all of the costs?
Websites typically have the following costs:
- Domain Name(s) Registration. (NOTE: you should never have your web designer register your domain name using their contact info)
- Hosting Fees.
- Maintenance Fees.
- Web Design & Other Consulting Fees.
- License Fees for Software, Images, and/or Media.
- SSL Certificate Fees.
You don’t need a line-item breakdown of every fee, but you should receive a cost breakdown that includes all upfront and recurring costs. We provide a cost breakdown of all major work components and at the end, we have the following two lines:
- First Year Cost
- Cost Per Additional Year
The first-year cost includes all build activities and any fees for the first year such as hosting, maintenance, and licenses. The additional year costs include recurring costs for hosting, maintenance, and any license fees that have a monthly/yearly cost associated with them.
2. What is the payment schedule and how do I pay?
Most web designers will ask for a deposit to begin work (25-50% is common). Some ask for it all up-front and you need to ensure that you trust the person before hiring them. Your contract should include a payment schedule as well as provisions for unfinished or extra work required.
Most web designers will accept checks, credit cards, or online payment tools such as Venmo or PayPal (we accept all).
3. When will my site be ready?
Most website designers will provide you with several key dates, including start & completion of work, design reviews, and other milestones. Not being able to put dates in a contract is a red flag – if the web designer is unsure, they should either be conservative with the dates or put in a stipulation such as:
“in order to complete the website by 12/31, the web designer must receive the final content from the client by 12/21. If all content is not received by 12/21, this may result in a delay in final completion of the website.”
4. Who will own my domain name?
If the answer is not you, then you need to find another web designer to work with. We have had a number of clients that have had their websites held hostage by their web designers. To avoid being in this situation, ensure that you own all of your domain names. You can provide your web designer access to update your domain’s records (so they can point your domain name at the new site). But if you have them register it on your behalf, ensure that they register it in your name and provide you credentials for the domain name registrar. You’ll also want something in writing that explicitly says that you own any domain names associated with the project.
5. How do we make updates?
This depends on your agreement about who will be making updates. Will you do it yourself, or will you have to pay the designer to make updates? If it’s the latter, ensure you know any fees and timelines associated with changes. Also, find out what type of access you’ll have to the site if you will be making the changes yourself (it’s not uncommon for web designers to withhold access until payments are current).
One tricky area is Admin access. We don’t recommend that our clients use their admin accounts for day-to-day activities such as blogging. Instead, we provide our clients with an editor account that limits access so they can’t break anything related to the design. We also provide them with the admin account credentials for their own records if desired, but recommend that they keep the credentials in a secure place.
6. What do I do if there’s a problem?
Technology can be finicky so it’s not uncommon for issues to arise, even a giant like Facebook which spends billions on its infrastructure was down for five hours one day. The big question is who to contact when there’s a problem. You also need to understand the method of contact (phone, email, chat, ticket system, etc…) and if there are any costs involved.
In most cases, your web designer will be your first point of contact, especially if you have a maintenance plan with them. If they just built your site and you’re on your own, you need to understand which service providers you need to contact when there’s a problem. Your hosting company will usually be your first point of contact when there’s an issue with your site and they may direct you to other service providers, such as a theme or plug-in developer.
We’re always the first point of contact for our clients, even the DIY ones, and we always specify costs for additional work in our contracts. If it’s small, we may not even bill for it.
7. Do you do performance testing? How fast will my website load?
If your website doesn’t load in 3 seconds or less, more than half of your potential visitors will go elsewhere. So you need to ensure that your web designer will have performance in mind when they build your site. At the very least, they should run a performance test on your site (such as https://speedtest.jvf.com). While these reports aren’t always perfect, they will point out problems.
Many inexperienced designers will add high-resolution images without resizing and compressing them, and this will make your site incredibly slow (we’ve seen sites that take over a minute to load). So make sure that you’re not getting just a beautiful site, but a site that people will actually be able to access.
8. Will my site be mobile-compatible?
More people will be looking at your site on a mobile device than on a laptop or desktop. So you need to ensure that your site looks good on a tablet, phone, and computer. Most web designers do this, but it’s a good idea to confirm. One trick to see how your site looks on different devices is to resize your browser while viewing your site – the site’s width is the key dimension here.
9. What security tools and protections do you put in place?
Even the largest companies with dedicated security teams get hacked so your web designer can’t guarantee that your site will never get hacked. However, they should have measures in place to minimize risks and problems. Some basic precautions are to use strong passwords, perform regular security scans & maintenance, review logs for potential threats, and ensure that all technology components are updated and locked down.
Also, your site should have an SSL Certificate. This ensures that the connection between your website and the visitor’s browser is encrypted. This is especially critical to have if you are collecting payments or any personal information on your site – not having this in place puts you and your visitors at risk. Also, many networks (especially schools and colleges, but also some businesses) will block access to sites without an SSL certificate. If you’re not sure whether your site is secure, look for a padlock in your address bar. For those using our hosting, all of our hosting plans include SSL certificates at no extra charge so you’re covered. We also include malware scanning tools, a firewall, and audit tools on every site we build and/or maintain.
A website can be a big and important investment for your business or brand, so it’s critical that you understand what you’re getting. We’d love the opportunity to work with you, but we also want you to be successful regardless of who you work with. That’s why we’ve provided these questions – asking them will result in a better result for your project.
If you have any questions on any of these topics or are looking for a second opinion or clarification, we’d love to help. Feel free to contact us either through our online form or call us at 978-707-9583.