There are a lot of companies offering web design out there. These are just some of the questions to ask before buying a website.
1. Can you use your own hosting or do you have to use theirs?
If you have to use their hosting, you are going to pay too much; period. I have never seen an exception to this rule in over 10 years.
Companies that charge a down payment and then charge $30-$100 per month are living off of that monthly fee. It’s why the cost is so little up front. The problem is they own the work they did for you and if you cancel, you’re out of luck.
The cost to host a website for a local business is around $6/month and $10/year for the domain. How much are you paying?
After 5 years of building websites and trying various web hosting companies, there is one that has stood out above the rest. That company is InMotion Hosting. They are on the cutting edge of technology and have all SSD installed servers which means blazing fast speeds for your web apps. WordPress runs almost unbelievably fast for the price you pay and the site load time is just as impressive. The load time and speed when you are inside the WordPress back-end literally is comparable to using a VPS solution which would cost $50/month on the low end. To top it off you also get $300 in Advertising credits which is perfect to use for my customers to test out various markets like Facebook Ads, Bing, and Google Ads to see what works the best for them.
You can sign up for a web hosting account with inmotion by clicking the image below and if you are interested in getting your website professionally made, please get in touch. I am running a temporary promotion; the price will NOT remain this low (contact me for exact pricing) so if you need a website made and are looking to get it done by a professional at a bargain of a price, ACT SOON because I simply cannot afford to keep this pricing for much longer.)
2. What platform is the website being made on?
About 50-70% of the companies I come across still make websites hard coded. That is, pure html, no backend, no user interface. These types of sites are EXTREMELY difficult to make changes to for non-programmers. (Even if you are a programmer, it’s a very inefficient way to maintain a website. Plus this type of design forces the company to charge you inordinate sums of money for updates to the site you may need down the line.)
The alternative is to use a content management system. Drupal, Joomla and WordPress are some of the most common CMS’ out there.
I prefer WordPress because it has a huge plug-in repository, a huge user base where it’s easy to get support and an easy to use back-end where I can teach customers how to make changes to their own site so they aren’t stuck paying someone hourly (even if that someone is me). About 20% of all websites on the web have been made with WordPress. It is also one of the absolute best platforms for SEO that I’ve ever seen. When I put up jcweb.org I was ranking for keywords I wasn’t even trying to rank for, just because of the way WordPress handles on site optimization. That said, just using WordPress and calling it a day is not going to be anywhere near enough to handle your on site optimization by itself, but it’s a great start.
3. Can you make changes to your website on your own after it’s done? How difficult will it be? Will a training be included?
Every website I do includes a training session to show the buyer how to make updates to their site on their own, without having to pay me to do little changes for them. I also include a written tutorial they can reference. Every website also includes a copy of Visual Composer and many other premium plug-ins that they will own and can use as much as they please. (For example revolution slider, iThemes Security, Testimonial plug-ins, pricing table plugins, high quality photo galleries, Master Slider and more)
If the site being made is on WordPress, that’s a good start. But what else does it come with? Does it include a visual editor like Visual Composer? Most of the time the answer is no, because Visual Composer costs money and most of these web design shops want to keep their expenses low.
The truth is though, having a visual editor like the Visual Composer is a must if you ever plan on making changes to your site on your own without paying someone else to do it. Editing your site will be very difficult without profound knowledge of HTML and CSS, and learning those proficiently takes time and dedication.
4. Will you own the site after payment is made?
This question sounds almost too ridiculous to even need to be asked, but unfortunately, it must. If the payment schedule looks anything like this:
$395 down/$49 per month
$695 down/$99 per month
or any other variation of X down, X per month, you better read over the contract very carefully. Why is it so little down? Why so MUCH per month?
Remember, business web hosting costs around $6 to $7 per month. $99/month after 5 years is $5940. That’s an absurd amount of money to be paying for website hosting. That’s why these x down y per month schemes were invented; to trick the buyer into thinking they are paying less money. You would be much better off just paying up front for your website for something that you will own and will last for years, as opposed to being drained of thousands of dollars little by little, year after year.
99% of the time when a web design shop does this type of payment plan it’s because they own that website they make you. You can’t take it with you and use another host. If you don’t want to (or can’t) pay that monthly fee any more or you’ve found a better, cheaper webhost, you’re out of luck. You’re the one who signed their agreement after all (and when you mention terminating the agreement, that’s exactly what they’re going to tell you)
Example of a real agreement termination clause, with names changed:
Following termination, (a) client will be responsible to pay the remaining term b) after which no amount not then payable under this Agreement will become payable nor will any amount paid be reimbursable, and (b) [COMPANY NAME REMOVED] shall own all work product produced up to such time.
5. Does the website come with any off site SEO? (Search Engine Optimization)
Unless you are getting some kind of package deal that comes specifically with off-site SEO (like our Monolith package), if the answer isn’t ‘no’, be suspicious.
Why? Because when someone does a bad job building you backlinks (they mess up the anchor text, use low quality spam links on chinese sites etc.) it ends up counting against you. If they do it the wrong way, your site could be blacklisted from Google, Bing and Yahoo.
If they claim they offer off-site SEO, ask specifically what they do. Do they do link building, articles, wikis, what? For how long? What is their approach and philosophy to SEO?
Will you show up for ‘Dentist Connecticut’, just because you’re a dentist in Connecticut? Nope, not going to happen. Off-site Search Engine Optimization is necessary to get your business ranked on Google. Without it, you are just another website among billions of others on the web.
You aren’t going to get real SEO with the standard website special at your local web design shop, though.
Search Engine Optimization, on the low end, costs $499 per month and on the high end up to $2000-$5000k per month for small-medium sized businesses. You aren’t going to get any kind of decent off site SEO on the cheap. Clients that are most concerned with exposure and getting more business should check out our Monolith package; it’s given consistent results since we’ve started it.
6. Does the website come with any on site optimization? (On Site SEO)
A lot of places will tell you they do your on site optimization. If they say yes, ask them what kind of on site optimization they do.
Do they just put your town in the title tag and stuff a bunch of keywords into your meta keywords tag and call it a day? Or do they do real on site optimization: Titles, Headings, ALT tags on images, TITLE tags on links, XML sitemaps, Meta descriptions (UNIQUE meta descriptions, not copy and pasted onto every page), Breadcrumbs? What about rich snippets? Do they even setup Google Webmaster Tools? What about Google analytics?
95% of the time I see a web design company advertisement, they also offer SEO, and 95% of the time their idea of SEO is what worked 10 years ago; not what works in 2015. That means keyword stuffing, high % exact match anchor text links, invisible text, short content and other things that Google has caught on to a long, long time ago (read up on Google Penguin and Panda.)
For example, I still see people putting way too many exact match keyword phrases in their on site content. This method is long gone and Google knows how to pick up on this; they WILL penalize you for it. For on site SEO, synonyms should be used to avoid over-optimization penalization. (do a search for “ct home remodeling” and see what you get; you will notice results being bolded for words like “connecticut” and “renovation”)
7. Do they have a portfolio?
Most web design companies have portfolio’s. Take a look at some of their past work. When you look at the sites, do the pages end with ‘.html’ or ‘.htm’? That will tell you it’s a static site; i.e. not changing, stays the same. Static sites are almost impossible to make updates to. Google prefers fresh content, so being able to keep your site up to date is going to be a big selling point if you have any concern with having return visitors and a better chance of ranking on Google and Bing.
If you are really adventurous, Right click one of their portfolio sites and do a ‘View Page Source’. Do a search for “table”, this is a classic indicator of deprecated coding. If there is <table>, <tr>, and <td>’s all over the place, you are looking at a dated website. Why look for this? Because if you are getting a new website in 2015 and your web design company is using hard coded HTML and tables to design it, you need to turn around and run far, far away. ‘Flash’ is outdated as well and should not be used so if you see that in their web design features list, you know they have NOT been keeping up with the times and you will have a hell of a time making updates to that website.
8. Will they make small changes for you at no cost? If not, how much is their rate?
Even though we do a full training on updating their new site with each client, we have no problem making small changes if they don’t feel comfortable with making them. Text edits, image changes are usually not a problem and can be done for no cost. Larger changes and page additions will usually incur some kind of fee but it is always reasonable.
9. Can they add social media plug-ins and add-ons to your site?
Social media has become such a huge deal these days that even if you yourself don’t use them, it would be unwise to completely ignore their usefulness in getting the word out about your business. These are just some of the social media related plug-ins and add-ons I’ve implemented for clients:Recent Tweets in the Footer or Front Page
A Facebook likes/shares, Google +1 sidebar on your blog posts or other pages (as you see on this page)
Recent Instagram Photos
Youtube videos embedded on your page(s)
and many more.
10. Will the website be responsive? Will it be mobile-friendly?
When a website is made to be mobile-friendly, Google will pick up on it and will show your website as follows:
Besides this search engine benefit, responsive websites are a must. They ‘respond’ to the type of device being used and display the website accordingly. Whether the site is viewed on an Iphone, a blackberry, HTC One, a Laptop, an iMac or PC, a responsive website will look good on all of these devices.
Responsive websites are the future. If you are getting a website made in 2015 and it’s not responsive, you will lose business because of it!
If when shopping for a website you ask only these 10 things, you will be in good shape to decide whether or not you’ve found a place that’s right for you. Ask even 5 of these questions and you will have them thinking “This guy knows a thing or two, I better be careful with what I say.”
After reading this you might be surprised by the amount of fault, inconsistency and flat out incompetence shown by most of these web design shops, but unfortunately it’s dead on.
Part of the issue is that inexperienced college students will use a template or two and then tell their family they make websites. You then use that person (because they’re family and you know them) only to be dissatisfied with the results. I see this happen all the time. The other problem is you’ve got big name brand places that simply slap your name on a template site and call it a day, charging next to nothing (because they did next to nothing; no on site optimization, no add-on plug-ins to give you the ability to easily make updates to your site and countless other atrocities) as the other part of the problem why people have been brought into thinking that they don’t have to pay more than a few hundred bucks to get a great website.
As far as price, when getting a custom website made in 2015 to have it done the right way you would be looking to pay anywhere from $1500 and up, depending on your needs. E-Shops would generally be $2000 and up but if they are simple with not too many categories/products.
What it all comes down to is this; if you are paying $500 for a website, you should expect $500 work; a static HTML site that’s going to be very difficult to update, and shoddy (or non-existent) on site optimization.
Web design is half art, half science and finding someone who has gotten both of these things down can be difficult. Hopefully these 10 questions will give you a starting place to figure out if you’re dealing with someone who truly has the knowledge and background to be your web adviser and/or designer.
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