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Choosing The Right Web Designer

These days everybody and their cat is a web designer, a friend of a friend who “knows computers” can put a website together for you… badly.

The underlying issue behind this I believe in many ways is a problem that I see on a regular basis working with new clients; which is the limited knowledge they have on what constitutes a good website. The majority believe that if the website looks pretty, then its a good website! This as many good web designers will tell you, is not the whole truth.

This article is intended to help people that are looking to commission a web design project to identify what constitutes a good website, to ask the right questions and to analyse the work of their chosen array of designers to establish which designer can produce the best website possible for the budget.

The Build

The Build of the website is as important, if not more than the design and layout of it, by build I mean the way the website has been coded. The build quality of a website effects many important factors that constitute a good website the major two being:

  1. Standards/Accessibility
    This is very important, your website should be 100% viewable by the widest possible audience, this includes people with disabilities that are using special browsing tools such as Screen Readers.
  2. Search Engine Friendliness
    If your website is not search engine friendly, it will cost you business. Your site will not appear as highly as it could in Google and other search engines if built incorrectly.

Accessibility

You could read for days about accessibility for the web, all the information you’ll need to know can be found here:
http://www.w3.org/WAI/
How deep you choose to go is really up to you , but I’d definitely recommend reading the Introduction to Web Accessibility.

A rule I adopt to aid with both of the above clauses is: Important text content, IE. headings and navigation bars should be actual text as opposed to an image. You can tell if a designer has used an image for something by simply trying to select the text with your cursor.

Valid Code

Having Valid Code is an indication of how well your website will display across the vast array of Internet browsers available, to a degree it is also a measure of accessibility.

You can check if a web page is valid using this tool:
W3.org HTML Validator
Similarly, you can check what level of compliance (if any) a web page has to current accessibility guidelines:
Accessibility Validator.

Content & Keywords

Content is another really important factor, content is what makes your website an information rich resource, these are the websites that Google will index higher because it can see that information being provided is rich and useful to searchers.
Take for instance a website homepage with hardly any text content; The Google web crawler comes across your site and sees a few images and little text, it then deems the page as not particularly relevant, Google then crawls your competitors website, which has a fair amount of content, with keywords strategically placed within the the page copy and headers, this is the website that will be indexed higher, providing all other SEO factors like inbound links are equal.
Getting a good web copywriter is essential to writing content for your website that reads well and that contains the right amount of relevant keywords.

Questions to ask Designers

  1. What version of HTML/XHTML will my site be built in?
    (XHTML 1.0 & 1.1 recommended.)
  2. Will my website be built without the use of tables for layout?
    (Using tables for layout is a depreciated method of coding and should be avoided at all costs!)
  3. What web browsers will my website be tested on and how?
    (The more the better, Firefox, IE 6,7 & 8 and Safari minimum.)
  4. To what accessibility standard will my website be built to?
    (“Section 508″ minimum, “WCAG Triple A” is the best.)
  5. For any Javascript or Flash based elements, will there be a text alternative provided?
    (Useful for viewers who don’t have flash installed or javascript enabled.)
  6. Will the pages of my site include individual META keywords & description tags?
    (Very useful for search engines.)
  7. Will you be providing a sitemap page and an XML sitemap?
    (Helps Google index the pages of your website.)

These questions should help you sort the wood from the trees when searching for a designer, if your designer is not sure how to answer any of these questions, its likely that he is not 100% clued up, so beware. Use the information and tools above to check their work, if you’re still in doubt, give us a call on 0800 611 8222 and we will give you free, non biased advice.

Contribution on this topic is more than welcome from other designers, please use the comments form below!


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Comments

  1. KrisBelucci said:

    Hi, good post. I have been wondering about this issue,so thanks for posting.

  2. Web Design Quote said:

    Nice post and the issue which you raise in your post that was right. I think if client knows these question then they can easily figure out that the designer are professional or not. Keep up the good work.

  3. Asim Ashraf said:

    Hey,

    interesting read it’s true you really do get what you pay for.

    You mentioned that:

    “You can tell if a designer has used an image for something by simply trying to select the text with your cursor.”

    Which most of the time is true but not always for example look at http://www.dollopdesign.com the headings appear as images but go to the source code and no image exists just text…magic?

    Good Blog.

  4. Levi Fowler said:

    I found your blog from another post discussing a similar subject, some very good points. Although not always put into practice some of big websites don’t even validate, it’s disapointing but expected with the browser wars.

    Thanks

  5. Upset Paying Site Customer (not yours) said:

    OMG. Just had a site designer rip me off. Have to hire another. Thanks.

  6. Rich said:

    Nice post, but to be honest most people do not know the web design jargon so even if they do ask the questions the answers will be meaningless anyway. I have been a web designer in Leeds for many years and most clients just want to be able to understand what all this technobabble actually means.

  7. Josh Connerty said:

    This is a very informative blog entry Ben! Is it okay if I link to this on my design website once I have built it?

    The question list is exactly what I would advise anyone to ask a designer, it’s important to understand how the designer/developer will bring your website to life. Also another note to add would be to make sure that their developers work in the same way as most developers can output whatever they want and the designer will just have to style it.

    I think a freelancer is definitely the way for small-medium sized businesses. In most cases we cost a little more but the overall result is double. As long as you pick the right one!

  8. Josh Connerty said:

    Oh and Asim thats a technique where they have set a background image, put menu text in but then put a text-indent: -1000px or something like that. That basically tricks the browser into thinking there is text there while adding a really snazzy image.

    Of course that is technical jargon that most of your clients wont understand. :P

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