There reaches a stage in many web site owner’s lives where their web design skill set is not at the level they need to fulfill their vision. As a frustrated web designer myself (i.e. I enjoy coding but I have zero eye for design) I have often thought about paying some one else to set up a site for me to get the ball rolling. But with every man and his uncle claiming to be able to design a website, what questions should you be asking a prospective designer; be it a friend, someone recommended to you or someone who advertises their services?

“Have you any examples of previous work and what was your contribution to that project?”
Never take anyone on blind, and nail them down as to what they actually did on that site. For big projects they may simply have added a new logo or added some code, but they put the entire site in their portfolio.

“Will you provide a content management system so I can add new content myself easily?”
You do not want to be in a position where every time you need to make the smallest change to your web site’s copy you have to contact them, and probably be charged for the change. Make sure they empower you through the addition of a content management system such as WordPress.

“Will you set up the web hosting account and register the domain name in my name and address?”
This is a massive point and one you must ask. We get a lot of issues at 123-reg where a designer has bought the hosting and registered the domain using their own details and further down the line the site ‘owner’ finds out they in fact are not the legal owner, the designer is.

“Will you give me all the source files?”
A web page is made up of multiple components and source files, e.g. logo, picture, CSS file(s), HTML, PHP etc which in a couple of years you may want to edit or change completely. If you don’t have the files that make up your site and don’t want to use the same designer again, you’ll have to start from scratch!


“What on-site SEO techniques will you employ?”
These are the elements of the website the site owner can influence to increase their search engine rankings. I would expect a good response to cover the <title> and <h> tags, keyword frequency in the opening paragraph, the page’s URLs structure and keyword usage, the use of a site map so site can be crawled easily, and their approach to the internal link structure.

“Can I see drafts before you begin coding?”
First and foremost you have to like the site and feel comfortable it represents what you are trying to achieve. Make sure you get input at each stage in the direction the site is going, or if that is a bit grand for the amount of money you are paying, give the designer clear direction at the start.

“Will you add site analytics for me?”
Get the designer to add free Google Analytics tracking in to your site (using an account you own!) so you can monitor visits to your site etc. If they try to charge you mention its simply copying and pasting code and its a free service from Google.

Those are the questions that spring to mind for me, if you have any others you would recommend leave a comment below.

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19 Responses

  • Peter Edley

    No questions but someone reading your article would believe that wordpress is a Content Management System when really it is only blogging software that can be hacked(tricked) into working like a CMS and good designer would use a proper CMS (ie MODx, joomla, Drupal, etc…) Just to mention a few and which of these they would use should not just depend on what they prefer but what the client wants at the end.

    September 20, 2008 at 9:32 pm
  • John

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for leaving a comment. Funnily enough, I was chatting about this with one of our designers here last week.

    You’re spot on in that it isn’t a CMS in the proper sense, but I think it’s still an option for some websites, especially as the line between blogs and ‘normal’ style sites seems to be getting increasingly blurred. For instance, guess what’s behind http://www.number10.gov.uk. Yep, it’s WordPress.

    I suppose it’s horses for courses really – it comes down to what fits your needs. And I agree completely that if you’re a designer, it really does (or should) come down to what the client needs, not to what you want to to force onto them.

    Cheers,

    John.

    September 22, 2008 at 9:53 am
  • Adam Collis

    Hi Matt,

    All good stuff but I want to make one comment. When considering whether to have a website that includes CMS or not, you may want to find out how much you could save by having a normal website.

    If you don’t plan to change the website very often and could save a significant amount by not having CMS then it’s not worth paying for the CMS. The money you save could go towards making minor amendments for the next few years.

    I agree that CMS is the way to go but for some people budget is more important.

    wrt the other points – I agree totally. I have seen too many cases of people getting stung because they didn’t ask those simple questions. There ARE website companies out there who do not operate on an ethical basis.

    September 30, 2008 at 12:41 pm
  • Terry

    Please can you help me with a question I have on wordpress, I am wanting to get into web development, and am currently building some websites for friends but once I’ve finished they will probably want to update the content. My friends aren’t web developers and have no idea about XHTML, CSS etc so would wordpress be the best way for them to do that? Many thanks Terry

    September 30, 2008 at 12:44 pm
  • John

    @Terry: WordPress is brilliant, we use it to run this blog and it makes creating new pages / posts really, really easy.

    However, it does come down to your specific needs. There are lots of other CMS packages out there like Joomla and ExpressionEngine which might be more suitable (Google those and you’ll find them).

    WordPress is designed primarily for blogs, and while it’s very good at what it does, it takes some hacking before you can use it to run complex websites which aren’t structured like a blog.

    Also, please note that you can’t install WordPress or other database-powered CMS packages onto 123-reg hosting at present (we’re working to change this). However, our sister brand Webfusion has a number of hosting packages which include SQL databases – that’s what you need for most content management systems.

    If you’re not sure which to go for, experiment with a couple of options and don’t be afraid to ask in online forums – people can be really helpful!

    (Of course, if you’re looking for something really straightforward, you could consider InstantSite. But as you’re already building websites from scratch, it sounds like you might be beyond that!)

    September 30, 2008 at 4:39 pm
  • Terry

    Many thanks for the help John, so currently there’s no CMS systems that will allow you to use with 123-reg hosting? I’m just looking at building simple websites for friends so I can get some web development experience and just need to find a way that they can make simple updates to their own content when they need to.

    September 30, 2008 at 4:59 pm
  • Matt

    Terry

    There a lot you can use and for free. Hotscripts.com is a good place to go for ready made scripts, some you pay for and others that are open source and free to use. Check out http://www.hotscripts.com/CGI_and_Perl/Scripts_and_Programs/Content_Management/index.html

    September 30, 2008 at 5:12 pm
  • Terry

    Many thanks for your help guys!

    October 1, 2008 at 9:13 am
  • Anthony Shapley

    Well I hate to say it but I completely disagree with nearly all these comments.

    WordPress makes a great CMS as much as it makes a great Blog, you can customise every aspect and the plugin library is the largest. Your homepage doesn’t _have_ to be your latest blog entries, it can just be a page. You can then use the blog as a News Listing/Blog.

    Its more than most companies will ever need and superbly easy to skin, train for and work on. Your clients will love it.

    October 1, 2008 at 7:43 pm
  • JMHC

    Terry, have a look at http://www.freeguppy.org/?lng=en

    I used it for awhile, you should be able to use at 123-reg I think & there is a lovely community too. French & EU based mostly.

    October 3, 2008 at 8:36 pm
  • Terry

    I’ve heard that you need to decide what CMS you are going for before you finishing coding your website, otherwise you may have to completly recode it, does anyone know if this is right?

    October 7, 2008 at 9:32 am
  • Peter Edley

    Yes each CMS works in different ways so you need to decide which one you are using before you start creating.

    As for WordPress being a good CMS sorry but all wordpress sites look like wordpress sites. If you want to break out of the standard look beyond just skining it then it is a lot of work to make it work and look different.

    What I am saying is they look like blogs even if you don’t use it as one. Where as many other but not all CMS’s allow you to easily change the style and look and how the site works beyond just skining.

    I can list several sites that use wordpress if you want and you will see what I mean then I could list the last 5 sites I have been involved in desging all of which use MODx as a cms and you will how different they look.

    October 10, 2008 at 10:03 am
  • Martin Hemmer

    I found your blog by chance . but i have to say that it’s great blog very useful information and very interesting subjects just greetings and good luck
    i’m not going i will be always checking for updates.I’m very interested in CMS and all its related subjects.

    July 12, 2009 at 9:54 am
  • JohnA

    On 30th Sep 2008, John wrote:

    Also, please note that you can’t install WordPress or other database-powered CMS packages onto 123-reg hosting at present (we’re working to change this). However, our sister brand Webfusion has a number of hosting packages which include SQL databases – that’s what you need for most content management systems.

    Is this still true today? (15th Aug 2009)

    August 15, 2009 at 10:04 am
  • John

    Hi JohnA,

    Well spotted – since we introduced our new hosting options, it is now possible to install database-powered packages.

    The Plus, Pro and Business Pro packages all include one or more databases – just make sure you check the requirements of the software you want to install before buying one of the hosting packages.

    Thanks,

    John.

    August 17, 2009 at 10:46 am
  • Mac

    …it now seems that in oder to install wordpress on the plus, pro, or business pro, you also need Linux.

    Is this correct? Is there any documentation with reg 123 about using wordpress?

    Thanks

    November 8, 2009 at 1:09 pm
  • John

    Hi Mac,

    Thanks for your comment.

    You can install WordPress on any of our current hosting packages apart from the Starter package.

    You don’t need to have Linux on your home computer to do this – if you have Windows (or any other operating system), you can still use WordPress.

    You might be thinking of the operating system running on the hosting package itself – all our hosting packages are Linux, which WordPress is compatible with.

    In fact, the easiest way to install WordPress is to use our new One-Click option. This will install WordPress in moments!

    Thanks,

    John.

    November 9, 2009 at 3:41 pm
  • Kate

    Must agree with Anthony. WordPress actually makes an excellent CMS – in fact I vastly prefer it to Joomla, TypoLight, and my old company’s proprietary CMS.

    WordPress really outgrew its reputation as blogging software some time ago. It’s a shame that the reputation lingers among some developers, because it means that they sometimes misinform their clients. The fact is, you can do almost anything with WP, and certainly there’s no need for a WP site to ‘look like a WP site’ – your design choices are as wide as with any CMS.

    It also has great functionality, thanks to a devoted user group creating plugins for pretty much anything you can think of.

    And I’ve never found another CMS which my clients find so easy to use. Aside from one or two small things, it’s incredibly intuitive.

    If you still think WP is ‘just a blogging platform’, then I really recommend you do a little research and take a look at some of the sites that are run by WP – which these days include some really very major sites, and some with really cutting edge design.

    November 17, 2009 at 10:37 am
  • Damian Smith

    WordPress is brilliant for CMS!
    All you need to do is simply download the starkers theme (which is basically blank) then add all your existing design to it and hey presto a content managed design made by you and not a template!

    May 28, 2010 at 3:36 pm