This is the second part of a two part post about what, exactly, to ask a potential web designer before you sign a contract with them. You can find the first part of this post here.
Let’s jump back in and continue with the questions!
11. What anti-hacker security steps do you take to ensure my site won’t be hacked and taken down?
If there are no anti-hacker precautions taken for your site, it will most likely just be a matter of time before your site gets hacked, either by a real person with nothing better to do with their life than cause major problems for you, or by a hacking bot that the same kind of person created to automatically hack your site without them doing anything.
As I mentioned in the last question, letting your core CMS code and any plugins or extensions get out of date is a bad idea. It opens up security vulnerabilities on your site, making it easier for hackers to find a hole to exploit, thus giving them access to your site’s files and potentially taking down your site (or putting up something very embarrassing instead of your site.)
What you’re looking for with their answer are things like “I install several security plugins and I take 4 other steps to ensure the security of your site, such as installing a firewall on your server. I also keep all of your site’s code, like the core WordPress files and plugins, up-to-date.
Whenever there are new versions of the core software of your site, or plugins/extensions, I’ll update them within 24 hours if the update is a security patch, and if not, I’ll update them within 72 hours of a new release.”
12. How will I learn how to manage my site and make minor changes myself?
If you don’t know how to use the software that your site is built on, such as WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, you’ll need to learn to use it so you can make basic changes to your site by yourself, if that’s something you want to be able to do.
If it’s not, see the next question.
Don’t get stuck having to teach yourself how to use the software that powers your site.
One of the big benefits of having a site built with content management software like WordPress is that you’ll be able to make simple text or photo changes yourself, without having to pay your designer to do those kinds of simple things.
You’ll want to be sure that you’ll either be trained live by your web designer (or by someone on their team) or that you’ll get access to screencast training videos that they have made for you.
13. How will content be updated that I can’t update myself and how much will that cost?
Even if you learn how to make simple changes to your site, there will inevitably be things that you want to change, such as colors or the layout of things on your homepage, that you won’t be able to do yourself without extensive knowledge of the CMS that’s powering your site, or without knowledge of how to work with programming languages like PHP and CSS.
Find out how changes that you can’t do yourself will be handled and how much things like that will cost.
14. When will you need my copy and other content, such as photos, by?
Some designers can build your entire site without having any of your finished copy or any photos/images that you want to use, while others like to have any of your content up front so they can design the site around it.
It’s important to know exactly what a potential designer expects in terms of when you’ll need to give them your content for the site.
15. What webhost do you prefer to use and why do you use them?
You may not be familiar with whatever host they answer with, but make note of the name of the webhost so you can do some research on them if you want to.
If they say they use GoDaddy or 1and1, that should throw up a big, red flag in your mind. Those are two of the worst webhosts around. I’ve seen a lot of people have major, frustrating problems with both of those hosts over the years.
More important than the specific webhost they use is the reason they give for why they choose to use them.
You’ll want to hear things like:
- They have a great hosting environment for WordPress
- They have great support
- They take important security measures that can only be done on the server side of things
- I’ve used them for the last 3 years and haven’t had any issues with any of my client’s sites
- They have a great uptime record, which is about 99.7%. That means your site will have very little downtime.
16. What will the ongoing fees be to keep the site live and healthy? Just webhosting fees, or are there other fees, like monthly or yearly subscriptions for 3rd party software being used on the site, or maintenance fees for you to keep software up-to-date?
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Just be sure to find out what kind of ongoing fees you’ll be paying for after the site is done so that you’re not surprised by anything.
17. Do you install traffic tracking software and set up a site uptime monitoring service?
Most designers and developers will install Google Analytics on every site they build. It’s a fantastic, free tool that can give you a ton of valuable data about what visitors to your site are doing.
There are other options for tracking traffic and user behavior on your site, such as Clicky or Chartbeat or Kissmetrics. All of those cost money though, so it would be good to know if they like to use tracking software that has a fee.
What they do is send out little ping signals every minute, or every 5 minutes, to make sure that your site is up and running on the web.
If your site goes down for any reason, you or your web designer will get a notification as soon as it happens via email, sms, or alerts on a smartphone.
Sites go down every once in a while, whether the cause is something like your site being hacked, your webhost doing server maintenance, or someone else’s site causing the entire server that your site is on to slow way down (shared hosting servers can have hundreds of websites on one server.)
You should know the minute that your site goes down so someone can address the problem.
18. If you ever decide to stop doing web development, will I get a referral for someone to replace you?
Sometimes web designers decide to move on and start a new career. If that happens to a designer you decide to work with, you’ll want to know way ahead of time that there will be a plan in effect so that you’re taken care of, regardless of whether they’re available to help you with your site or not.
A quick check-in around this is all that’s needed. You’ll want to make sure that you’ll get a referral for another web designer or developer who is fluent in the software that will power your site and that they are reliable enough to make sure you’re taken care of when needs arise.
19. Will I have full login details for admin access to the site, such as the admin side of a WordPress site and server login information?
Make sure that you have login information for the admin side of the CMS that’s powering your site, such as WordPress admin login details.
You’ll also want the login information for any software or services that are being used with your site, such as your webhost’s billing area, your webhost’s cPanel, FTP login info, domain name registrar login info, and login info for the provider’s website for any plugins or extensions being used on your site that require a paid license to use.
Don’t worry if you don’t know what a cPanel or FTP is. That’s okay. All this login information is like the keys to your website, and you should have all the keys in case your web designer disappears for some reason.
Even if you don’t end up using all the login info yourself, whoever you find to help you with your site, should your designer disappear, will need it all.
20. Do you set up automatic daily backups that are sent to an offsite storage server, and does the webhost you use have something like this as well?
Having daily backups of your site automatically created and sent to a remote storage server that you have access to (i.e., have login information for) is a very, very good idea.
If your site ever gets hacked, you’ll want to have a working backup copy of your site that you can have restored within a few minutes…a version of your site without malicious scripts created by a high school kid that are ruining your site.
Some webhosts provide a daily backup service, but they often only keep backups for the last 30 days. In most cases that will be fine, but if you want more, and if you’re smart and you want to have 2 sets of daily backups, make sure that your designer will set up your site with automatic daily backups that are sent to a storage server service like Amazon S3, Dropbox, or Rackspace Cloud Files.
21. If I want to move the site to a different host and server, who will help me do that?
If you notice that your site is having problems like a lot of downtime, or if it continually has problems with loading pages slowly, you will want to think about moving your site to another webhost that has better service.
It doesn’t take long to move a site, but it requires some technical skills that may be beyond your current skill level. Find out what the process will be if you want to move your site to another host for some reason.
22. Do you validate the site using the W3C validator, or another similar validation tool?
Having your site built with code that is validated is a small, but important part of getting a good search engine result position.
Google likes websites with valid code much better than those that have invalid code.
“Valid,” in this context, refers to the structure of the code that makes up your site. There are rules set forth by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for what is valid code and what isn’t, much in the same way that your local county has building codes for electrical and plumbing systems in your house.
There are a number of tools that will scan the code of your site and let you know if it follows all the W3C rules, and if it doesn’t, they will show you what needs fixing in order for your site to be successfully validated.
23. Do you have a portfolio of other sites I can look at?
This may seem obvious, but don’t forget to ask for a link to their portfolio so you can see if they create websites that have a look and feel that you like.
24. How long will it take to provide a first draft of a design, and how many drafts will you create?
Different designers have different methods for providing you with drafts, or design options, for your site.
Some will create two drafts, with each of the drafts having only the homepage and one interior page with content, and you can decide between the two.
Others may create a first draft, show it to you, and if you don’t like it, they’ll do a second design.
25. How many revision rounds are allowed, and what constitutes one round of revisions?
Working with a designer means you’ll have to work within some boundaries. Most designers won’t let you make endless requests for changes to the design of your site.
Rather, they will set some boundaries such as “You’ll have a chance to request 3 rounds of revisions for the chosen design, and a round of revisions is defined by a list of requests in an email.”
26. What happens if I don’t like any of your drafts?
If you end up not liking any of their proposed designs, what happens with the design process, and what happens to the money you will have most likely already paid them (assuming that you paid them for part of the project cost up front) if you decide you don’t want to work with them?
27. How long will it take to complete the site?
Keep in mind that most designers have multiple website projects happening at once. It’s good to know how many other projects they have happening right now and how quickly they expect they could finish your site, assuming that you deliver your copy and other content for the site on time.
I hope you find these questions helpful for the next time you talk to a potential web designer :)
If you have any questions that you like to ask designers that I didn’t cover, drop them in the comments below. I’d love to see them.