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Nine questions to ask your web developer

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1. Who owns the finished code? If the developer owns the code, you’re fixed to them. It can be more expensive to own the final code, but it gives you more flexibility if things go wrong. It’s never good to switch developers halfway through a project, but if you own the code, it allows you to take the work with you to a new developer, rather than having to start from scratch. You should try to agree this with the developer at the beginning of the process, during the pitch. 

2. Is the site mobile-ready? Check that your website will be compatible with mobile devices. This doesn’t mean your developer has to design an app or even a mobile site, just that it’s fully accessible from smartphones and iPads. Users should be able to access your site without running into trouble. Not convinced? Recent stats show that by 2012, mobile internet users will exceed desktop users globally, and an estimated 3.5 billion people will use their mobiles to access the internet by 2015.

3. Does your fee include support? When signing up a developer, check whether the fee is for the website build only, or if it includes development support. Support will usually give you a few hours of the developer’s time a month. This will keep you covered should any nasty glitches show up once the site is live. Plus, if you keep your developer on a small retainer, they’ll be more likely to make any changes that you request as part of that, rather than trying to charge you extra for their time.

4. Is the website compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)? You are legally bound to make sure your website is accessible to disabled people. A disabled person could make a discrimination case against you if your website is unreasonably difficult to access. Making the site DDA compliant includes making all functionality available from a keyboard and ensuring you do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures. This is really important.

5. Do you code to standards? There are levels of compliance that your website should meet. It’s best practice for your site to meet World Wide Web Consortium standards (known as W3C) for HTML and CSS, for example. This means that your site is built using standard web building blocks. If you’re not building to the latest standards, don’t expect your site to look good on future browsers. New browsers are being built with the latest standards in mind, so this is an easy win if you pay attention to it.

6. Which browser will the website work best on? Sites don’t look the same in each browser, so it’s important that yours gets built with your customers in mind. If your site meets W3C standards, it should work on most browsers. According to NetApps, Internet Explorer is the most used browser across the globe (used by 57 per cent of internet users), followed by Firefox (23 per cent), Chrome (ten per cent), and Safari (six per cent). This varies by country, so look into it before deciding.

7. Do you follow progressive enhancement or graceful degradation techniques? Graceful degradation means you’ve built the site so that it’s optimised on the newest browsers, but is still visible on older versions. Progressive enhancement means you build the site for an older browser version, but progressively enhance it. Each sector will have different majority browsers.

8. Will the site depend on technologies such as Java or Flash? Your developer’s answer should be “no”. If its usability is dependent on a specific technology, some people won’t be able to see and use it. If the site is built on a Flash platform, for example, make sure your developer also codes it for HTML compliance; and likewise for Java. While Flash can make your site look cool, most developers view it as evil – it’s not good for usability or SEO.

9. How will the site be hosted? If the developer offers to host the site as part of a package deal, find out specifics: how often will the site be backed up? How resilient will the servers be to failure? How scalable are the servers? What are the maximum data levels? You need to know the details. Most hosting packages guarantee a 99.9 per cent uptime, and backups should be daily if you have regularly changing data on your site.

Dean Faulkner is head geek at Real Business HQ.

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