Is your website looking a little dog-eared these days? Or are you embarking on your first foray into cyberspace? Choosing the right website designer can be the most important decision you will ever make when it comes to building or
improving your marketing presence on the Internet.

The truth is that not all Web designers are created equally, according to Jan Zimmerman, author of Marketing on the Internet (6th edition, 2002, Maximum Press: Gulf Breeze, Florida; www.maxpress.com/
catalog/marketing.html. “Not all designers have the knowledge to build effective, order-taking mechanisms; not all are familiar with specific feature modules; and not all have business experience,” Zimmerman says. “You are likely to find people with excellent technical and graphic design skills. But few come to the process with a marketing background.”

The secret to your website’s ultimate success is to know the tough questions to ask when interviewing Web designers; learn the best way to evaluate someone’s work; and become familiar with the technical specifications that will be covered in the final design contract.

Cyber-Search Your Candidates

Probably the easiest way to find a website designer is to conduct an Internet search for candidates in your area. You can do this by entering key words, such as “Web
designer + your city/state location” into any major Internet search engine, such as Google. You can also secure Web design services at local advertising agencies, Internet professional organizations or similar business groups. Another method is to find a link to a Web designer’s site at the bottom of the home page of a site you think is especially well designed.

No matter how you find your potential group of digital Michelangelos, Zimmerman is adamant about evaluating each designer’s work online. “Always, always,
always look at a designer’s work online,” she says. The reason: Websites showcased on laptop computers can often be “hot-wired” to perform much more efficiently than they do in “real life.” On the Web, what you see is what you’ll get.

Before signing any contract for a website design to be created from scratch, you may want instead to cut costs by finding a website template and then finding a local Web designer to customize the feel. Website templates are available at sites like All WebCoDesign(www.allwebcodesign.cm) and Template Monster (www.template
monster.com). Other template companies can be found by searching the Internet using the key words “website templates.”

“For a low-cost, high-quality compromise, identify a local graphic artist with the skill to customize,” Zimmerman says. “An experienced eye can quickly select colors, typefaces and buttons that add sophistication to an otherwise pedestrian design.”

Once you’re ready to finalize the deal, Zimmerman suggests you nail down particulars, such as costs, site ownership, modification costs and timelines, promotion services, testing requirements, accountability and future needs. Here’s how.

Know the Going Rate

“Some [Web design] companies offer an introductory package of $1,500–$2,000 for a basic 12- to 20-page site,” Zimmerman says. Some companies charge by the page (typically $150–$300 per page), whereas others prefer to bill by the hour ($50–$150 per hour).

As a rule, basic HTML programming is available at the low end of the scale, while fancy footwork like JAVA, database programming and strategic planning will cost significantly more.

“Design costs may be lower if you select someone away from either coast,” advises Zimmerman. “Only you can weigh the factor of convenience versus cost.”

Specify Your Needs in Writing

One of the easiest ways to ensure that you get what you want and need from a website is to specify all of the details in writing in your request for quotes. Show your potential Web designer different websites you especially like, and focus on the particular features from those sites that you’d like to include on your own. Web designers will also want to know how many pages you’ll need, and how often you’ll want the site updated.

Specify the Web
Designer’s Skills in Writing

Make sure any contract you sign details the programmer’s skills. For example, most Web designers have basic HTML programming skills. However, based on your needs, you’ll also want skills statements
regarding graphic design and layout, copyrighting, CGI scripting (for interactivity like shopping carts), JAVA/Shockwave for animations and database programming, Zimmerman says.

Nail Down the Site Modification Rate

Realize going in that you’re going to need site updates in the future. Try to negotiate a per-page update rate if possible, rather than an hourly rate. Generally, a per-page rate allows you to cap the costs of the
design from the start of the project, whereas the total cost of the site is open-ended if you negotiate an hourly rate. Keep in mind that some of the more
sophisticated Web design software programs will enable you to post your own changes to your website—such as new press releases, new services you’re offering, product price changes and the like—without your needing to learn HTML or any other Web programming language. Ask your Web designer if that option is available and then specify that in the contract.

Secure a Site Update Schedule

Another detail to consider is how often your website will be updated. Every time a new Web browser is released or an
existing link to another website becomes obsolete, your site ages. Get your Web
designer to agree in writing to run an
update-needs test at least every quarter, and nail down a reasonable fee to bring your site up-to-date when needed. It’s also a good idea to specify in writing the promised turnaround time for all site updates.

Ask About Web Promotion Services

Many Web designers will discount their costs for website promotion if those services are included in the original
design contract. Ask for an itemized list of website promotion services available, with finite costs broken down for each item.

Establish Site
Testing Requirements

Although most people who surf the Web use MS Internet Explorer or Netscape® Navigator, there is still a large contingent who are relying on older versions of these browsers. Try to get your Web designer to commit to testing your site design at least twice a year for the latest versions of Explorer and Navigator as well as the three previous versions of each browser. You’ll also want to secure a separate testing commitment for Macintosh computer browsers. Companies that are especially concerned about how their website appears in different browsers may want to include testing requirements for less popular browsers, as well.

Determine Who Is
Accountable for What

If your site is going to be designed by a development team, specify in writing the name of the contact person at the design firm dedicated to your site, Zimmerman says. You’ll also want to describe in writing the process by which the person(s) will design your site, the review stages of the process and your contact’s promised accessibility.

Build in Agreements for Future Needs

While you may want to start out with a basic website, your needs may become more sophisticated as traffic to your site grows. Consider and include the costs for your future needs, such as multimedia
effects, interactive features like chatrooms, bulletin boards and e-commerce, in the original contract. n

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