Need a Website Developer and Don’t Know Anything About Websites? Lessons Learned

If you’re looking to hire a website developer, do your homework. It’s the Wild West out there, especially if you don’t have any experience with websites and coding like me. I launched a website over a year ago and ended up in a good place but it was a lot of working finding the right developer. Here are some lessons learned.

Know If You Really Need a Developer

Before you hire any developer, first explore the possibility of creating your site on a free platform like Word Press. Word Press has hundreds of different themes (paid and unpaid) that offer numerous design and functionality options. Using a platform like Word Press saves money, offers an online community if you get stuck, as well as more control over your site.

I launched my blog with Word Press but needed more functionality for my website than I could get with Word Press, so decided to hire a developer.

If You Need to Hire a Developer, Know What You Want and Write It Down

Before I looked for any web development firms, I wrote down exactly what I wanted on my website – how I wanted it to look and the functionalities I needed. Don’t freak out but it was a 50-page PowerPoint document. I had a page for each page on my website. OK – I tend to be AR about such things and am a former consultant, so it was in my nature to do it this way.

Having the detail was great for comparing proposals. The risk of having such a detailed proposal was that I wasn’t sure if it closed off my developer from offering other ideas, features I may not have been aware of.

Research Possible Firms and Make a Short List

In looking for a firm, I needed a developer within driving distance of Chicago because I wanted to meet them in person at least once. I felt this would help set a foundation for a good working relationship.

I searched online to compile my initial list of 20 firms. I threw out those who took more than a few days to respond or never responded at all, had a string of complaints on Yelp or who misrepresented who they were on their website; for example, displayed different pages of the same website as different website clients in their portfolio, or projected themselves as a bona fide enterprise when it was a freelancer with a full time job doing websites evenings and weekends (freelancers are great for some work but I needed a firm who would be immediately available if the site crashed or had backup if the developer left).

I ended up with a short list of seven possible developers.

Ask for a Proposal and Prepare for Prices All Over the Map

When it came time to ask for a proposal, I was glad I had prepared such a detailed document to give them. It gave me confidence their prices would reflect the same understanding of what needed to be done.

Some developers, when seeing what I needed, immediately knew they couldn’t do the work and told me so (thank goodness). The rest emailed or called with a few clarifying questions and thanked me for the detail as it made their job so much easier.

I was shocked when the proposals came in. They ranged in price from $5000 to $150,000 for the very same work!! The higher prices mostly came from firms who also have corporate clients. They must have figured my pockets were just as deep as their corporate clients.

Check Their References

After narrowing my list to four possible development firms, I spent considerable time checking their references. I did not ask them for references but rather found names from their online portfolios.

I looked for clients who had websites with similar functionalities to what I wanted but also websites from different-size companies – from the mom and pop shops to larger businesses. (This latter point turned out to be a good thing as I was able to talk to not only others like myself who were launching their dream but also to webmasters, with technical expertise, who were managing the website for an employer. The mom and pops could speak to how well the development firm was at working with people like myself, and the experienced webmasters could speak to their technical expertise.)

Once I had my list of references, I emailed each reference and asked to speak by phone. Everyone agreed.

Here is the questionnaire outline I used during my phone interview:

Reference Questionnaire

Intro:

Hi. Thanks for agreeing to talk.

I have a series of questions I’d like to ask you but just want to start by asking you about your overall satisfaction with [name of website development firm].

Top Priority Questions

Do you feel they delivered on the proposal they offered?

Once your site was operational, did you experience any problems? Navigability? Calls for help from users? Other?

When it came to problems, how was their overall attitude toward fixing the problem and what was the turnaround time?

Once the project was over, how was the general support you received?

How close was the original bid as compared to the final cost?

Are you happy with the experience?

What would you do differently?

What were their greatest strengths and assets?

What were their greatest deficiencies?

What are the “watch outs” you would give people like us looking for a web development company?

If Time

Did they follow your “vision” and put it into action?

How did you feel about overall website design creativity and flexibility throughout the process?

When you call/email, did you typically get to talk to the person you needed to talk too?

Were they professional?

Did you get the sense that they were building a lasting relationship with you or just getting a project done?

Checking the references was an invaluable part of the process. I ended with a clear first choice whom I eventually hired.

Find Out How Much Control You’ll Have Over the Back-end

It’s been a year now of working with this firm and I’ve been happy. They’re professional, delivered as promised for the price they quoted and good to work with.

The one step I would have added if I had known better at the time was to find out how much I would be able to do on the site myself. I’m able to make simple content changes directly but not any changes that require coding.

This past year, I learned just enough HTML to make simple improvements but because my web developer has control over most of the back end, I can’t make those changes directly. Instead I need to pay development time which has been the only frustrating part of the process. There are definitely things I would want my developer to do but some of the little things, like putting a line of code into the header, are things I would like to do myself.

These are my lessons learned. Are you a non-techy who’s worked with a developer? What lessons do you have to share?

iPhone Application Development: How To Find The Right Company For Creating Your iPhone Apps

Rapid growth and swift technological development in the world of smart phones has totally transformed the world of communication. iPhone, thanks to the wide range of features and applications it offers, is the biggest name and the most successful brand in the field of smart phones. SDK (software development kit) offered by Apple makes it convenient to create applications for iPhone. A number of offshore software development companies use their expertise to create original iPhone apps at low rates. While hiring a company for iPhone Application Development, you must check that they have sufficient manpower, technical know-how, and quality control measures.

Unique and inventive iPhone apps have a huge market and they’ve added great value to the life of the users. There is a great demand in the market for people and companies who can deliver excellent iPhone apps. The growing number of iPhone users has made iPhone application development the most happening mobile software development business of the present time. Experience in software development helps in developing iPhone Apps and many software companies have trained their employees in this field of development.

Jaw-dropping apps that give the clients more than they expect are created by Indian companies every day, and at the same time some dreadful apps are also made by inexperienced firms. Most companies choose to outsource their iPhone application development work to India, owing to the attractive rates offered by Indian companies. But just low prices are not enough: you need a reliable and functioning application, and for that you need to pick the right Offshore Software Development Company.

Unanticipated problems may arise when you are working with a wrong sort of company. As long as you are asking for low-end applications, freelancers or small firms can fulfill your needs. But if you are ordering high-end apps you need the services of an iPhone Application development firm that has experienced employees who possess the technical know-how. Some companies allow you to hire and monitor its employees and they can work under your command. Communication via telephones, net chatting and video conferencing is a must: this way you can keep in touch with the people who are working for you.

Tantalizing rates and promises of high-quality apps do not mean much: it is essential that you check the company’s background and take a look at the other iPhone apps they have created. Also talk to their previous customers if possible and see if they have a habit of delivering their products on time. You can also get the measure of a web development company by taking a look at other software development work it has handled.

A company that offers attractive rates and has good experience in software and Web development, that possesses technical know how, has enough manpower and expertise, and has a record of completing its projects on time to the satisfaction of its customers is the right choice for outsourcing your iPhone Application development work.

The Semantic Web – Where Language Meets Mathematics

The constantly evolving nature of the Internet means many businesses are left clinging on to the coat tails of major advances. Web 2.0 – not a new version of the Internet but new ways of using it, including social networking sites and the use of videos and blogs – has now been embraced by many.

But now IT professionals are starting to talk about Web 3.0 which is exploring a new range of possibilities yet to be developed.

Web 3.0 actually describes a paradigm shift in how information is structured and searched for on the World Wide Web.

Web 3.0 concerns the use of the Semantic Web – it’s about enabling search engines to scan for meaning and interpretation when presented with a search query, rather than just corresponding the number and density of matching search terms.

The Semantic Web is the brainchild of Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web and head of the World Wide Web consortium, the only independent organisation dedicated to consolidating standards of quality in content and structure to the web.

The repercussions of this shift towards a more intelligent and intuitive web will have a huge effect on all web-based data, be it commercial, academic or cultural.

Websites will either have to adapt to the Semantic Web, or be left outside the search loop.

According to Lyang Yu, author of The Semantic Web and Semantic Web Services, most of us use the web for three basic functions – search, integration and data mining, in that order.

The current search paradigm is epitomised by Google – answering particular queries by matching documents from its database that correspond to the precise language the searcher has entered.

Search Spiders are like stupid robots that only do precisely what you tell them. As a result, most search engine optimisation (SEO), tactics are largely restricted to optimising the use of commercially strategic language on websites that will more likely be coughed up by Google or Yahoo in response to a search query.

Google’s AdWords operates on the principle of auctioning off the most popular searched for vocabulary to the highest bidder.

This year, the growth in search engine optimisation activities by brand leaders is unprecedented and rapidly increasing. Any blue chip worth its salt has an in-house search engine optimiser at the centre of its web development team.

Big brand companies like Tesco and Renault are spending their Internet budgets on increasingly competitive SEO tactics, both on page and off page.

One of the biggest growths in IT recruitment in both the US and the UK is for SEO managers and experts. Some companies currently spend as much optimising their web presence as they do designing their sites.

Usability and optimisation have become the defining criteria for distinguishing an effective website from a rarely visited online brochure.

While keyword search is still the most popular search method, it is seldom accurate. Users sometimes get up to 10,000 hits on a result page and then have to wade through a list of loosely-related keyword results to find the relevant documents they were searching for.

Up until the Semantic Web, search criteria have been based on the choice of the correct key words to tag and identify your web presence to the spiders indexing the Internet.

The premise is that the closer the language of your website corresponds to the language choice of the searcher, the more relevant your website, and the more likely Google will rank you higher in the search results.

But this is all coming to an end. The Semantic Web is where language finally meets mathematics.

In comparison to standard search, semantic search looks at the logic of the sentence – how words in a sentence relate to one another, as well as understanding the context of the keywords.

Instead of clumsy, corresponding criteria, the words grouped around a keyword or phrase will now play as important a factor in the relevancy of the term as the keyword itself. The focus is now on context, how words and assets are grouped together.

For example, when a term is ambiguous, such as with the word bark, semantic analysis is needed on the other words that wrap around it to give it its true meaning and context.

So a semantic web search for Obama plus McCain would correctly interpret that the searcher was seeking results relevant to the recent election campaign, as opposed to results that contained those names.

There are search engines on the net that are already beginning to harness the principles of semantic web development.

Cuil.com is a semantically inspired search engine that pulls relevant results from deep within website pages as opposed to just listing the index page of a particular website.

Other good examples include juiceapp.com, cuil.com, illuimin8.com and headup.com.

Ultimately web content publishers are going to have to adapt to the notion that all published content is equally accessible to semantic-based search engines. The past SEO criteria for priority placement of text and other assets on a website is declining.

Yahoo’s recently launched SearchMonkey applications are semantically based search tools. Yelp, Yahoo!Local, and LinkedIn Enhanced now appear automatically in Yahoo search results.

These three applications are among the first to share structured data. ZiMesh is a semantic information management and recommendation engine that manages personal information. ZiMesh is powered by a semantic platform, which automatically tries to understand users’ interests over time, and connects them to topics, users and contents it thinks will be of interest.

So what does this shift represent to the average business trying to maintain a competitive web presence?

In one way it means that the playing field is levelling. There is less need to spend a fortune on SEO tactics that are never guaranteed to deliver measurable results.

Writing concise, relevant and informative content for a website will always pay dividends over SEO tactics. Google wants to refer its queries to useful resources. The more useful a resource you make your website, the more likely Google will rank you highly. So, do nothing but be good.

The more the individual data components -text, images, video, sound – of your website are ascribed searchable terms, the larger and deeper your web presence and the more likely you will be found by a semantic search.

The end result will be a more responsive, more intelligent and ultimately more useful world wide web.