Building a website can be a lot like putting together a jigsaw puzzle--sometimes the picture looks good, but when you look closely, pieces are in the wrong places. A website might function, but as soon as you make a change or an update, the picture falls apart.

How do you avoid hiring a designer or developer that builds a website like this? Here are some questions you can ask and some feedback to help you understand their answers.

1. What web standards do they follow?
This is a great question that will fluster someone who doesn't have standards. What are web standards? This is the way of designing and coding a website that allows the website to grow with technology and the web visitor. This means using clean code and technologies like:

  • CSS (Cascading Style Sheets): a simple mechanism for adding style like fonts, colors, and spacing to web pages
  • XHTML (Extensible Hypertext Markup Language): a markup language that has the same depth of expression as HTML, but also conforms to XML syntax
  • ECMA Scripts: the standard version of JavaScript used on most web browsers.

You don't have to know how to write the languages; you just have to know what the standards are to understand the answer.

A simple way to help you connect to this question is to remember that people online don't all use the same web browser or operating system. Designing and developing to standards gives your website the ability to look and function the way it should on different platforms.

2. Do they design for SEO best practices?
It's no secret today that everyone wants a website that can be found on search engines. Implementing search engine optimization may not be what you want your designer or developer to do for you; however, how your site is designed or coded can affect your strategy when you are ready. When you interview developers, this is a great question to ask and see if the person you're interviewing is familiar with how to code to meet SEO standards. Here are a few items that affect SEO best practices:

  • CSS (Cascading Style Sheets): Designing a website to meet SEO best practices means using style sheets to cut down on the amount of code on your web page. Search engines like text, not code.
  • Script files: When you use dynamic items on your site like image galleries or mouse-over menus, usually these are created through JavaScript. To follow proper SEO standards, script files should be created for pages instead of having the script on your web page.
  • Web page content: Your text or content should be on the page as much as possible this can even include your website navigation. There are ways to make text visually appealing without having the designer put it inside an image. Images that contain words are not picked up as content by search engines.

If SEO is a strategy you are considering down the line, it's a good idea to make sure your site will be built with this strategy in mind.

3. How do they plan for change or growth?
One of the most stressful lessons learned is that the website you built yesterday will not allow you to grow tomorrow. Being told you have to start over is one of those statements every business owner can't bear to hear. Before you begin, ask the question, "Does the technology you're using allow me to grow or add additional functions?" You may even want to take this further and think about tools you'd want to add down the line. You can also ask designers or developers to provide you with a brief list of tools they have already integrated with sites like yours. This allows you not only the opportunity to see if they are knowledgeable, but also whether they're supportive in providing you with ideas.

4. How do they test their work?
As I mentioned above, not all of your consumers use the same technology. But to ensure things are operating the way they should or displaying correctly, web developer need to test their work. This issue might seem trivial, but you'd be surprised how many firms only test for one web browser. I recommend you ask specifically what web browsers and versions they test for during the development process. If you're building an online community, social or e-commerce website, testing is an important part of your success. Secure payment gateways need to be tested in a real environment. Be sure to get the specifics of what your firm considers to be part of a test phase and what it's being held accountable for after the website has gone live.

5. How do they handle support requests?
After a website has officially launched inevitably there will be a problem--it's technology; it happens. The question you want to know before you put pen to contract is how does your new firm handle support or bugs--technical hiccups with the website? Every firm will approach this differently, so pay close attention to how it phrase its response and commitment.

Building a website depending on the functions you need can be a lot like putting a puzzle together. The key to success is finding the right firm who understands the pieces that need to come together for your business.