Eight Questions (you may not know) to Ask a Web Developer
There’s more to a successful website than a ‘pretty face.’ But you wouldn’t know that until you’ve had to pay the price for an unsuccessful, troublesome website.
Much of what goes on between your website and your audience depends on how well the website code is written. All too often, new site owners don’t find this out until they have to hire an online marketing professional — who tells them the site needs to be de-constructed and re-constructed just to get the site ready for effective marketing!
Certainly, it would be better to have the basic elements of success built in during construction — not after!
Many designers/developers simply don’t know about these underlying techniques, and some feel it’s outside their scope of work. So, it’s up to you to ask for them.
But, if you don’t know the right questions to ask, how can you be sure you’re getting a well-crafted website?
I’ve written this article to save you time, money, and the dismay that comes from not knowing the right questions to ask.
Question 1: Who owns my website?
You can get a cheap and ‘easy,’ DIY website from many sources these days. And when you’re first starting out in business, especially if you’re operating on a shoestring, it’s the right way to go. With the proper setup, it can give you a chance to develop your content while building status in Google Search.
A website consists of the electronic files it’s made of, a secure and fast hosting company to store and deliver those files to the public, and a domain name that serves as its address.
The ‘drag n drop,’ web-builder platforms allow you to create a website and use it — as long as you stay on their servers. You are, in effect, renting your website.
Like any rental property, there’s only so much you can do to improve your website. When your business has outgrown what it can do — or if you become dissatisfied with their service — you can’t just take your files and go. You get to keep your ‘content’ (words and images), but you’ll have to rebuild the system on another hosting account.
Taking ownership of your website files and domain name gives you and your team the freedom and flexibility to turn it into a successful sales and communication powerhouse.
Question 2: Do you optimize images for design, speed and searchability?
Images are crucial to your site’s success; they can also be ‘silent killers’ over time. Handled unprofessionally, they can negatively impact your site’s performance and your business reputation.
Every image on a website needs to be optimized for
- Dimensions so they look good on mobile, laptop, desktop and conference TVs
- Shape (landscape, portrait or square) so your design strategy stays consistent and pleases your audience
- ‘Weight,’ meaning file size, so they’ll load quickly and not use up too much of your audience’s precious bandwidth, or your server resources
- File type (jpg, png, svg) which also affects bandwidth and server resources
- Filename — they need to be human-friendly so Google can bring them up in search results
- Alt text, which is not visible on the page but is crucial for search ranking and accessibility
Heads Up! There’s a new image format in town, called ‘.webp.’ It’s still in the transition phase of common usage, so it has to be handled properly. For cutting edge performance, ask your web developer if she works with it.
Question 3: What will my web pages look like in Google Search Results?
Addressing this question takes care of a couple important items at the same time.
But first, a bit of technical information.
HTML is the computer language that web pages are written in. It’s made up of ‘tags’ that you wrap around the words, graphics, forms or other parts of a web page so that browsers know what to do with them.
Every webpage is made up of two main sections; a ‘head’ and a ‘body.’ The body holds what the public sees. Everything in the head is hidden from the public.
The head is like the brains of a web page. It tells browsers, servers, robots and social media how to handle the page. Many of the elements in the head are called ‘meta tags.’
Title and Description Meta Tags
The “Title” meta tag tells humans and robots the name of your page and it is the first thing people see in search results. It also shows up in browser tabs so people can see what page they’re on or what tab is open in their browser.
The “Description” meta tag shows up in search results as a way to help people know they’ll find what they’re looking for on your page, and to entice them to click.
Each of these meta tags have specific and optimal requirements for size and content, and each page must have a unique title and description to rank well in Google Search.
Don’t skip this step even if you are using one of the DIY websites platforms!
Question 4: Do you do ‘On-Page’ SEO?
“SEO” is Search Engine Optimization, which are techniques aimed at making your website available to search engines. Google search dominates the search engine industry.
Some SEO best practices are done on the public-facing pages of a website where you or your staff can reach them. These are referred to as ‘On-Page SEO.’
Some are ‘hard-coded’ into the structure of the site and you’ll need someone with technology skills to make changes. These are referred to as ‘Technical SEO.’ There’s overlap, but most of the techniques in this article can be classified as Technical SEO, which is why they are best done while the site is being built— not after!
However, at some point in the original web-building process, someone will need to format the public-facing content, and that can be done strategically, in ways that both people and machines understand.
This article describes two On-Page SEO techniques.
Reading is auditory. Even now, your brain is converting these marks (letters and words) on your screen as sound, the sound of someone’s voice. Punctuation is giving your brain instructions about the rhythm and nature of that voice. Periods mean a full stop, commas a pause, and quotation marks… They indicate a switch to a different voice! This is why authors speak of ‘finding one’s voice.’
The internet makes it possible for people to literally hear the spoken word — vs. the written word — through audio and video. Even so, sounds in themselves do not convey meaning. They need to be organized to convey meaning, to send a message that can be understood. Otherwise, it’s just noise, a ‘wall of text’ as they say, or gibberish.
This is where headings and subheadings come in. They group related ideas, give the body of your message boundaries to exist within. Headings and subheadings are so important in the understanding of your written copy that Google relies heavily on them to rank your web pages in search results.
Take the word, ‘kite,’ for example. Do you mean the predatory bird or the colorful toy that families enjoy on a windy afternoon? It all depends on whether the word is under the heading, “Birds” or “Family Fun.” The meaning of your words — for humans and machines — depend on the context.
Even well-formed paragraphs allow you to honor an important tenant of good page design; that a page should be easily scanned by busy people. The first sentence of a paragraph should make a point, and the remaining sentences back it up. You run the risk of losing an important idea if it’s buried in an unrelated paragraph.
Titles, main headings and subheadings each have their own special HTML tags on a web page ( h1, h2, h3, etc. ). These tags need to follow a meaningful hierarchy, like an old-fashioned outline if robots and human readers are to understand what you’re saying.
Too often, naive website professionals mistake heading tags for formatting tools. In other words, if they want big text, they use the main heading tag, H1, even though it is not the main category of an idea. This muddles the meaning of your message and will cost you some opportunities in Google Search results.
Hyperlinks, the clickable text that takes you somewhere else on the internet, can clarify or confuse your audience, enhance or spoil your reputation, and can improve or diminish your ranking in Google Search.
You might be surprised to know all the ways hypertext links can be written to strategically impact your presence on the internet. One of the most important has to do with handling internal and external links.
Internal links lead your site visitor to another page within your website. External links lead your visitor away from your web site.
Mentioning, and linking to, another business can help your audience round out their understanding. You are also doing a big favor to that business. It’s an endorsement — in your human visitor’s eyes and Google’s eyes, too.
However, you don’t want to lose that potential customer. Have you ever clicked on a link you want to read ‘in a few minutes,’ only to find the page you were on disappears? Your visitor might click the back button and scroll around looking for the place they were before being interrupted. All too often they won’t, and now they might even be annoyed at your business.
The way to remedy this is by having external links ‘open in a new window.’ That way, your website remains open and the new page opens automatically in a new browser tab.
Question 5: Do you do 301 Redirects?
This highly technical term doesn’t translate well into lay terms. It’s only important when you have an existing web site that is being rebuilt with some page changes. If existing page URLs are removed or renamed, people who have the old address will get a 404 error page.
For example, say your old contact page address says ‘…/contact-me’ and your new address says ‘…/contact-us.’ If any articles were written about your business in the past, people reading those articles will be sent to your old address!
This is annoying to humans, may cost you some business and loses points with Google, too. Unless… your web developer correctly sets up 301 Redirects.
Question 6: How will my web pages look on social media?
How social media sites display your web page can be controlled with another group of meta tags in the head of your website.
Have you ever seen post images that are cut off and post content that says stuff like “company logo (999) 999–9999 website.com Hours: Mon-Fri 8 am-5 pm” or other such non-attractive information? That’s because no one took the time to make the page work with Facebook (which also works for other social media).
Facebook has a set of what they call ‘open graph’ meta tags that let you choose how your business is represented when someone shares one of your web pages. Like the Title and Description meta tags above, each page should have a unique image and post content. The images need to be correctly sized and the post have the right number of characters.
Extra tip: Your developer needs to make sure Facebook is picking up the correct content with Facebook’s Sharing Debugger.
Question 7: Will my website pass Google’s tests for responsiveness, speed, and user experience?
Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It’s also in Google’s best interest as a business to give people the results they want. To that end, the company is continuously inventing tools that help web developers create a better experience for their users.
Responsiveness (the ablity to respond to various device widths) is probably a ‘no-brainer’ for web developers today, but some details may slip through the cracks. It’s better to test and developers can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. Google insists on a site being ‘mobile-friendly’ for it to show up in search results on phone and tablets.
Page Speed Insights
It’s also in your best interest to give people the experience they want from a website. All your efforts to make a great website will be for naught if the page doesn’t load fast enough. Your audience will just leave. Fortunately, there’s a test for that! It’s Google’s Page Speed Insights.
Results come in the form of scores between 0 and 100 with anything below 50 being seriously problematic. Scores between 50 and 90 can be improved by following the suggestions provided.
Page speed is dramatically influenced how well the underlying code is written. Special care needs to be taken with e-commerce or real estate sites. WordPress sites (which my company specializes in) can quickly become loaded up with unnecessary functions and features.
If you are in one of the design industries, fashion, automotive or film for example, people expect longer load times. But if you are selling simple services or products, the focus needs to be on great content rather than fancy website features.
User Experience ( UX )
Besides speed and layout, there are other critical factors that impact your visitor’s perception of your site and therefore of your business. Just recently, Google announced a set of tools that measure ‘essential metrics for a healthy site.’ Google calls this initiative “Core Vitals.”
One of the most noteworthy items it measures is how much a page jumps around as you’re trying to read it or click on it. Google says it well…
Have you ever been reading an article online when something suddenly changes on the page? Without warning, the text moves, and you’ve lost your place. Or even worse: you’re about to tap a link or a button, but in the instant before your finger lands — BOOM — the link moves, and you end up clicking something else!
Indeed! I have experienced just these things to my great irritation.
Developers can learn how to minimize this effect and other problems on Google’s Core Vitals page. We have at least 6 months before Google will start ranking websites based on their Core Vitals scores.
Question 8: Will my website be encrypted (https)?
Not too long ago, any clever bad guy could easily intercept the signal from your shopping cart and get your password or credit card number. Now it’s not so easy with SSL encryption.
SSL encryption isn’t part of the website code; it is applied at the server level. The company that hosts your website files provides it — or doesn’t.
Many hosting companies provide this service for an annual fee, but you can also get it for free from a non-profit called Let’s Encrypt. I donate to them on occasion because it’s so important.
Besides making your business look more trustworthy, encryption is required for e-commerce sites and to rank in Google search.
It’s not always a given in hosting packages. You need to ask the question when vetting a hosting company.
Fresh, interesting and professional communications — with real people — are the cornerstone of marketing to loyal, long-term customers. Don’t let your website get in the way, or send the wrong signals by having hidden flaws. Ask if your website is as well-crafted on the inside as it is on the outside.