It can be difficult to select the right web developer. Regardless of your project and your budget, there are a lot of people with wide ranging degrees of skill at web development. How can you have any idea of their level of expertise and professionalism? How do you determine what you want or need? There is no absolute answer to this question, unfortunately. As much as I’d love to say "Well, obviously, you should hire me!", I may not actually be the most appropriate choice for your project.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways in which you can research your potential web developer and try and determine whether you’re interested in pursuing their services. The very first step is to find the developer’s own website and look around. There are a few specific things you’ll be looking for.
On the developer’s website.
First of all — you do not need to like the developer’s website. What they have designed for their own purposes does not necessarily reflect what they’ll do for you. The first thing you should find is a page of examples of their work (my design gallery, for example). Look at a few of their designs. Do they reflect the business or individual they’re representing? Do they look amateurish? (This is, of course, very subjective. However, if you think the sites don’t look professional — don’t pay for them.)
Probably the most important part of a website is the navigation. While you’re browsing around these sites, can you find things that you might be looking for? Do the links go where you expect them to? Is the text for the links meaningful? Think like a customer of the business – if you wanted something from them, could you find it?
Take all of what you find with a grain of salt – it’s difficult to know what the circumstances may have been. A stubborn client may have insisted that his links be represented exclusively by abstract art, although few will guess that the fragment of Mark Rothko’s "Light Red Over Black" leads to his contact information.
What about local developers?
This is ultimately your personal preference. Do you want to be able to sit down with your developer and discuss the site over lunch? You’ll probably want to pick somebody in your area. If this isn’t a priority, however, most web developers have no problems working remotely.
Communication with your developer, whether local or remote, is critical. The first stages of establishing your relationship with the web developer, before you’ve signed any contract or completed price negotiations, are a good time to figure out how reliable the developer might be with communication. If they don’t answer your questions from the beginning, you may not want to trust them to be communicative during the project!
There are an incredible number of tools for checking websites. You can use these tools to validate their code
(that is, to check it against the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium)‘s standards for the
HTML (HyperText Markup Language) language), or to check it for accessibility, or to see how long it will take to the site to load. All of
these things are potentially of concern. Valid code is an indicator of professionalism – it demonstrates that
the developer has taken the time to check the code and make certain that everything was formed correctly.
Although web browsers are very forgiving of errors, HTML is still a computer language, so the correct construction
of the web programming language is a good thing to do!
Accessibility is also important – especially if you anticipate a large number of visitors to your site. The
more people visiting, the higher the probability that one of them will have some kind of perceptive disability,
such as blindness or color-blindness, or some other disability which would limit their ability to use your
site. It is not yet law in the United States, accept as it applies to government sites, but there has been
precedence set in the courts in some states to offer this protection to disabled populations.
The speed with which a site loads, or "Load Time", is probably one of the most crucial elements to
check. The standard estimate is that a user loses patience after waiting about 8 seconds for a page to load.
Every extra second is the possibility they’ll just go somewhere else. There are many factors playing in to
speed, and it’s very easy to check.
Online Tools for Testing Websites
- HTML Validator – from the World Wide Web Consortium
- WAVE – WebAim.org
- Color Blindness Simulator – From "VisCheck.com"
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