Like most major cities, there is no shortage of web designers in Vancouver, BC. In fact, I would argue that there are proportionately more web developers (I use “designer” and “developer” interchangeably although technically they compose different skill sets) here because Vancouver is not a head-office city. The large number of small businesses and branch offices creates a slightly different market from say Toronto or Calgary. This is probably also compounded by the fact that we are a bit more software focused because Vancouver plays host to some smaller software development and video game companies (which naturally results in more individuals able to build websites). So small business owners need to understand the kinds of questions they should ask they prospective web designers as well as the answers they should expect to hear back:

As usual, we’ve prepared a check list for you to use when on the prowl for your next web developer. These are drawn from our own experience as well as from conversations that we have had with other Vancouver web developers and designers:

  • Strategy. Putting this first and foremost will save you tonnes of time. Your web designer needs to understand your business strategy and how to translate that strategy into appropriate online tactics. Web development is no-longer simply about a brochure site that acts as a static place holder. The web is dynamic and so is your business. Your web designer needs to offer you insight into leveraging all of your online opportunities.
  • Complete Product. Checking this criteria second will further trim fat because many designers and developers have carved themselves into a niche that might not serve you well. The classic example is flash developers who are focused primarily on aesthetics. While fine for real-estate development companies that are pumping thousands of dollars into their own marketing campaigns, this kind of design will not serve small businesses well. Many flash sites cannot be read/indexed by search engines so all the wonderful content relating to your small business is wasted. And if you want an ecommerce site, some search engine optimization and social media integration, you better make sure the developer you are interviewing offers all of these things and has experience delivering them.
  • Experience. Now we’re at the place where most small business owners begin by looking at current and past clients. Needless to say, if your designer hasn’t done sites similar in nature or feature set to what you envision, this is probably a signal that you should move on to the next prospect. At the very least, your designer should have some testimonials on their site and don’t be afraid to call up some of their past clients and get some first-hand feedback.
  • Customer Service Orientation. Ask prospective web developers and designers how they manage their clients. Many will use the old email/spreadsheet system which is OK for some people. But given that there is so much choice in the market, you are wise to consider finding a company that uses a customer relationship management system, issue tracking system and/or project management system. These products accelerate web development and are the marks of organized and professional companies that truly put the customer first. And when you check up on your prospects, find out how well they communicate and how quick they are to respond.
  • Project Management Skills. This segues from the previous criterion. Any good web developer is probably very busy satisfying many clients. You need to understand exactly what their availability is and how they manage so many projects. Understanding their internal pecking order will give you a good idea of where you might stand in relation to one of their “larger” clients and how much attention you are actually going to get once you sign on.
  • Understand Technology. This is critical but you won’t be able to feel this out until you are sitting and talking with your top prospects. They need to understand the basic about the various languages used in web design such as php, css, html, javascript, etc, etc. They need to be aware of the various applications out there that people are using such as Google aps, analytics, webmaster tools and so on. Further, they need to be aware of various content management systems that are being used by web developers around the world. But most importantly and superseding all of these, they need to have a higher-level understanding of the trends in web technology and how those trends are going to affect the industry and potentially your online presence. Do a bit of research ahead of time and ask your prospect a tough question about trends, if you don’t get a satisfactory answer, move on.
  • Standards. We subtly mentioned this already, but standards are vitally important to proper web development. You want users to come to your site and find things with ease. A sideways scrolling site that is controlled by misplaced navigation buttons will cause people to get frustrated and leave your page. Get creative with the content of your site but keep the layout and user experience to what the masses expect. And don’t be afraid to test our your prospects site for code compliance using w3schools’ validator. A few errors/warnings is pretty normal but over 30 and warning bells should start going off that this prospect isn’t up to date or aware of the current standards.
  • Original Content. This is where developers should get creative, not with your layout and user experience. Make sure you ask how your designer will create unique content for your site and ask them to clearly explain how they plan to use templates. Templates are OK, but you don’t want a “canned” site that looks like thousands of other html templated sites that show up on the same search result as yours. This won’t convince customers that you are unique and special and actually positions you as one of the “low end” players in your market.
  • Cost. I probably don’t need to remind you of this one as cost is top of mind for all small business people. But the most important thing to understand here is cashflow. How much money are you going to have to pay up-front for your website. Most large firms in Vancouver work on fixed contracts with optional “service agreements”. These are very burdensome for most small businesses as they don’t have $20K to drop on a website plus an additional monthly rate. Try to find a company that will work on a flat monthly rate so that you can take advantage of changes in your business, your customers, search engines and other web technology and avoid building a website that starts going stale the minute it rolls off the lot.
  • Fit. Knowing that Vancouver is a pretty competitive market, the fit with your team is vitally important so that you can feel comfortable communicating what you like and don’t like about the site. Don’t settle for a designer that has all of the above but just doesn’t mesh well with you or your team. This isn’t a good idea for any business relationship and certainly isn’t positive for a product such as a website which is affected by so many dynamic internal and external elements.

Given that the Vancouver web design market is completely saturated, you should never settle for a designer that does not meet all of the above criteria. I know you are probably reading this and thinking about how little time you have in your day already and don’t want to interview 10 designers. But we have heard countless stories of business owners who simply went with the first designer they spoke to and ended up getting a less than adequate website or one that didn’t even get completed. If you have any questions about your current or future web designer, feel free to call us and we can help clear the air.