Are you looking for a website developer and someone to manage your online presence? Great news: You have a ton of options! Just do a Google search for “website development” or “content marketing.” There are tens of thousands of options out there. I guess that is the bad news. How do you choose the right one for your business? Here are some questions to ask before you hire an agency for website development and content creation, along with the answers that you want to hear.
(Editor’s note: 1sixty8 media specializes in clients from the mobile enhancement industry. While we mention the mobile enhancement industry often in this post, these principles apply to hiring a website developer for any industry.)
Your Portfolio is Nice, but What Experience Do You Have in My Industry?
The truth is, there are a lot of great website developers out there. The problem is, very few have experience in car audio, window tinting, truck accessories or other aspects of the mobile enhancement industry. These companies can build nice websites – with lackluster content. The result is a website that looks nice, but sounds generic and paints a picture of mediocrity to folks brought in by a shiny coat of paint.
What You Want: A company that employs team members who are knowledgeable in your industry.
Tell Me about Your Team
Because of the nature of the web, a website development company can often look a lot bigger than it really is. The reality is that most companies are made up of one or two people. A team this small has to wear a lot of hats:
- Art Director
- Graphic Designer
- SEO Specialist
- Etc., etc., etc.
This usually results in workers attempting to complete tasks that are outside their field of expertise. Sometimes the results are acceptable, sometimes not.
What You Want: An agency made up of a diverse team of specialists. You want your art director driving the look and feel of your site, not the underlying code. You want your writer to have experience in the mobile enhancement industry so your website content brands your company as an expert, not sounding flat and generic. You want a professional proofreader who will ensure that your content is not full of errors. The bottom line is that you want a team of specialized experts, many of whom have experience in the mobile enhancement industry and specific aspects of web design.
Do You Have a Plan for Future Content?
Most website developers are just that: website developers. They are not content marketers and do not have processes in place to deliver ongoing and relevant content. Arguably, a focused, ongoing content marketing plan is the most important component of a successful online presence. Here are some reasons why fresh and properly delivered content is crucial:
- It signals to search engines that your site is active and continually updated.
- Your content brands you as an expert to interested consumers.
- Informative and educational content sets you far apart from your competitors.
- It gives you a platform to show off your products and installations.
- It provides keyword opportunities to attract more and more interested consumers to your facility.
- Quality content can be shared in your e-mail marketing and is engaging on your social media.
- Content, when executed properly, is an asset, not an expense.
What You Want: An agency that recognizes that a quality website is just the beginning. You want to know that they have solid, proven processes in place to allow you to add fresh content to the site efficiently. Finally, you want these processes to be insanely simple, reducing the time it takes for you to supply the required images and information, and letting you get back to serving your clients.
Are Your Websites Mobile Responsive?
Mobile responsive design is no longer optional. An increasing percentage of website traffic is from mobile devices. When a consumer lands on a site that is not mobile responsive you can almost guarantee that they will move on to a competitor’s site. This makes for a terrible first impression and is a lost opportunity. There is simply no reason for a site not to be 100% mobile responsive.
In addition to a poor user experience, Google and other search engines are penalizing sites that are not responsive by moving them down in the search rankings. Put another way, mobile responsive sites are good for SEO.
What You Want: An agency that creates websites that are fully mobile responsive. Be sure to load many of their sites on your smartphone and tablet to test that they are easy to navigate and provide a fluid experience on these smaller screens.
Are Your Websites Secure?
When talking about security for your website, we are not talking about password protection. A secure site will have a URL (web address) that begins with “https” and will display a lock or some other indication in the browser that it is secured. The https prefix alone is not enough. If a site is not configured properly, the browser will not recognize that it is secure and not display the “lock.”
Why is website security important? Over the past few years, Google and other search engines have increased the value of properly secured sites. These sites are given higher priority in search results. A secured website is a sign to your website visitors that you do things properly at your business.
What You Want: A secure site. Go to any prospective developer’s site and make sure that it is secure, along with all their client sites. If they are not, consider looking elsewhere. Today, a properly secured website is development 101.
Tell Me about Your Hosting Platform
In most cases, you will host your website with your agency. Assuming that you are establishing an ongoing content creation program like we mentioned above, you definitely want to keep your hosting with the company you choose. The problem is that not all hosting platforms are created equally. This topic could easily be its own post, but for our purposes now, we will look at the two most common hosting options: Shared and Dedicated.
In a shared hosting environment, your website is on a server along with thousands of other sites, most of which have no connection to you or your developer. If a coding error or problem with a plug-in causes a problem with one of these sites, or if another site has a massive spike in traffic, you run the risk of the server crashing and taking your site down with it. At the very least, the activities of other sites on the server can bring your site to a crawl.
In a shared environment, your developer has very limited (if any) ability to tailor the server to the needs of their clients. This almost always results in slower or lackluster performance – something that Google takes into account when ranking websites.
With dedicated hosting, your website is on a server with a few dozen sites that are all under the management of your agency. In this case, your agency has complete control over the activities of all the other sites, greatly reducing the odds of downtime or slowdowns. You agency retains control over all the server settings and can fine-tune it to provide optimal load speed, performance and reliability.
What You Want: Your website to be in a dedicated hosting environment. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to tell if your prospective developer is using shared or dedicated hosting. There are some ways to get a very good idea, but hat is beyond the scope of this article. This will often boil down to asking the question and trusting what they say. One consideration is that dedicated hosting costs many times that of shared hosting and is often only used by bigger and more established agencies.
An important note about hosting: Any site can go down. Even the most expensive and hardened hosting platforms can fall victim for DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks or other nefarious activities. Even sites like Amazon, Twitter and The New York Times fall victim to these issues.
How Do You Protect and Maintain My Website?
Having a high-quality, dedicated hosting environment is not the end of the story. Your site also has to be maintained and protected. Here is the short list of what this involves:
- Regular updates of the website’s software. We recommend that this takes place at least three times a week. When software is out of date, it can become slow and vulnerable to attacks.
- Daily full backups of the site.
- Daily security checks on the site.
- Uptime monitoring to report any outages immediately to an administrator who can address the issue immediately.
- A clearly defined disaster recovery plan to ensure your website is always available.
What You Want: An agency that will offer all of the services above and has a defined plan in place to see to it that they happen without fail. Ask them about each of these services and be sure that every one of them is provided. Get it in writing.
How Do You Select the Software Used on My Site?
Agencies can choose from a wide variety of software solutions to run the “behind the scenes” functions of your website. Some of this software is developed by reputable companies, while others are considered shady, at best. Reputable solutions are more secure, and are updated frequently to add new features and performance. Other options may cost lest up front, but unless they are supported, they can wreak havoc with your website.
What You Want: An agency that works only with proven, supported and reputable software. Find out about the process they have in place to test software before deploying it on their clients’ websites.
Do you Provide Licenses for the Software Used on My Site?
Most websites today are based on a common software platform or framework, then have additional pieces of software attached to it to provide specific features and functions. In some cases, this add-on software is free, but often, better software solutions require a paid license to be able to keep it up to date. As mentioned above, updating the underlying software is critical to a site’s health, security and performance.
All too often, a developer will install unlicensed software in a short-sighted effort to solve a problem and save a few bucks. This can cause big issues in the future.
What You Want: All of the software on your site that requires a license must be licensed. This is common sense. In some cases, the agency will provide these licenses as part of your ongoing content creation and/or hosting package. In other cases, you will be required to foot the bill. In the end, it is critical that you make sure that all of your software is properly licensed.
What Happens If Something Goes Wrong?
Let’s face it: A website is built on software. Even the best software solutions may encounter a problem from time to time. If or when that happens, is there a simple way to notify your agency or developer, and what kind of response should you expect?
What You Want: The agency you partner with should have a dedicated support system in place to handle site-related issues for their clients. This should be a ticket-based system that is easy to locate on their company website. You click a link and fill out a ticket, and the issue is routed to the team member who can address the concern the best. For example, a content issue should go to a member of the content team, not to one of the programmers or developers.
Turnaround time is more difficult to nail down. It is impossible for any agency to guarantee the amount of time needed to solve every issue. What you should expect is swift recognition and action taken based on the urgency of your issue.
If you happen to own a mobile enhancement facility (car audio, window tint, truck accessories, detailing, etc.) and have read this far, we would urge you to read just a bit more and find out why 1sixty8 media – my company – is the right agency for you.
In any case, we hope that the information provided here will help you make the right decision when hiring an agency for your company’s website creation and ongoing content. These are standard expectations,and any reputable agency should already be doing everything talked about in this post.
Shameless Plug for 1sixty8 media
1sixty8 media is a website development, content creation and graphic design agency that focuses exclusively on serving mobile enhancement retailers, distributors and manufacturers. If you choose to do business with 1sixty8 media, this is what you can expect:
- A team of more than 15 (and growing) professionals, more than half of whom have extensive experience in the mobile enhancement industry
- An agency with a laser-focused plan for ongoing content delivery and processes in place to make this incredibly simple for our clients
- Mobile responsive design on every new website
- Secure websites every time
- A dedicated hosting platform to ensure lightning-fast performance and virtually no downtime
- Detailed processes to make sure your website is always up to date, backed up and secure
- Only fully licensed, high-quality, tested and proven software used on our sites
- A robust, web-based support ticket system
To learn more about how 1sixty8 media can market your mobile enhancement facility successfully online, contact us today. Someone will get back to you shortly.