6 Questions to ask a web design company before hiring them

When it comes to investing in a website there are lots of different moving parts to the project that you want to make sure come together to create a smooth and easy experience with your web design company.

We’ve heard some real horror stories from potential clients about rogue web developers who fall off the face of the earth, projects that grind to a halt or web design agencies that promise the world and deliver a snowglobe.

Since we go out of our way to make sure everyone who engages Marketeam to build them a website gets a first-class experience and an amazing website, we’re confident we can alleviate any horrible experiences our customers or potential customers might have had in the past.

If you’re looking at engaging a web design company to build you a website, there are some core questions that we believe should be answered before you engage them. This will help you to determine the type of web development company they are, their ethos and how much control you have over your website when everything is completed.

Domain Names - who owns them and who has control?

This is by far one of the most important aspects of any website design project that constantly gets overlooked. Your domain name is the anchor to the entire project and if you don’t own or have control over this, things can get difficult for you down the track.

Check to make sure you own the domain name

One of the first things I do when on the phone to a potential client is check to make sure they own their domain name. It’s amazing how often someone gets their web designer to purchase or register domain names for them and the developer registers the domains under their own personal name, not their clients name!

Why is that bad? Because technically the developer owns the domain (because it’s his or her name on the account) they could turn around at a later date and decide to ‘sell’ you the domain at exorbitant pricing. Worse, if there’s a falling out or issue, the developer can take control of your email, website and everything to do with the domain name (it only takes a limited imagination to start thinking about the potentially devastating effects that could have).

The other important thing to note is that if your domain name is registered to your web developer or IT company, it’s likely account renewal emails and reminders are going to them, so if they don’t pay, forget to pay, are on holidays or have fallen off the face of the earth (it’s amazing how often that happens) you’re left completely in the lurch and because the domain name is registered under their name, you won’t be able to talk to the domain registrar to sort out the issue (usually they will only speak to the account holder).

If you want to see the registrant contact details on a domain name you can type in your domain name to a whois tool and it will give you information about the domain’s owner and where it’s hosted. My preferred whois website is http://whois.domaintools.com/ – simply add any domain name into the search box and it will tell you who owns it, where it’s hosted and a range of other information about the domain.

Domain Reseller Accounts

Many web design companies use what’s called a reseller account for their domains and hosting. This enables them to resell domain names and hosting to their clients and make additional revenue.

It works like this. A web design company signs up for a reseller account with a domain name registrar (often these companies enable them to resell both domains and hosting) and they’re able get hosting and domains at a wholesale rate which they then ‘on sell’ at a retail price.

Whilst this is essentially the model for a majority of businesses worldwide (buy a product and sell it at a higher rate) there’s a couple of issues with this approach.

If a web design company registers a domain name under a reseller account, you lose control over access to the domain and being able to talk directly to the domain company about any issues (if you try and call the domain company they will tell you to speak with your web design company). This works most of the time, but if the web company goes out of business, or you need to talk with someone over a holiday period or out of hours for example, this could prove to be a problem.

Additional Charges
If your web design agency has complete control over your domain name it’s likely any changes you wish to make to your domain name (like if you have MX records set up for Office365 or Gsuite, or you wish to set up a sub-domain for example) you will be charged additional fees for the setup. You might be thinking you don’t have the technical expertise to set up something like this yourself, but that’s not the issue. You should have the option to do this yourself if you wish – a web design agency that has your domain name under a reseller account takes away that option.

Locks you in
If for any reason you choose to stop using your current web design company and want to move on to another supplier, having all your hosting and domain details wrapped up in a reseller account makes this process difficult. Not impossible, but more difficult than it should be. If you want your domain and hosting to be moved to an account that you can control, this needs to be initiated by the account holder, which in this case is the web developer you’re essentially ‘firing’ so things can get a little awkward.

The final word on domains

Make sure you own your domain name and have control of the account. Your domain name runs your website and more importantly your email so make sure it’s under your control.

Hosting - where’s it hosted and who has control?

When it comes to hosting, this is the engine room of your website. This is where all of your files are stored, your backups usually reside and how people access your website. Hosting plays an important role in how fast your website loads, how much you can store on your site and how often it goes down.

In the world of hosting it’s possible to get bogged down in technical details and discussions about storage size, bandwidth and shared vs cloud vs dedicated servers, etc. Ultimately your web design company will likely have a company they prefer to use (possibly a few) and what they charge for hosting will depend on the type of site they’re building for you, how much storage space you need, your bandwidth requirements and a bunch of other factors.

What are the different types of hosting?

For the purposes of this article we’re going to concentrate on two types of hosting – dedicated hosting and shared hosting.

Shared Hosting
This is hosting that is typically controlled by the hosting company. Think of servers that host websites like a normal computer, and each website is a folder in the drive of that computer. A hosting company controls how many ‘folders’ there are (for example if it’s cheap and nasty hosting it’s likely they’re cramming as many ‘folders’ onto the hosting as possible) what websites go on this server and the software that runs it.

Dedicated Hosting
Dedicated hosting is where a company will ‘buy’ a server and have complete control over the amount of websites that go on it, the types of websites it hosts (usually it’s own clients) and what it charges for it’s monthly or yearly fees.

There are pros and cons to both types of hosting. Shared hosting means you have complete control over your server access, files and Cpanel logins (Cpanel is the interface that enables developers to upload files, set up databases, set up emails, etc) BUT, you don’t have control over the other websites on that server, so if for example, one of the websites on that server gets hacked, is conducting illegal business or is hosting unsavory images / videos etc, there's a chance – whilst very slim, this server might make it onto a blacklist.

Dedicated servers offer much more control to the web design company that purchases it to regulate the websites hosted on the server and monitor the activities of these sites more closely. This however, also means you give up control of being able to access things like Cpanel, database creation and sometimes even FTP access. The other thing to consider is that if you don’t have complete access to your server, if you wish to change hosting providers down the track, access to your website will be at the whim of the web development company (you may find there’s suddenly exit fees or certain requirements for getting access).

What content management system do you use?

It’s true... most web design agencies (particularly those in Brisbane) tend to use either Joomla or Wordpress – an open source content management system. There are loads of different content management systems that enable you to make changes and edits to your website but the two most popular open source systems are Joomla and Wordpress.

Why open source systems are a good option

There are many benefits to using an open source content management system like Joomla or Wordpress for both the web design company and the end user. The main benefit is that you’re not stuck using a proprietary content management system that’s been built by the web design agency. Why would that be bad? Well, if you ever want to move away from that company, chances are you will need to start from scratch because the web design company owns the IP for the CMS and they’re not likely to let you copy it to another server or hosting company. With open source software like Joomla or Wordpress, your site is highly portable and will work on pretty much most hosting around the world.

They’re easy to use
First they’re very easy to use with some basic training so you will be able to easily make edits and changes to your website.

They’re well supported
Between them both Wordpress and Joomla have been downloaded almost 250 million times. They run over 35% of all the websites in the world have over 60,000 different plugins and modules you can add and have tens – if not hundreds of thousands of blog posts, forum entries, videos, how to’s and hints and tips on the internet. It’s no wonder so many web development companies use these two excellent content management systems.

There are no ongoing fees
The great thing about open source systems is you’re unlikely to have to pay ongoing monthly fees. Yes you will need to hire a developer or design company to help you get the initial website build looking great, but after that there are usually no additional ongoing fees. Unlike software as a service systems like Wix, Squarespace or Adobe Muse you won’t have to pay monthly fees.

They’re frequently updated
Both Joomla and Wordpress are constantly updating their software with bug fixes, new features and security updates.

There’s nothing wrong with using proprietary content management systems to build a website if you have very particular or unique requirements, however we find that 99% of our business customers can easily get away with having a website built in Joomla or Wordpress.

What’s the billing process?

One thing to ask before you jump into a project with a web design company is “what’s the billing process?”. Here at Marketeam we try to keep it very simple by billing 50% up front and 50% upon completion of the project.

Some companies have part payments when you hit certain milestones, others have payment periods or monthly fees, it’s worth finding out what you’re up for and when before you choose your web developer.

What are the ongoing and or additional fees?

There are two things that will always incur an ongoing fee – your domain name and your hosting. Outside of this there may be additional monthly or yearly fees for things like:-

  • Subscriptions to modules, plugins or components
  • Template upgrades or framework updates
  • Commissions for payment processors (Like Paypal or epay, etc)
  • Additional services like Mailchimp, Jotform or Ecwid, etc
  • Extra hosting space
  • Extra bandwidth
  • Email systems like Office 365 or G-Suite
  • Additional domain names
  • Depending on your domain registrar they may charge for re-directs or advanced DNS
  • SSL Certificates

What access do I get when the project is over?

Some web design companies will only give you admin access to the backend of your website with limited access to things like templates, backups and configuration files. Here at Marketeam we believe that companies should have complete control over their website, their hosting and their domain names. Sure, they may not want to log into Cpanel and play around in PHPMyAdmin but the option should be there for them if they want to.

This is particularly true is they ever want to change developer or companies that look after their website. By having complete control over their hosting and website etc, it’s easy to pass these details to another developer should their old company fold, the business goes under, gets sold or starts providing less than adequate service.

We believe that by enabling customers to own everything to do with their website and having the ability to change web design companies not only keeps us on our toes, but it ensures that we keep our customers with quality workmanship and a high level of customer service – not lock-in contracts and tech talk.

If you have any further questions about what to ask a web design company before hiring them, feel free to send us an email info@marketeam.com.au or give us a call on (07) 3882 3375 - we’d be more than happy to have a chat with you.