Custom WebHelp by Judith Snyder Judiths customer service, attention to detail, and response time are outstanding, St. James Mercy Hospital A guide to choosing your website designer
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Judith Snyder
Custom WebHelp
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a guide to choosing your website designer

Website Design is an Unregulated Business
Anyone can put up a website and declare themselves a website designer with "years of experience" and testimonials from friends and family. WordPress and template websites have made it especially easy for anyone to build a website without knowing HTML, CSS, Google search guidelines etc. Technology and graphics are important for building professional websites but even more important is training in information design, user-friendly navigation & layout, content strategy, search engine optimization, and required accessibility for all websites.

Beyond Visual Design—To Useful Websites
According to Stanford University, people quickly evaluate a site by "visual design alone." Website designers often push the latest technology whether it’s beneficial to their client or not. Until recently, designers were using a lot of Flash to increase profits—Flash designers were in high demand. Flash had well-known security and search engine optimization issues (not to mention slow loading times). Eventually, some companies with beautiful Flash-based websites went out of business because it was difficult for visitors to find useful information or to buy products. User-friendly product pages and carts would have been far more beneficial then the latest Flash diversion. Only when Apple took a stand and did not allow Flash technology on iPads and its Safari browser did Flash begin to disappear from websites.

Consider selecting a web designer based on the quality and usefulness of their websites rather than their marketing pitch, price, or "pretty sites."

Gerry McGovern, an international authority on websites and content, writes the "best websites are useful and ugly." What he is referring to is that "functionality and usefulness are far more important to the success of your website than how nice and elegant it looks."

Check their Client Sites:
  • Are their client websites useful, professional, and easy to navigate? Can you find information and perform tasks (buy, signup, download) quickly?

  • Do their client sites’ home pages indicate what the site is about and what is unique about the organization, their services or products?

  • Is the artwork & design developed by artist with a degree or by a tech or programmer (ask us)?

  • Does the website work the same on the 4 major browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari?

  • Does the website load quickly?

  • Does the website contain correct search engine optimization (ask us)? Avoid companies that use "keyword stuffing" which can get your site blacklisted.

  • Content matters. Is the content descriptive or is it "fluff" (ask us)?

  • Is the text easy to read?

  • Are large paragraphs of text are broken up so visitors can skim the page quickly?

  • Does the site have correct spelling and grammar?

Check their Credentials
  • Ask for long-term (5+ years) client references. Long-term, satisfied clients will vouch for the company with testimonials and references you can call (larger sites or well-known organizations are better rather than "mom and pop" sites that may be friends or family).

  • Has the website design firm been in business (DBA doing business as) for 5 years and built at least 20 professional websites?

  • Are they building the websites from scratch or are they using a pre-built template like WordPress? Anyone that can use software can build a WordPress without any technical expertise.

  • Does their company website list personnel names and company location? There should be real people standing behind their work.

  • Do they have university credentials and certifications in internet technology or new media? Or are they transitioning from advertising, programming, or art into website designers? To become a website designer, it is crucial to take appropriate coursework and work under experienced website designers to really understand the entire scope of the web design field.
  • Search the Dun & Bradstreet site (free) and see if the company is registered:

    Search to see if company is registered

Check their Contact & Customer Service
  • Do they have real people listed on their website that are easy to contact by phone and email or do they use an anonymous form?

  • Ask their long-term references how quickly do their respond to requests ... within a few hours, within a business day, or days, weeks later?

John Alexander Cautions About Search Engine Optimization SEO Companies
Search engine expert John Alexander cautions about SEO individuals or companies that do not offer good value for the money. They may have excellent "marketing" skills in terms of writing a convincing pitch or have a great story to tell but they are mostly thinking about how much money they think they can make.
read article

Best Practices – A Team Approach to Website Design
A well-built website requires a team approach with technical, artistic, and marketing skills in addition to expertise in information architecture, content, search engine strategy, user-friendly layout and navigation, and required accessibility. Look for a website design company whose approach to website development is more than just technology and graphics and has a team of experts.

It takes a team to professionally manage all the website components.

Website Components throughout the Website Life Cycle
Website Development Arrow Site Launch Arrow Website Maintenance Professionally Managed
  · Website Requirements
· Discovery
· Hosting & Domain
· Logo & Branding
· Professional Graphics
· Information Architecture
· User-friendly, Usability
· Navigation & Layout
· Content
· Content Strategy
· Marketing Message
· Technology
· Social Media
· Testing
· Desktop, tablet, mobile
· Search Engine Optimization SEO
· Accessibility for disability
· Add or transfer a domain name
· Change hosting
· Content Updates
· Content Strategy
· Remove Spammy Links to your Site
· Information Architecture
· User-friendly, Usability
· Navigation & Layout Updates
· Email
· Forms
· Online Payments
· Graphic Updates
· Branding Updates
· Marketing Updates
· Technology Updates
· Analysis, Statistics
· Social Media
· Newsletters
· SSL Security Certificates, renewal/troubleshooting
· Testing, Troubleshooting
· Desktop, tablet, mobile
· Update broken links
· What Pages to Remove
· Search Engine Optimization
· Updating SPF Record
· Redesign
· ICANN, Hosting Issues
· Billing: Hosting, Domain
· What to do when your website is down
· Are auto-payments a good idea?
· When Hosting says change all Passwords
· Accessibility for disability

Website Maintenance
Avoid maintenance plans of $XXX/month—you will get more value by paying a professional an hourly rate to update your site.

Own Your Domain Name
It is critical that you own your domain name ( and website hosting so you can have total control of your website. This allows you to change website designers or hosting companies. Website designers are often resellers of domain names/hosting and bundle all their clients together in one account to maximize their profits. You may think you own your own hosting account and domain name but you may not actually have control of it. Domain names are controlled by admin email address for the domain name account. The admin email address should always be your permanent email address. WhoIs ( will send you an email every year to confirm your email address and contact information for your domain name. If you are not receiving this yearly update then you need to login into your domain name account (and hosting) and put your email address in the admin email on the form. If your email address changes, then login and update it for your domain name. Ask your website designer to unbundle your account and domain name into a separate account from the other accounts. Website designers do not want to loose your hosting business so they should take your request seriously. If someone else actually owns or controls your domain name—it is possible to get your domain name back if they are reputable. What you can do. Register your domain name yourself at and purchase hosting from a good national hosting company. Small local hosting companies may not have backups or good security.

Template/WordPress/CMS Sites Versus Hand-Coded Custom Sites
Pros of template sites

  • Pre-built WordPress templates are either free or nearly free
  • Anyone can update a WordPress site
  • Design is complete, all you need to do is add your photos and text
  • A pre-built WordPress site can be launched in a very short time (some take just a day or two)
Cons of template sites Pros of hand-coded custom websites
  • Website is built to your exact specifications
  • Very flexible, easy to make layout, design, technology, and content changes over the years
  • Complex content can be easily formatted for scanning—how people read on the web
  • A professionally maintained site will continue to look professional
  • Easy to change website designers and hosting
  • Website maintenance: a professional with expertise in content, Photoshop, and technology will make sure all content that is posted is edited, professional, and formatted correctly for the web.
Cons of custom websites
  • Takes longer to build
  • Need a technical consultant to update the site

Website guidelines for website owners

Free Flat Icons
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