There are new development agencies and freelance web designers emerging every day, so how do you know who to trust and what questions should you be asking?

These top tips from GetOnIT will help you distinguish a professional web developer from a website cowboy and ensure your project is an online success!

The truth is there are many people out there who claim to be web designers but in reality have no real experience delivering professional websites, meeting website standards or writing validated code.

What your website specification and what do you require?

It’s important to first distinguish the different areas of expertise which make up a web development team, typically this will consist of:

Web designer: responsible for mocking up your website and producing a visual design which will be presented and agreed with you before the development stage begins. Frontend web developer: responsible for coding design into a website which can be viewed in a web browser using HTML and CSS.

Web programmer: responsible for special features and backend content management including database interactivity, usually with PHP, MySQL and Javascript

SEO/Internet Marketer: responsible for optimising your website for the search engines, this will include both onsite and offsite optimisation

You should realise that if dealing with someone who only specialises in one of these areas they may not be able to deliver everything you require. An established web development agency or company should employ staff experienced in all these fields.

For the remainder of this guide the term “web developers” will relate to a web development team as listed above.

Get to know the web developers and do your research

Take some time to look over their company website and get a feel for who you might be doing business with.

How long have they been in business for, when were they established?

Check their portfolio, who are their clients and how long have they been established for?

Check the about us, do they have a web development team?

Do they work from an established office, if so where?

Are the testimonials on their website real?

Can you contact them by telephone?

Can you arrange a meeting to discuss your project face to face?

A company with a fancy website isn’t enough proof to commit a long term business relationship, it’s important you establish their credentials and check they are who they say they are.

Do the clients on their portfolio really exist or are they just template screenshots taken from somewhere else online?

Does this company really consist of a web development team of experts or is it a one man band operating from his bedroom?

You can check a websites domain name at to see when it was registered, you can also use this WHOIS tool to check the web development companies client websites on their portfolio.

Buying a Website: The Right Questions to Ask

So you have found a web development company who appear reputable, you’re going to get in touch for a quote but want to ask some questions first:

What software will they use to create/develop your website?

What technologies will they use?

How do they write code, does it validate to W3C?

Do they include Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?

Will your website be accessible?

What standards do they adhere to?

A professional web development team will possess all the skills listed above, although 1-6 may not all be needed to complete your particular project specification they are still a strong set of questions to be asking. If they lack in these areas or hesitate in answering your questions efficiently it’s unlikely they will be qualified to work on your website project.

What software will they use to create/develop your website?

Try to find out what programs the web designer will use, although a website can be setup using cheap software this does not necessarily mean it will be a good website. Microsoft Front page should be a BIG warning sign, few professional web developers will use this programme.

Dreamweaver, Adobe Suite and other associated programmes are good (and expensive), however just because web developers own this software does not necessarily make them qualified.

Plain text editors, in theory should demonstrate that a web developer is able to code by hand, and in return has a good understanding of their medium.

What technologies will they use?

At the time of posting the latest technologies include HTML5, CSS3, Java Script and RWD (Responsive Web Design) which is the process of making websites adapt and work on smartphones and tablets. Modern server side scripting includes PHP which is generally used for special interactive features with databases such as MySQL.

How do they write code, does it validate to W3C?

Although not compulsory a professional web developer will validate code to W3C web standards, the World Wide Web Consortium set the standards and guidelines for web design and development.

The following explanation of W3C published by suggests:

They wanted to ensure that the Web continued to work no matter what business or organization built tools to support it. Thus, while there might be browser wars in the features that various Web browsers offer, they all can communicate across the same medium – the World Wide Web (About, 2013).

You can check if a website validates at the W3C website

Do they include Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

What steps will the web development company take to ensure your website is found online for particular keywords? Check to see if you are able to find their website easily on the first page of Google and also do the same checks on clients websites featured in their portfolio.

Will your website be accessible?

In theory a website which meets W3C standards should be accessible, however it’s important to check that the web development team will ensure your website is viewed properly across all the major web browsers. At the time of posting this includes Google Chrome, Internet Explorer (IE10, IE9, IE8), Safari and Firefox.

Mobile phones and tablets are also becoming more popular to surf the website, find out how the web development company will make sure your website is viewed properly on these devices. This is typically achieved through responsive web design or a separate mobile website -both methods are acceptable.

What standards do they adhere to?

It’s important to consider those who might have accessibility issues and therefore ask yourself does the website meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Can someone with visual impairments enlarge the text or can someone with motor impairments not able to use a mouse navigate using access keys?

Remember an accessible website is a website which can be seen and used by a larger audience of people and is one of the single most important aspects of website development. More on this can be read here


About (2013) What is the W3C [online], (Accessed 05 March 2013).

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