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How can you choose a web developer to design and build your website?

The first step in selecting a vendor to develop your Web site is to decide what skill sets you need your vendor to have. Three factors shape this decision:

the skills of the employees at your company,
the skills of the vendors and consultants you already use, and
the design and functionality requirements of your new Web site.
Here are the seven fundamental areas of expertise that companies typically require for developing an effective Web site. First, evaluate what skill sets are available to you within your company. Then, you can establish clear vendor selection criteria based on the supplemental skills you need.

1. Strategic Marketing A strong marketing strategy should guide all other aspects of your Web development process. It does not matter how lovely the graphic design is or how many clever features the site has if it does not clearly communicate your company's fundamental brand messages and the benefits you offer customers. For maximum effectiveness and the highest return on your Web development investment, your Web marketing program should integrate with and support your overall marketing effort.

2. Graphic Design The look and feel of your Web site is important. Ideally, it should not only be professional and attractive, but also blend with your offline collateral and other corporate materials. High quality graphic design is one of the best marketing investments small and mid-size companies can make. Quality design enhances a company's credibility and the perceived quality of its products and services.

3. Web Design and User Interface Planning Great graphic design is useless if the graphics are not well-adapted to the technical requirements of the Internet and the information on the site is poorly organized. It is important to plan how visitors will experience your site. Good Web design ensures that your pages load quickly and correctly across different types of Internet connection and browser combinations. Effective user interface planning ensures that visitors find the information they need quickly and easily.

4. Programming Developers' programming skills vary widely. Some firms offer only basic HTML and CGI scripting services. Others can provide custom application development, e-commerce implementation, and complex database programming. More is not always better where programming is concerned. Developers at both ends of the programming skills spectrum can create effective Web sites. It is the complexity of the features your site requires that will determine what level of programming expertise you require.

5. Copy Writing You will need content for every page on your site - someone will have to write it! You can write it yourself. You can adapt offline marketing materials for some of the copy you will need. You can hire a writer to create all the copy you need from scratch.

6. Search Engine Optimization If your site cannot be found in the search engines after it has been launched, you are loosing out on one of the greatest benefits of having a Website, exposure to new markets and clients. Make sure that your Web vendor can prove by actual DEMONSTRATION that they can build sites that will rank well in the most popular search engines especially Yahoo, Google, and MSN. Be patient though as it sometimes can take up to 6-9 months before the search engines or Web directories get around to adding your site to their index. They are VERY busy adding millions of new pages to their database each and every month.

7. Customer Service You should feel comfortable with your Web vendors. It is entirely reasonable for you to expect them to explain the major aspects of your project in terms you can understand. Make sure you understand what is to be done and why each part of the project is important.

Putting Together the Development Team
Once you determine what skills you need, you can start interviewing and evaluating vendors. Sometimes a single firm can provide all of the skills you need to develop you site. Other times, you will need the services of multiple vendors. If this is the case, make sure each vendor understands the overall objectives of the project and is willing to cooperate professionally with the other vendors.

If a vendor you like doesn't offer all the services you need, be sure to ask if the vendor has a relationship with another firm that can provide those services. At Art Schobey Interactive, we offer full Web development services, but frequently work with outside graphic designers, consultants, copy writers, and high-level programmers as our clients needs' and preferences require. Frequently, we coordinate the activities of these other vendors for our clients to make sure that all of the work goes smoothly and stays within budget. Sometimes the other vendors coordinate the project and we are simply part of the team. Recommending resources and coordinating a team of vendors and consultants is an area where a good Web development vendor can add significant value and help you manage your costs effectively.

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