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Questions to Ask a Web Designer

Thinking of getting a website? Not sure how to tell a professional web designer from an amateur? Here are some of the questions you need to ask:

1 : May I see your portfolio?

It is essential to examine a web designer’s past work. Don't just look at the screen shots; visit the websites. Check how well they work, how easy they are to navigate, and whether their general appearance appeals to you.

2 : Which browser software do you use for testing?

Your own website will be visited by people using Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Safari, and probably several other web browsers, all of which display web pages in different ways. Testing whether a website works only in Internet Explorer, which is notoriously quirky, virtually guarantees problems for visitors using better–quality browsers. Those visitors won’t come back!

3 : Do you use web standards?

The accessibility and business advantages of using web standards are well–known — you get more visitors, and those visitors tend to stay longer and come back more often. Not only that, but websites which don’t follow the rules are guaranteed to break at some point in the future, as web browsers adhere to the standards more closely.

4 : Will you separate my website’s content from its appearance?

(This section gets a bit technical, but it’s worth reading so that you understand how search engines work.)

Most internet users, and many web designers, don’t appreciate that search engines do not look at websites in the same way as most human visitors. Search engines are blind.

To prevent a website being penalised by search engines, a competent web designer will make the meaning of its elements clear by using HTML code to describe the structure of a web page, and Cascading Style Sheets to describe its appearance.

For example, search engines give particular importance to information contained in headings, and a heading can be marked up in two ways:

  1. It can be a bit of text just like any other but with added visual clues such as a larger font size and perhaps a different colour.
  2. As well as the visual clues, it can be given an appropriate <h1>–<h6> HTML tag to indicate its meaning.

Both methods may produce an identical visual result, and thus an identical meaning to sighted human visitors. But because search engines are blind, they won’t notice the font size or the colour. They will only notice the HTML code, and won’t give an untagged heading any more importance than the rest of the text.

If the web designer doesn’t tell the search engines which bits of information are important, the site’s rankings will suffer. Separating the content from the appearance is essential if you want to maximise your search engine rankings.

For an example of this in practice, see our search engine optimisation success stories.

5 : Do you use tables to lay out web pages?

Related to the previous question, this is the ultimate giveaway of a cowboy web designer’s incompetence.

Tables, which are grids rather like the cells of a spreadsheet, are meant to be used to display tabular data, such as the list of prices on our Domain Names page. In the early years of the internet, however, they were also used to lay out entire pages, because no better method existed. These days that isn’t necessary; all modern visual browsers recognise CSS well enough to cope with even the most complex layout.

The inappropriate use of tables causes serious accessibility problems and is bad news for search engines. No competent web designer has used tables to lay out web pages for the last five years or more.

6 : Are you able to code HTML by hand?

Websites work because of the HTML code under the surface; understanding the code is a fundamental part of a web designer’s competence.

Although there are several programs available that will create web pages automatically, the only one used by serious web designers is Dreamweaver, which can produce good results if you know what you’re doing, but which produces piles of junk code if you don’t.

Coding by hand is actually quicker than using a program, which is why Lab 99 websites normally take between just a couple of days and a couple of weeks to create, and is the only way to guarantee that your website will be fully accessible both to humans and search engines.

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