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Questions to Ask a Website Designer“My teenage son will build my website for free.” “Can’t we just scan my brochure and use that for my website’s design?” “Why don’t we just copy another therapist’s website layout?” I can’t even begin to list all of the website-design shortcuts my clients have attempted (or wanted me to attempt for them).

Why is it that so many business owners – therapists included – want to cut corners, or costs, when it comes to the design and development of their website?

Probably because the technical aspects and importance of website design are among the most misunderstood components of marketing.

“Setup a Website in Minutes,” “Design Your Own Website Today – No Programming Required,” and “FREE Website Templates” are just some of the many headlines I’ve seen on dozens, if not hundreds, of websites.

When you visit websites like PsychologyToday.com or GoodTherapy.org, what’s the first thing that comes into your mind? Your answer is likely, “Great, I’m here. Where’s the information I’m looking for?”

Conversely, when prospective clients visit a therapist’s website that has been quickly thrown together using obvious shortcuts, what’s the first thing they think? “Is this person for real?” “Can I trust them?” “Is this therapist really a professional I want to work with?”

See the difference?

A talented website designer can quickly get your prospective clients over the hurdle of wondering whether or not you’re “for real” and can be taken seriously.

Having an effective website has everything to do with creating trust. If your site’s visitors don’t believe in you right off the bat, you’ll likely lose them forever. Your website must present you as someone with a proven track record of solving your visitors’ and prospective clients’ problems.

A skilled website designer can help you achieve these goals and, in turn, make sure you receive a solid return on the investment you make in setting up your website.

But, how do you find a skilled website developer to help you create a successful website?

As with any project, preparation is key. And part of that preparation is “interviewing” several website designers. But, first you need to know the right questions to ask…

Whether you’re looking to upgrade your current website or have one built from scratch, asking prospective website developers the following questions will help you not only ensure that your money is well spent, but that the return you receive on your website is far greater than the investment you make.

Simply put, asking these questions upfront will help you avoid most website development issues before they arise, make sure you’re not wasting time or money, and make sure you get the website you want and that it will work the way you want and need it to work:

1. Have You Created Websites for Other Mental Health Professionals?

Given how many website designers there are to choose from, there’s no need to work with one who’s not already familiar with your industry.

Accordingly, the first thing to do when looking for a website designer is to find several that have already worked with numerous mental health professionals. And be sure to ask for examples of their work and their successes with those clients.

Don’t get me wrong. You can work with a designer who doesn’t have experience in your industry. But, if you do, don’t expect them to know what you’ll need.

If you work with a web developer who doesn’t have experience working with therapists, you’re going to have to spend more of your valuable time than otherwise necessary teaching them about the generalities and specifics of your target market and your practice, your website’s goals and how to achieve them, as well as what are and aren’t acceptable practices.

2. Will I Own My Website?

When asking website designers and developers this question, the only answer you want to hear is: “Yes, 100%!” It’s as simple as that.

If you don’t already have a domain name (e.g. myname.com) and a hosting account, your web developer should be able to set you up with one or both and turn the keys over to you. If they say anything otherwise, look elsewhere.

You should always own your website design and be able to change or add content whenever you want to. Be aware that designers are legally able to claim their designs as their own copyrighted works. Negotiate these terms in advance and make sure that YOU will own all of your site’s content and any original artwork. If something should happen to your designer, you always want to have the originals.

Sometimes designers will register your domain name and hosting with their company’s name instead of your personal or business name. Figure out how this process works if your domain and hosting is included with your site’s design. It could potentially be an issue if you want to switch companies, change account owners, or the current designer closes their business in the future.

At the very least, you should always register your domain name under your personal or business name.

To protect your interests and give yourself some flexibility going forward, you should also make sure you ask for and get the following:

  • Access to your hosting account’s control panel
  • Administrative access to any content management system (CMS)
  • FTP access
  • Database access
  • Access to your DNS settings

Don’t worry if you don’t know what all these are. You’ll most likely never need them. But, you should never have to fight for this information.

These recommendations and requests may be controversial for some companies that sell websites built on proprietary software. But, if you’re using WordPress (which I highly recommended) or are having someone build a custom site, there should be no need for any exceptions.

3. Who Will Host My Website?

As mentioned above, some companies offer website hosting as part of a site’s design and development. Sometimes hosting is offered for a separate monthly or annual fee, and some designers will help you set up your own hosting account. Of course, there are also those designers who won’t take care of any part of your website’s hosting.

In keeping with my recommendation that you take full ownership of your site, I recommend you set up your own hosting account using a company like HostGator.com or BlueHost.com (with or without your designer’s assistance).

If your website designer or developer offers hosting and you want them to handle it, find out which hosting service they use and, again, make sure you have access to your hosting account.

4. Will My Website Be Custom Designed or Based on a Template?

There are literally thousands of pre-designed website templates available from hundreds of different vendors, and choosing to use one of them or have someone custom design your site can be an important decision.

While a template-driven site is fine for the vast majority of therapists, I have worked with some clients whose websites needed special layouts to achieve their goals.

Many web developers are against using pre-made templates. Others don’t understand why you’d use anything else.

What makes the most sense for you will depend largely on the design and complexity your site requires. Personally, I prefer customizing pre-designed templates when building websites for most of my clients. Why? Well, most templates can be purchased for somewhere between $25 and $100 and then customized for another $300 to $500.

Since much of the design work is already taken care of, customizing pre-designed templates means I can develop great, professional websites quickly and more cost-effectively for my clients than if I create custom designs from scratch. And this means my clients and I can devote more of our resources to making the sites as effective as possible at turning visitors into clients.

I also believe customizing templates is the better option for therapists who are just getting started. Templates allow you to find out what works and what doesn’t, as well as start getting some clients in the door. If, your template-driven website is successful and you want to reinvest some of your profits in a more comprehensive, custom design, go for it. But spending thousands of dollars out of the gate without doing some testing makes little financial sense.

TIP: One thing to be wary of when using a template for your website is that your site will look like other therapists’ websites in your same geographic area. For this reason, I usually recommend not going with vendors like TherapySites.com. Successful marketing is about differentiating yourself from your competitors, not looking like everyone else in your industry. If you use a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, you’ll have thousands of templates to choose from. And, once you’ve customized a WordPress template, the chances of your site looking like anyone else’s are negligible.

5. Will I Be Able to Easily Update the Website Myself?

This question is very important. With so many website designers and vendors offering do-it-yourself (DIY) websites and website management tools, it’s essential you understand how your website works.

It’s also important to make sure you can edit your site’s content, add content, and make simple updates without having to pay your designer for every little change.

Ideally, your website should be built using a content management system (CMS) that makes it easy for you to log in and update items such as blog posts, web pages, your site’s navigation, images, and other media.

I recommend WordPress to most of my clients due to its ease of use, flexibility, large number of templates, scalability, its amazing functionality (there is almost nothing you can’t do with a WordPress-based website), and how user-friendly it is. For these reasons and many others, it’s no surprise that WordPress currently powers around 20% of all websites on the Internet.

Although WordPress is my favorite, your specific needs may require the use of another CMS, such as Joomla, or Drupal. Be sure to discuss your needs with your web designer as well as the pros and cons of any content management system you’ll be using.

The most important thing is to know exactly HOW you will have access to make changes to your site BEFORE you choose your website designer.

You should also inquire about training and which areas of the site you’ll be able to change and which ones you won’t. Does your designer offer live or video training tutorials? Are you okay with not being able to change the areas you can’t? Ask if you can have a demonstration of how the back-end of your site works so you can gauge how easy it is to upload an image, link, and text. Being able to make changes to your site is of little value if you don’t understand how to make them!

6. Will My Site Display Well on Mobile Devices?

Your website MUST be mobile-friendly (meaning it needs to display well on tablet computers and smartphones, not just on desktop and laptop computers). Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

The best time to establish your mobile marketing strategy is before building your website, as the experience you provide your website’s mobile visitors will dictate how successfully you can market to them in the future.

According to the results of a 2013 study, 50 percent of consumers use their mobile devices to start any search process. And the number of people using mobile devices is only expected to grow over the next few years.

Given this, you can’t afford to have a website that doesn’t work correctly on desktops, laptops, tablets, AND smartphones.

A mobile-friendly or “responsive” website looks clean and is easy to navigate on any platform.

If a website designer doesn’t know what you mean when you tell him or her you want your site to be responsive, look elsewhere.

How do you make your website “mobile-friendly?” There are a few different ways:

  • Make your website responsive (recommended) – A responsive site is coded in such a way as to display content optimally on whatever device is being used to view the site. This is the only option that will make sure your site is consistent on all devices.
     
  • Build a separate website specifically for mobile users – This entails building one or more specific websites to be displayed when someone views your site on a mobile device. The problem with this method is that your site may look quite different depending on the device being used to view your site and it increases the time and costs of developing your site.
     
  • Use a plug-in if your site is created with WordPress – Similar to building a separate mobile website, some WordPress plug-ins can generate a new site on the fly for anyone viewing your site on a mobile device. While a faster and cheaper option, again, your site may not look consistent across devices.
     
  • Create a mobile application – While you can turn your website into a mobile application that people can download and access from a tablet or smartphone, this is a much more advanced technique and usually much more expensive option than the three above.

TIP: If you’re building a new website, don’t settle for anything less than a properly-coded, responsive website. If you want to make an existing site that is not already responsive mobile-friendly, then having someone create a separate mobile website or using a plug-in to do the same thing will likely be your best bets as neither requires redesigning your site.

7. Will You Regularly Back Up My Website?

It’s essential that your site is backed up at least once a week to a computer that is not your computer or your website’s hosting server.

Why? So you don’t lose critical data or have to rebuild your site from scratch should your site be hacked or some other problem occurs.

If you’re hosting your website yourself, this will likely be your responsibility. But your designer may be able to help you find backup software that’s easy to use. If your designer is hosting your site, then they should take care of this for you. This is especially true if you’re paying some sort of monthly service fee.

You should also be sure to ask your designer what procedures you should follow should you run into problems. Websites are 24/7 affairs and a problem can occur at any time and cost you dearly. Does your website developer stick with your website after launch, or is it up to you to secure an IT professional for future mishaps? What’s the best way to reach them? What’s their typical turnaround time?

There are no “right” answers to these questions other than to be sure you know the answers and are comfortable with them.

8. Who’s Responsible for Images, Logos, and Other Artwork?

Have you ever noticed that some therapists’ websites give an impression of “seasoned professional” while others seem to be for “someone working out of their basement?” What often sets the two apart are the photos and images being used.

Your website designer should be using artwork, photos, and possibly a logo to convey your message and the purpose of your site to prospective clients. Why? Because people relate to pictures, especially pictures of other people.

Assuming your designer will be using photos, it’s important that you know where they’ll be coming from and who’s paying for them.

It’s also important that you acquire all of the ORIGINAL graphic files that comprise your website. If you don’t, you won’t truly be in control of your site. If your website designer gets hit by a bus and you don’t have these files, it may be difficult, costly, or near impossible to have anyone else make changes to your site going forward.

So, be sure to ask your designer for any and all files produced with PhotoShop, Illustrator, Fireworks, Flash, or any other graphics program.

9. What Do I Need to Supply to Get Started?

Be wary of any web designer who responds to this question by saying, “Just send me your logo and any photos you’d like to use and I’ll take care of the rest.” There’s no way someone can develop an effective website for your business or practice with only a handful of images!

What you want to hear when you ask this question is something along the lines of: “I have a list of questions to go over with you which will help us create an effective compelling website that maximizes your return on investment.”

It’s important to note that many designers (and therapists) focus on the design of a website and forget about content until later. This is a costly mistake!

A successful website is one that communicates your messages effectively to your site’s visitors and your prospective clients. The words on your website have the power to make your website a success or a failure, and you MUST plan your site’s content to ensure it provides the information your website visitors want and that it converts visitors into clients.

Planning your website’s content in the early stages is vital and I recommend you do so before beginning your search for a designer.

If you go into any new website project expecting to be responsibility-free, then you can guarantee that your project will go off-track at some point. Prepare as much material as you can before getting started.

10. How Long Will It Take to Complete My Site?

All websites are unique, and time frames can and will vary from project to project. However, if a website designer tells you he can create your website in one week, don’t believe him.

Given the back and forth required, most therapists’ websites take around 3-6 weeks from start to finish. And this assumes you have all of the materials you need ready at the outset. It is often a client who is slow in making decisions and providing content that results in delayed launches. I’ve worked on sites that have dragged on for months simply because the client had no idea what they wanted, or changed their mind repeatedly during the process.

As mentioned above, you should prepare as much material as possible before you even begin your search for a designer. This means having a good idea of what sections and pages you want on your site and having much of the content ready to go. You should be prepared to make changes based on your designer’s recommendations but, if you know what you want and have the content prepared, your designer can work much faster for you.

The graphic components for most websites should not require more than a couple of weeks to put together once the content is supplied.

11. Will You Provide a Timetable for Each Stage of Development?

Similar to the last question, having your designer provide an outline or timetable for each stage of your site’s development will help you keep track of your site’s progress.

It’s also important to know how many rounds of changes your designer includes in your scheduled fee. Some web development companies offer unlimited changes until you’re happy with your site. Others will charge extra if you don’t accept one of the first few rounds of designs and changes.

Unlimited revisions can lead to too much time and energy being spent on minute details, frustrate your designer, and slow production. Conversely, too few allotted revisions can cause frustration for you, as you’ll likely need to see some things “in action” before you can make a decision.

While there isn’t a set number of revisions you should be looking to have included, I’d recommend somewhere between 3 and 10. Be careful with the developer who does not provide any or enough revisions.

Regardless of the number of revisions included, every proposal you receive from a website designer or developer should have a defined number of revisions. What each revision includes should also be clearly defined. If your designer and you have a clear understanding of this, the project is much more likely to run smoothly and be on time.

12. Do You Provide Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Services?

Ask your designer or web development company if they provide any search engine optimization (SEO) or search engine marketing services. If they do, you’ll want to find out the costs associated with any initial and ongoing SEO services.

You should also ask for examples of work they’ve done for their clients. Be careful with any company who promises or guarantees specific or exact placement in Google’s organic search results. It is impossible for any company to make such guarantees, as only Google controls their search engine and Google is constantly changing their search algorithm.

It’s also important to note that many website designers are just that: designers. Unless you hire a full-service Internet marketing company to handle your website’s development, it’s unlikely your website designer will be a search engine optimization expert.

It’s equally important to note that many designers and website companies will offer “SEO services.” Make sure you understand what they will do for you as part of your SEO strategy, and what you need to manage yourself. SEO is an ongoing and time-consuming process. Any vendor who says they provide SEO services for a nominal fee either doesn’t understand SEO or is being intentionally misleading.

13. Do You Provide Any Other Services?

At this point you should have already asked your web developer about domain name registration and hosting, as well as whether or not they provide SEO services. But you shouldn’t stop there…

Learn about everything your web designer or developer offers so you can determine whether you’re hiring just a graphic designer or more of an all-in-one web development company. Some companies include logo design, SEO services, social media services, hosting and domain name management, print production (such as brochures and business cards), and so on. Make a list of everything you are looking for so you can ask how much they provide.

If you’re working with an individual, keep in mind that some people are “programmers,” some are “marketers,” and some are “designers.” Again, know whom you’re hiring!

Once your website is live, you may have one company that designed your site, another that provides hosting, and still another that provides ongoing marketing and/or SEO services. There’s nothing wrong with this and it should be expected these days.

Just remember, your website and Internet marketing strategy should have one main purpose: to grow your business by attracting and converting prospective clients into actual clients. Ultimately, as the owner of your business, you’re the one responsible for making sure the people you hire know what they’re doing, understand your goals, and are capable of achieving them.

14. How Much Will I “Really” Pay?

Have I purposely saved the most important question for last? Well, yes and no.

By going through the questions above first, you should have a better understanding of all the various pieces that comprise the website design and development puzzle. And, if you’ve asked your website developer the questions above, you’ll have a pretty good idea about what they’ll charge. But there’s still more to ask…

Be wary of developers who can promise all of the services above for under $1,000. I’ve had all too many clients come to me traumatized by their experiences with the $500 “web developer” they found on Craigslist. While I routinely develop websites for clients in the $500 range, this doesn’t include annual hosting fees, writing or editing content, logo design, or SEO services. As the old saying goes, “if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.”

So, don’t just ask a prospective web designer or developer about all the services they provide, make sure they provide some sort of written proposal. Whether it’s a fancy PDF document or a detailed e-mail is largely irrelevant, as ling as its thorough and you review it thoroughly.

Small business websites without a lot of bells and whistles typically run $1,000 to $2,500, but the price can go up or down significantly depending on the experience of the designer and what features you need. Things like a large number of pages, a lot of graphic design work, contact forms, and shopping cart software will often escalate the price. Ultimately, the cost of your site will be largely determined by the work and detail you require. Shop around to get a few quotes and compare features before committing.

Also make sure you ask about and understand any one-off fees, maintenance fees, support or training costs, or monthly charges.

Successful websites are regularly changing and evolving entities and you should never think of your website as being “done.” If you’re routinely testing your site to see what works and what doesn’t (and you should be!) then you need to make sure you know what ongoing updates and changes to your site will cost.

Lastly, whether it costs you $100 or $10,000 to create a website is not as important as what you might think. The critical question is whether your site will make that money back for you over the course of the next three to six months. If you’re just getting started, there’s no reason to spend thousands of dollars on a website to market and promote a product or service you’re unsure of. However, if you’re confident in the product or service you’re offering, there’s no reason to skimp on your website and its ability to increase your profits and grow your business.

In Conclusion

As a business owner, you are the person ultimately responsible for your business’ marketing strategy.

If you rely solely on your web designer to make sure your website converts visitors and prospective clients into actual paying clients, you’ll likely feel pretty disappointed after a few months of little or no results.

It is your job to know, understand, and communicate the following to your website developer:

Once this information is clearly communicated to your designer, they should be able to use this information to create the elements of your site necessary to attract, capture, and convert visitors into clients.

Choosing a web designer or developer can be an intimidating process, especially if you’re not very comfortable with technology. Many therapists simply don’t know where to start and what to ask.

Fortunately, knowing and asking the questions above will help you hire a web designer who will build the website you want and need, on time and on budget.

Creating your business website should be a fun and exciting time and I hope these questions help you feel more in control and more excited about creating a website that allows you to successfully grow the practice you desire!

Now, it’s time to let us know your questions below. Better yet, if you’ve worked with any designers you’d recommend, please share them with your fellow members!

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