Choosing the Right Web Developer For a Small Business


Executive Summary

A small business must carefully choose a web developer as it can be vital to a business's future success. The purpose of the following document is to explain what a small business owner should know prior to paying for a web developer.

The sources used to attain the data in this document consist of many different types of technical books, websites, journals, trade magazines as well as contact with leading experts in this field. The knowledge and experience gained over nine years of developing websites for businesses, contributed to many ideas found in this document. Attending classes at the University of Washington, as a Computing and Software Systems student, has enhanced many of the skills already attained.

Essential issues such as price, reputation, services, coding techniques, and graphic design are discussed in order to determine a quality web developer. Pricing varies greatly in web development. The reputation of the web developer will largely contribute to a good or bad experience. Customer service and additional services will allow the project to run more smoothly. Proper coding techniques are a factor in developing a fully functional website for all users. Graphic design is the first thing users will see and therefore judge a company on.

To begin with, initial concerns will be discussed. This will provide detailed explanations of what a business will need to know pertaining to pricing, reputation, and services of the web developer. Secondly, project creation concerns consisting of graphic design and code generation will be addressed.

When first introducing a business to a new market, many factors can contribute to the success or failure of the business. The same is true when first establishing an online presence. One crucial factor to success online is hiring a qualified web developer. What makes a web developer qualified? How can a business owner possibly recognize a qualified web developer when a lot of jargon and technical terms are used? Nine years of experience in web development along with extensive research will help answer these questions. The answers to these questions lie in two areas of concern. Initial concerns consisting of pricing, reputation, and services of the web developer will be discussed first. Next, graphic design and code generation will be addressed as they relate to concerns about the project creation. These details will allow a small business owner to make an educated decision before hiring a web developer.

Initial Concerns

Many concerns must be addressed initially when choosing a web developer. These items can often seem overwhelming or even impossible to imagine without understanding all the intricacies of web development. This section will discuss the areas that should be dealt with referring to the price, reputation, and services offered.


When a small business is first deciding to expand their market reach to the online community, the price is often the first concern. In order to choose a web developer that will meet or exceed all expectations, two facts about the price must be considered.

The first important fact is that the price of a website varies greatly. This fact can be found very quickly when searching the internet or contacting a few web development firms. The reason behind the huge price range is that no two web developers are exactly alike. Each web developer has a wide range of knowledge, talent, skills, and experience.

Web developers do not all have the same method of billing. Some will give an estimate and charge a given price for the entire project as others will charge at an hourly rate. People all have different preferences, but many prefer a set price for the entire design. That way there are no surprises down the road.


The reputation of the web developer is critical in deciding who will create an optimal website. When determining a web developer's reputation, one must consider their overall knowledge, portfolio and integrity.

When trying to determine a web developer's overall knowledge, it may be hard to establish what exactly a web developer needs to know. The problem is there are many factors that go into a website. Listed below are a few of the more common items that a good web developer should understand:

  • Merchant Accounts: Determine if the web developer has experience with a few different merchant account providers and can recommend the best one. Also, determine if the web developer can build a custom shopping cart or integrate the merchant account since they can sometimes be very complicated.
  • Programming Languages: Determine if the web developer understands more than just HTML. Some of the more common programming languages that are good for a web developer to understand are HTML, CSS, Javascript, Java, PHP, ASP and Perl.
  • Marketing: Determine if a web developer knows how to optimize a website for search engines. He or she should know how to optimize the code and understand the other methods that allow a site to be listed at the top of search engines. It is important that the web developer know which search engines are most used. The usage of the most common search engines can be seen below.
Search Engine Global Usage

Another factor that contributes to a web developer's reputation is his or her portfolio. Study this thoroughly in order to determine the quality of the designs. Always check references as it can be easy for some web developers to post false information in their portfolio. By doing this it can be determined if the developer did actually work for this client and what the companies perception of the web developer is.

A web developer's integrity is a key characteristic to look for. Sometimes web developers will create very similar designs for multiple clients or use a free template found on the internet in order to increase profits. Look for this if originality is a concern or to avoid having a site that is identical to other companies. It is also important to have a web developer with integrity since it has become very easy for a web developer to copy or steal code or designs from someone else which could lead to legal issues down the road. Below is a chart of the factors that influence trust with a company and what damages it.


Customer service and related services are also important in choosing a good web developer. A few of the more important aspects of customer service are the ability to understand the web developer, the quickness of responses, and the motivation of the web developer (whether or not he/she is concerned with the customer's needs more than earning money from the customer). A web developer offering related services is also important in order to make the website creation process as painless as possible.

It is important that the web developer is easy to understand since often the web developer will help in deciding the specific needs for a website. A web developer can have a very good idea, but if the idea is not properly communicated, it can lead to a site that is the complete opposite of that desired.

A quick response to all inquires is also an important quality in a web developer, because sometimes a website will require immediate action. If the web developer cannot be reached, it can be detrimental to the success of a website or business. For example, what if a product being sold on the website was supposed to be listed at a price of $20 and the web developer accidentally listed the product for $2 and 1000 of these products are sold daily. This would be a loss of $18,000 per day! This is just one example of the many reasons a web developer must be able to respond quickly to inquiries.

A high-quality web developer should be more interested in the needs of his or her client than moving on to the next one to make more money. A huge amount of shortcuts (that are hard for the untrained eye to see) can be taken when developing a website. Shortcuts can lead to a buggy website, one that loads slowly, is not secure, falls apart on certain web browsers, is impossible to maintain, and the list goes on.

To make the website creation experience as easy as possible, a high-quality web developer should offer related products and services. Some of the more common services that a he or she can offer are: website hosting, domain name registration and search engine optimization. Receiving all these services from one web developer will save time and the hassle of trying to find qualified companies for each service. The web developer will also be more efficient and have less room for error since he or she will be more familiar with the setup of each separate service and how they integrate.

Project Creation Concerns

When choosing a web developer, it is beneficial to become familiar with the development methods and design factors. The way in which a website is coded can have a surprising impact on the amount of time it takes to create and manage a website. Even though the design of a website is often the most critiqued, there are many factors that are commonly overlooked. The remainder of this document will address these issues.

Code Generation

The way a website is coded should be a major concern to the small business, but is often overlooked since it cannot easily be seen. A properly coded website can prevent many bugs, allow for easier maintainability, and provide a better experience to those viewing the website. All of which can contribute to less time spent, ultimately saving money!

First, find out how the web developer creates the code for a website. Does the web developer use a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editor like Microsoft FrontPage, Macromedia Dreamweaver, Adobe GoLive or a text editor? WYSIWYG programs automatically generate the code for a website by estimating what the user wants based on a graphical interface. If a web developer is using one of these WYSIWYG programs, it immediately reveals that they are not familiar with how the code works on a website since they are using a program that generates unpredictable code. It is important that he or she uses a standard text editor, where the code is created completely by hand, since these WYSIWYG programs often put many bugs in the code that can lead to pages loading slower.

A table based design is a poor method for a web developer to use when creating a website. Both WYSIWYG editors and web developers who are not up-to-date with current standards typically rely on tables for website creation. Tables are created to display tabular data which is appropriate for displaying data in a spreadsheet like manner, similar to Microsoft Excel. This format is not intended for entire web sites that can contain graphics and content arranged in a variety of ways. Using tables causes the HTML to be bloated, which contributes to a slower loading website. This also affects maintainability since even an experienced web developer will have difficulty modifying a site with excess code.

A qualified web developer knows that an easier, and less time-consuming, approach to creating a website is to use a dynamic programming language (like PHP). This type of language allows the developer to create the website in pieces. Each piece would contain the code to a part of the site. Anytime that part is to be displayed, the corresponding piece would be referenced. Changes can then be made to one location in the code, but are displayed on each page. This is opposed to having to change the code in many locations, obviously consuming more time than necessary. An unqualified web developer usually creates each page statically. Since most websites have a similar layout on each page, such as a header, footer, and menu; using static code will only create unnecessary duplication of that code. Updates and changes will cost the business more since the web developer will need to go through every file on the site, one at a time, to make the required change (a very time-consuming process).

The ability for the website to be displayed using multiple browsers on many different operating systems is crucial. Since the advent of the internet, more than 100 different web browsers have been used and each of these web browsers has had multiple versions available and been produced for multiple operating systems (Browser Archive, n.d.). A qualified web developer should be familiar with the many browsers available and be capable of creating a website that will display correctly on the most commonly used browsers to allow maximum view ability by all potential customers.

Graphic Design

Graphic design is the most noticeable aspect of a website and is therefore more thoroughly assessed. However, important aspects are often overlooked such as: monitor differences, visual impairments of the user, look and feel, and navigation.

Monitors come in a wide variety. Typical examples are the CRT, LCD, Plasma, Web TV (basic TV), cell phones and video projector monitors. Problems are introduced, since these monitors have an assortment of sizes ranging from half the size of a business card to the size of a wall. Color quality and resolution are also concerns. The web developer must be familiar with how each monitor works in order to create the best experience for the user possible.

Visual impairments must be taken into account when creating the design for a website. In 2002, 19.1 million people (9.3%) of the United States were found to have vision trouble (National Center for Health Statistics, n.d.). A common visual impairment is color-blindness, the inability to see certain colors (most commonly not being able to differentiate between red and green). Overlooking this fact can cause users to miss important aspects of a website and force the user to look elsewhere. Blindness is another visual impairment to consider when creating a website. The blind have software available that will read the website aloud. If these websites are not coded using the proper standards, they cannot be read using such software.

The look and feel of a website refers to the colors, shapes, layout, and typefaces in combination with buttons, boxes, and menus of a website (Look and Feel, 2005, May 28). The way the company image is perceived will be determined by the website's look and feel. The site needs to be established with the target audience in mind, since many groups of people will identify in their own way based on the design.

Navigation is another significant concern. Opinions vary greatly in this area, but the following six guidelines should be followed by a qualified web developer when creating the navigation of a website:

  • Avoids orphan pages (i.e. pages that are not connected to the home page, because they leas users into dead ends.)
  • Avoids long pages with excessive white space that force scrolling
  • Provides navigation support, such as a strong site map that is always present.
  • Avoids narrow, deep, hierarchical menus that force users to burrow deep into the menu structure.
  • Avoids non-standard link colors.
  • Provides consistent look and feel for navigation and information design.

These general rules will allow straightforward access and navigation for all users (Preece, 2002, page 415).

These graphic design concerns, along with price, reputation, services, and coding techniques, have been addressed to help the small business owner hire the best web developer possible. Many steps are involved that will require time and effort. Following the guidelines aforementioned will go a long way in achieving a web presence that stands above the rest.


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