You’re probably aware of plenty of do-it-yourself website companies, where you just pick from some templates and call it a day. Maybe those seem adequate. Or maybe you’ve got a web 1.0 style website you think does the job okay. Sure, it’s not flashy, but it’s got all the relevant information.
If you think either of these web development solutions are adequate for your business, think again. Any business that wants to grow needs a professional, attractive, user-friendly site. And even if you have a great site, if nobody can find it, it’s not going to do you much good.
With all that in mind, you’re probably wondering how to avoid these issues. The answer is hiring a website design company. If that’s a scary prospect to you, don’t worry. We’re here to break down the basics so you can be more confident about your web development endeavors.
Web Development 101: Terms to Know
Let’s start with the very basics so you’re prepared to hold your own in any web development conversations. These are the bare-bones basics to get you started — there are a lot more terms where these come from.
Backend versus Frontend
These are pretty important ones. The backend tends to be a little harder to understand, so we’ll start there — it’s the part of the website a user can’t see or interact with. It deals with data and essentially provides the structure for the frontend. That’s the part you do see when you visit a site. Both kinds of web development are crucial for a well-performing site.
You’ve probably heard this one a lot, but you might not know it stands for Hypertext Markup Language. It’s the fundamental language in creating web pages. HTML tags all the elements on the page. For example, each paragraph of text is surrounded by paragraph tags. Other content types that can be specified using HTML include headings, tables, and lists. When working with a website design company, you shouldn’t have to know anything else about HTML. Just knowing what it stands for sets you ahead of many people. Still, it’s good to have a basic understanding of how web development works, and HTML is key in that.
CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheet, and “Style” is the key word there. If the goal of HTML is to tell what’s there, the goal of CSS is to tell how that content should look. Aspects like font size and color are all included here. A CSS can be applied across multiple pages, meaning they make it easier to get a consistent look across your site.
Not to be confused with CSS, CMS stands for content management system. A CMS helps less tech-savvy website owners run their sites. They make adding and editing content a lot easier than hardcoding. Popular content management systems include:
- Magento (for e-commerce stores)
Of all of these, WordPress is by far the most popular, and it’s the one we here at Beanstalk most highly recommend. It’s open-source & gives you a good mix of ease of use and customization for your web development project. An important term you’ll hear a lot with WordPress is “plug-in.” A plug-in is a little piece of software that adds functionality. For example, if your goal is to set up an e-commerce site, you’ll probably need some plug-ins to process payments. WordPress supports a lot of plug-ins, meaning you can add a wide variety of functionality to your WordPress site that you might not be able to do with a different CMS. As an added bonus, if there is a specific functionality your site needs that no plugin currently exists for, our developers can create custom plug-ins that can accomplish just about anything imaginable!
Your domain is simply the location of your website. It points to an IP address. For example, google.com is the domain name that points to Google’s physical IP address. You don’t need to get into all the technical details, though. The important thing is that if you want a website, you’ll have to buy a domain name. You’ll pay an annual fee for it. It’s generally not expensive.
Responsive Web Design
You know how a website will look different when you visit it on your phone as opposed to when you pull it up on your laptop? That’s thanks to responsive web design. To make your site look right on all screen sizes and formats, a website design company will use responsive web design. This has become increasingly important since Google began their Mobile-First Indexing.
Below the Fold
This is a less crucial term, but it still might be confusing. After all, screens don’t usually fold. The term is a leftover from the print newspaper business — there, any content printed beneath where the newspapers got creased was literally below the fold, meaning it wasn’t immediately visible. That’s the part that got carried over into the digital age. Anything that you’d have to scroll to see is considered below the fold on a website.
Web Design Process
Now that you’re a little more familiar with web development lingo, you’re ready to get started on the process. Keep in mind that this is merely a broad, basic framework, and the specific steps will vary depending on the web development company. The goal here is just to give you a little sneak peek at what you’re getting into.
Step One: Know what you need.
The first thing to do is assess what you have and what you need. Are you going to sell things on your website? If so, you should look into a website design company that specializes in e-commerce. Here at Beanstalk, we’ve made many of those, which you can check out in our portfolio. Are you only in the market for a small site? Keep your search focused on small website design companies, then, so their facilities are matched with your needs. Keep in mind that if you’re on a really tight budget, your best bet is probably to purchase a template and call it a day — a whole custom site is not cheap.
Look at your competitors’ sites to get some inspiration. You should have a rough idea of what sort of a site you’re looking for before you ever contact a website design company.
Step Two: Consultation
Once you’ve chosen a website design company to get a quote from, they should want to set up a consultation with you. If they can tell you how much it will cost before meeting with you, that might be a red flag. They should want to know exactly what you are looking for first.
This exploratory meeting is where all that knowing what you want comes into play. Since you’ve adequately prepared, you can walk into that meeting ready to articulate what you’re looking for with all the relevant vocabulary.
Obviously, the process will differ slightly depending on the website design company, but they should all start with some form of a consultation. It’s the foundation of good communication between you and them. Here at Beanstalk, we always start with a discovery meeting. If you’re interested in our process, you can read more about it here.
Know that a busy website design company will schedule their projects out pretty far in advance, so they might not start working on your site right away.
Step Three: Design
By now, you’ve signed a contract and the website design company is actively working on your website. They’ll probably start with some kind of mockup, and they should ask you for feedback at some point. This is where a lot of projects get bogged down. As long as you provided specific requirements in the previous step and the website design company is any good, it should be smooth sailing. However, if you want a lot of changes made, that’s going to take time. Don’t settle for something you’re not happy with, but know when it’s not worth your time to demand minor changes.
Be responsive with what the website design company asks of you, and they should be responsive to your requests, as well. A long, painful back-and-forth isn’t pleasant for either of you. To that end, the company might put restrictions on how many times you can ask for changes. That’s just to keep things moving along at a good pace. Know what you want and make it clear, but also make sure your expectations are realistic.
Step Four: Coding
Here’s where the web development truly gets underway. You’re finally happy with the mockup, and you’ve given the website design company the okay to move onto the next step. The company will take the design mockup and code it into existence. This is the stage where our developers build out the mockup, pixel for pixel, to make an actual, functional site that is exactly what you expect, with no surprises.
Step Five: Testing and Approval
You might be able to ask for some small changes at this phase, but the time for major design overhauls is long past. Don’t be surprised if the website design company you’re working with says certain changes aren’t possible or are out of scope. As long as you made sure you were truly happy with the mockup, though, there shouldn’t be any issues at this phase. Barring any unforeseen technical difficulties, the site should look exactly like the mockup.
We do a lot of testing at this phase, ensuring that everything about the site works – we have several members of our team put the site through the wringer and try to make it break, so that we fix anything before migrating it live. Any website design company should test every link and form.
Once everything’s working and it’s approved, the site will go live!
Step Six: Handoff and Maintenance
The website design company should make sure you have all the knowledge and tools you need to run the site yourself. To get ongoing support, should something go wrong, you should have an agreement with them. Like any website design company, we have pre-structured
Questions to Ask
This is an incomplete list, but it’s a good place to start when looking around for a web development firm.
How large is your website design company?
This question will give you a sense of who exactly will be working on your project. You’ll want to know who your point of contact will be. If it’s a very large company, you might be speaking to several different people. That might leave you feeling frustrated. On the flip side, if the website design company is very small, they might have great communication, but not enough skills to get you the site you want.
Do you have any references or case studies?
Any reputable website design company should be happy to show you their past work. How detailed that can be will vary, but they should all have sites they’ve worked on to show you. Unless, of course, they’re brand new, which is its own kind of warning sign.
What’s your process like?
We’ve detailed a general web development process above, but each company will have its own tweaks and nuances to that process. If it looks radically different, watch out.
Who will own the finished site?
In most cases, once the project is finished, the site will be yours free and clear, barring any nonstandard agreements (this is the case at Beanstalk). There may be the rare web development company who might want to keep ownership of the code, graphics, and content on your site. Know whether that’s the case, whether they’ll give you the original design files, and if that’s important to you.
Do you use subcontractors?
Now, it’s not an immediate red flag if not all the work is done in-house. A well-used subcontractor can save the day, but the website design company should be upfront with you about it. As long as they’re thoughtful about their subcontractor use, there shouldn’t be any problems. But if they overuse them, consider how that will add to the final cost of your website.
Get started on your dream website today.
Hopefully we’ve made the web development process a lot more transparent and less scary. You’re already on the right track if you’re reading this — that means you want to do your research. Know your terms and know what you’re looking for before diving in. And then make sure you’re working with the right company for you.
Hiring a website design company shouldn’t be intimidating. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if they use terms you don’t understand, and make sure they clarify their specific procedures.
Here at Beanstalk, we’d be happy to talk you through our web development process and answer any questions you might have. Contact us to get started on the website that’ll take your business to the next level.