Ask an Expert: How to choose a web developer? We ask Studio Almond's managing director and founder, Alex Murton, about the things businesses should consider when deciding on a website developer.
We ask Alex Murton of Studio Almond: What should businesses ask potential website developers before embarking on a website re-build?
This is an interesting one because it seems like such an obvious question, but many brands are doomed by it before they even start. "Don't judge a book by its cover" is the crucial point here. Brands need to dig in and understand who did what in a project, what they were like to work with, and most importantly, what the post-launch process has been like. Is the website accessible and practical to use?
The myth is that great design means great development - this is not the case. Just because an architect can design a beautiful house - would you assume they can also build it - no way. But this is harder to decipher in digital because design and development can be integrated under one roof.
An example is a brand we spoke to recently who were considering an agency for a piece of work because they said they loved their design. I had to inform them that the agency didn't do that design - another did. They were surprised, but then I was also told that the same brand had been in touch due to needing a rebuild due to poor implementation; this leads to my first recommendation:
1. Request Client Testimonials
Reach out to clients/brands who your agency has recently worked with. Recent is important - reach out to brands whose websites you love and ask the following:
- Ask about the experience working with them
- What roles they played - you might be surprised.
- When there were challenges - what were they like to work with?
- What is the post-launch experience like?
- Did they act transactionally - trying to get you out of the door as soon as possible?
- Were they approachable?
2. Inspect Developer Credentials
Many websites I review need rebuilds - sorry. Within a few minutes, I can usually assess a developer's level, identify signs of copying and pasting from the internet, and determine whether they lack an in-depth understanding of the code they are writing or how it will affect the admin experience. Great code is clean, and a non-developer should be able to read and know what is going on. Ask your potential partner the following:
- Who is building the website?
- What websites have they built before?
- How long have the developers working on my project been working for your business?
- How many people will be developing the website?
- Where are they based? Are they full-time?
This may seem invasive, but these are all reasonable questions. I also think it’s important not to be scared of remote team members if you ask the right questions.
For example, two years ago, I discovered our lead developer on a freelancing site when he helped with a small animation task. Two weeks later, he was working 40 hours a week with us. In April 2023, he completed his move to Auckland, and he now works in our office full-time as a valued team member. Our clients love and have direct access to him during projects and post-launch. Another developer who works for us has moved from Australia to Brazil and has 20k online students for his Shopify courses - the best talent moves about. Our preference is to work with the best, wherever they are.
All these questions help you gauge whether you can trust someone you’re about to invest money into - so trust your gut!
3. Discuss Post-Launch Support
You’re not paying for pixels or code; you’re paying for a result you want to achieve for your business - and that result comes post-launch - so ask the following:
- What does a post-launch engagement look like?
- How quickly are you able to respond to questions I might have?
- What happens if I find a bug with the original scope in 6 months?
- Am I likely to need a maintenance budget per month? If so, how much is it, and what will this cover?
- How much will I need to pay for apps or 3rd party services?
- Who will I be communicating with post-launch for ongoing work?
- What processes do you have set up for taking on new tasks?
- Do you have any clients I can speak to who you are currently working with on a ongoing basis for a reference?
4. Specialist vs Generalist?
You're up for heart surgery, and you have the choice between two doctors - one who has done hearts full-time for 30 years, and another who has bounced around different areas, mixes it up, but wants to be involved in everything - who will you choose? The choice is obvious.
Funnily enough, this is different from what happens in business. There seems to be an idea that if you can get everything done under one roof, it might be more accessible. I’m sorry to say that this is often not the case. Try to get specialists for brand, marketing, and eCommerce design and development. You’ll deal with pros who do this every day and are constantly striving for improvement.
We know some excellent studios that do it all, but they are hard to come by, and there are many posing as these - be careful.
5. Question the Tech
If you’re in the eCommerce space, I’ll cut to the chase: you need to be using Shopify - this is where innovation is.
It’s stable and accessible, and the shift to the platform from options like Magento is global not only when it comes to brands but also when it comes to talent.
Being on an accessible platform means you will benefit from innovation - use another platform at your peril. When it comes to the tech - dig into these questions:
- What platform do you recommend and why?
- What success have you had for your clients on this platform?
- How much control do we have?
- If we want to move to another studio or agency later - can we?
- Are we locked in with you?
- If we wanted to hire an in-house developer, would they be able to work with your code?