If you’ve never bought a website before, the task can be somewhat daunting.  We all know, or have heard about, somebody who has been badly burned when buying a website.

Arm yourself with a little bit of knowledge and prepare a few questions in advance however and you should be able to avoid becoming the leading character in a horror story.

The basics – what’s in a website?

When you purchase a website, you are essentially buying three things:

A domain name.

The domain name is how people identify your website, it is generally the same as your business name  e.g. www.cheekyfrog.net

There are various types of domain name: .com, .co.uk, .net etc.  Which you choose is less important than it was 10 years ago, but certain types are more expensive than others and each is supposed to have a meaning (although this isn’t always honoured anymore).

There is a recurring (generally annual) fee that is paid to continue owning your domain name.

A hosting package

The hosting package is a service that is paid for with a recurring fee (generally yearly or monthly).

The hosting company (or provider) provides you with disk space on their servers so that your website has a location into which a website developer can copy the files that actually comprise your website.

Different hosting packages offer differing levels of service and differing features (databases, mailboxes, scripting languages etc) for differing prices.

The website code

The website code is the bit that you are actually paying your website developer to provide.  The code forms the pages that the visitors to your website see.

In addition to your web pages, you should be asking your web developer about the following, which (I believe) should be provided as part of the quoted website creation:

  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
    Simply put, this is where the developer does their utmost to ensure that your site is as close to the top of the search engine listings as possible for agreed search phrases.
  • Site usage statistics
    Your developer should be able to provide you with statistics about who is visiting your site, how they got there and how long they were there.
  • Compliance to standards
    The developer should let you know to which standards they will be adhering whilst creating your website.

So what am I paying the web designer to do?

As mentioned above, your website developer should be providing you with more than just the pages on your site.  When you agree to hand over your hard earned cash to a developer you need to be sure of the following:

Who is purchasing the hosting and domain name?

Is the developer doing this for you?  If so, how much are they charging you for it?  If you are doing this, do you know what the developer needs in terms of disk space, in-built languages and database support etc. to provide the site that you want?

In whose name is the site domain name going to be registered? If you need to switch to another provider or if you have a disagreement with your developer what happens?

Will I be able to see the design before it goes live?

Not all developers will allow you to see what it is that you’re buying before it goes out live.  You need to ask at what stages you are going to be able to see a prototype of the design and ask for changes.

What standards will my site adhere to?

If your site adheres to W3C coding standards then there is a greater chance that your visitors will get the same experience visiting your site no matter which browser they use.

Will my site be in line with legal requirements regarding access by the visually impaired?

If not you are, technically, breaking the law and could be prosecuted (although I don’t know of anyone who has been prosecuted).  Will your site be in line with guidelines regarding colours used?  Certain colour combinations will be invisible to people with different forms of visual impairment.

What about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?

Your site developer should be able to explain to you what needs to be done to best allow your site to be found.

How do I know who’s visited my site?

Your developer should be able to tell you what measures they intend to put in place so that you know how many people have visited your site, how they got there, how long they spent there and whether or not they were a returning visitor.  Again, you should be told in advance whether this is a service that is provided as standard or at an additional cost.

What happens if I want to change my site content?

Depending on how your site is created you can change your content to a lesser or greater degree.  Your site developer should be able to advise you on whether you need a Content Management System (CMS) based site, where you can change all of your content, or a more traditional site where changes need to be made by the developer


What ongoing costs will I incur?

After you’ve paid for your site you will still incur additional costs.  At the very least, if you want to keep your site up and running, you will need to pay a recurring fee to keep your domain name and pay your site hosts.

In addition to these fixed costs, you may want to agree in advance with your developer additional fees for such things as updates to your site or continuing SEO.  If you don’t want to pay a recurring maintenance fee, you need to have some idea of what costs will arise if you need to make changes to your site once the initial fee has been paid.

So what do I need to do?

Simply put, most people get stung when commissioning a website because they don’t ask enough questions.  The above are the bare minimum that you need to ask.  If something’s bothering you – ask!

If a potential website developer is not keen to answer your questions (for free!) then find another one.  If they try to bamboozle you with buzzwords or seem evasive – find another one.  If their costs seem unreasonable – get another quote.