COMMISSIONING MY MONSTER LAB
FOR YOUR FIRST WEB PROJECT
Commissioning a web project for the first time can be daunting. We believe it’s important that you understand the process, or at least know what to look out for. Here are some questions we’ve been asked in the past, and questions you should be asking.
COMMISSIONING A WEB PROJECT
Here are some common questions that we have been asked in the past. These questions may be relevant for you to consider when hiring a web agency. Keep in mind that not all websites are created equal, and not all web agencies are either.
Don’t underestimate the worth in finding an agency or freelancer that fits your personality: chances are you’re going to be working together for a long time. It is rare that you can have a website built and handed over to you without you requiring the developer’s services again. Some web projects never really end; there is always another round of changes and updates that need to be made.
Beware of “digital” agencies that don’t concentrate on any one field. There are a lot of marketing, design and print agencies that also make websites on the side.
We believe a team of web specialists, honing their skills every day, are best positioned to keep up with the speed of change on the Internet.
Some companies take on all the work they can get despite not having the skills, know-how, or even time. They might only do the visual designs and then get another company or freelancer to do the development work or vice versa.
We think the best websites are built by teams with all the expertise in-house. Working side-by-side each day means we’ve got strong team spirit, and we’re familiar with each other’s skills and personalities, alllowing us to complement each other. We’re in-charge, and we’re not reliant on other companies or freelancers when implementing changes or providing support.
Websites should be designed to be accessible by as broad a set of people as possible. Developers should care about writing meaningful and valid code built to industry standards.
At My Monster Lab, we know that high quality code is easier to maintain and has the ability to reach out to a wider audience and market.
There are two reasons why you should have a fast-loading site: (1) Google factors page load time into its search ranking algorithm, and (2) it provides better user experience.
However, it should be noted that there is fine balancing act between optimisation and design. Premature optimisation adds complexity and introduces bugs that consume time and money. Some developers may tell you to simply upgrade your server or throw in expensive hardware when you come across speed/capacity issues. Don’t fall for it just yet. Instead, we recommend exploring other options, especially relooking at the code. Try caching technologies too – after all, no business is too small to use technologies that the busiest sites use.
To get to the top of search listings, some SEO professionals write automated scripts/bots to add links to their site on other high-ranking sites, or pay people to do their dirty work for them. While it can be tough competing with “black hat” techniques like this, it is definitely possible to be ranked well with an honest approach. Keyword analysis is an essential part of the process: this means you can better target your website copy and adverts to your prospective audience.
We take a firm “white hat” position when it comes to marketing your site. It may take a little longer to get results, but you won’t be in danger of Google choosing to drop you from their results pages and will pay off with better customers.
Whilst modern browsers are generally very good, older ones display web pages in their own unique way, and unless your site is built to work around their quirks it will look broken to your visitors, and you won’t even know it.
We have extensive expertise in supporting older and less common browsers, and are happy to talk over any specific support requirements you have.
You don’t particularly need another version of your website for it to work on a smartphone or tablet. All you need may be a simple mobile stylesheet that provides a tailored layout for various screen sizes.
We use HTML5 technologies wherever possible to build websites, so Apple’s lack of support for Flash doesn’t hold our sites back.
All websites will fail at some point. Once you accept this fact of life, you can move on to prepare yourself for it. Any experienced software development team will know this and they will be well-prepared to deal with the consequences. It’s all about having a positive approach, the problem-solving skills, and all the right tools.
We believe automatic notifications are essential. This allows the developers to nip the problem in the bud the second they receive a system error. Processes monitors should be run on the server itself to keep it alive and well. Larger applications can make use of software services such as New Relic that provide real-time information on system load and will automatically notify you when your site is handling spikes of traffic.
Test-driven development has gained acceptance as the best way to write web applications. The benefits of this approach are significant where multiple developers work on a project and may not have intimate knowledge of every aspect of the application. Bugs will be caught earlier in the development cycle where they are less harmful.
It is absolutely critical that you can develop and test new features of your website before making them live to your users. Source control systems such as Git make it easy to manage multiple versions of the code, even as it is developed concurrently. These systems are essential for the organisation of multi-developer projects as they allow people to work on the same files at the same time from any location. Source control also means your code is a lot safer as multiple revisions are kept so that code can easily be reverted to previous versions.
A stale website will perform poorly in search engines and doesn’t encourage repeat visitors. Whether it’s news articles, product updates or a company blog, nearly every website will have areas that need to be kept up-to-date. Some developers utilise existing self-publishing systems such as Wordpress, Expression Engine, Joomla etc. as a content management system (CMS) and customise the public facing design. This can work really well if you’re on a budget and don’t have complicated requirements. This approach can lead to problems though when you want a simple interface or need extra custom functionality.
Generally we’ll build a custom CMS that captures your exact requirements and will perform only the functions it needs. It’s important to bear in mind that these systems can restrict the flexibility of the website design – complex designs cost more. To strike the right balance, consider how often you will actually update the content. While manual content updates made by your developers will often cost you by the hour, it might actually cost you more to build the extra piece of CMS functionality, especially if you end up never using it.
Typically your web developers will be best placed to make a recommendation, but the decision is ultimately yours. A lot of agencies host their own sites and this can work well if they have the in-house expertise. You should ask them about their setup. Do they have off-site backup? What plans do they have if the server goes down? Can they get it running again in the middle of the night or on a weekend? Do they perform regular security updates?
Don’t assume your web developers know how to manage a web server — building a website and looking after a server are two very distinct skill sets and require very different knowledge. There are typically two types of serveres on which to host your website.
First, is the shared (or co-located/virtual) servers. Your website is stored on the same machine as others and the hosting company will maintain and look after the server on your behalf. They are cheap, but the support is often poor, and via email only. The shared solution is typically already setup and ready to go. If you want to deviate from the standard setup it can be problematic as your access and privileges on the server will be restricted.
Second, is dedicated hosting, which is expensive but gives you full control of the server. Everything is installed from scratch and managed by the web developers. A dedicated server gives peace of mind that the website won’t be affected by other sites, but can be more time consuming to manage than a shared solution. Security and software updates will be the responsibility of your web agency.
We like to use companies like Exabytes and BlueHost.com that provide dedicated hosting because, whilst they aren’t the cheapest, they are among the most reliable in the industry and give us the flexibility to provide you with a site or application tailored to your requirements.