What to ask a web designer
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Most businesses realize they need to have an online presence.  With the slow death of the yellow pages, local businesses are realizing having a reliable web site is key to people finding you and showing them you are a legitimate business.  Most likely you have been approached by web consultants, web designers and “business guru’s” all telling you they can create a great compelling website.

As a business, you are not a technologist, programmer or web design guru, that’s why you are hiring someone to build your website for you.  If you are not careful who you choose, you can cause yourself a lot of grief, wasted money and generally sour you on the whole process.  There is one question you can ask that prospective web designer that will answer several questions at once.

What should I ask my Web Designer?

The single question you should ask any prospective web designer is “What CMS are you using and Why?”  A simple question for sure, but their answer can determine many things about the whole process.  If it is for an ecommerce site, you can also ask, “What cart are you using and why?”  Here are the answers you might hear and whether you should run away or that tell you they might be a good candidate.

The run for the hills answer

If you hear any of these responses, just cut them off right there and run away.  These “web designers” will use systems or companies that are designed for the DIY market and yet charge you the same amount for what you would pay for a good CMS.

“What is a Content Management System?”

Run, don’t walk away from these “web designers.”  Any web designer should know what a Content Management System is and if they don’t you do not want them “designing” for you.

“I use Wix, Weebly, Webs, Yola, Squarespace, Intuit, Sitebuilder…”

This is not web design.  These are systems that you can use to create your website without a designer.  These platforms are fine for do it yourselfers (I have even used them myself at time) but this is not something you should be paying someone for.  Their functionality is limited compared to other CMS’s and if you are going to pay for someone to implement, it should be full featured.

“We use a custom CMS we developed in House”

This might sound impressive at first but I have had a couple clients that chose this route and came to regret the decision.  Because it is their custom CMS, only they have the license to use it and update it.  If you ever want to leave them, you have to create a brand new website.  Because they won’t have the resources of the open source community, it will lag behind other CMS in feature development and plugins.

The “be careful” Answer

Your designer might tell you that they don’t use a content management system, that they design from scratch using a program such as Dreamweaver.  This is how legitimate web design used to be done and still is to a certain extent.  The problem you have is that when you have a “custom” design, any time you need a change, you will need to pay your designer to make even the tiniest changes.  They also will not be nearly as SEO (Search Engine Optimized) as a content management system.  Custom designs tend to work in limited circumstances when existing CMS’s or Carts can’t do something special you are looking for it to do.

The answer you want to hear, in order of importance.

“We use WordPress”

For informational sites there is no better platform them WordPress.  From small blogs to Fortune 500 companies, they all use WordPress in one form or another for their site.  Whether you are running a blog or just a static company page, WordPress is one of the more versatile applications to use.

  • Easy to update and maintain by the customer
  • Designed for blogging and is Optimized to be found by Google and other search engines
  • Literally thousands of templates that can be customized
  • Thousands of plugins that can be installed to make your site do just about anything
  • Thousands of developers in case you come to hate your current web design company.
  • For blogs and non-ecommerce sites I always use WordPress.  I am continually amazed at the functionality and how user friendly it is.  I put many non-tech friendly customers on it and they take to it right away.

“We use Drupal/We use Joomla”

Drupal and Joomla are two other Content Management Systems that many people use.  It is a more “developer” friendly tool but not as friendly to the end user.  I know talented programmers that will turn down work updating on Drupal or Joomla because it can be complicated.  There should be a specific reason they are using these two platforms and it usually has to do with transactions.  If they tell you it’s the CMS they are comfortable with that is Ok, just realize you will have a harder time maintaining it.

What about if I am creating an e-commerce store?

E-commerce is a special beast.  The needs of an ecommerce store are completely different than a corporate, informational or blogging site.  Because you need to accept credit cards, create products, determine shipping and create a storefront, specialized carts are what I tend to push.  The carts are designed for this compared to other platforms.

My three favorite platforms are hosted shopping carts.  They are all PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry- Data Security Standards) compliant, provide tons of functionality and are pretty cheap to run on a monthly basis.

“I use BigCommerce, 3D Cart, Shopify”

These are three hosted carts I have used and still do.  Each one has things it does well.  My favorite is BigCommerce given how many features they have and how easy it is for the customer to use them but there are other platforms out there as well.  3dCart is great if you have multiple warehouses or need recurring payments and Shopify works great for branded sites.

“I use WordPress”

While I love wordpress, there are only limited times I use it for e-commerce.  If you are selling a single product (ebook or just a single physical product) then it can make sense but I don’t like to use it for a full cart program.

“I use Zencart, Magento, OSCart”

These are all established shopping cart programs that are legitimate answers to running an ecommerce store.  I have one client that runs 6 stores on Zencart.  The difference being he has onsite Techs to handle any issues.  You have to get your own hosting, your own SSL certificate and handle any and all updates.  If you do not have the technical expertise I would not suggest these programs.

“I use Joomla/Drupal”

Joomla and Drupal can be legitimate answers in very small circumstances.  I have seen both used in situations where the off the shelf systems just don’t work for the product being sold.  Because they will be custom designed you will have higher upkeep.


As you can see, asking that one simple question can provide a variety of answers and tell you a lot about the designer and the process you will go through.  If you are looking for a simple site for your little store and don’t want to sell anything, I always suggest WordPress.  I choose a cart depending on what is needed for the client but all three I mentioned will do the job.  If you have a question on a proposal, let me know, I will give you a second opinion free of charge.

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