5 Cardinal Rules When Creating a Web Site

Over the years – working as a developer I have seen both a lot of great and horrible things with clients. In order to avoid the “horrible things” – I would highly suggest taking a moment and reading through the points below.

Step 1: So you need a web site…

Your development options:

  1. You also know someone who has a cousin who does web sites on the side
  2. You outsource it to a company who charges $10/hour
  3. You find a reputable web development company

Cardinal Rule #1

Realize your development decision has consequences. All options have costs you might not be thinking about. Not everyone wants/can spend a large amount of money on a project so they decide to choose option #1 or option #2. The initial project cost is lower on paper so you go with it. The costs you really need to consider with the first two options are often hidden.

  • Communication: How can I get ahold of you to talk about the project/status/any issues? (If this is someone who does it “on the side” or is located in another time zone – are you ok with a delay or odd hours of communication?
  • Quality: Can your cousin’s friend who does this on the side create something that you want to represent you? Perhaps sometimes – but more than often – you will get something for less money and quality and it will show.
  • Cost: Option #3 is not always the best for you either. Perhaps you have a new business and you want something really professional, but you do not have a budget to match what you want. I have seen companies put so much money into their site – that their business fails because they overspent.

No options is perfect – but you need to be comfortable with the decision and realize there are potential downfalls.

Cardinal Rule #2

Get a contract in place with guarantees/terms. If whomever you decide to work with does not want to get this in place first thing – huge red flag and good luck. This is an essential part of any business as it sets expectations and protections for both the client and developer.

Step 2: Let’s start this!

Now that you have started the process and selected the right web developers – it is time to start building your site. The fun (or nightmare) is just about the start.

Cardinal Rule #3

Never let your developer register for all needed accounts/licenses. I have seen it time and time again where a developer registered something, stopped working for their company/client and with their departure also went all the licenses/accounts. Example – your developer offers to register your domain name for you, but when they do – they then get all notifications of when it expires, and control renewal. The developer then ends their business relationship with you for whatever reason and when your domain name needs to be renewed – you have no control over it and after spending money/time on building your online presence – lose it all because your domain name has been bought by someone else. Ouch. I have seen it. Another example: your developer sets up your hosting account. The developer leaves and they stop paying for/close the hosting account. Good bye web site. Better yet – you do not own the account and cannot even request a backup of your site. OWN YOUR DATA/LICENSES/ACCOUNTS

Step 3: My site is amazing!

After the development is over – now you can enjoy the end product (or can you?).

Cardinal Rule #4

Know what your backup policy is/make sure you actually have backups. Some people think $5.00/month hosting is a great deal until they realize they do not have any backups or that backup are an added cost that they never sign up for. Whoops. I have also seen more expensive hosting packages that only keep backups for 48 hours. This may work for some people – but if there was an issue on Friday, and you get in on Monday and realize it – your backups are not going to help. Make sure you are comfortable with your backups.

Cardinal Rule #5

Keep your software up to date. If there are security updates – apply these sooner than later. No excuses. If you are worried about an update breaking something – set up a staging environment and test there. If you do not have a staging environment but feel like testing is still important – spend the time and money to get one. I have seen clients who have had a security breach because they decided it would be best if they “only update quarterly” which may sound nice in a written report to someone – but when security issues come up and there are patches – they need to be applied ASAP or your site becomes vulnerable. Resolving security issues always cost greater than applying the updates.

In summary – not everyone knows the process or what they need to do when starting a web site project or maintaining their own site. My company has helped a lot of clients from start to finish and will make sure we go over the items above. We have also seen/helped a lot of clients who had an issue with one of the cardinal rules above and I, if possible, hope reading this has made you more aware of potential things to think about when doing any web site development. Creating and maintaining a web site can be a great experience or a nightmare. I hope your experience is great!

Iffy v. Ideal Clients

I love having the opportunity working with a number of diverse clients from very diverse backgrounds. There are certain clients though that you can – right from the initial contact – that are going to be “iffy” v. “ideal”.

I have learned over the years how to easily spot the “iffy” clients. They clients are always the ones that need something quick in an impossible timeframe, cannot articulate what they want, wants your advice but wants it done for a fraction of the time it would take to do it correctly, think they know more than you or “in my past life I was…”, or always are panicked. The big issue here is they know they need help – but they distrust you and the solution (regardless what it is).

The ideal clients (you know who you are!) can be spotted a mile away. They come to you with a clear idea of what they want, know how to properly articulate/document tasks, and understand that the company/consultant might have some ideas of how to best implement the solution. Most importantly – they realize they trust that you (the company/consultant) have the knowledge to do whatever it takes to create the best solution.

My suggestion to successful client/consultant relationships: learn to gauge the trust level and go with it. If you as the client do not trust the consultant – find someone else. It is more likely that you will find an issue with something, blame the consultant (perhaps even wrongly) and not only will you not trust the consultant – the consultant will get bitter as well. If you are the consultant – and you sense a trust issue – it is also time to move on. It seems hard – but really – those panicked phone calls, thoughts of “are they going to pay me?”, etc worth it? No. Move on and enjoy life!

WordPress MU Spam

I recently finished up migrating a site for a client (WordPress MU) from one host to another. I got an email requesting the migration from someone that said “it was a simple blog with only a few plugins”. When I took my initial look, I counted 30 plugins, and a database with 2093 tables (WordPress MU standard install uses 7 tables). When I asked them about the database size, they were just as shocked. Come to find out – they had a ton of “spam blogs”. After a few hours of weeding out some of the spam blogs, they were able to get the database size down to 1390 tables – which made it slightly more easy to work with.

The lesson here is – if you are going to use WordPress MU – I would consider requiring approval before a blog is created, or at the very least, monitor the blogs on your site. Of course, I would also highly recommend using Akismet for comment spam as well which will also cut down on the general spam level per blog. Also something to note, before you move your site to another server, delete all the caught spam so your database is less bloated – this will save time with the export/import of data.

Slightly Less Busy Now!

I am always excited to complete a project – as the end of the project is by far the most stressful, but when the project goes live – it makes up for it. The last few months I have been working with a talented group of people at TIME Inc. to create a web site for their senior political analyst Mark Halperin and the site debuted today. The site was exciting to work on and I learned a lot. Now that this is out, hopefully I will be able to post a bit more.

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