Once you have a plan to build a website, you need professional help to develop the site. The range of computer professions is as wide as the range of medical professions. It is as unreasonable to expect one person to know everything about computers as it is to expect your podiatrist to do brain surgery.
One decision that will affect your developer choice is whether your site will be static or dynamic. In a static site, someone builds each page on the site. In a dynamic site, pages have a basic template and then programming fills in the content. For example, there are no developers sitting at Google creating each search page you ask for. There is a basic template for the search results and programming takes the results from a database, makes the page and sends it back to the viewer. One of the most common types of website programming is a shopping cart. The more your site depends on programming, the more important the role of the programmer is.
The following job descriptions will help you look for people with the skills you need.
Web Designer/Developer: a web designer is in charge of “look and feel”, page flow and how easy your site is for viewers to use (user interface.) Many designers have a background in creating print brochures, which is a very different environment from the web. Go to the websites the designer has designed. Check a) how appealing they are, b) how well they fit within their market, c) how comfortable they are to use.
The web designer may just produce a layout image, instead of a website. In that case, you will need a web developer to take the design and turn it into a web page structure. The designer has the graphic art and layout skills and the web developer has the technical skills to turn the design into a website.
If you are very new to owning a website, your designer may also act as a project manager to help you decide what you need to have on your website and manage the project until it is completed. This may include writing a development plan for your website, which discusses your market, what is unique about your company, what pages your site should have, special features for your website, and long term marketing and maintenance.
Copywriter: No matter how great the design is, without text about your product or service, the developer cannot finish the site. The development of many sites has been abandoned or held up because the developer was waiting for words to put on the pages.
Writing for web pages is somewhat different than writing for a printed page. It is more difficult to read a computer screen than a printed page. Viewers also have different expectations from websites than from printed materials. Paragraphs generally need to be shorter and simpler.
If you don’t already have written materials, or if you don’t like to write (or you don’t write well), you may need to hire a copywriter to create your online text. Again, read samples from the copywriter’s work to make sure that the writing is well-written and interesting.
Graphic Artist/Photographer: your web designer may not have the skills to create logos, specific icons and illustrations for your website. In fact, your web designer is more like a layout artist that takes pieces and creates a unified look and an overall plan. If your web designer isn’t an illustrator, you may need to have a graphic artist create the specific elements the designer needs for the site.
Bad photos make a bad website. You can make bad photos better, but you can never make them great. There is nothing that can replace high quality photos for your website. Having a professional photographer is the best solution, but, if you are going to take your own photos, take photography courses and learn how lighting and perspective affect how people interpret your photos.
Programmer: special website features, such as a shopping cart, online gallery, forms, etc are created with databases and programming. This is a skill beyond static web structure, and requires programming skills. There may already be software written that will match your needs, or that can be customized to fill your needs, but you may still need a programming to find that software or install it.
If the programming on your website is very extensive, your programmer should also offer to create a software plan. It is very expensive to make major changes to programming; so, the more nitty-gritty items you figure out ahead of time, the more you will save in the long run. Watch for upcoming articles specifically about web programming.
Webmaster: this is the person who keeps your site going after it is built. When you need a new page added, a photo switched, prices changed, etc., that is the task of the webmaster. If your webmaster is contract labor, instead of an employee, you need to keep in mind that that person has other clients. Your work may be put on a list and not be done for several weeks. The best thing you can do is have someone on staff, who has the training to make those urgent changes that can’t wait.
Plan to spend a couple of hours conversing with each of the people you are considering. Those conversations will help you understand both the person’s knowledge and more about the construction process of your website.