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[ Creative Computing ]

Choosing a Web Designer

What questions do you ask when choosing a webmaster? Do your research and choose only the best! Investigate their knowledge, experience, and services! Only 10% or less of those claiming to be web designers actually have the knowledge to design a professional web site? If a "webmaster" uses a program such as MSFrontpage then your site will contain so much extra junk coding which will slow down your site. Each time a change is made more junk coding is added :((

The K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple stupid) principle should be used in web design! The more of the latest technology options that you choose for your web site the less likely that your site will be viewable by the largest internet audience. This now means having your site easy to load and read on cell phones and tablets. Many designers design only for specific browsers and require visitors to upgrade to their chosen browser to be able to display their sites. This is a sure way to have your site appear unfriendly to your visitors. If the latest technologies are used then alternative means of viewing your site should be provided. What this means to you is the expense of duplicating your site to accommodate all your visitors. I think it best to design for purpose of having your site friendly to all users, browsers, and search engines.

How much value can you place on organizations a web designer belongs to? Well, in my humble opinion most organizations will accept anyone regardless of their knowledge of site design.

Many sites now utilize features from other sites. These require the use of cookies or they don't function. I often wonder what's going to happen to sites that depend on outside sources when those sites no longer exist or provide those functions?

So how do you choose a web designer?

There are some basic questions that you can ask which will reveal the knowledge and capabilities of someone you are considering. There are also means of  putting a web designer to the test and sites they have designed to know whether you are making the right choice.

How old are you? Are you a registered business owner in your state and county?

You may want to be careful and research to find out the age of the webmaster you are considering. Many kids from age 11 up are setting up design services.

What program(s) do you use to develop your sites?

An expert web designer does not use a WYSIWYG program or templates to create their sites. They are well aware of the fact that most programs on the market do not conform to HTML standards as they insert their own extensions to HTML.

Those creating sites using Frontpage and various other WYSIWYG programs create pages which are not compliant with HTML standards and add extra junk coding. Also be aware that if special extensions are needed to view your site you also have to be concerned as to whether you are easily able to move your site to another server. There may be many extra hidden costs in design due to special configurations needed when not coding for HTML compliance.

Can my web site pages be modified using any text editor?

HTML pages are basically text files and you should be able to modify your pages using a basic text editor. If a webmaster uses a WYSISYG program it may be proprietary to their program. If someone loads your pages in a WYSIWYG program it automatically inserts bad coding which will change the contents of your page ... be careful!

Many CGI programs now come with Administrative functions run through your web browser. This means you have the ability to administer the functions of these scripts online.

Will my site be viewable in all browsers?

Yes, if I design your site. This also means that the use of CGI scripts will be modified to conform to HTML 3.2 coding.

Will my site be W3C compliant? What HTML specification are you using?

"Compatibility with HTML 3.2 remains the surest guide to reaching the broadest audience. Netscape and MSIE refer to incompatibilities as "extensions", which is ironic because you cannot extend a standard that you don't comply with. Neither complies with HTML 4.0 or HTML 3.2".   There were 704 unique browsers available at the end of 1998, as noted by All thing Web - A web site builder's resource"  WebTechniques   April 1999.

The current version of 4.0 uses many functions such as style sheets that are not yet viewable by all browsers. Many site I have visited which use PHP have text that appears very scrambled on the pages. Unless coded correctly with safety features PHP can leave sites vulnerable.

Do you include the DOCTYPE on all my pages?

The Doctype is what other browsers use to interpret your coding. This also includes contains the HTML specification being used. Sites should state within their META tags which standard they are using! Some designers state they are conforming to a standard, and yet when tested or viewing the source of their document it is very obvious that they are not in compliance with the standard stated. This only serves to confuse browsers when trying to read their pages and shows the lack of knowledge of the webmaster.

Will you be using all the proper META tags on my pages?     Which META tags do you include?

META tags should be included within the headers of all your pages to promote and market your site on-line. This is the most missed ingredient of those who just put together text and graphics. It is a vital aspect for internet success. Search robots take your URL and then extract the vital information from the META Tags on each page. Each page should have the META tags specific to that page.

The most vital are keywords and description tags. The content of your page should also match what you have within these tags.

Do you include the proper ALT tags for my images?

All of your images should have descriptive wording so non-graphical browsers or slow loading pages will display the text relating to each image. Also very important is the use of width & height tags, which helps to determine the loading time of your pages.

Have you ever visited a page where you have to wait for all the graphics to load before the text is displayed? This is due to the lack of width and height tags.

Will my graphics be optimized?

All your site images should be optimized for fast loading and to conserve server space. Many sites that offer banner exchanges or links do not consider the loading time of the graphics they supply. I believe it is important to keep your graphics optimized to the smallest size possible without taking away from the quality.

Do you validate your HTML coding by specification?     If so, what program or on-line service do you use?

All HTML coding should be validated according to HTML specification and not for use within a specific browser. Many "web masters" do not verify their coding or they may use services which are browser specific. It only takes one error to throw off the coding and how your page will behave in various browsers.

It is vital that your page coding be validated to be error free! It is also important to test each page without special features enabled to ensure your site will be viewable in all browsers.

Many of the online validation sites and scripts do not catch all the html errors. W3C which is relied upon by many no longer provides an accurate validation program.

How will your coding need to be modified if I change server hosts?

All of your basic pages should run on any server. Relative URLs should be used within your site so that your internal links will function regardless of where you move your site.

CGI scripts may have to be reconfigured for a new server. This would be to modify paths, etc. If you switch from a UNIX server to an WinNT server it may be necessary to change, modify, or replace existing scripts. It may also be necessary to investigate the additional security risks involved.

What means do you use to submit my site to search engines? Do you create utilize a robots.txt file?

It's necessary to create a sitemap file (not page) now to submit your site to search engines.

Do you use JAVA or Javascript to control features on the sites you design? What alternatives are provided for those not capable of viewing these features?

Menus which relay on javascript are being used more and more on web sites. For those not capable of running javascript or choose not to keep this feature turned on in their browser can NOT navigate these sites so you MUST provide an alternative for those users! Isn't it much easier to not use these features rather then have to duplicate the functions?

Due to privacy issues and hacker programs many users disable these features within their browsers, I myself dislike having my computer lock up when encountering a javascript error while accessing a site. I don't always accept cookies to view sites.

Do you recommend and configure CGI scripts? Do you keep up-to-date on upgrades or changes to these scripts?

Many available scripts have forums where the programmer and other users share their experiences, uses, and modifications of scripts. New versions of some scripts become available regularly, so you want to be assured that you will be notified of updates.

How is information exchanged for constructing my web site?

To you provide a question and answer section for the various information needed to construct my site? Do you explain how the information is used to construct my web site? Are there input forms available on your site?

How are site changes or modifications submitted?

Do you provide forms for submitting changes or modifications? Am I able to modify my own pages? Can I modify my pages through my browser? Do the scripts used on my site have administrative functions which can be run through my browser.

Do you suggest free services to enhance my web site?

Are you aware of the various CGI scripts available on the internet and how to configure them. Do you have experience configuring various CGI scripts? Do you keep informed of updates to the scripts you recommend? Do you choose services or scripts which provide bulletin board or discussion areas for those wishing to speak with others?

Do you suggest servers to host my site?

Web masters should have a knowledge of virtual servers and to be able to visit their web site and understand what they have to offer and what obstacles you may have with hosting your site with them. They should also be aware of the security issues of the operating systems being used.

I'm sure there are other question you may want to ask before hiring a Web Designer. The questions above and the responses you receive will help you determine if the designer has the knowledge for developing a professional web site.

Putting a Web Site to the Test

If you see the author as a WYSIWYG or commercial web design program, continue your search for another webmaster. Chances are great that your site would not comply with internet standards. If the author tag is not visible then:

  • Viewing the source code check for <!DOCTYPE HTML . . . >

  • Viewing the source code check for .. Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1..

  • Viewing the source code check for image ALT tags

  • Viewing the source code check for image Width & Height tags

  • Viewing the source code check for META tags

  • Check for the use of background colors in tables. (not used above HTML 3.0)

  • Check for the use of font faces. (not used above HTML 3.0)

  • Check their title, description and keywords for each page. See if they are spamming search engines or properly defining each page.

  • Run validation tests for several pages on their site and the sites they have designed. Be sure to test for use in all browsers without all the options turned on. Use the best validation tests of DJ Delorie and run them all! Then test using a few other validation tools.

  • Use the DJ Delorie's tests to see how search engines view these pages.

Note: I do realize when viewing a page source that browsers add coding that's not actually on the page. Not sure why or how they can add coding that's not actually there??

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