6 Questions You MUST Ask an Author Website Development Firm

Photo credit: Eleaf via Foter.com / CC BY
Photo credit: Eleaf via Foter.com / CC BY

I’ve been running Smart Author Sites for a decade now. I’ve worked with hundreds of authors (and, truth be told, put together hundreds more proposals than that). Many authors that have come to me have done so after developing a website previously … and then regretting it for one reason or another.

If you are considering having an author website developed, or if you’re talking to an author website development firm, here are five questions you must ask — and answers that should make you run the other way — before signing anything or giving out your credit card number.

  1. Will I be able to update the website myself? When I started this business 10 years ago, content management systems were only used by huge, content-rich sites (like CNN, for example). Now, just about every site is on an easy-to-update content management system, like WordPress. Make sure to ask if the site they will be developing for you will be on a content management system that allows you to easily log in and make changes to the website on your own. It’s essential for authors to be able to log in at any time and post blog entries, site updates, photos, and more.
  2. Is there a charge per page? I’ve actually been asked this question multiple times. At first, it sounded crazy to me. Why would you charge per page? But I’ve come to understand that there are actually companies that charge you on a per page basis for site development. Here’s what you need to know: The significant cost of building a website is in the design and development. That code is then duplicated on each and every page of the site. There might be a small degree of customization that goes into laying out the text and photos in the body of each page, but that’s minimal. In WordPress, adding a page is as simple as clicking a button. So anyone who wants to charge you more for a five-page site than a three-page site is selling you a bag of goods.
  3. Is the site mobile friendly? It’s 2016. A large percentage of people are viewing the web via a mobile phone and/or tablet. For a site to be built today and not be mobile friendly is insane. And yet, this isn’t a crazy question to ask. The same sites that are not built on a content management system (i.e. they are hand-coded) may also not be mobile friendly. So make sure to ask this question and confirm that yours will be before moving forward.
  4. How much will hosting cost me? Have you seen all those commercials in which companies offer to build you a website for free? Have you ever stopped to think how they make money? The answer is: hosting. In other words, they will build you the website for free and then charge you an arm and a leg to keep it up and running after they’ve built it. So make sure you get a price quote on hosting before moving forward with design. Speaking of which …
  5. Who owns the site? So this company will build you the site. Maybe they will build it on their own server. If so, it’s important to make sure that you actually own the site going forward. In other words, let’s say they build you the site, and then let’s say that you decide down the line that you want to have it hosted somewhere else, or have another company manage it for you or make changes to it. Can you do that? If they own the site, you can’t. So this is a crucial thing to know.
  6. What kind of services do you provide post-launch? There are too many design and development firms out there that build you the site, hand it over to you, and wash their hands clean. That’s not a situation you want to be in. What if you need larger-scale design changes made down the line? What if you have a simple question about how to add an image to the page? Make sure that the firm you work with will continue to work with you after the site is launched — helping you keep it fresh and making any changes you need going forward. There may be a small cost associated with that (in our case, the only qualification is that you keep the site hosted with us), but it may well be worth it.

Have you run into any other pitfalls working with companies designing your author website? Any other words of wisdom you’d want to give to other authors? Share them in the comments box below.

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