Webmasters for small businesses often do it all, from designing the website to search engine optimization (SEO) to daily maintenance. So, you need an adept, creative multitasker whom you can trust with the keys to your website -- the online gateway to your brand.
How can you find someone who's up to that tall task? Here are 10 important questions to ask potential webmasters to try to ensure you're hiring the right one:
2. May I have a list of your current and past clients? Candidates should readily provide contact information for existing and past clients, says Chris Turzo, managing director of Goodwyn, Powell & Turzo, an executive recruiting firm that specializes in IT and clean technology. "Directly speaking with people a candidate has worked for is an essential step in the hiring process because it helps you establish how reliable and results-driven" he or she is. Many contract webmasters work independently on their own time schedules, he adds, so ask if they work well without a lot of structure and still deliver desired results on time.
3. What's your favorite website and why do you like it? The answer can reveal a lot about a webmaster's sense of branding, design, user interaction and more, Turzo says.
4. Which publishing, design and content technologies would you use to build and maintain my website? Webmasters should be able to describe the major publishing, design and content scheduling tools, give the pros and cons of each, and explain which they would suggest for you based on your budget and scope of work. "For instance, if they incorporate a blog within your website, would they use WordPress or Drupal, or would they code one from scratch?" says Malcolm Ong, co-founder and chief technical officer at Skillshare, an online education community based in New York City, and a mentor at 500 Startups, a Mountain View, Calif. internet seed fund and startup accelerator. "If you're not tech-savvy, you may not fully understand all of the technologies he or she proposes, but they should at least be able to present you with clear options that you can generally understand."
5. How will you optimize my website for search engines? Lisa Lopuck, author of Web Design for Dummies (Wiley, 3rd edition, 2012), suggests asking candidates how knowledgeable they are about SEO tools and techniques. "Ask them to explain which strategies and methods they'll use to boost your rankings in all of the major search engines," she says. They should also be experienced with Google Analytics to track website traffic and user behavior statistics and gauge the effectiveness of their SEO campaigns.
6. What kind of special features can you integrate into my site? A static website simply won't do. Customers have come to expect extras features like video, social media feeds and banner ads. Be sure the candidate has the skills and resources to provide them. Can they easily add a contact form, blog, Flash animation, and Facebook and Twitter feeds to your site? If so, what is the expected delivery time for each special feature?
7. What is your approach to security issues and other potential website problems? It's essential to know how your webmaster would respond should your site crash or get hacked -- and how quickly. Find out how often they would back up the site and all of its content and how they would protect your site against phishing, data theft and malicious file execution.
Other security-related questions: If your website will require users to log in, how will the personal data be verified and protected? If the webmaster creates a shopping cart for you, how will your customers be protected against identity and credit card information theft?
8. How well versed are you in copyright issues? It's critical for webmasters to be up-to-date on web-related copyright concerns. They will likely be charged with copyrighting all of the text, images and other media on your website. Asking them where they'll obtain the photos and graphics they'll use on your site could help you avert potential legal woes. For example, will they use free Creative Commons attribution licensed images or paid commercial stock photo licensed images?
9. Who will own the website? You might think that you would automatically own a site you paid someone to design for you. But if the designer is an independent contractor and not a company employee, you won't own the site without a "work made for hire" or a "copyright assignment" agreement specifically stating that you own the complete design and all the content.
10. What are your fees and payment terms? It's crucial to establish from the outset all of the fees for designing, publishing and maintaining your website. You'll also want to know if the webmaster prefers to be paid by the hour or on a monthly retainer. If the webmaster is designing a new site for you, find out whether you'll have to pay for hosting and domain name registration charges.
Other important payment questions: Are there overtime charges for working after regular business hours and on weekends or holidays? How often are invoice payments due -- every 30, 60 or 90 days? And is there an interest fee for late payments?
Corrections & Amplifications: An earlier version of this story misstated Malcolm Ong's role with 500 Startups. Ong is a mentor there.
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