What's included with my new website and what's extra?

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France
47° 34' 54.6528" N, 2° 39' 31.2876" E

Every client seeks and deserves reassurance when signing up for a new website. It doesn’t matter if they are up-to-speed with web technology or not. At some point they will ask: “What’s included with the new design?” This question of course has its uncomfortable twin: “What’s not included and what must I pay as an extra?” Web design is no different to any other ‘industry’. The norm is one of perpetual flux, change and progress. So the answer to these questions today is not the same as it was several years ago.

So here goes: here’s what I believe should be included without question when a new site is designed for a client.

Items that should come as standard, included within the basic cost of a new website (in 2016)

These items are in no particular order, but they are ones which should NOT incur extra cost in 2016

1. Responsive design

The site can be viewed on any device no matter how small or large. Its content rearranges its layout to suit the user’s screen size and any links are styled so that even fat fingers can use them on touch screens.

2. Content and styling are separate

External style sheets have been around for ages, so websites should be using them. It makes it easier to change a site’s visual design next time round and it makes it easier to work with content. It also helps reduce bandwidth usage because external style sheets get cached when the first page is loaded.

3. Fast page load

Images should be optimised. Servers should have caching enabled. Pages should have lean code. Time is money. Your potential clients are busy people who don’t deserve to be kept hanging around.

4. Discussion and planning

Your business is unique. Your designer needs to listen to you describe it and explain your aspirations. Time needs to be allowed for you to discuss the new site’s specific objectives.

5. In-built visitor statistics

The site needs to ship with some form of tracking system enabled. Google Analytics is fine. It will provide you with enough information to make some very useful decisions. Anything less is not worth it.

6. Optimised for search engines

Google best practice should be followed. The correct tags and semantic hierarchies should have been baked into each page. An XML sitemap should have been provided and it should have been submitted to Google at least, and maybe to Bing and to Yahoo.

7. Respect for web standards

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) publishes sets of web standards. These set out the ‘rules’ for HTML, XHTML, CSS etc. It may not always be possible to adhere to these 100% of the time, but there should be a professional effort at conforming to them as best as possible. Chucking a site up with complete disregard to these standards will damage your business.

8. Use a CMS (a content-management system)

This will enable clients to participate in maintaining and expanding the content on their websites. Even if a client has no wish to do this, whoever works with the site’s content will have a structured system for enforcing the guidelines that the original designer set out. Consistency (which also allows for conscious deviation from it) is in general a good thing.

9. A serious hosting company

Insist that your designer entrusts the site to a professional hosting company. This means: (a) one that speaks English, (b) knows their technical stuff better than your designer does and (c) can respond to emergencies in a matter of hours, not days. Skimping on hosting cost is a bullet in the foot. Set aside £100 a year for hosting and domain name registration. If you have the option for the site to be given a dedicated IP address, you will to some extent be shielded from the worst of a shared hosting environment.

10. Have security baked in

I build websites with Drupal. As long as I correctly configure the basics for user accounts and folder permissions, Drupal will keep your data safe and keep out unwanted activity. If your designer proposes something equivalent, you are looking in the right place.

11. Social media account integration

If you have social media accounts, your website should be integrated with them. Some clients don’t - and won’t - have such accounts. They are not always necessary. It depends on the business. But if you have such accounts, tie things together properly.

12. Documentation

All accounts, usernames and passwords associated with the website need to be shared with you. You should be given a detailed document that explains how to log in to the site, how to access all the site’s content and how to work with it. The day your new website launches marks the beginning of a new stage in the collaboration you will have with your designer.