Having a new site developed is an exciting time but it can also be stressful as there’s a lot of things to consider, especially for first timers and the less technically savvy. While a lot of the common sense rules to purchasing also apply online (search around for quotes, research the company before doing business with them, etc.) there’s a number of technical considerations that if you don’t know about can really cause problems for you. So I thought I’d share 5 important technical considerations when getting a CMS website developed.
Define what “Delivered” means
While this may seem unnecessary, ‘delivered’ can mean different things to different parties. Some developers define delivered to mean that it is installed and working on your designated web server, whereas others consider delivery to be providing you with access details to download a copy of your new site. From there you will need to upload to a web server and configure it yourself. Neither one is correct as both of these methods have their merits, depending on your needs. If you want to test the site in your own environment, upload a bunch of products or custom design yourself, and you have no problems uploading your site, then just getting a link to download your site might be the best option for you. But if you just want it to “work out of the box”, so to speak, without having to do any configuration or transfer of files then be sure to clearly specify what delivered means when negotiating.
As a side note to this, when you’re giving confirmation that your site does work on your web server, be sure to check not just pages and links, but also contact forms and, for ecommerce sites, that orders are being placed correctly. A site with a shopping cart that doesn’t work is just an expensive online pamphlet.
Specify that only the latest CMS version is to be used
I’ve seen this one happen a bunch of times, where a site is delivered and its been built using an out of date version of the Content Management System (CMS) such as wordpress, Drupal and Joomla. CMS’s need to be kept up-to-date to provide not only the latest features, but more importantly the latest security updates. How this happens is that the site is often built on a development server with either an older version of the CMS or new versions come out in between the start of the build and the final delivery. Either way, it results in a website that is most likely vulnerable to security exploits as soon as it goes live; not what you want for your big launch day! So be sure to specify that the latest version of the CMS is delivered, as well as any plugins or extensions are up to date and secure.
Be clear on who’s responsible for updates
As mentioned before, a CMS must be kept up-to-date and you need to be aware of whose responsibility this will be going forward. While some developers offer support following the delivery of your site, it’s usually regarding site functionality or updating minor details such as changing contact information. Unless your post delivery support agreement includes site updates (which will almost certainly incur a fee) then it’s unreasonable to expect your developer to manage the site indefinitely after launch. Talk to your developer about what additional services they offer, or even some guidance on how it’s done. For the more tech savvy site owner you may find that with a little help getting set up this is something you feel comfortable to manage yourself.
Alternatively, you can find a hosting company that provides a managed service, where they manage site updates as part of their package. This can be the best option for some as it means that your site is hosted and managed in the same location, so you just have one company to call.
Whoever manages your updates, remember the one golden rule: Always do a backup first!! Which brings me to the next point...
Get backups sorted before launch
Backups are often an after thought when it comes to websites. The plan is usually to get the site launched and working and then come back to it later only for it to be forgotten until it’s too late. Not having a system of regular backups of your site, is like running a business without insurance. One single event, such as a compromise or system’s crash can wipe you out online, and all the time and money is gone. Not to mention lost revenue while your site is down, or customers who lose trust in your security and professionalism.
The good news is that backing up your site has never been easier. All the major CMS's have easy to use backup tools that can be installed and configured in a relatively small period of time. Talk to your developer about setting backups, which they should be able to do for a small fee or even for free. A little amount of work in this area at the start will save a massive amount of work later on.
Host where you want to host
Sometimes, as part of a redevelopment, a developer will want to change the provider your site is hosted through which can have both its positives and negatives.
While your developer will try their best to help you out, there may have very different criteria for what is important in hosting. A developer might prefer to keep hosting costs down by foregoing elements of support (such as email only support so you can't call for help), simply because they don't need assistance and they want to pass on the savings. What a developers calls an "easy to use" control panel may leave some users hiding under their desk in the fetal position, or ready to toss their computer out the window.
If you're working with an international developer they might not place much emphasis on the servers being located in the same country as your business where as this may be an important, or even legal requirement for your organisation.
If you want some assistance in selecting a hosting provider, have a chat to your developer and they may be able to provide some insight, but be clear about what is important to you. However, if you've got a provider you're happy with then it's your decision whether you stay or go. Ultimately, you're the one who has to deal with the host after the developments been delivered so make it work for you.
Getting a site built or redeveloped can be a big undertaking
The normal rules of business all apply to getting a site build; do your own research, be clear what is important for you, find a developer you can trust and then build a relationship of clear and honest communication so you can both work together towards a common shared goal.