5 Technical questions to catch out cowboy companies

Firstly before we dive into the questions I wanted to apologies for the click bait title, it was just too good to miss out on. The idea behind this article is that we have had lots of friends and customers who have had websites with previous companies and didn’t get the best site for them at a fair price because the company that built it had some knowledge of design but didn’t have the best technical knowledge.

1. What server stack is the site going to be hosted on?

There is no right or wrong server stack however there are cheaper stacks and more expensive, in most cases cheaper would be considered less good however when it comes to server environments UNIX based servers (and the technology used to serve the site) are equal to any Windows based systems in pretty much every situation. What’s more without having any Windows OS (operating system) license costs and without having the massive storage overhead of the OS you can save yourself £100’s a month on costs. For us personally we use a linux based stack and all open source software to maximise what we can get out of our servers and minimising the costs which we pass on to our customers.

2. What is an SSL and do i need one?

An SSL is a security standard across the web that requires a set of certificates that encode the requests sent from the user’s web browser to the server where they are decrypted. Any time data is sent between client and server without an SSL means there is an increased chance that someone could intercept and manipulate that request. If the site is just a site that displays information and there is no inputting of data it is less important, however if there are any places where your customers might submit personal data then an SSL is a must! SSL’s can range in price depending on the company supplying the certificate so always make sure you do the proper research. We believe that everything should be under SSL by default so we include SSL’s in all of our server costings.

3. What source control is being used and can I have access to it?

Source control is an external service that stores copies of your website’s code, it also allows you to make any code changes on branches so you can safely revert between versions of the site. The biggest benefit of this is that if for any reason the server becomes corrupted the code for the site is available and can be recreated quickly and efficiently. Again there are a range of services that provide source control, some which are paid for and some which are not, for smaller projects I would suggest either Bitbucket or GitHub. Also if you are using a company to manage your site you are well within your right to request a login to the code repository so if the company for some reason closes down you have access to the code and do not have to start again. We have all our different sites in separate repositories that we save to regularly making sure we always have contingencies.

4. What is the point of backups and have you set any up?

Following on from the above, whilst all the code that determines how the site functions and looks will be stored in source control, all the data that is displayed on the site will be stored in a database. These databases are not normally stored in source control as they change too often. In this case to make sure we can still restore the site if anything critical happens you want to be taking regular database backups and also making sure those backups are stored on an external server. Providing your server stack has been created correctly it should be easy to add a daily backup to the system with minimal additional costs. We care a lot about having backups in place just in case so we run backups on all our servers as part of our basic package.

5. What’s the difference between Mobile First and Mobile-Friendly?

Slightly more into the design world rather than technical however it’s still a good indication of whether the company you are working with is fully up to date on building sites for the current market. Both are valid methods of approaching web design and the method used should reflect more on what your target customer base is going to be. We know from several of our sites with predominantly younger audiences that over 70% of the total traffic they get comes from mobile devices. Mobile first would suit best in this case as that means simply designing the site for mobile first and then adapting it to work with tablet and desktop afterwards. For some more complex sites you might want to stick with mobile friendly, this just means building the site out for desktop and then once that is built and working optimising the site for mobile and tablet use. Personally we have used both methods for different projects all dependent on what we have deemed most appropriate for our customer and their use cases.

To conclude there is a massive amount of information that you need to truly understand every aspect of web design and a lot of the time you only need a small set of that to be able to build and deliver a website. So whilst it is good that companies can show this knowledge it might not make a huge impact on the final product the important thing is that the people you are working with are open about their approach and communicate with you often throughout the project to make sure you get the best site possible and to make sure their approach is going to be the most cost effective for you.

As always if you have any questions about any of the above just drop us a message for free and impartial advice.