There are a couple of simple ways to validate the quality of work of a website developer.
Before you sign a contract, you should verify how good his previous projects are, not only by design, but most importantly - by the code.
You don't need to know programing yourself to do this. Validating your developer's skills will take you only a few minutes and can save a lot of money.
What's the deciding factor for success of a website?
Websites can be viewed in two ways. The first one is obvious - it's the graphic design & layout. We can judge the aesthetics right away. This is the basic factor for deciding to work with a web developer, although it's far from being the fundamental one.
A website is considered successful if it has a lot of visitors. This is impossible to achieve in the following cases:
- if the website is loading too slowly,
- if the layout is displayed incorrectly,
- if the website can't be found in search engines (Google, Bing).
While we can test the speed of a website immediately by loading it, checking the two other requirements can seem out of your reach. Luckily, you will now learn how to validate a website for such problems.
Essential, but hidden parts of a web site
The more there are computers and mobile devices with access to the Internet, the more ways there is to configure each one. People use various operating systems (Windows, Mac OS, Linux etc.), and within them - different applications to browse the web (called browsers, like Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari). What looks great on your screen, can be totally unreadable in a different browser (not to mention on a mobile device).
On the other hand, search engines (like Google or Bing) index every site in the Internet by adding it to their databases. When someone searches for a term in a search engine, it is found in these databases. It is therefor vital, that a search engine (which is an automated, self-running application) can read your website. On the "back end", a website consists of the content (which you as a visitor see) and information, where that content should be displayed on the screen and how important which element is (for example: headers are the quintessence of content).
Because of this, the quality of the hidden code, surrounding the visible content is absolutely essential. This code (called HTML - HyperText Markup Language, or xHTML - which is a bit more restrictive) is responsible for correctly displaying a website in various browsers and on different operating systems and devices. It is also responsible for how the site is being read, understood, indexed, and - finally - ranked in search engines.
Checking a website in various browsers
When choosing a developer for your website, you should perform a browser compatibility check and standards validation test on his previous projects. This is very simple to do.
To perform a browser compatibility check, go to BrowserShots.org and type in your web developer's site address to the only visible text field. Now, click the "submit" button. You will be redirected to the next page. Don't exit it for about 10 minutes, after which you should refresh it (by pushing F5 on your keyboard or clicking the refresh button on the left of your address bar). You will then see screenshots of the developer's website in various system configurations. If they look broken in most cases, you should avoid that developer. Keep in mind, that if the design is slightly broken in each 10th screenshot, it's a good result (meaning the website displays as supposed to in 90% of testing configurations).
Testing a website for standards compliance
Now we will check, if the developer's website is built in compliance with the HTML or xHTML coding standards. Go to http://validator.w3.org and type in the developer's website address (including the prefix http://) to the text field. Click the Check button. You will see the test results on the next page.
If the tested website is fully compliant with the standards, you will see a green box. If it's not compliant with the standards, a red color will be shown with the number of errors. Keep in mind, that because of the rapid Internet growth (which is faster than the standards are being set), you should accept up to 15 errors as a good result, especially on websites that have a Facebook Like button, Facebook Fan Box (the one with people's faces on it) or the corresponding Google+ buttons. These website addons cause about 5 errors each and are rather unavoidable, but don't affect how the site is displayed to the users or how the search engines index them.
How to correctly perform the reliability tests on web developer's sites
You should use the two mentioned tools on two web pages: the front page of the developer's website (for example http://essentialsoftheonlinebusiness.com) and on any of the subpages of the same site (for example http://essentialsoftheonlinebusiness.com/resources).
One could think, that it would be a good idea to perform these test on websites done by the developer for his previous clients. This however would not give trustworthy results, because the owners of these websites can change their code and content, which they usually do, while messing up the validation to the developer's disadvantage.
By testing the portfolio of a web developer, we can check, if he really is a professional, or if he can only make a good design, which is looking good on some devices and breaks on most others, while not letting the search engines index the site's content properly.
Finally, remember to check your website with these tools after it's built and in case of errors, be sure to let the developer know he has to fix them.