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5 Dumb Questions It’s OK to Ask a Web Developer

The Web Developer “Bubble”

Last week I was listening to Boagworld’s April 24 podcast,  "Poo, wee and surgery." In it, Paul Boag interviews Laura Card, the Marketing and Communications Manager at Royal Hospital Chelsea in London. They discussed challenges of running a non-profit website and one part of the interview really stuck with me. During the development, they had a little "miscommunication.” They laughed about it during the interview, but I’ll bet it was pretty frustrating at the time. Ms. Card reported an error while testing the website - one that his development team couldn’t see and couldn’t replicate.

It turned out to be a web browser issue, typically a simple fix. But, it took some back and forth before someone asked a dumb (but important) question, “What web browser are you using?” It turned out that her team was using an outdated browser and the problem was resolved quickly. Paul summarized what he learned perfectly. He said as web developers, “…we get caught up in our own little bubble where the things that we do you end up thinking are blindingly obvious, but they’re not. They’re only blindingly obviously because we do them all the time.”

That got me thinking about all of the seemingly “dumb” questions I’ve been asked over the years and how important it is for us to remember that very few of our clients really understand what it takes to develop and launch a website. I wondered, “Do our clients really understand what I mean when I say CMS integration or responsive design? Maybe they’re just nodding in agreement and making a mental list of terms to Google later.”

Ask Dumb Questions

It can be intimidating to embark on a project you can’t fully wrap your head around. I bet all of us have been embarrassed to ask a question, kept quiet, and regretted it later. In our world that can translate to a delayed project and a blown budget. So, here are my top five dumb questions to get you started.

1) How much does it cost to make a website?

OK. From our perspective, this is a really dumb question. It’s like asking, “How much is a car?” But if you’re in need of a website, it’s the most obvious question to lead off with. The answer is – it depends. With a car, the price depends on its make, model and features. With a website, the price depends on its complexity and features. Are you looking for a few pages with your logo, some photos and text? Or are you in need of an online store, customer portal and blog? The former will be significantly cheaper than the latter.

2) Is the website mine after you’re done?

Yes, it is. When your website is done and live, you own it. In meetings, my boss puts it this way, “If I accidentally run over your dog and you don’t want to do business with me anymore, you can take your website anywhere you wish.”

There are a lot of companies that offer really cheap (sometimes free) website templates and monthly hosting. These services are great for some businesses, but remember you’re essentially renting your website. Yes, you choose a nice template, build your pages and add your own text and pictures. But, you don’t own the template or the code base. They do. Plus, if you want to add a shopping cart or some other advanced feature, your free website will likely no longer be free.

3) What is a CMS and why do I want one?

A CMS or Content Management System is a tool that allows you to edit and publish content (text, photos, blog entries, etc) on your website. There are all kinds of CMS options to choose from, but we love ExpressionEngine CMS because it offers us the flexibility and power we need to create polished and customized projects.

You want a CMS because you don’t want to have to call us every time you need to make a change to your website. Frequent text changes can be done at any time with a CMS and you don’t need any programming knowledge. Just login, pick your page, and make your changes. If you can update your Facebook status, you can edit your webpage. Done and done.

4) Can you make my website “pop?”

While this one’s pretty high up there on the scale of dumb questions, it relates to design and we take design seriously. A question like this merits a whole discussion about your preferences as they relate to web design. We’ll likely ask you to provide us with examples of websites that do “pop” and why. We would use that information to create a website you’re proud to show off – one that “pops” more than Orville Redenbacher!

5) Can you make it show up on my phone?

To clarify, just about every website will “show up” on your phone. However, whether it will look good or even work is a different story. But, the answer is yes and it’s a good question. We design responsive websites for the majority of our clients. This means that mobile users can interact with your website regardless of the device they’re using to access your website.

You’ve probably figured out that these questions really aren’t so dumb; they’re ones we get asked quite often. As web developers, I think it’s important for us to remember that our clients came to us for help so we should take the time to answer their questions in an honest, direct way. When it comes down to it, the smartest thing our clients can do is ask us the dumb questions.