Healing Arts Web Design

Web Design

Why The Quality of your Website’s Code Matters

There are lots of ways to see a website project to completion. Some web designers do both design and coding work, and others will just design and have a developer turn their work into a functioning website. While it’s important to find a designer that can pull off the visual aspects of the project, it’s equally important to make sure that the website’s code is high quality.

This brings up a challenge:

Good Design is Easier to See Than Good Code

The design itself is the first thing we see as a website visitor and needs to be first-rate, taking into account important considerations like business objectives, branding, and marketing strategy. The design is visual and right there in front of us. It’s real and ready to be critiqued as effective or not.

On the other hand, the code that actually brings a website to life (HTML, CSS, PHP) are behind the scenes and out of sight. Unless you know how to look into these things, you’re at the mercy of your web developer to deliver a final product whose code is at the same level of quality as the design itself. So how can you be sure you’re getting a solid product?

Let’s Define ‘Quality Code’ First

  • Valid, organized, and up to date HTML and CSS
  • Follows modern web design best practices
  • Website loads quickly and looks good on all devices
  • Code is semantic and easy to update by other developers who have never seen the code
  • If using WordPress – PHP coding standards and WordPress best practices are followed
  • Plugins used are well-maintained, secure, and chosen carefully
  • Aaaaaand a ton of other technical stuff that should be done right

More Importantly, Here’s Why Good Code Matters

  • Security – it’s possible that no website is hack-proof, but solid code and best practices make for a good start
  • Ease of updating, especially in case you need to bring on another developer
  • Your site is less likely to break as web browsers change, meaning less maintenance costs
  • Accessibility for those with disabilities and on older, outdated browsers
  • Performance – good code makes your site load faster and more likely to rank higher in search engines
  • Flexibility – as your business model shifts your site will be cheaper to work with in the long run
  • Ease of updating yourself – a good, customized CMS will make your site easier to maintain for you, the client, with no knowledge of  code

How Can I Make Sure my Website’s Code Is Solid?

Let’s look at this question from both a potential client’s point of view, and an existing website owner’s point of view.

If You Already Have a Website

First off, validate your HTML and CSS. Some errors are fine. In fact, part of pushing the envelope with new technologies means that the validator won’t recognize some of the newest properties and vendor prefixes that are used in HTML5 and CSS3. That’s fine. But if there are tons of errors in either the HTML or CSS validation, you might want to have your previous developer or a new developer take a look to make sure everything is ok.

Secondly, if your site is slow or other problems consistently arise, have someone take a look. Most good web developers will charge very little to peek under the hood and make sure there are no glaring errors. Some good tools for checking on performance bottlenecks are pingdom and yslow.

If You Are Thinking About Hiring a Web Developer

The keys here are reputation and examining past work. Finding a developer who has a reputation for doing quality work and is knowledgable about web standards as a whole is essential for getting quality code for your project.

Secondly, it’s important to know what kind of systems they have in place for their content management system – how easy do they make it to update the content of the websites they build? Are you going to need to call them every time you want to make a little change somewhere?

Third, what kind of relationship do they have with their existing clients? Ideally you want someone that is available in case any issues come up and will stand by their work if problems arise. Testimonials and references are a great way to gauge this.

Some Possible Questions to Ask a Developer You’re Thinking of Hiring

  • Do you follow W3C specifications for your HTML/CSS and what browser support do you offer? W3C standards using valid HTML5/CSS3
  • Are your sites responsive? (They better be…)
  • Validate some of their projects! If there are a lot of errors (5 to 10+), ask for clarification.
  • If you’re using WordPress as a CMS, what customizations do you make to the admin and how? (Developer Tip: custom metaboxes and custom post types are important)
  • What are your criteria for choosing plugins to install and how might you modify them? (Again you’re looking for future-proof modifications and high-quality plugins that have been updated recently)
  • How do you ensure that your sites will perform well? (Image size optimization, minimize number of external resources, CDN, reliable hosting, etc)
  • If using WordPress, who do you recommend for hosting? (They should be recommending a managed WordPress host, possibly from this list. If not, they should have a solid reason for it. Notable exceptions would be Amazon or VPS hosting if running a larger website)
  • How do you handle WordPress security, backups and updates? (This is why managed WordPress hosting is key)

This is only the beginning of ensuring that you are getting a well-built custom website, but it’s a great start!

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About the Author:

David is an experienced web designer and WordPress developer who runs Healing Arts Web, offering quality custom websites to small businesses and teachers. He is also a musician, avid disc golfer and espresso enthusiast.

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