22 Questions to Ask Before Developing a Website

I developed this “Website Development Questionnaire” in 2002. It is old, but it still serves me well, so I thought I would share. I don’t actually add the bold or italic sections below. Those were added here to help you understand the rationale for the questions:


1) Corporate Identity: Corporate Information (for site development):
Company Name (Legal)
Company Name (Branding)
Company Tag Line:
Company Phone Number
Company Fax Number
Address:
Other contact information
Business hours of operation (store hours / when phones will be answered, if relevant)

2) Domain Names and Hosting:
Main Domain Name:
What other domain names do you own?
Do you have web hosting? If so, what type (IIS, Apache?)

3) Briefly describe what your company does:

4) Adjectives: Please list 5 (or more) adjectives that you think describe your company or should describe your company in order of relevance / importance

This information is used to get a sense for design, and to help in SEO

5) Competitors: Are there any websites that you would consider your “competition”? Feel free to provide more information on how they are your “competition”, but, at minimum, provide for each competitor, include the company name, web address, and a list of “keyterms” that describe what they do and/or sell.


In addition to getting a good look at what key terms they may be targeting, I take a look at these sites to get an idea of the features they may need, target audiences we should be considering, and what the competition will be like in terms of SEO

6) Favorite Sites: Please list 5 websites you like. Include the URL, what you like about each site, and what you would improve upon.

These sites don’t have to be in the same business realm. By getting sites they like, i get a good feeling for their design sense. By finding out what they would improve upon, you learn alot more about what they are looking for in their site.

7) Least favorite sites: Please list 5 websites you don’t like, Include the URL. What don’t you like about these sites? What redeeming qualities to they have?

The pitfalls they list tells you what you need to avoid. Though redeeming qualities are rarely included when clients fill out this list, I get a good sense of what they like when they do answer that question. I usually find that the redeeming qualities from this answer helps me understand better their answer to question 6 above.

8) Products / Services: List the top ten products / services you provide

This should be redundant to the answer of question 5. If it’s not, I usually have to do some business development with the client to get them to focus the purpose of their site. I ask this question this way as well because I don’t want to start developing a site for a client if they haven’t finished developing their business strategy.

9) Selling points: Tell us why you, your products or your services are better than your competition (both online competitors from question 3, and offline competition)

10) User goals: Why do you think people will visit your site? When people don’t know you exist, why would they find you or happen upon your site? Why would they come back? If they do know you, why would they take the time to visit your site?

Most clients think users will just come to their site. This question helps them focus on why an average Jane or John Doe may end up on their site. Many brochure sites get most of their visits from people looking for an address or phone number. You can create a one page website for that. This helps the client focus on what the site’s real goals should be.

11) Target Audience: What types of visitors do you want to get? Who is your target audience? (age, education, and other demographics? Job status? Economic status? Role in the community?) Describe your “average” visitor as best you can.

The layout targeting a Japanese middle school students will be very different from a site targeting rural agricultural workers or British graduate school applicants. Knowing your target audience, their culture, their technical savvy, and their internet expectations can help you design your page in terms of look and feel and help you determine site functionality and user experience design

12) Secondary Audience: What other visitors is your site going to get? Job seekers? Board members?

This helps me determine what additional pages to include in a site. Your client may be a sole proprietor, but they may want to hire, incorporate and/or get venture capital funding. Making sure your site can grow to accommodate future features is important. Thinking about those potential features before beginning the design process give you an added edge.

13) Technical: How technically savvy is your average visitor?

14) Accessibility & Usability: Will web visitors have any special needs? (eyesight, language, mobility, reading level?)

15) Site Purpose: What do you want the visitor in question 11 (and 12) to do when they get to your site? What are your goals for the web site in terms of visitor actions? What do you think your site visitor should accomplish on your site?

16) Site Goals: What are your goals for the web site in terms of you company goals? How is your site supposed to help your business? What is the purpose of your site?

17) Site Analytics: What are your goals for the web site in terms of popularity and virality? What type of exposure do you anticipate your website, when “successful” should achieve?

This question has dual purposes: The first is to help set numeric goals for the site that can be tested with common analytics. The second is to guage the sense of reality of the client: if they expect to reach 1,000,000 page views their first month, they’ll let you know their expectations via this question. This is the time to take some sense into them so they aren’t disappointed and don’t set their expectations too high

18) Site Features: What features do you think your website should include? (calendar, forum, login, price comparison chart, contact form, anything?)
For each feature, please state the goal of said feature.

Some clients want the moon. By stating the goal of each feature, they may realize they don’t need the moon. Other clients have no clue what is available to them. They never ask for a contact form at the initial contact, but i have yet to have a sole proprietor client who doesn’t want a contact form after reading this questionnaire they just never thought of it. This question helps define which features are necessary even if they weren’t originally thought of, and which ones sounded good originally, but really won’t help.

19) Site No Nos: Do you have any definite remarks on what you DON’T want to have on your website? (Flash, splash page, the color pink?) Sharing why you don’t want a feature will help me get an understanding of your user experience tastes, so feel free to elaborate.

This question is really helpful as is. Adding the examples has helped me explain against the dreaded splash page.

20) Other: Anything else I should know?

21) Product Manager: Company Contact(s) Information for web decisions:
Primary Contact Name:
Contact Email Address:
Contact Phone:

Secondary Contact Name:
Contact Email Address:
Contact Phone:

Other contact information

22) Billing Contact: Company contact information for Contracts & Billing:
Name:
Department:
Address:
Phone:
Fax:
Email:
Other contact information

Always know who is going to pay you before you start working


This entry was posted in Best Practices, SEO, UED, Web Development. Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to 22 Questions to Ask Before Developing a Website

  1. Bob in Dallas says:

    Very helpful list of questions. Thanks for posting.

  2. Lori says:

    Great list! About 3x the amount of info I usually get at project start, then end up getting the rest in bits and pieces later on. Much smarter to get it all up front.

  3. Deborah says:

    I have a very similar list of questions. An additional question I ask is whether they want to maintain updates on the site. Helps me to know if I should be offering tutorial, training, or a “how to” manual.

  4. Very useful, thanks

  5. Stacey says:

    great line of questions it even help me find understanding on creating my own site.

  6. Phaoloo says:

    Oops, these questions should be on the checklist of every web developers.

  7. This is a pretty comprehensive list. I might do a little reorganizing to it, though.

    15 – 17 should definitely be closer to the top. These questions are the reason you’re building the site in the first place. Anyone paying for a website is making an investment in their company and business, and just like in any investment, there needs to be an ROI. The purpose and goal of the website should be the driving factors of the content, design, and functionality. I would probably move those to 6 – 8.

  8. Thanks so much for this very useful checklist!

  9. hong phuc says:

    Thanks :D

  10. Tim Ward says:

    Thanks for posting this list of questions. It can really help to keep the client “realistic” and opens up discussions to make that happen.

    One thing I would add, maybe to a subset of questions, is to ask if the company already has predefined design guide. Most larger companies I’ve worked with usually do but don’t think to bring them up.

  11. rajakvk says:

    Even I prepared a list like this. But this one is perfect blend. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Lisa Ernst says:

    Thank you for the exhaustive list of questions for the client. Great work!

    I agree with Tim’s comment in that medium to large companies have a style or design guide. These can be invaluable when making your design choices etc.

    I also have to stress great communication, especially at the first meeting. I think this solves so many challenges you would otherwise come up against when you are in the middle of the project.

    Thanks again

  13. i’ve prepared a similar questionnaire, but yours is superb… we’ve modified ours questionnaire to add few things like in yours…

    thanks for sharing this…

  14. George Columbow says:

    Very helpful list, thank you. I think we will start with that, develop it and will use it for my work as standard client checklist.
    Great!

  15. Chaim says:

    Thanks a lot for this very comprehensive list. I am just starting out as a web developer and it is very useful to have this information to begin. Thanks.

  16. Maz says:

    Thank you for these great questions. I had a simple list – but this really makes the client think and saves a lot of follow up calls (and potential grief) later.

  17. Mike says:

    The sales guy from my full time job asked how to go about interviewing web design clients. I always just go with the flow of the meeting and cover most of your questions but I don’t have a good reference list made up. Your post was a great reference for me to point him to.

    Thanks!

  18. Rhonda says:

    The questions are very detailed and helpful. Great list!

  19. Egg Design says:

    Cheers for this, just what I need!
    John

  20. Leah says:

    Definitely great list – I always give my clients homework to check out their competitors, what sites they like and abhor – you have some very important issues that new clients completely may not understand the importance of their website in affecting their bottom line business in its growth potential…it is also rather important to have a website be given a fresh look every 2-3 years due to the consistent change in web advances…

  21. Rich says:

    I guess you put it out there for others to use, but she says she compiled the questions.

  22. Estelle Weyl says:

    Thanks rich. Yes, Larissa Jaster “compiled” her question directly from this post. Her other posts also seem to be “compiled” without credit attributed. Her resume post is from Workbloom.com. Her blog posts taken directly from books cite the books. The web is similar: if you copy, or “compile from”, attribution is appreciated (and expected)

  23. Phil says:

    Excellent post, always good to have a list of the basic questions to ask, many clients don’t have a clue, so I like to send mine ahead of meeting so that they at least have been thinking about what they might like.

  24. Tiago Alves says:

    Thank you very much. It is a fantastic reference with all the key points one should be informed about before getting started designing and developing.

    Cheers

  25. Paul says:

    Question 01: What is your budget
    Answer 01: £50

    Question 02: Where is the front door

    Thats very much the way it is at the moment…. debate coming on?

  26. Jason Davey says:

    Good reference list – however in order of importance questions 11, 12 & 15 should be first.

  27. Rhonda B says:

    Great list of questions! It seems to cover it all.

  28. Didem says:

    Very helpful, thx for sharing!
    But i miss the twitter share button to retweet this great article :)

  29. Darryl says:

    Site administration and maintenance -what is the long-term strategy for keeping the site content fresh and relevant?

    Asking the client to list favorite/least favorite sites indirectly informs project expectation levels while providing insight into the visual aesthetic cues the client finds desirable.

  30. Jadah says:

    Excellent list, Ive searched a lot of blogs and lists today, not enough info :( , The more info you can get out of a client up front, the better chance you have at creating a solution for them

  31. Sidd says:

    Hi there,

    If it weren’t for the colors, I’d have read the article and commented longer.

  32. Pingback: Design process: From sketchbook to prototype « Dominion79 – Creative Website Design and Development

  33. Pingback: philism – Web Design Q & A | digital expressionism

  34. Often color placement and marketing schema can sometimes draw designers into a fog. Knowing we have thousands upon thousands of colors to choose from we are like pixel scientists searching for the magical cure.

  35. Chris says:

    This is a great list and is very much in line with some of the Brendan Sinclair Sitepoint kit info I first tapped into a few years back. As much as site development adapts and changes quickly, the rules for getting to understand your client and their needs very much remain the same.

  36. Jeremy Pack says:

    This is great. Just what I was looking for. It’s hard when your just starting out to get a feel for what they want and I have found it difficult to extract this out of them, this should really help. Thanks

  37. Anjali says:

    Thank you so much for this questionnaire! I usually ask these questions but needed a concrete format to give hubby before he starts accepting freelance work. Your list had the basics and then some. Question 22 is the best question of all!

  38. Getting to know the customer and how they see their website, and what can accually be done can be two different things. Letting the customer know what their customers might want to see and feel is our job. The lines of communication should always be open. This will let your customer know that you want the best for them. Thank you very much Estelle

  39. Brendan Rice says:

    Thanks for the great article Estelle, very informative.

    I have just finished a blog post that your users might find useful:

    http://www.gumpshen.com/blog/2011/1/8/5-questions-to-ask-before-developing-a-website.aspx

  40. debbie says:

    Lol I am about to design my first website
    I don’t have a clue what I’m doing but I’m really
    Into designing, thank you for the help I’m seeing
    The client tonight…. Wish me luck!!!

  41. Sammi Jo says:

    Thanks so much for this comprehensive list!

    I’m about to begin my first design project for a client, and I feel much more confident going into my initial meeting tomorrow with the extra questions to add to the very basic list I had previously.

    Great post! And timeless, as well. I see you posted in April 2009 from a list developed in 2002, and it’s still helping others. I’m only sorry to see the person who copied your work hasn’t given proper credit. Her post is copied from yours right down to the very last line, “Always know who is going to pay you before you start working.”

    Thanks again!

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