Design & Development

6 Things to Look for in a Web Developer’s Portfolio

Hiring a web or application developer to build your ecommerce site or money-generating mobile application can be a challenge, especially if you do not know what skills or experience the developer should have.

Many entrepreneurs have a good idea for an ecommerce business, but they don’t have all of the technical skills needed to develop the website or app. So they start to interview for a developer. Whether you’re hiring a freelancer, a web development agency, or a full-time employee, review your candidate’s development portfolio and look for these six things.

Websites You Like

The web developer you choose should build websites you like.

Recently, the board of a well-known rodeo in the northwestern United States retained a consultant to help review proposals and portfolios from three web development agencies. The rodeo board was looking for a web developer that could rebuild the rodeo’s site from the ground up and integrate ecommerce for ticket sales.

The consultant first asked the board members to list five websites they liked. The sites they choose included Rodeo Austin, the Calgary Stampede, and Cheyenne Frontier Days. All of these sites featured full-width graphics, and the Rodeo Austin site even had a video that played in the background when the site was loaded on a desktop computer.

The Rodeo Austin website featured a full-width introduction video.

The Rodeo Austin website featured a full-width introduction video.

But none of the websites in any of the three agency’s portfolios looked at all like Rodeo Austin, the Calgary Stampede, or the Cheyenne Frontier Days websites. Rather the portfolios showed narrow, boxy websites with dated layouts.

The consultant’s recommendation was simple: Hire web developers who make websites you like.

Site Performance

Websites should load quickly. Site visitors are not going to wait long for your website to load. If the page doesn’t pop right up, the shopper will simply leave.

According to Kissmetrics, sites that take four seconds to load might lose 25 percent of visitors to page abandonment — meaning that if your page takes just four seconds to load, one in every four visitors will leave before it has finished.

With this in mind, speed test some of the websites shown in your perspective developer’s portfolio. One of the easiest things you can do is visit the Google PageSpeed Insights tool, and enter the target site’s URL.

On the PageSpeed Insights tool page, enter the URL for the website you want to test.

On the PageSpeed Insights tool page, enter the URL for the website you want to test.

PageSpeed Insights will provide a speed score for the website as it loads on a mobile and desktop device. Think of this score like a grade in high school. An 85 out of 100 is a nice solid B. Anything below 60 out of 100 is an F. The report also provides several suggestions for improving page load times.

The PageSpeed Insights tool will score the website's loading performance.

The PageSpeed Insights tool will score the website’s loading performance.

If you want a second opinion that includes the site’s load time, try Pingdom’s Website Speed Test. It will provide a grade, load time, and the page size.

Pingdom's speed test will show you page load times and the page's size.

Pingdom’s speed test will show you page load times and the page’s size.

If the pages in a developer’s portfolio load slowly, it could be a sign that you’ll want a different developer. But do ask questions about page load time; not every aspect of page speed is within a developer’s control. For example, the client may have specified a platform or a hosting provider that impacted performance.

Site Functionality

As you visit the websites in your prospective developer’s portfolio, test for functionality. Click everything, fill out forms, and maybe even make a purchase.

On an ecommerce site, even minor breaks in functionality will kill sales. You want to hire a developer that builds intuitive, easy-to-use websites that have the features and functions your shoppers will expect.

Key areas of concern include:

  • Site navigation;
  • Site search;
  • Product sorting and filtering;
  • Adding products to the cart;
  • The checkout process.

Web Accessibility

In 2016 and beyond, web accessibility may become a legal requirement from many ecommerce businesses. Last year, there were more than 40 web accessibility lawsuits filed against U.S. businesses under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as an example.

With this in mind, test the websites in your candidate’s portfolio to see if they meet generally held guidelines for web accessibility, which is a measure of how disabled site visitors can interact with your website and its content.

To check for web accessibility, use WebAIM’s WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool. Simply enter a web page’s URL and WAVE will generate a report showing possible accessibility problems.

While not everything that WAVE reports is actually an accessibility problem, it is a good tool for locating potential errors.

While not everything that WAVE reports is actually an accessibility problem, it is a good tool for locating potential errors.

In the context of choosing a web developer, look at errors, alerts, and contract errors. These are the things to be concerned about.

Although web accessibility has been a consideration for years, it may be new to some web developers. If your potential web developer has a portfolio full of inaccessible sites, have a conversation with the developer about web accessibility.

Clean Code

Although the meaning of the term clean code is subjective, one possible definition is that clean code is (a) easy to read and (b) easy to modify. Clean code is also typically more efficient and may work better and run faster.

Clean code is important because it can make it much easier to make changes to your site. For example, what if your freelance web developer suddenly moved away or accepted a full-time job. You might need to hire someone new to update your site. If the code is clean, this will be much easier.

Unfortunately, the most important part a page’s code may be hidden from you. Often it is the backend code, written in PHP, Ruby, or similar, that is the most important. This is the stuff that really needs to be clean.

But there are some things you can look for on the frontend, which may be an indication of how cleanly your candidate writes code.

For example, you can use the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C’s) HTML validator. This tool will give you a list of warnings and errors in a site’s HTML.

The W3C's HTML validator or checker provides a list of possible HTML errors.

The W3C’s HTML validator or checker provides a list of possible HTML errors.

Nearly every website you test will have some errors or warnings when tested in the W3C’s HTML validator. What’s important is that there are relatively few errors.

Personal Projects

The best developers are often passionate about writing code and solving problems. As a result, it can be a good thing when you see personal projects on a developer’s portfolio.

Evaluate these personal projects just like everything else in the portfolio. Also look for a balance. If you don’t see any client work, that can be a concern, too.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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