Choosing a Web Design Company
Ok, so a few years back, you paid a designer to create a website for you. It looked great at the time, it supported your brand, and gave you a strong presence online. It was awesome. However, you’ve noticed that today it looks a bit outdated. Design trends seem to have changed, and you are noticing newer looking sites that appear to be more feature rich compared to yours. So, what do you do? You know you need an update, but where do you turn? How do you find the right web design company, and what about all this SEO business? Candidly a simple google search can find you hundreds of companies offering website design services. So how do you make sure that you choose the right one for your business? And how do you prepare for a successful project? Let’s look at a few things to consider.
What are your goals?
Before you meet with a prospective designer or web developer, spend a little time thinking about what you want out of your new site. Consider questions like:
- Is the sites’ purpose simply to promote your brand?
- Do you want to administer content yourself?
- Are you looking to promote your business differently (i.e. focus more locally vs nationally)?
- Do you want to offer upgraded features like chat support?
- Are you looking to add eCommerce? Or upgrade your eCommerce feature set?
The reasons to be considering these things are 1) to make sure that your requirements are understood in the sales cycle so that you receive an accurately priced sales quote 2) to listen to how the prospective developer answers your questions. Do they seem to understand your business and your needs? Are they offering any suggestions that improve on the ideas you already had? There are no right answers in this dialogue. You just need to get a feel if they understand your purpose in the redesign and if you are comfortable with the team you may be working with.
What do you like?
When you are surfing the web and you come across sites or designs you like, jot them down; and note why you like them. Select some for their design, some for their functionality and others for any reason that you like. It will help your designer identify your taste and what you are aiming to achieve with the project. It will also give you a sense of how they respond to these ideas.
Evaluating the Web Design Company
The portfolio of any web design company will tell you a lot about their work. Consider some of these topics:
- Do you like the look of their designs? Does the work seem current?
- Are the portfolio sites functioning properly (i.e. is there anything wrong with them like broken links or page errors, etc.)?
- Do they have experience in your industry? This may or may not be important but can help with copywriting and SEO strategies.
Ask about their methodology
All companies providing web development services have processes in place to complete your project. Some follow strict methodologies endorsed by the Project Management Institute, while other take a more flexible approach. Find out a bit about their approach. How often are meetings held? What do they provide in the way of status reports to keep you updated? How do they keep track of you budget and timelines?
These things are important because you want to work with someone that fits your work style. If you are very organized and expect great detail from your partner during the engagement, its important that you choose a developer that approaches their work with this same perspective.
What technology do they use?
Just as a web design company has a specific methodology they use to deliver your project, they also have a preferred technology stack they use to build your site. Find out what it is and try to learn a bit about it. Almost all web designers today will use WordPress for basic websites. But there are other solutions that have their rightful place in the market. At the end of the day, it probably won’t matter that much to you; it’s simply important that you are comfortable the developer has deep knowledge of the chosen Content Management System.
If you are going to take the time to build a new site, it is vital that the site is optimized for search. There are search engine optimization industry standards and techniques that the prospect should be leveraging when building your site and writing content. Ask them for a brief overview of their approach. SEO efforts extend way beyond the initial website build but setting the proper foundation during development will prepare you for future search ranking performance success.
Web design companies handle ongoing support in many ways. I will use my company as an example. For many years, to keep ongoing support costs down for our clients, we offered a very affordable website hosting solution with no embedded support in our hosting contract. When it came time to apply software updates to the website, we’d contact the customer, get their approval for the expected fee, and then perform the updates. The problem is that when given a choice, most clients were choosing not to do the updates! We were left to either apply the updates at no cost or run the risk of the websites being compromised due to outdated plugins. Today, we only offer a fully managed hosting service. If you want us to host your site, we are glad to do it (and prefer to do it), but we will provide monthly updates and security patches, along with our monitoring service, as part of our flat hosting fee.
So, the point is, find out how the prospect handles ongoing support and make sure it gels with what you are expecting.
Finally, and obviously, you need to consider pricing. Have a budget in mind but don’t feel compelled to share it up front with the prospective partner. Lay out your requirements and have them give you a quote. If you are comfortable with the quote, make sure you are also agreeable to the payment terms. If it’s fixed fee, what are the milestones that trigger payment (50% upfront, 50% upon go live for example)? Or is it time and materials where you pay by the hour and the price isn’t fixed? Some companies will allow you to do monthly payments even (like us). Regardless of the terms, make sure you are aware and agreeable so that there are no surprises.
Over the last 10 years, we have worked on hundreds of web development projects. We have learned a lot along the way, including what has worked well for our clients, and at times what has challenged us and our clients. And without a doubt, we have learned that if you can dig in on the topics above, you will be positioning your project for its best possible outcome.