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How to Choose a Web Design Company

It may seem easy to pick a web design agency for your website. It is also easy to get in a bad situation with an agency or freelancer that may not have it all together. We talk about what to watch out for and expect when working with an agency for your web design project.

7/01/2020
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How to Choose a Web Design Company

by Richelle Anderson

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Choosing a web design company seems like a quick and easy task: Google it, check out a few design company websites, and choose one that looks cool. Right? WRONG. Picking a web design company without doing your homework can lead to a whole host of issues, mainly a poorly done or incomplete website.

Let me give you an example:

I recently received a call from a person who was very upset about their web design experience. They had hired a web design company in September and given a verbal plan that included a launch in January. While their website launch did indeed occur in January, the content of the newly launched website was not what they expected.

When I spoke with the web designer that had done the job, I got an entirely different story of the course of events.  Because no contract was signed, and the website redesign plan was not put into writing, neither side could prove what they were saying was true.

Situations like this happen daily. Web design companies are not required to be licensed or have any specific education, so without anything in writing; you have absolutely no guarantee of what you will be getting when the project is completed. This makes it critical for anyone hiring a web designer to know what specifics to look for during the search process, as well as the warning signs.

Know what to expect in the web design process. 

Know your options and how to pick the right agency for the job. Read below to learn how to effectively select a web design company that will do the quality and type of work you need.

Communication: The #1 Trait of a Successful Web Designer/Client Relationship 

It is important to clarify each participants role when doing a website redesign. Different tasks can be divided in different ways between the client and the web designer, and if one or both doesnt follow through on tasks they are responsible for, the project will fail. Clarifying task responsibilities also prevents misunderstandings and confusion. 

What to Know About the Effective Exchange of Information

Candid conversations are essential in a good client/web designer relationship for two reasons. First, by openly discussing expectations along with clarifying the division of tasks between the client and the web designer, you avoid misunderstandings and confusion. Second, when detailed knowledge is communicated to each party, they are better equipped to make smart and strategic decisions that will benefit your business.

    Business Owner Communication Responsibilities: Its important to remember that you know your business better than anyone and have essential knowledge that you should share with the web designer such as:

  • Information about your business
  • User behavior in your business
  • Business processes
  • Business goals

These details equip the web designer with the information they need to plan the website user-experience (UX) around your customers and their experience while on your website.

    Web Designer Communication Responsibilities: Web designers need to be aware that their customer is not an expert in web design, so the designer needs to communicate a clear picture of changes they plan to make and why. Communication needs to include: 

  • Listening. A large part of the web designers job in the exchange of information process is listening. They need to listen carefully to the details you give them, so they understand your customer behavior, your industry, and your business process. 
  • Communicating clearly what changes/creations they plan to make to the website before making them, and explaining how the changes will benefit the business.
  • Recommending actions the client can take to maximize search engine rankings (Note: It is the clients responsibility to follow through on these recommendations if they want their search engine ranking to improve.)
  • Explain how the customers user experience plays a role in the redesign process

What are the Warning Signs of a Substandard Web Design Firm?

Knowing these signs will prevent website redesign disasters that occur when you hire a sub-par web designer.

1.    No Contract or a Sparse Contract

Read your contract carefully! If your web designer asks you to sign an agreement that is vague or confusing, or worse, no agreement at all, I advise you to go elsewhere. The contract needs to clearly lay out what is included in the website project, who will provide what deliverables, a time frame for the project, as well as a cancellation policy. 

Each contract is different and will include the above and more. The key is that you read and understand the contract. Often, business owners get excited about the project and just want to get it started. Slow down, read, and ask questions. 

2.    They dont answer questions in a way that you understand. 

There is a significant potential for gaps in communication from the start. You know your business, this techie person knows their stuff, and you each need to try and explain what you know to the other person. The critical thing to watch for in this situation is how well the designer can clearly explain the process, what they need from you, and what recommendations they have for your website creation or redesign. 

Avoid any person that throws niche/techie words at you without offering to explain what they mean. Dont expect a simple answer, but make sure you understand the process behind the explanation. 

At the same time, you need to make sure you explain your recommendations to the designer clearly, so they understand what you need from them. 

An Example: 

One marketing recommendation commonly made by website designers is to place the social icons at the bottom of the website. The business owner, on the other hand, may ask for these to be at the top of the website. 

A good web designer will not just do what the business owner asks. They will talk to the owner to get an understanding of why they want the social media icons at the top of the page. Then the designer will explain that if the goal of social media efforts is to direct potential clients to the website, once the visitor gets to the site, you wouldnt want the first thing they see is an action that leads them back to social media. You want to keep them on your website. 

The web designer should work with you to plan a desired path for each potential customer that includes their internet pathway to the website, and the path you want them to take once arriving at the site. This allows you to correlate the user path on the website with your business goals.

Each design element of the website is to guide the visitor down this path. Your designer should help you avoid inadvertently adding hurdles along the way that could divert the customer from the purchase or lead process.

3.    Unrealistic promises

Avoid the web designer that will promise you the moon and the stars. What might these include, and what are potential red flags? Read on. 

Promises 1st-page ranking on Google. Could you make 1st-page rankings on Google? The best answer is maybe. It depends on how much competition there is, what keywords you are ranking for, how old the domain name is, how many links are pointing to the website, and many other factors. There is no way a website designer can promise this to you. 

A better response would be: We will research the keywords and phrases for your industry, look at your online competitors, as well as where you are now in Google. We will add the elements that Google and other search engines look for to achieve ranking. Our goal is to improve your rankings in search engines, but since we do not control the search engines algorithm, we cannot guarantee search ranking results

Maybe not the answer you were looking for, but it is the honest answer. They may make recommendations along the way to help with search engine optimization (SEO), or if they arent well-versed in search engine optimization, they may recommend that you hire an SEO expert to achieve your desired results. 

4.    Prices too good to believe

Every business has a budget and wants to get the best price on any investments. Dont do this when it comes to your website. Unskilled or flaky web designers will discount their services unrealistically to get the deal. The result? You get what you pay for - low price will mean low quality.

So, what is a reasonable price you can expect to pay? 

  • A fully-customized website with custom integrations may run $5,000 $10,000 or more.
  • Customized websites built on a platform like WordPress: $1,500 - $8,000 or more.
  • Websites built on a purchased pre-designed theme (i.e. themeforest or monster templates), which customized for your business: $700 - $3,000. The price varies depending on what type of website it is. Ecommerce websites with a lot of features will run higher, while information websites will run in the lower ranges. 
  • SAAS Websites That is a technical word, but these are the Squarespace, Wix, GoDaddy site builder, and other solutions that offer drag and drop web design. These are simple to use platforms that designed so people with no-coding knowledge can put together a website. These come with a monthly fee that varies depending on the add-ons that you add to the site. In this situation, its essential to know that you do not own the website, and when you stop paying, the website goes away. 

Summing it All Up

In our original story, who is to blame? The web designer who, in their mind, did what was asked? Or the client, who expected they would receive more than what was delivered? It is a catch-22 situation: because there was poor communication, coupled with no written agreement containing expectations, we will never know who was responsible.

We hope that the information contained in this article prevents you from falling into the trap of a flaky or inexperienced web designer who lacks the experience or work ethic to complete your website creation or redesign correctly.

Want to learn more about choosing a web design company? Check out part two of this article: Questions To Ask Your Web Design Agency And Additional Red Flags To Avoid.


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Richelle Anderson

Richelle is the founder of Lighthouse and has over 25 years of experience in online marketing and website design. Richelle enjoys meeting with clients to pinpoint their goals and come up with a strategy to achieve them. She is active with many groups; including a mastermind group for business owners, a podcast, as well as industry groups to stay current with current marketing, search, and design trends. When not helping businesses, she spends time with family including her fur-kids which you may see pop in to say hello during one of her podcasts.

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