Choosing a web designer isn’t the easiest and most straightforward process.
If you’re like most people outside of the web technology industries you’re likely making a few major mistakes when you vet a web design company and probably aren’t asking the right questions.
Most small business owners start by asking their friends or family to refer them to a web designer, or start by looking at other websites the web designer has built to determine whether or not they like the “look and feel” of their portfolio projects.
There’s nothing wrong with asking for referrals, but often times it’s a case of the blind leading the blind. The average non-techie doesn’t know the difference between good vs bad website coding and design practices, or why they should even care.
The purpose of this guide is to offer non-web professionals a guide as to what distinguishes a quality web design company from an amateur, and how hiring an amateur or lazy web designer can hurt your business from a web professional’s point of view.
By no means is the guide meant to be 100% comprehensive, and there are exceptions to certain rules listed below.
In order to avoid a bad web design company you need to ask the right questions.
If your web designer can’t answer any of these questions, doesn’t understand these questions and can’t provide you with any examples take your business elsewhere!
Question 1: Do you create responsive websites and can I see some examples?
What It Is: Responsive web design means that the content on your webisite will scale to look good on any device whether it’s a phone, tablet, or flat screen TV. To see an example of this visit this web page on a desktop computer and re-size the screen.
Why You Should Care: Responsive web design is the new industry standard and is considered a best practice. If you don’t have a responsive website you are alienating visitors who come to your site on a mobile device and can’t easily access your content.
A non-responsive website means your website is outdated before it’s even launched and you’re less likely to turn visitors into customers if they need to pinch and zoom to view your content on mobile devices.
Better yet, visit the web designer’s website and resize it on your desktop computer.
Does it scale and change or do you see a horizontal scroll bar after resizing the screen? If the web designer doesn’t have a responsive website, move on.
Question 2: How will we work together to create a good experience for my website visitors?
What It Is: User Experience, or UX Design is about designing websites that are functional and help convert visitors to customers while minimizing distractions and not simply designing for design’s sake.
Why You Should Care: The most important person in the equation is the end user. If your customers, and potential customers hate your website who cares if it looks pretty?
If the web designer backs into the shadows and works on a design in solitude while gathering little to no information from you rest assured you’re going to get a design that doesn’t serve your visitors.
If the web designer even hesitates for a nanosecond when answering this question, take your money elsewhere.
A good web designer will ask a lot of questions about your business and business goals and design a website that speaks to your target audience.
Question 3: Do you build sites on top of a CMS and if so which one?
What It Is: A CMS is also known as a Content Management System. The most common and recommended CMS is known as WordPress (which powers this blog).
Why You Should Care: A CMS makes it easy for you to add, edit, and remove your content without having to know how to code. If you want to be able to make changes to the content on your site without having to constantly call your web guy you’ll need a CMS.
The recommended and industry standard CMS is known as WordPress ask for a WordPress site!
Question 4: Can you describe what the design process is like?
Why You Should Care: Many web designers are using antiquated methods from 10 years ago and the websites they produce are downright shameful.
If they respond, “Oh you know we just take a Photoshop mock up, get a sign off, and then code the site”.
Design is about how it works.
While there is no standard process in the industry. Most professionals have moved beyond the static Photoshop mock up and focus more on a content based strategy.
In a world with countless different devices and different screen sizes, a static image of what your website will look at doesn’t do you or your web designer any good.
Yes pretty colors and images do matter, but these details must serve the website’s purpose not distract from it.
If your designer focuses more on how pretty your site looks, than how it will function that’s a major red flag. Walk away.
Question 5: Do you buy ready made templates or do you do custom design work?
What It Is: There are actually thousands of ready made website templates out there. They are essentially cookie cutter “website in a box” solutions where you can swipe out a few colors and switch the logo around.
Why You Should Care: Unethical web designers will often resell these ready made templates as custom work to unassuming customers.
These templates often do more harm than good, because they are meant to satisfy everyone they are not made to suit your individual business’ needs.
There’s nothing wrong with a web designer building on top of a purchased website template, but the important thing is that the web design company discloses that in the process.
A serious business would never settle for anything less than a custom design to represent their business’ presence online.
Real web design companies use their own proprietary and home made templates and build on top of it to create a beautiful web experiences.
Question 6: How will you support my website after it’s launched?
What It Is: Websites require constant maintenance and upkeep to make sure things are running smoothly. They are not set it and forget it.
Why You Should Care: Website backups, security, and updates are not optional.
If your web design company doesn’t provide you with some sort of monthly recurring plan to help you keep on top of these things and your website gets hacked (it will happen sooner or later) you could potentially lose your investment and destroy your business’ online presence.