October 1, 2014

Choosing a Web Design Company

Fifteen years ago, finding someone to build you a website was the easy part – mainly because there were only a handful of people that actually could. Google was just getting started as a privately held company, and for the few people that did turn to the search engine to find services, the results were scarce.

pondering

Now, web design companies are as common as the websites they create.  Google returns more than 961 million results for the search term, but as most everything, those 961 million results aren’t created equally. And when you actually choose one from the pile – one that is likely ranked on the first page, if not in the top 3 results – your work has just gotten started.

Sure, a good ranking could help you make your decision, but if you just stop there, you’re getting a company who’s really good at SEO and maybe only partly good at the actual web design part. There are so many other things that should fall in the decision making because it’s not one that should be taken lightly.  This task is also probably handled by a marketing professional who is already overwhelmed with dozens of other “top” priorities.

So how do you know that the company you found in Google is the right company to be responsible for your online image?

Do you like their site? 

First impressions matter.  You wouldn’t go to a dentist you had terrible teeth, right? No, you wouldn’t. You are looking for someone to help you with your first impression, so you need to be impressed with theirs.

Do you like their work?

Direct industry experience doesn’t matter — or, at least, shouldn’t matter as much. Even if they haven’t done a slew of sites in your direct industry, don’t discredit it. You know what you like, so what matters is seeing things you like in their portfolio. The work should stand on its own.

Does their sales person know their stuff?

Do they need to be the actual developer? No, but they should be able to understand your problems and be able to articulate how their service can address those problems. It’s surprisingly easy to spot people who are just talk. If you’re not overly techy, try looping in your IT department so they can help you make some sense of it.

Do you believe their story?

It’s not that people actually try to deceive someone, but if you are having a conversation about your needs and their ability to deliver on those needs, you should just ask yourself simply, “Do I think that they are shooting me straight?”  If it’s timeline, budget, technologies, expertise, or whatever, the story needs to add up.  If you trust your gut, you will make the right decision.

Who does the work?

Sales people are great, but the designers and programmers are the ones actually building your website. Ask where they’re located and if they’re full-time or part-time. What you don’t want is to get into a relationship with a company whose employees are all contractors or working oversees because if there’s a problem with your site, you want it fixed now, not the next time they punch in.

Who owns the code?  

This one is big.  If you don’t own the work at the end of the process you should run, don’t walk, from that firm.  You will have more problems in the long term with a company who owns your stuff.  You want to know that they are going to be there for you after the launch because you want them to not because you have no other choice in the matter.

In this industry, the adage that you get what you pay for is by far the truest of all truths. There is no checklist or silver bullet when it comes to this kind of decision, but the above will help steer you in the right direction.


Pondering Photo via Shutterstock

19 Comments ▼

Erin Everhart


Erin Everhart Erin Everhart is the director of digital marketing at 352, a digital agency providing design, development and marketing solutions. She's a contributing author for a number of blogs, including Mashable, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch and Small Business Trends, and speaks at conferences nationwide, including SMX, SES and PubCon. Erin is an alumna of the University of Florida and currently lives in Atlanta, where she’s an avid tennis player and one of the few people who actually likes grammar.

19 Reactions

  1. Nice post. It never ceases to amaze me that web design companies in some cases have pretty ugly sites. Maybe the shoemaker’s son has no shoes?

    This one comes to mind:

    http://webking.com/

    • That is a great example Phil. I have seen many designer’s sites that are flawed as well. Another great example are the web designer companies who say they do social media too and either don’t have a lot of followers or aren’t getting a lot of business from social media. I think as far as social media goes, one needs references in order to be safe from a bad buy.

  2. Good advice, Erin. I agree with Phil, too…if they can’t design a nice website for their own company, you probably can’t trust them to do it for yours.

  3. Great advice, especially the final point regarding who owns the code. That’s something that many people may forget to consider and is super important.

  4. Nice post, Erin. It’s so true. What you see from website designers and programers is most likely what you’re going to get for your website. Because there are so many designers out there today, it’s important to so a bit of research to see if you’re getting the best help for your business. Thanks for the extra tips :)

  5. Very interesting and useful post Erin.

  6. Some great tips here. I couldn’t agree more with this statement: “In this industry, the adage that you get what you pay for is by far the truest of all truths.” Customers need to educate themselves on how much work really goes into a (great) website. And if you can find an agency that explains the process and proves how much value they add to that process, so much the better!

    • Totally agree with that David. I think the web design business is really cut throat which tempts some business owners to out source work or look for the best price. Unfortunately, both the web designers (me having been in that position) and the customers learn the hard way that cheap web design doesn’t pay off.

  7. Nice analogy with a dentist. But unfortunately it often happens that people offering web design services doesn’t have a website at all.

  8. Thanks for the points to remember before hiring a company. Picking a right website design company is not easy, it should be chosen carefully after taking all the aspects into the consideration.

  9. Thanks Erin for the article. I’ve been struggling myself to find the best well-rounded company to help me with my online presence. Some seem good at some thing, others seem good at other aspects.

  10. Eye opening Erin. Been looking for a good webdesigner but was overwhelmed by the huge number of them online. Now I know where to start.

  11. Hey Erin,

    Nice article but my opinion differs with you on the topic “Do you like their site?”

    There are always some anamolies. Considering the example given by you about dentist,
    what if that dentist(with not best of the teeth ) is one of the most proficient in the city and treats his patients best??? If you are not going to him, its certainly your loss. What I exactly mean to say is that You Can’t judge a book from its cover.

    The sections “Who does the work?” & “Who owns the code?” provides great tutelage about points to be considers before finalizing the deal..

    Overall the whole article edifying..

  12. These are great tips! If you need to find web design firms to build your short list or consideration set, Agency Spotter is a great place to start. It’s free to search, build lists and contact all sorts of agencies. There are tons of web design agencies, reviews, and you can see how you’re connected using LinkedIn to ask your network specific questions about agencies that make your short list.

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