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Tips on choosing the right web designer

Posted by
David Collidge
03rd Jul 2012

Posted in the
Web Design

Tips on choosing the right web designer

With so much competition in the industry, what should you be looking for when choosing the web design team to work on your next project? Here’s our thoughts and some pointers on what to keep an eye out for.

Look at their portfolio

The first thing to look for in a competent web design studio/agency is their portfolio of previous work and current clients. Have they proved themselves on projects similar to yours? Do you know any of their clients, and if so could you contact them and ask for their opinion of the designer?

It is always useful to look at the most recent work that the web design company have completed. If the examples you are given do not have have completion dates try to find them out. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the projects, or to note down elements within the studio’s portfolio that you like and wish to develop within your website as well as things you don't like. This is useful information that will help in putting together a website which is right for your company.

Research their history

The web design industry is littered with the remains of companies that have previously folded. Without pontificating on the reasons why this may happen, it’s safe to say that if you choose a web design partner that disappears after your website is launched you could have a big job on your hands picking up the pieces and wrestling back control of your site.

Ask your potential designers how long they have been operating, their history and their plans for the future. Also, do your research by looking into the history of the company in question. Are they a fly-by-night organisation? Are they a marketing company masquerading as a web specialist? What seem like larger agencies may actually sub-contract out aspects of the design and development process to third parties. If this is the case ask about the freelancers being used - where are they based, what’s their track record and how experienced are they?

Can I get along with them?

We believe in a friendly, no-jargon approach to website design and enjoy great working relationships with our clients. In fact, the success of your website project will to a large degree depend on how well you work with the people involved. Are your website design team available to meet on request, easy to contact, and attentive to your questions? If you can’t speak to the people at the sharp end of your project directly maybe your messages are getting lost in translation. The personal approach cannot be underestimated.

When quoting on your project, do you feel that the designer is asking the right questions about your business and looking to understand what makes your company different? And most importantly, do they listen to your feedback and incorporate your suggestions into their plans or simply talk you down into submission because ‘they are the designer and they know best’?

Check if they are Google-savvy

The best website in the world is worth nothing if your customers cannot find it, so understandably good positioning in Google search rankings is of paramount importance for most websites. You should have some idea of the search terms you wished to be ranked well for and you should communicate your aims to your web design studio at the outset. If your designers baulk at your suggestions, or suggest using a third-party search optimisation specialist then you should question their competency in their field.

Search engine optimisation is a complex beast and for sites to remain at the top of the Google listings continued attention needs to be paid to improving their ranking. Ask your web designer how well their sites perform in Google, and ask for some examples of sites that they have search engine optimised. Ask which keyword phrases were important to the clients in each case. Look at their portfolio and see how well those sites preform when you Google keyword phrases relevant to them.

Normally designers charge for search engine optimisation as an additional service although initial optimisation may be included in your initial design fees. It is important to be clear at the outset the costs and the boundaries of the service you are receiving.

Do they understand form and function?

Your website needs to both look good to get attention and retain visitor interest, and perform well so that pages load quickly, content can be found easily, and agreed targets can be met. It is imperative that your website looks good, conveys a compelling brand image and stands out from the crowd. Does your web design partner understand your goals and brand? Can they demonstrate this understanding on other projects?

Websites also need to work with a variety of web browsers and on different devices with varying screen sizes. Do your web designers test their work in both new and previous versions of Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera, Firefox, and Chrome? Do they offer services to optimise the display of your website on mobile devices or for people with disabilities?

Can they help get your message across?

Preparing text content needs to be a two way partnership between you and your chosen designer. You know your business and what you wish to convey. They should know how to get the most from the text content of your site, and will advise you on the acceptable amount of content that you should convey. What looks good in print promotion may not be so effective on the web.

Then there are search engines to consider. They look for keywords particularly in the headings you use. A balance needs to be struck between text that is effective for search engines whilst still being enticing and inviting to your visitors. And of course, nothing grabs the attention more than a spelling misteak (see?). It is imperative that your website is throughly checked for spelling and grammatical mistakes before launch, and then regularly as new content is added after launch.

Examine the nitty gritty

Firstly, read through the Terms and Conditions provided by the web design studio. If these have been written in a sloppy or loose manner then a red flag should go up. Ask about copyright ownership in the project, bug fixes, hidden costs, payment terms, backup policy, and anything else you have a niggling doubt about. These can be complicated issues but if your designers are worth their salt they will inform you of their policies upfront. Be clear and in agreement prior to starting work with any design company.

Regarding your website address, it is important that it is registered on your behalf and in your name. If the registered owner is the web design company this may store up problems for you should you choose to go elsewhere.

Finally, there may be additional legal documentation on your website to communicate to your customers. Ideally this needs to be individual to your company and written by a legal professional, not by yourself. What recommendations does your website designer offer?

Do they offer business-grade website hosting?

There are a myriad of companies offering website hosting, and a wide gulf between the best and worst providers. Your web designer will have a preferred website hosting company, so don't be afraid to ask who this will be. Run a search in Google and see what you can find out about their service levels, customer reviews, etc.

Low budget hosting providers allow you to host hundreds of sites for a couple of pounds a month but this comes at a cost, and that cost is performance. You wouldn’t expect a Vauxhall to keep up with a Ferrari on the Auto-Bahn.

We firmly believe in investing a little bit more for your web hosting which brings far better customer support, a 99.9% availability service level, and automatic scalability should your website experience sudden spikes in visitor numbers. The last thing you want is your regular downtime when you website is not available or slow performance which has the effect of discouraging your visitors.

Looking forward

As you can imagine with such a new medium, the pace of change with internet technologies is relentless. Tremendous opportunities are available for those who adopt the right technology early, so look to choose a web designer who will keep you informed of current thinking and technological advancements. Do they have a website blog or email newsletter to share their findings with clients?

We treat each website as an evolving project, in which the launch is just the end of the first phase of development. It’s never ‘finished’ so to speak, and in effect the starting gun has only just been fired. Your website design team should be in contact regularly to assess it’s performance and suggest improvements, and if they are not, why is this?

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