How to choose a web design agency

Let’s face it, Google is the phone book of today, your domain is your phone number, and your website is the storefront of your business. Today people are much more likely to go to your website before they call your business or go to your physical storefront. That is, even if you have a storefront.

Let’s imagine you do have a brick and mortar retail business. You have a catchy name for your business and an easy to remember domain name. Your location is easy to find and you have ample parking with clearly marked parking spots. You even have special parking for VIP customers, people with disabilities, and expectant mothers.

The outside of your building looks sound and well constructed with lots of windows to show off your products. It has a fresh paint job and a new roof. The entryway to your business is clear of debris. There is a welcome sign on your front door and the hours of operation are clearly listed.

Once customers open your front door they are taken into your world of consumer goods. Your products are strategically merchandised so customers flow through the store with ease. They see items that grab their attention and pull them deeper into the store. You have several floor managers who are available to help your customers with their questions and purchases.

Customers love your store so much they are checking in on social media, talking about the great experience they had and uploading photos of the items they purchased on Instagram.

Doesn’t this sound like the perfect store that is run by an owner who is very passionate about their business with every little detail covered?

HINT: This is exactly the way you want to run the digital marketing side of your business.

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Now let’s take a look at their website.

You pull it up on your phone while at lunch with a friend who wants to hear more about this great store you found today.

First, you type in the store name on Google. You notice there are several websites on the front page of Google but none for their own website so it takes a little bit to find. Finally, you find it on the second page of Google and click the link. The website takes a long time to load and then pops up a welcome video that automatically starts playing a loud hello message at the restaurant you selected. You frantically try to close the window and apologize to the table next to you for the disturbance. Once you have that annoying pop-up window closed you notice the site is not responsive (mobile friendly) so it is hard to read and show the products to your friend. Many of the products photos are blurry but you open them anyway to show your friend what they have to offer. Some of the products have multiple photos but they require separate windows to be open and closed for each of the photos you want to view.

You and your friend find something you both really want so you message the store through the online chat assistant they have. You type up the message and send it off to the virtual personal asking, “How may I help you today”. A message displays that someone will be right with you. Thirty seconds later there is not a reply yet. Then one minute goes by, then a minute and thirty seconds. At two minutes and five seconds, you close the chat. You then click on the contact page and fill out the Contact Us form to ask your question.

You populate the form fields with name, address, phone, email, the best way to contact, and your comments us and press SUBMIT. The contact page doesn’t change at all. Now frustrated because you just told your friend how amazing this store was, went to their website and found a product you both like, then filled out two forms to contact someone about the product, only to have both of these attempts unsuccessful.

Next, you click the phone number on the top of the page to call the store to ask your questions (and maybe express your frustration with their website). The phone number is not clickable from your mobile phone so you attempt to write it down on a napkin, however, you don’t have a pen. Now you are really frustrated with this website, but actually, you are really frustrated with this business and they just lost a minimum of tow customers.

On the drive home, you think about how could this happen? The physical location of this business was so perfect yet it seems like they didn’t care about their website.

I can assure you that anyone that cares that much about their physical location also cares about their website. What probably happened is they chose the wrong company, web design agency, freelancer, intern, or friend who is “great at website design” to build their website.

There are certain things you need to look for when researching an agency unless you want to simply make a new website as a trophy to show to your peers.

The first thing you need to do is do your homework. By homework, I don’t mean researching agencies just yet. What you want to do is assemble some information about your business, industry, competitors, goals and Key Performance Indicators. Information about your business should contain enough information for you to give a few agencies an overview of the ins and outs of your business. This information should contain specific data they need to know to better understand how your industry works. They need a short list of competitors to investigate. It is a good idea to create a list of the strengths and weaknesses of each competitor. This should also include what you like and strongly dislike about their websites. Next, what are your goals for this project? Is it to generate new business, attract top talent, or improve the conversion of your existing traffic sales? Last, what are the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that you will be judging the success of this project by? KPIs should be very specific data sets that you can measure. A few examples would be; did the new website increase sales from 100 leads a month to 500? Did the new website increase the conversion rate of your traffic from .015 to 5%? Did the new website rise in rankings on Google for your trophy keywords?

I highly suggest assembling this data but don’t offer it to the web design agencies you contact. Make them ask for it. If they are not asking these questions I would suggest moving on because they will be creating you a website that may look good but does not accomplish your goals.

I would suggest a maximum of three companies to interview. You should be able to find a company that stands out from the three and then make your decision from there.

Google is a great place to look if ranking on the search engines is one of your goals. If you want a website that ranks, it would probably be a good idea to investigate some agencies who are ranking themselves.

Another good idea is to ask your network for a referral to a good web design agency. You want to be fairly specific when you ask for a referral, so instead of asking for a “website designer” you will want to ask a “web design company” or “web design agency”. The reason for this is because it is impossible for one person to be able to perform the strategy, SEO, copywriting, design, and development that is needed to make your website a success. You are going to need a team of experts, not just one freelancer working out of their home to accomplish your goals.

Once you have a short list of candidates you can start the interview process. Start with filling out the form on their website. When you fill out their form make sure to ask for a phone call as your response. How long they take to respond is a very good sign of the customer service you can expect to receive. A phone call as the response is very important because you want to see if the company can effectively communicate with you.

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I would not suggest sending out a Request for Proposal to the companies because that is not how a good relationship is started. If the phone conversation goes well, then set up an in-person meeting. Try to meet at their office if possible because this will give you some valuable insight. It does not have to be the coolest office in the world but it should be clean and organized and have a good vibe. If the vibe of the team does not feel right, that is a good sign the team does not work well together. It is also important that you mesh well with the company because this will become a long-term relationship and not just a one-off project.

Ask the agency what questions they have about your project. The main questions they ask should be about the business goals you have and not just the project goals. A “responsive website that is easy to use and update” is not a business goal, that is a project goal. Increasing your revenue from your existing customers is a business goal. So is attracting candidates so you can expand your workforce.

Make sure you talk about the budget range to ensure you are in the same ballpark. If you don’t talk about this, you may end up wasting your time working with an agency to develop a plan or proposal only to find you need double of what you have budgeted. Another reason to talk about the budget is that you want the agency to bring everything they have in their arsenal to your project. If they think you have a lower budget they may hold back and only offer some of their capabilities, rather than all of their ideas.

A timeline is important as well because three main things need to happen. First, you need to have time to quote the project. Next, the agency needs to get it into their project schedule. Finally, they need to build the project. If the “agency can start the project at any time” they are probably not in high demand. This could be a sign of their financial stability or a sign that their projects do not achieve the business goals because, in this business, people talk about their agency when they deliver results.

Ask if they outsource their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or do it in-house. I would not suggest choosing an agency that outsources the SEO of their website process because there are too many variables that go into SEO to make a website rank. SEO needs to be part of initial startegy so strategy so a great question to ask is when they impliment SEO into the website. If they say after the development they are not going to be able to give your website the best opportunity to rank on the search engines.

More and more agencies are outsourcing their website development to another agency because websites are becoming too complex for them build in-house This almost never yields the best results because the initial strategy and quality insurance are lost during the development process. Very often you will end up with a Frankenstein of a website that looks good on the front end but is full of issues on the backend that cannot be corrected without a rebuild. I would highly suggest you visit the web design companies you are considering and ask to “meet the developers”. If they cannot make that happen for you, they are probably outsourcing the website development.

These tips will not only help you choose the right agency, but they will also prevent you from choosing the wrong one.