How to Choose a Web Designer

Finding the right website designer is no easy task. There are so many different companies and individuals out there talking about things like CSS, XHTML, PHP and a whole bunch of other acronyms that mean nothing to the average business owner. This article will show you what questions to ask and how to tell the good from the bad.

Where is the design firm located?

There are so many different designers and firms to choose from that narrowing them down by location can help you from feeling overwhelmed at the options. Many companies can effectively communicate online with you regardless of location, but if there’s a problem and you can’t get in touch with them, you won’t have the option of driving to their office to speak with someone. It just depends on your comfort level and how you prefer to communicate. If you prefer to speak to someone in person, you will need to find a web design firm in your area.

What skills does the designer or web firm have?

Several different skill sets are required to create a successful website. Rarely does one person possess every skill needed. Your website will need:

  • Graphic design – Remember, a website is a marketing tool. Therefore, website designs should be not only be visually appealing and user friendly, but they should work to meet your goals. Ask your designer if he/she has experience in marketing. If the designer does not also program the website, he/she should at least understand programming, know how to properly crop and save the graphics and understand what works on the web and what doesn’t.
  • Programming – There are many different ways to code a website. Determine the functionality that your website requires (are there any complex features, do you want to maintain the content yourself, etc.) and make sure your programmer can handle it. Ask what programs the developer uses and if he/she follows the latest web standards. A good programmer can manually edit code and will not rely on a program like FrontPage or Dreamweaver to write the code for them.
  • Search engine optimization – Your developer should have an understanding of how search engines work so that they can properly code your website. When examining websites in their portfolio, look at the title bar in the browser. If this title is the same on every page of the site or lacks keywords, the developer is not taking search engines into account. You can also check to see if their websites are found in search engines by typing “site:www.nameofwebsite.com” into Google and seeing how many pages are indexed. These are just a couple of indicators. If search engines are a big concern (and they should be), you may want to do some more research on the subject.
  • Copywriting – Your website will need good content to attract visitors and keep their interest. Your web firm should be able to suggest content for your website. Make sure you know if they expect you to provide the final text or if they will write or edit it for you. If they write the text for you, make sure that the writer has an understanding of marketing and good grammar.
  • Marketing – Make sure the web firm you hire has the knowledge to create a website that will work for you, whatever your goal. After your website is complete, does the web firm help you to get traffic to your website? A website is useless if no one can find it. If you are expecting your website to be found on the first page of search results for certain keywords, make sure your web firm has experience in search engine optimization. Not all web firms provide this service, but they should at least be able to recommend a good search engine marketing firm. Ask your web firm to give you access to website statistics so that you can track the number of visitors to your site.

Make sure you know if your website designer or firm can handle all of these needs.

Does your designer care about your business goals?

Your website should serve a purpose. Maybe you want to generate business leads or connect to existing customers. A good web designer will ask about your business and what you want your website to achieve. If your designer isn’t concerned about your business, you can expect that your website won’t deliver the results you hoped for.

Are their websites user friendly?

Visit the websites listed in each designer’s portfolio. Are they easy to navigate? Is the text easy to read? How long does each page take to load?

Website users want to be able to find the information they are looking for quickly and easily. Navigation should be consistent from page to page. Content should be organized in a way that makes sense. If visitors have to wait for a flash animation to load every time they click on a new page, they will become impatient and leave the site. Good design, in most cases, is simple design. Fancy graphics and animation should not take away from usability.

Are the websites compatible with different browsers?

If you see a note at the bottom of a website that says “Best viewed in Internet Explorer,” then you know that the developer of the site did not bother to test for browser compatibility. Check websites in different browsers and make sure that they look consistent. Browsershots.org will take screenshots of the website in various browsers for you (Internet Explorer and Firefox are the most popular browsers). Take into account which browsers you think your target audience will be using. If you have a tech savvy audience, for example, you don’t need to be concerned about users who still have the oldest version of Internet Explorer.

Are the websites up to date?

Some design firms crank out websites that are out of date as soon as they go live. They use old coding techniques or generic template-based layouts that look like a million other sites out there. Ask your developers if they are coding with XHTML and CSS. If they are still using tables for layout, then you know they are behind in the times. Learn about the difference between CSS-based and table-based layouts.

Do you like their design style?

Take a look at their websites and see if you like the way they look. Is there a certain look and feel to all of the websites, or are they flexible in their designs? Does the design seem to accurately portray the company image? Is it professional?

Ask your designer if he/she creates custom website designs or uses templates. Websites based on a design template are very inexpensive, but they can end up looking very generic and boring or may look exactly like another company’s website. Remember, your website is an extension of your brand and should accurately depict your company.

Can you find client testimonials?

Look for what others are saying about the websites they created. Read testimonials or ask to speak to some of their clients. Find out if the designer was easy to work with and met their expectations.

Are they quick to respond?

How long does it take for the web design firm to get back with you? Can you contact them by email, phone, instant chat? Communication is key to the web design process. Make sure that you will be able to get in touch with the designer when you have questions or concerns.

Is there room for growth?

Your website should be flexible and easy to maintain. You don’t want to have to create a new website a year down the road. A successful website is continually updated with new content. Ask the web firm how it handles web maintenance. Do they charge an hourly rate?

If you plan to update your website often (such as adding news or blog articles every week/month), ask if they can integrate a content management system that would allow you to add new content on your own without programming knowledge. You will pay more for your website initially, but you will save in maintenance costs.

Pricing

Every website is different. Every business has different needs. This is why most firms offer custom estimates rather than trying to group things into packages. Write out as many details about your website as you can think of, and then get estimates from your top choices. Don’t expect a web firm to be able to throw a price at you without knowing any details.

Once you receive an estimate, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting for that price. Does it cover all of your needs? What are the approval processes? Is there a specific number of revisions included? How will you be billed? What is the timeframe? It can be difficult to know if you’re comparing apples to apples, so ask lots of questions.

If you have a specific budget in mind for your website, ask the designer what they can do for you for that budget. Just remember that a website can be a valuable asset and can be very affordable compared to other media. Learn why websites are valuable marketing tools.

Conclusion

If you choose the right web designer, your website can be successful endeavor that brings a return on your investment. However, a bad website can drive away potential customers. Anyone who doesn’t understand that your website is a marketing tool for your business is not likely to deliver a successful website. Do your homework, ask questions and find someone who meets your needs. It’s worth the extra effort!

Do you have anything you’d like to add? Have you ever had a bad experience with a web designer? What are your main concerns when searching for a web design company?

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Related Articles

Eight Characteristics of a Good Website
Websites are Valuable Marketing Tools
The Value of Good Design
10 Tips for Writing a Design Brief
Comparison: CSS vs. Table-Based Layouts

Third Party Resources

How to Hire a Web Designer

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