Having a functional, responsive, up to date and attractive website is a key component in the success of any business. How many times have you looked up a business only to find that they didn’t have a website? Or, how many times have you visited a business’s website that looked like it was designed when Bill Clinton was still in office?
After visiting those sites (or lack thereof), how many times did you pick up the phone and call those businesses? How many times did you email them if you were even able to find their email address? My guess is zero. The odds of you using that business are pretty low. No one trusts a business that looks like it still uses MySpace.
In today’s world your customer needs to see an up-to-date, sophisticated website, creative, fresh website if you want to gain their trust and then their business. Googling a business that doesn’t have a website, or has a website that is out of date and hard to use, isn’t acceptable anymore. If you don’t have an amazing website, you’re going to lose business and fall behind your competitors.
However, the process of finding a web design company to build your website can be pretty overwhelming. It’s also expensive and I know you want to get the best bang for your buck. Sometimes you might get so overwhelmed you want to just download a simple WordPress theme and slap something together yourself.
Don’t do that. Your business and your customers deserve better than that. Hiring a web design company is a lot like hiring a new employee. You need to check references, previous work history, and most importantly, ask the right questions.
Below is a comprehensive list of the questions you need to ask before you hire your web design firm. Whether you’re getting your website designed for the first time or redesigning your mid-1990s clunker, these questions are essential in finding the right web design company for you.
So let’s get started.
#1 – What services do you offer?
Let’s start with the basics. It’s important to know exactly what they offer. It might be a common assumption that any firm will cover everything from SEO, web design, PPC management, and a variety of other services, but that’s not always the case.
Each of those skills is very different and requires a different skill set. Never assume a company can do one thing just because they do another, and never assume that they’ll be good at it.
#2 – How big is your team?
This is important to ask because some web firms are actually a one-man-band. This means that it’s one person running everything in the company and that person will outsource everything they can’t do.
While this isn’t a bad thing in general, you may want to work with a firm that has their own in-house team. This usually ensures that everything with your project will flow nicely together and will look like a completed project.
If it is a one-person team, be sure to check their work to make sure it’s of the highest quality.
#3 – Can you provide references?
You ask them this question for the same reason you ask potential employees. Just like that candidate who said they went to Harvard and graduated with a 4.0 and has 10 years in their field but is only 22, a web firm can tell you anything they want. It’s always a good idea to ask other people what your design firm is capable of.
#4 – What are your credentials and qualifications?
If the web firm you’re interviewing has won awards, it would be nice to know. Most of the time they will tell you without you having to ask, but just in case, make sure to ask. It’s also a good idea to ask about their credentials. What are they certified in, where did they study, things like that. What is their Dun & Bradstreet rating? Has any of their work been deemed “groundbreaking”?
#5 – Can you provide a portfolio?
Ask them for some samples. These are usually easy to find on their website, but if not, this is an important question to ask. This will give you a sense of what they’re capable of and it’ll show you if you like their style. This will also give you a good idea of what you can expect them to design based off of your budget.
#6 – How will you ensure that my project is done properly?
You obviously want to be sure your website is done the right way. This is when having an in-house team is helpful, because they can be sure everyone is on the same page and following the same standards. Also, make sure they use the industry standards in everything they do. Ask whether they’ll follow standard SEO procedures, how social sharing will be integrated, whether they can integrate your email list and new site easily, and other similar questions.
#7 – Is your company financially stable?
This may seem like a pretty intrusive question to ask, but it’s still an important one. You don’t want to put your website in the hands of a design firm that might be out of business in a few months or a year.
You want to be sure the company you’re working with will be around long after they launch your website so you aren’t stuck with a web design firm that no longer exists, and a website you can’t update or modify.
Ask the company if they’d be willing to share any financial documents with you.
#8 – Do you have any experience within my industry?
This one is important for obvious reasons. If you run a bakery, and the web design firm you’re interviewing has already worked with a handful of bakers, they are more likely to know what you need right away. They’ll know what you need and they’ll know how to execute it and get it done quickly.
#9 – Do you provide case studies to showcase the results of your web designs?
Case studies go one step beyond the portfolios. Knowing what kind of results they’ve gotten with their work is just as important as knowing that they can do the work. A case study can tell you a lot, including how much they increased website traffic, how much longer people are staying on a website, and how much it increased the company’s revenue among other things.
#10 – What strategies will be used to build revenue for my site?
Beyond just building you a website, your web design firm should also be concerned about generating revenue for you as well. They should have a list of the strategies that they use to build your revenue, and these strategies need to align with your goals.
#11 – Will you review my current website to analyze the performance before designing the new one?
Before they dive into building your new website, you want to ask them if they’ll review your current site. The best way for them to know what’s wrong with your current site and what needs to be fixed is for them to analyze it. Some firms might want to dive in head first and build your site from scratch, but it’s always good for them to take a look at your current website to see what’s working and what isn’t.
#12 – How much time is required to analyze the business, market and the competitors?
You need to ask this question to be sure they’re going to do an appropriate amount of legwork before they start designing your site. They need to have a firm understanding of your business, the market you’re in, and your competitors. You want something made for you that fits your market, not a cookie cutter site that they can put together for anyone.
#13 – Who will be working on my website and what are their qualifications?
It’s good to know who is going to be working on your project. Make sure the work they showed in their portfolio is work done by the people working on your project. If it’s not, ask them if you can see some of their work.
The work they put in the portfolio is typically the best work from their best employees. That’s not always who ends up working on your project, so it’s a good idea to see their work as well. You can also ask about their specific qualifications.
#14 – How long will it take to complete the website?
You might not get an exact answer to this question, but they should at least be able to give you an estimate. You need to know how long the project is going to take so you aren’t sitting around twiddling your thumbs waiting forever. It’s also a good idea to discuss what happens if they don’t meet their deadline.
#15 – How many pages will the website contain?
Common pages for websites usually include the homepage, an “about us” page, a contact page, a blog page, and so on. It’s important to ask them how many pages they will build into your website so you know what to expect when they’re finished. It’s also a good idea to let them know of any ideas you have for specific pages that might be outside of the norm.
#16 – Do you produce content for the website?
Along with the pages mentioned above comes the content that goes along with them. You need to be sure that they provide the content for those pages so you don’t have any additional work to be done when they finish your project. Content for blogs is typically a separate service, so if you are expecting anything to be written for your blog you need to be sure they’re capable of producing it for you.
#17 – What do you need from me?
This may be the most important question to ask. If they need anything from you, you need to know about it from day one. You don’t want to be weeks into the project and have it held up because they need something from you. From the beginning, you should know almost everything they’ll need.
#18 – Will you help me get the images for the website?
Getting unique pictures for your website is ideal so that it has a custom feel. If you don’t have any, you need to ask your firm if they will use pictures available in the public domain, or if you will be paying royalty fees for them. If they outsource this part of the project, make sure you get all the details surrounding that.
#19 – Are you going to outsource any work?
This has already been touched on, but you need to know how much of the project the firm will be doing and how much of the work they’ll outsource. It’s not necessarily a deal breaker if the firm outsources work, but it does add more moving parts to the project and can increase the cost and the time of delivery for your project.
#20 – How much is it going to cost and what’s included in the cost?
Pricing is usually handled two ways, project pricing or hourly pricing. With project pricing, you are billed one flat fee for the entire project, and for hourly pricing you’re billed by the hour. Either way is fine, but if you are going to be charged by the hour, be sure to get an estimate on how long they think the project will take, and how they handle things if they go over that estimate. Also be sure it’s crystal clear what’s included in the price no matter how it’s billed.
#21 – Will my website be compatible with smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices?
Having a mobile-friendly website is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. The majority of web traffic is performed on a mobile device, so if they can’t design your website so it works on any type of device, you need to move on to the next firm.
This is a total no-brainer. At this point, every design firm should be creating web optimized sites. If a firm doesn’t, they’re a really bad choice.
#22 – Do you build search engine optimization into the websites?
Search engine optimization is the process of getting your website ranked highly on Google. Organic web traffic is massively important for businesses since it usually brings in highly targeted and relevant leads.
If the web design firm doesn’t at least understand the basics of SEO design, you should find a different one. You don’t want to have to go back into your site after it’s created and optimize it for search engines. It’s much easier to do this at the outset.
#23 – How do you determine keywords for the site?
Part of the SEO process is determining which keywords to target for your website. For example, if you’re a plumber in Dallas, TX, a good keyword to rank for would be “plumbers in Dallas, TX.” Ask your firm how they will choose the keywords and how many they’ll use.
Also, ask them how they’ll integrate those keywords within your site. This gets a bit technical, but they should be able to provide a solid, well-informed answer.
#24 – Do you perform other SEO services?
Ask the firm if they do a site audit, keyword study, and customer persona study for your particular market. This will help them decide what keywords and structure to use while putting your SEO strategies together.
#25 – What web standards and practices do you follow?
Your design firm should follow the latest design trends and industry standards while building your website. This ensures your site performs well on every device and operating system. Having a brand new website that is out of date when you receive it is useless.
#26 – How will you help me drive traffic and generate leads?
Having an attractive new website is necessary, but getting consistent traffic and capturing leads is a game changer. Ask your firm if they have any strategies to drive traffic to your website once it’s completed. Also, ask them how they’ll optimize your site to capture leads.
#27 – Will I be able to view the work while it’s in progress?
This is a good question to ask so you can be sure you like the finished project. The last thing you want is to not see the site until the end and then hate it.
Ask them if you can check in and see how the project is coming along at certain intervals. This will let you check their work as the project moves along, and it will also help keep them accountable to their timeline. If they’re secretive about showing their work, that should be a red flag.
#28 – Do you offer revisions if I don’t like the initial design?
If they deliver the project and you don’t like part of it for whatever reason, you should be able to have it revised. Having a site designed is typically a give-and-take process in which they take your input and translate it into a web page. You then give them feedback and the process repeats itself until the site is finished.
The firm you hire should have a generous revisions policy to ensure that you get the site you want. If they seem strict about revisions, that should be a warning sign to you.
#29 – Who is responsible for making updates?
This is important to know in case your business changes or the technology changes. You’ll want to know if they’ll update the website for you and how much it will cost. If they won’t do future updates, you need to understand the technology behind the site so you can make updates. You don’t want to get stuck down the road with a site you can’t easily update.
#30 – Who will own the website once it’s completed?
This will vary a lot among the different firms. Some firms will give you full ownership of your domain and it’s hosting while some others will not. It’s important to know where a firm stands on this, and if there will be any recurring fees to keep it live if they maintain ownership.
#31 – What content management system do you use?
The content management system is what’s used to manage the content of your website without the use of coding. It’s how new pages, blog posts, images, and more are added to your site after it’s finished.
The most favorable content management system is one that allows you to update your website yourself without needing help from your design firm. Ask them if they use a custom CMS or if it’s a third party, and be sure it will work on all browsers, platforms, and operating systems.
#32 – Do you offer a warranty, a maintenance plan or a service plan? What are those costs?
Your website is going to need constant upkeep so it’s good to know what they offer you once your website is done. Because of technology that changes on a daily basis, a website that works today might not work tomorrow. You want to be sure any issues that arise can be fixed in a hurry with little resistance from your firm.
You also need to know how quickly they can respond if something breaks. You don’t want your site to go down and be forced to wait 48 hours before it’s up and running again.
#33 – Can you work within my budget parameters?
It’s a good idea to let them know what kind of money you’d like to spend on your website immediately. If they can’t work out something for you within your budget, there is no need to ask any more questions.
#34 – How frequently do you go over budget?
No one wants any surprises at the end of the project. Problems can arise when the actual cost of the project is 50% higher than what they expected. Ask them how accurate they usually are with their estimates and how often they go over budget. If they think they’re going to take longer to finish the project, ask them for a heads up so you can prepare for the extra costs.
#35 – Can you talk me through your design process?
Ask them about their processes. Good processes and systems are a sign of reliability, consistency, and quality. Having a step by step process to get from point A to point B shows that they have done this before and that the unexpected is unlikely to happen.
Also, be sure to ask where you fit into the process. Where do you get to give feedback? What milestones do they have in place?
#36 – How do you track the success of your websites?
There are several ways to track the success of your website. You can monitor traffic, leads, sales, overall revenue, etc. Whatever your metric is, ask them how they plan on tracking it. You should be able to track the success starting on day one.
Also, ask them how they plan to help if the site isn’t achieving the success you desire. Will they continue to optimize the site or are they out once the project is completed?
#37 – Will my website be fully custom or a customized theme?
Most design firms offer both services to their clients to be sure every need is met. Some websites need to be built from the ground up for a unique look and functionality, while others can be made from a pre-built template. Customized themes are usually budget friendly, so be sure to tell your firm exactly what you need so they can choose the best option for you.
#38 – What kind of testing and quality control checks do you perform prior to the launch of a new website?
Testing is an absolutely critical part of the design process that needs to be done before your website is officially launched. Your website needs to run smoothly on every platform and device, so your design firm should run various tests on the different operating systems to be sure everything checks out. They should also have an internal checklist they use to make sure everything is ready to launch.
#39 – What is your policy regarding building websites for my competitors?
This was touched on earlier, but it’s still a good idea to reiterate it. It’s definitely a plus if they have already worked in your industry because they’ll already have an understanding of what you need.
But, it could also create conflicts of interest if they have an ongoing relationship with one of your competitors. You don’t necessarily need to rule out a firm just because they have worked with one of your competitors, but you at least need to have the conversation.
#40 – How much input will I have with my website design?
If you want to be hands-on with your project, this is a good question to ask. For the most part, firms will want to get a pretty good idea of what you’d like to see on your website. They’ll take everything you want into consideration, and match that up against the market research they do to get you the best possible website.
However, some web designers may be a bit touchy about their designs, which can create problems if you weren’t aware up front. Try to get a sense of how well they work with their clients.
#41 – I already have an established brand. Will my website provide a consistent look?
This is a very important question to ask if you already have an established brand and you’re looking for a rebuild of your website. You want to be sure all of your branding can be moved from your old website to your new website so your customers will still recognize your brand.
Be sure your design firm has experience doing this and ask what their procedures are to ensure consistency with current brand standards.
#42 – What is the billing procedure for work outside the project’s initial quote or agreed upon deliverables?
Sometimes you’ll get ideas after you’ve already agreed to everything with your web design firm. You might want them to create a new logo for you, add additional pages, etc.
Ask the design firm what their procedure is for things that bleed outside the original scope. While they’re designing your site, they might even think of additional things that could improve your overall web presence. You’ll want to discuss these things because they can potentially affect the price and delivery date.
#43 – Do you do A/B testing?
A/B testing is the process of testing two variables against each other. If your design firm does A/B testing they’ll, create two websites to test against each other to see which site performs best. For example, they may create two pages for the same product and then alternate between them to see which one generates the most sales.
The differences could range from a different color scheme to a completely different design. Ask your firm if they provide this as an extra service and how much extra it will cost.
#44 – Do you offer eCommerce services?
This is a critical question if you plan on selling merchandise on your website. The different services each web design form will offer will vary, so be as specific as possible when you tell them what you need.
Most firms should be able to provide shopping carts, the ability to add discounts, multiple currencies, and so on. Let them know exactly what you need so they can build something that suits you.
#45 – What type of IP address will my website have?
Ask your web design firm if you’ll have a static IP address or a unique IP address. You’ll want a unique IP address because they rank higher in Google searches and they’ll pass most spam filters by email providers.
#46 – Do you offer domain name registration?
It’s very cheap to get a domain name, but if you’re uncomfortable with technology you may not want to do this. If you don’t already have a domain name, ask your web design firm if they’ll register one for you. They’ll need to check the availability of the domain you want and then pay for the registration. Ask them how many years they’ll register the domain and how much this service costs. Evaluate this against the cost of getting the domain name yourself.
#47 – Do you offer web hosting services?
This is something some web design firms will include with your project. This means that your website will be hosted on their servers. Even if they’re doing a rebuild of your site and you already have hosting, ask them the specifications and fees for their hosting service to see if it would be a better option for you.
#48 – Will my current site experience downtime as you update it?
If you’re doing a site rebuild, you want to know if your site is going to experience any downtime. You’ll need to know when the downtime is going to happen and how long it will last so you can prepare your business and customers for the downtime. Ask the web design firm what they’ll do to minimize any downtime that might occur.
#49 – Who owns the site’s artwork?
Some designers copyright their artwork. Ask the firm their policy regarding the artwork, and work to negotiate a deal so that you will own all of the artwork once the project is finished. You don’t want to be put in a situation where you lose all of your branding and the artwork behind it because you don’t own it.
#50 – Will you integrate social media into my web design?
Social media is huge. You want your customers to be able to find your social media links and share your content with ease. This is also the norm, and if a web design firm doesn’t include social media in their design it should be a warning sign.
Ask them about their plans regarding social media for your site and the different types of social media marketing packages they offer.
#51 – Will I be able to access my website statistics without contacting you?
As noted before, your web design firm will measure your the success of your project based on various statistics. You should be able to access these statistics without having to contact them so you can stay up to date on the performance. Ask them for a password to this interface so you can check the statistics at will.
These are the majority of the questions you will want to ask while interviewing your web design firms. Asking all of these questions upfront will help you avoid any major pitfalls that can cause your project to go south.
These questions will eliminate any guesswork from both parties and will help you get a website designed to fit your company’s specific needs. The relationship you develop with your web design company should last for years, so it’s important to do the groundwork at the beginning and ask these questions before starting your relationship.