We are here to share with you 20 questions to ask a web design company before hiring them. Take these questions as a starting point and make sure you do the research. Find quality people to work with. Make sure they have great reviews. Make sure the products they give you are all high-quality. Then you’ll have the best shot at having a great website in the not-too-distant future.
1. How long have you been in business?
We want to know, how much does experience does somebody have? Did they just open up their shop yesterday? Or is it something they’ve been doing for many years? What is their skill set? You don’t want to be paying for somebody’s learning experience. You want to be paying for results.
Everyone has to start somewhere. And if they haven’t been in business for a long time, that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. However, it certainly should be a red flag, especially if it comes down to a website that might be a little more expensive or if there is very specific functionality needing to be developed.
Having the resources and experience about how to navigate through challenges, in many ways it just comes with time. It’s not necessarily something you can just know from reading textbooks or examples, that knowledge comes from real-world experience.
2. Do you outsource any of your design or development work?
If you’re paying someone to design and develop your website, you certainly want to make sure they’re not outsourcing the whole project to somebody else and just collecting a fee. If that’s the case, you might as well go directly to the source and save a of couple dollars yourself.
There’s nothing wrong per se with outsourcing certain parts of your design process, but it’s all about transparency. You should understand how much your agency does themselves versus outsourcing to others, and they should communicate openly with you about the facts.
For example, in our company we do not have a photographer on staff, so we have a few incredible photographers we work with locally. Why not just put a client in touch directly with the professional? We believe it’s much better, it’s transparent, and everybody can be on the same page. These partnerships help to reduce costs because we only have to pay for the services and design work that is truly needed, and moreover, we focus on our core competencies to produce the best product possible. Check out our blog post about the importance of web design and digital marketing for more information.
We have relationships with specific freelancers and design companies who specialize in different styles. For a client who needs graphics for a medical website, those designs are going to be a lot different than someone looking to start, say a T-shirt brand. The costs are going to be different. The outcome is going to be different. So, specializing with a freelancer who understands how to design for a medical site — whether it’s image selection or graphic design — that type of work is going to come from a different skill set than someone who designs emojis.
3. When it comes to project management, who’s going to be involved and what roles are they going to play?
We believe it’s important for us to have one person in our company who is the main point of contact during a development build. Obviously, it’s great if different hands can get involved in a project and there’s somebody contributing from our team doing A, somebody else from our team doing B, etc.
But it’s best to have a project manager inside the agency who is one main point of contact for your company to communicate with. That project manager can update the client and not overwhelm them with stuff that isn’t important to the overall project. So, you should be very clear on, who is my direct point of contact?
We utilize project management tools internally and we document absolutely everything. But in some cases, we share access to project files with our clients via that tool. It’s sometimes necessary, other times not.
4. What are the milestones that I’m going to see? When am I going to see updates to the draft website for my review and approval?
You need to have milestones set up with realistic web design goals that are tied to your business goals. Understanding the when of certain milestones and deliverables is very important for both sides. From the client’s side, you don’t want to be waiting three months, six months, a year. So, how long is us going to take to create the new website?
In many cases, when there’s a hand-off from the development side, they can say, okay, well this is actually done now. However, what if the client doesn’t provide all the images? Or what if the client decides, after the site is already live, that their users are having a hard time navigating it?
You don’t want a situation where maybe it’s done, maybe it’s not. With the creative process there will always be some need to go back and forth to make adjustments. But as far as putting timelines together, the big question is, when is it considered done?
We have a particular client we work with who is a nationally known musician. He told us recently, “I’m so happy we’re working together. You can’t imagine how many times I’ve been down this road of websites. What your team has developed for us recently is the best iteration that we’ve ever had of our site. And what I found is, usually designers in the past that I’ve worked with will take a deposit, promise the world, pick up the phone, and everything is great. But once that deposit has been received, you can’t get them on the phone and everything that you ask them to edit becomes additional costs, when it was supposed to be a website that was completed by now.”
Certainly, the majority of blame for that is on the designer themselves, and it’s definitely unwarranted for the developer to not answer calls. But as informed clients, we have to go into the situation with our eyes wide open. We need to make sure we are 100% on the same page. Both the developer and the client need to be clear on what they expect. We have written an article about how to hire a web designer, please check it out for more information on this process.
There’s an industry term called “scope creep,” which is where you have an outline of a project that has been scoped out, but over time it begins to change. “Add this page, add this section, we need this functionality.” There’s nothing wrong with making changes to it. That is the way that it should be done. But, recognize that when you ask for additional aspects and functions added to your new website, it’s going to add to the cost and cause a time delay.
Think about it. You don’t want the development company to begin to get tired, or start skimping on some of the work, or get lazy with how they end up doing the code, because all of a sudden now it’s taking so much more time and they’re not making as much money.
5. Do you guarantee your work?
When it comes to satisfaction or deliverance guarantees, especially when building a website, they need to be broken down. It’s very important for both sides to be protected from the start. You don’t have to sign a crazy contract with 20 pages of fine print, but you should have something in writing that outlines exactly what everyone’s expectations are and what steps you can take if those expectations aren’t met.
Anyone who is reputable would certainly stand behind their website and their finished product. It’s certainly an important question that needs to be addressed before engaging in any sort of scope of work, and it needs to be outlined. Once the project’s completed, is it just handed off? Is there any more communication? Is someone still going to be behind it?
At a bare minimum, there needs to be a clause in whatever contract you have that would include, 30 days’ worth of additional maintenance or bug fixes as needed.
Once you go live, oftentimes there’s things that can be missed, broken links or an image that isn’t compatible, and someone would need to be able to get in and fix that. What a horrible feeling to pay for your website, then all of a sudden, you’re getting another bill to fix something, just because you missed something when you were checking it off before the hand-off.
The onus is on the development company to be very specific and say, “This is what you’re getting. This is what we’re doing for the price that you’re paying. This is the timeline that we’re going to be developing it in. And we are going to do whatever is necessary to ensure that you as our client are happy, that you have a functioning website at the end of all of this.” Otherwise, it leaves a lot to risk and puts clients in a bad position.
You should have something in writing that explains, “As a development firm we are providing to our client, A, B, C, and D.” And when you client go back and ask for G, H, and X, they should say, “We would love to do that for you, but here’s an amendment to our agreement and here’s the time it’s going to take and this is what it’s going to cost you extra.”
Having that ability to reach out to one contact person and feel good about the relationship and make sure that your questions and your issues are taken care of, it’s at the core of customer service and making sure you do the right thing. The end of the day, we wish that all companies at all times would do the right thing. Unfortunately, in our experience, that’s not always the case. But if you ask these questions, if you get specific responses and you make sure you are satisfied completely with the responses, you put yourself in the best position to have a positive outcome. Because if you’re not happy in the sales process, imagine how unhappy you will be once you actually work with the company and they have little to no incentive to continue to perform.
6. What if I don’t know exactly what I need?
From a developer’s perspective, this a matter of doing the correct onboarding. Let’s say a client comes into a situation, says, “I want a website,” and we say, “Okay, great. We’d love your business.” That’s just not enough.
Your developer needs to ask you questions like;
- “Who’s going to provide the content?
- Who’s going to provide the images?
- Where’s your graphic content coming from?
- What functionality do you want?
- What’s the core purpose of the site?
- Is it informational?
- Are we selling something?
- Are we trying to get people to call?”
- Who are your ideal clients?
- And many more…
Your developer needs to be clear on all of these topics, and if they’re not asking you up front, then it should definitely raise a red flag. Your developer should take the time to educate you about these aspects and ask you these questions. Otherwise, how can you be on the same page? How will they even know what deliverables you need and how much it will cost them to build?
There’s nothing wrong with starting off with a minimal viable product (MVP). This can help you avoid paying excess money for work that you don’t actually need. Or it can reduce the time it’s going to take to get to that finished product.
When you build on WordPress or WooCommerce or Shopify, you can always scale your site later on, once you know exactly what you need. You can make data-driven decisions based on actual data about how customers are interacting and using the site. Then you can build out the rest of your site once you know exactly what you need.
Again, it’s all about making sure that there is a clear understanding of what the deliverables are. We use the term “phase” a lot. We say to clients, “Let’s develop Phase One. Here’s what it is.” And we’ll say, “What does Phase Two look like over the next few months? What does Phase Three look like six months to a year down the road?”
If you’re a locksmith, you’re not going to need a four-phase website. However, if you have a business that’s a little more complex, maybe you’re eCommerce, maybe you have a lot of actual content pages, that’s when it would make more of a difference. Check out our web design services for more information and to get in touch with us.
7. What if I don’t have any design files?
If you’re creating your website on a shoestring budget and you don’t have a UI or web design files, then you will need the developer to do that work for you. In that case, going into it you should have something to show them to say, “This is exactly how I want it to look and function.”
Now, it’s certainly not about nickel-and-diming. It’s a matter of, “This is what we’ve agreed to, we’re going to stick with it, and it’s good for both sides.” It’s bad for both sides when we just say, “Yeah, no problem, we’ll take care of it. We’re going to do your website.” But there is no list of what the actual deliverables are. Then you get into a position where there is no end and that is not a position that either party should be put into.
8. Do you provide referrals from past clients? Do you have examples of similar projects you have worked on? Can you show me results?
We have mixed thoughts on asking this, because on one hand they should be able to demonstrate other websites as examples. On the other hand, there is a greater possibility for tunnel vision.
For example, if you go to a web development agency that only does websites for lawyers, chances are if you’re a lawyer, you’re going to get a cookie cutter template. There are only so many ways that they’re going to be able to design. They probably have templates that they duplicate and just slap your logo on there and there you go.
However, a company that has a more varied portfolio of websites will be more knowledgeable about what’s actually working and trending. They can give you a site that’s actually unique to your business. But a potential disadvantage is they might not have the experience in a specific niche. Its all a matter of how you feel about the organization when you start having a conversation about your needs. Do these seem competent? Are there real answers to your questions and concerns? Is there body of work great, albeit not in your specific industry?
9. Do you take the time to learn about my business and do research on my competitors?
Any reputable company is going to have a process they follow to ensure that they cover the basic research steps.
- Who are your competitors and what are they doing well in the marketplace?
- What are the goals of the potential client?
- Which industry are they in?
- Are there industry specific issues that we should know about?
- What are the trends with respect to keywords and searches?
All of this has to happen in the background, and it will separate the good from the not-so-good. What works for company A is not going to work for company B, and that’s even in the same industry. So, if it’s not in the same industry, it gets even worse.
One red flag would certainly be if they don’t have a research plan. How else are they going to actually build out a website that’s going to work for you and for your business? And that’s ultimately going to drive the results that you’re looking for.
10. What other services do you offer?
It’s really important to find out, “Who are these people that I’m going to trust to develop a website for me? And what else do they have in their sphere? What are they offering to me besides web development?”
There’s nothing wrong with a web development agency that only builds websites. However, they’re not going to be able to take into consideration what’s going to actually drive the conversions. A full digital marketing plan is far more than putting together a great website, that is merely the beginning. Check out our post about how to create a powerful digital marketing plan for a step-by-step guide on digital marketing and how to succeed.
Most clients are building out a website with a specific goal in mind. There’s an ultimate goal.
- They want more leads
- They want more downloads
- They want to give their users more information
- They want to sell a product
- They want more phone calls
If the agency only builds websites, they won’t be able to factor in placements or navigation to achieve a higher click-through rate, or the steps necessary to aggregate this data in a meaningful way and glean insights from that data. They won’t understand the fundamentals of how to convert a user into a customer, or how a certain type of product page will drive higher sales or an upsell funnel.
For example, if Facebook or Google Ads are going to be a part of your strategy, you’re going to want that to be built in. They need to factor in pixel placements and event tagging to make sure you don’t have conflicts or elements that prevent certain ad platforms from tracking correctly.
On the other hand, you’re not going to want to work with an agency that does everything. If they’re designing billboards and TV ads and printing business cards, oftentimes the website and digital aspect is just an add-on service. You’re not going to get the type of value that you need to drive results for your business.
11. What happens if I don’t like the design?
What if you’ve paid money to a web development agency, everything seems to be going well, they provide you with a link of something to review, and you don’t like it?
This really comes back to planning. If you go into this project and you have a clear plan of exactly what you want, then there should be several milestones or checkpoints you can recognize. You should be able to see quickly that it’s not going in the direction you want, or that it’s not turning out the way the designs call for.
And at any point, you should have a clear communication process to let them know your feedback. Maybe a placement or the color scheme is wrong. Maybe the overall design is not what was originally discussed or envisioned. At any of those points, you can still pivot. But once the site’s done, you almost have to start tearing apart the backbone or the foundation to rebuild it.
We start by saying to our clients, “Show me examples of sites you love by competitors or outside of your industry.” Because that gives us an idea of a starting point. If we don’t ask those questions, how will we know what they want? Maybe they want a site that’s completely opposite from the way we even build sites.
We don’t like seeing situations where web developers will say, “Oh, we’re going to build you up to five pages and you have three changes.” That’s nonsense.
You’ve hired them to develop something and do what is right and necessary to ensure that you’re happy. We’re not talking about an outlier of a client who asks you for 3,000 changes. That’s obviously not acceptable.
But in most cases, so what? Roll up your sleeves, spend a few hours in order to do exactly what your client needs so they have the best chance of being successful in their eyes.
12. What happens if there’s something I need to add to the project? Or something changes in the scope after you’ve started? How would that be dealt with?
We don’t look at changes as an issue at all because we spend the time to explain to our clients exactly what we’re doing for the price we’re charging.
For example, let’s say we already have a full site in development. Then the client realizes says, “Hey, I want to start selling subscriptions to all this new content I have now. I could never do that before. And it just hit me now because I’ve seen the level of website that you built.”
What would we do? We would say, “We’ve agreed that we were going to do X, Y, and Z, and we’ve already gotten to that point. Let’s have a discussion about what your new idea would look like. Give me the dream. Tell me exactly what you want to see.”
Now that we’ve built up trust with this particular client, they understand that when they give us this “dream list” of functionality, we’re going to think about it and come up with a plan of how we can execute it. Again, it’s an opportunity to say, “Hey, we’ve done what we said we were going to do in Phase One, so let’s start talking about the next phase.”
13. How long will my project take?
A savvy client should ask, “When am I getting a full draft of the website?” Let’s just say it’s 30 days from now. I’m going to say, “Okay, great. At what point am I starting to receive a discount if I don’t see a copy of it?”
This is your business that we’re talking about here. This is not just something you’re doing for fun and spending thousands of dollars for nothing. You need this in order to plan. And if a professional firm says, “You are going to get the following from me at this time,” then there should be no deviation for that. Obviously, as you’ve said, maybe the client is non-responsive or some other issue happens, I’m not talking about those scenarios.
But in general, make sure you ask the question and hold them to it. Ask, “How long is it going to take till I get a draft?” And make sure that you’re very clear on that subject.
When both sides are not on the same page, that’s when a good opportunity or a good relationship can really go sour.
And more times than not, when we are on our initial calls, a lot of potential clients complain about working with other web design agencies. The most common complaint is how long something took, or how three or four months went by, and they still don’t have any sort of finished product. They still haven’t seen what the website looks like.
The time aspect is a very big hindrance. Obviously, there are many factors. We know from a technical standpoint what can cause delays. But if we ask for some feedback from a client and don’t get it, we can’t move on to the next step.
So, what’s a reasonable time estimate to at least see the wire-frame or the back end? We believe a range of one to four weeks is reasonable. But we’re not talking about two or three months to see a draft of a standard WordPress site. That’s not correct. Something’s wrong with that picture.
14. Will my site work on desktop and tablets and phones?
Our response is very simple, “Mobile first.” Your site has to look great on mobile. In most scenarios, probably 50% or more of traffic is coming from mobile devices. Therefore, why would we not build with the idea of mobile first? You must ensure you have a responsive site that works well on any device that’s coming to the site.
For many direct-to-consumer brands, it’s common to see 70% to 80% of people coming to you through mobile. Google crawls websites to determine search engine rankings and positions, and they scan from a mobile side. So, if your site’s not mobile responsive, you’re automatically going to be put to the bottom of the list.
15. What will I need to provide to you before you can get started?
Okay, let’s say you’ve moved past all these points, and as a client, you’re here and ready to get started. You decided X firm is the company you’re comfortable with. They seem like they can create the vision you want, they have the resources, and the numbers work out. Now what?
Usually, this is where the biggest holdup starts in terms of providing the design assets. As a client, you need to be able to provide logos, product imagery, or access to hosting, etc. It’s important to give them everything they know they’re going to need as early on as possible.
In the beginning, when a client has just made a payment, they’re excited and energetic about getting their project done. As soon as possible, the web design company should give them a full list of action items.
16. How does the design process work?
From onboarding on day one, the web design company should send you a list of questions. What we do is send out a link to a form that is for onboarding, for new development. It has 25 or 30 questions on it. We ask for as much info as possible, which puts us ahead of the curve.
Those answers go straight into our project management tool. Everything is there. Our developers and our team can see all of it in one place. We suggest using an online project management tool such as ClickUp.
17. Do I own my design and website once its completed?
All work that we do is owned by our clients. We design and develop a product that belongs to and is owned by our clients. Period. End of story.
Understand that your hosting company is where all your data is stored. All the information is there. So, if you happen to hire Joe Schmoe as a host, and he’s having a bad day, he can turn off access of your website being published to the internet.
Thus, it’s extremely important to make sure you have a backup and cPanel access. You have to ensure your site backup is downloaded with some frequency and that you have access to it. That way, if there’s some problem, it can be reset somewhere else.
18. If I need a domain name or hosting, do you set that up?
Could we go into a GoDaddy account and purchase a domain for you? Yes, we could. But it would be better to make sure you’re the owner of your domain name. Essentially, though, you’re leasing it because there’s really no ownership. If you don’t pay your fee, you’re not going to own it anymore.
That goes the same with hosting. We have VPS hosting for all of our clients. It’s a tremendous service, and speeds are magnificent. We have to ensure our clients have access and that backups are available.
19. What do you do with ongoing updates and maintenance? Will I need to do everything myself? Will I need to go to some third party?
There are really two scenarios that this can play out on. First, if you as a client have technical abilities then there’s nothing wrong with getting involved. But you need to understand exactly what’s required and the risks of maintaining it yourself. It’s very easy to do, it just needs to be done correctly.
You could see performance issues and the site can start crashing if you don’t maintain your WordPress site correctly. Don’t let your plugins get depreciated or your site get hacked.
Second, if you can’t devote enough time, then hire someone knowledgeable to stay on top of it.
You’ve spent money to develop something great. Let’s say you’ve gone and bought a really nice car. What are you going to do? Are you going to not put oil and gas in it? Would you use the lowest quality products possible? Are you not going to wash it?
It just doesn’t make sense. You own something. You’ve built something. Now ensure that the plugins, core, theme, etc., are all updated properly.
A WordPress site doesn’t just exist out of nowhere, it is something that works. There are many things working in concert together to publish and to show your site on the internet. Maintain it properly and make sure it’s done right.