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We are here to talk to you today about what to look for before hiring a web design firm. We’ve got a lot to talk about today. We want to make it digestible, but we also want to give you a lot of information. So, here we go.

One of the hardest things about finding a web design company or an agency to work with is that there’s a lot riding on the actual website itself. There’s so many design companies out there. There’s websites and marketplaces with web designers that are starting off at $99. You can alternatively design a site yourself with one of those drag-and-drop builders. There’s many options. In many ways, it’s been commoditized as other options have opened. However, for most businesses, the website is still their backbone. It’s their first impression to many of their prospective customers and clients. And it’s really important that when choosing a web design company, you know what to look for. You can spend a lot of time, effort, money, and end up with either something really good, something middle of the road, or worst-case, something absolutely awful and you’ve wasted both time and your money.

Yep. And lost opportunities. Absolutely.

So, where do we start with?

Let’s start with this. We need to find a firm. When looking, find a firm that listens to the clients. I say that with an asterisk though. We want to be able to come into a situation and understand what the real purpose, what is the purpose, what are we trying to achieve? We’re not just… I look at it as it’s a much more, let’s call it, holistic view. We’re not just creating some images on a page with some content. At the end of the day, this is the foundation. This is what the potential client is looking at. This is a starting point for a business. And we take what we do really, really seriously. So, yes, we walk into every scenario and try to truly understand, what is the core function purpose of this particular website and how can we best achieve that according to best practices?

That’s right. Oftentimes, when I speak with clients, they’re certainly the subject matter expert. They know their business, they know their industry, they know what they’re selling, and the ins and outs of it. However, that doesn’t necessarily translate into what needs to get put onto a website or how it needs to be laid out. It’s certainly important that whoever you’re choosing to work with takes the time to actually listen, to understand your goals, what you need out of the site, what functionality you need out of the site. However, to transition to the next point, it’s equally as important that whoever you’re working with is able to come to the table with ideas, with suggestions, that they’re not a yes man, that they will be able to provide actual value and insights into what’s working today, what’s trending, what’s not working, what other clients have been looking for, whether it’s in the industry or a different industry. It’s certainly important that they’re able to bring equal amounts of value to the table.

Yes, you have to be able to gauge insights from your web development firm in order to say, “Hey, they should have an experience of hundreds if not thousands of development projects over the course of their careers.” They should be able to bring a lot to the table and not just say yes, yes, yes, yes, in order to appease a client on something that they personally think looks good when it, for example, goes against all best practices for conversions, for example.

And this can include freelancers as well as agencies, but if you run into a situation where the person or the company is just agreeing or they say, “Oh, yeah, sure, we can do it,” but they’re not actually able to bring ideas. The only thing that you can expect is a replica of 20 other sites that they’ve just recently made and they’re just cloning a project and slapping a logo on there.

With that being said, I think it’s very important that whoever’s working on your website and is developing it, has a very clear understanding and is an actual practitioner of digital marketing practices. Now, they don’t have to be spread across every vertical, doing Amazon, doing SEO, email marketing. I mean, at a certain point, being a Jack of all trades is really a Jack of nothing. But if they have a good understanding of paid search, social media, e-commerce if you’re selling something online, they’ll be able to work on the site with that in mind, knowing where to place product buttons or categories or how to design your About Us page, that’s going to be most engaging with your audience.

I think it’s really well said, Mike. It’s about having an integrated solution. It’s in effect, it’s like an outsourced marketing department of sorts, right? We’re not just copying and pasting like doing the job of monkeys, so to speak. Copy this and paste it here. We’ve done it 37 times already. It’s an exact template of something that has been done elsewhere. It’s about understanding, again, the needs of this particular client. What are we trying to achieve? How can we bring in, for example, their CRM into the mix? How do we bring in certain features that they use specifically for their business, in order for the website to really function well?

When you work with a web design agency that has designers, that have developers, that have marketers, you can be sure that the finished product will be functional. But you did say something, Alex, that’s really important. The way that it integrates with your systems, the tools that you use, whether it’s down to the type of content, the back structure, your email platform, your chat, I can tell you how often those things aren’t really accounted for when you’re going to get a website made. Then you have a finished product. Then all of a sudden, your CRM doesn’t integrate with your website. Your email marketing platform isn’t able to track different user behaviors because it’s not built for that type of platform.

Just as a side note, with respect to looking at the big picture too, I often have inquiries for web development that say, “Okay, I’d like a website.” But there’s no content, right? No current website exists. There isn’t really great content. If we’re just replicating a website or doing a copy paste job, which obviously we don’t recommend in any scenario. If thought isn’t put into it, where is this content coming from? Are we just grabbing it from somewhere else on the web that currently exists, that’s doing nobody any good? You will never rank. You will never have any position on Google. I’m just saying, there’s one aspect of it is so super important that without the right person heading up the project, it could really turn to be disastrous in the long-term depending on what the goals of the business are.

Responsive design. So often, designers and developers are building a website on a desktop, not taking to consideration the mobile experience. In fact, many times, the mobile site and the look and the feel is often a by-product because they’re designing it on a computer, but it’s actually for a phone. More times out of not, yeah, I suppose if you’re in a business-to-business industry, there’s a possibility that you’ll get more desktop traffic. But more often than not, the amount of mobile traffic is anywhere from 70 to 80% of overall traffic is coming from mobile devices, that they’re not making it responsive for all screens, not just the iPhone, not just the Samsung phone or for a specific iPad. The sites need to be able to scale with whatever device that the customer’s on.

Couldn’t agree more. As you said, 50%, plus everybody is coming to the site for mobile. If we’re not designing it, I personally take the stance of mobile first and desktop second. But that’s where we are in today’s environment and we should always, always, always ensure that mobile will be at the forefront of the mind of the designer.

And if anything is going to drive that point home, it’s the fact that Google has what’s called mobile indexing first. That means Google looks at your mobile site before they look at your desktop site. If that’s of any value, you’re certainly going to want to make sure that whoever you work with, you can look at their portfolio and you can see their websites and how they look on mobile, how do they function. Because if their clients’ sites aren’t good, you can guess that your site’s not going to be any good.

Absolutely. If you can’t go and look at it, 10, 20 whatever amount of recent projects of whoever you’re going to hire, I think something is not right. Because at the end of the day, if the content that they are, or if the sites that they’re providing as examples are not what you would envision for yourself, obviously different business, different industry, whatever, but what I mean is, if the look and feel of the experience is not up to the level that you expect, then you’re not going to get that yourself.

Sure. And you can expect that anyone that is reputable that’s been around for a while that understands the business has history, they have connections, they have a portfolio that they can easily be able to show you.

Without hesitation. It should be readily available. Reviews should be readily available, etc.

Websites especially, they should have a portfolio. Marketing is a little bit different because there’s often confidentiality agreements that are in place. But for most reputable web companies, they’re going to easily be able to provide a list of references, sites that you can go on and test and see how they work and you can certainly be confident that they’re able to produce a good product.

So, going back to what we originally talked about, listening to the needs of the client, it’s obviously a great importance. At the same time, we have to come to the table and say, “Hey, I understand what you’re trying to achieve. Allow us the creative, allow the developer the creative license in order to do something that is in line with, for example, best practices for conversion optimization. I want to talk about that.”

A good web design company is going to have designers and developers that know what makes users convert. Now, at the end of the day, there’s very simple practices that can be applied from industry to industry. There are variables depending on the goals of the site and exactly the market that it’s trying to reach. However, the principles, for the most part, remain the same. A good designer, a good developer is going to do the research. They’re going to have a very clear understanding in the planning phase before it gets built, and have the communication that’s open that you’ll have a good roadmap of what’s going to be built. Again, that way, you’re not wasting time, effort, and money going back and forth with revisions, having a website take three, six months. I’ve been involved with projects that I’ve seen taken over a year.

With good communication and good planning, it does not need to take more than a few weeks to a couple months tops. If you have a large site that’s either being migrated or redone to be completed, but the developers are going to know the proper layout. They’re going to know how to put the navigation. They’re going to know where to put the call to action, and they’re going to know the type of pages that you need to have in order to have proven data-driven concepts that will make users convert.

Mike, very often, when I go into a meeting with a potential customer, I make it a point to be very, very, very clear on deliverables. I cannot underscore that point enough. I feel as if, my gut tells me that in many situations, a designer, a freelancer, whomever that maybe is looking for business will agree to too much, or will not outline potential issues that could come along the way, in order to… Let’s say I have a client sign up with them as opposed to coming into this situation and saying, “Hey, here’s our body of work. Here’s what you can expect from us. Here’s a timeline, here’s cost, here’s whatever, but here are the issues that we have seen in here, or potential points that we need to hash out upfront to ensure that we have the absolute best success in our project.” Do you agree with me?

Sure. When you have that list of deliverables, you know what you can hold your design company accountable for. They know and they have a clear expectation of what you’re expecting out of it. That way, you don’t run into this problem where you’re thinking you’re going to get a site that’s going to do this or have this type of functionality, or it’s going to look like this and then all of a sudden, a few weeks go by, two months go by, three months go by, and you don’t have a deadline on when the work’s going to be completed. You haven’t seen a draft, it’s not exactly what you wanted, and it makes for a poor business relationship.

Could not agree more. I could not agree more. Again, in that anticipation or that desire for freelancer, designer, whomever, in order to sign up a new client, I think sometimes, these things get missed. So, my suggestion from my experience is to ask the detailed questions, make sure you have clarity on all points, ask for a very clear list of deliverables. And I think that that sets you up for the best success possible and does not allow room for error, miscommunication, the unknown, down the line at some point.

I think it’s very important that whoever you’re working with has experience in more than just one vertical. They’ve worked in different industries. They understand different businesses. Because at the end of the day, if they… Let’s say you’re a web designer and you only build websites for moving companies. It’s a pretty fair assumption that after X amount of sites that they’ve built, what you’re going to get is going to be another replica of 75 other sites that are out there.

Tunnel vision.

Sure. Exactly.

I think that a good mix of client type is important as well. Yes, local business, great. Awesome. That’s really wonderful to have those kinds of clients. I think having some national clients and bigger named clients as well is important. It shows that a firm has a reputation. It shows that they have certain credentials and it shows that they will… I think that it gives more credence to the, hey, they’re going to deliver on what they say they’re going to do.

Certainly, you want your website to stand above the competition, not be identical. But everyone has to get their start somewhere, but typically, you don’t want to be that learning curve for that company.

Correct. You do not want to be the learning curve. You’ve said this in a previous episode. I loved it. You said, “Cheap man pays twice.” Unfortunately, in many situations, I’ll have a conversation. Somebody will say, “Oh, I spent $1,000 creating this website.” It’s not what we wanted, rather than it doesn’t… It looks all right, but it doesn’t really, it doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t build a need that we’re trying to achieve. And unfortunately, that person will pay twice, more than likely, or we wouldn’t be having the conversation.

I think that it’s important for… Look, I can only speak for myself. We’ve got to push the envelope as well, in the sense of, we have to try new things. We have to take our body of work, we have to take the skill set that we have and keep applying the latest technology, latest updates, theme, etc. We need to try to continue to improve what we’re doing because if we don’t, then really, what are we doing?

And the more audiences that the designers and the developers know and have worked with in the past, I think that will greatly improve the ability for the client’s website to be able to reach their business goals. Certainly, a firm that can think big and small, who has experience with local campaigns and local markets and how to position a website. If you’re trying to serve as a local area, it’s going to be very different than if you’re trying to grow a franchise or trying to create a web presence for branding purposes and to take market share.

We’ve talked about a lot of subjects. I really enjoyed this particular podcast. What’s the takeaways from this one?

One point that I want to drive home before we summarize this episode is the price. I think price is a conversation that both the client and the business need to have early on to make sure that there’s no miscommunication. I think that if you have miscommunication upfront about price, then that same pattern is certainly going to continue throughout the relationship. There’s going to be additional fees here. There’s going to be deliverables that weren’t really accounted for here, and then all of a sudden, you’re going to have extra invoices to redo or add this in or add that in. You get what you pay for, for the most part.

But I do think that when someone says that they’re going to make you a custom website, and they say it’s going to be $2,000 or $5,000, the key is to understand what exactly are you getting for your money. If a custom website means they’re going to swap out a logo on some template that’s a cookie-cutter website, then it’s probably not worth $2,000. However, if it’s going to be structured and built, and it’s going to meet the needs of the requirements, then sure, it could be worth 2000. In fact, it would probably be worth a lot more to your business. But that is a whole separate conversation.

So, again, what are we saying? Buyers beware. Okay? Ensure that you do the research, know what you want, have clear answers, and don’t allow yourself not to get the right answers and the proper answers upfront, so that there is not miscommunication later on.

Finding a good match for the web company that you’re going to work with to build a web presence for your business is not the easiest of jobs or the easiest of tasks to complete. However, once you find a person that you’re comfortable with, someone that you have good communication with, clear dialogue, I think that’s going to make the whole process much simpler. So, to recap this episode, what’s important in finding a web designer, I think that they need to listen to your ideas. They need to bring to the table value of their own. They need to be integrated with and practitioners of digital marketing, so they have an understanding of what’s actually working today. They need to factor in your content system. They need to factor in tools, they need to factor in processes and systems that you use to operate your business. They need to be aware of mobile responsive design. They need to have a portfolio. They need to have history, they need to understand conversion, and what’s going to make a user take the desired action.

End of the day, you’re building out a website. It’s going to have a function that’s an end goal. They’re experienced in multiple verticals, they’ve worked with local and national clients. They’re up to date on modern trends and they’re not the cheapest.