The quality of your company’s website can be make or break in terms of business development – it may hinder or facilitate growth. Therefore making the wrong choice when choosing a new web design agency can be fatal.
Over the last couple of months we’ve had an increasing number of clients coming to us unhappy with websites designed by other agencies. Often these clients have paid a big sum of money up front assuming all their dreams will be fulfilled but aren’t consulted properly during the development process so end up stuck with a disappointing website. In most of these situations, disasters could’ve been avoided if clients had a better understanding of the challenges their designers face and knew the key questions to ask before commissioning them.
That’s where we come in. We asked experts from across the United Kingdom and Ireland the one key question a company should ask their web design agency before commissioning them and here’s what they said…
Mike Pye – Mike Pye + Co
Problems often come down to either lack of understanding of what the company wants to achieve in the first place or the inability to articulate it. This is usually because they lack that technical knowledge, which is why they’re coming to you in the first place. Or massive misconceptions about what’s possible with the budget. They want the star ship enterprise but only pay for the game boy.
This is where having a comprehensive, formal written document setting out exactly what the agency are planning to do, including time scales and budgets, will come in handy. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions – it can help to avoid any potential surprises or costs later on in the project.
Paul Barnes – My Accountancy Place
I believe that clients should be asking how they make the most of their website once it’s built. If it sits there and does nothing then it’s a waste of money, but if they do more and spend more ongoing they can turn it into a great investment.
Your new website should have the ability to grow and adapt along with the demands of your business. If it doesn’t you may find yourself having to get new websites built frequently, which is neither cost or time efficient. Here it may also be worth asking if there are any technical areas that the web developers aren’t proficient in. If you have specific plans and ideas in their head are they able to fulfil them?
Jonathan Porter – Ne-Web
Consider asking for details of the specific personnel who will work on your project, and their recent or relevant experience. This is good to know in itself, but can also reveal whether the agency intends to outsource your work to another company or freelancer, possibly overseas. By getting this confirmation you gain some assurance that this will not happen.
How did they learn to develop websites – are they self taught or do they have formal qualifications? How long have they been designing websites? What are their weaknesses? Where do they get inspiration from?
Dave McEvoy – Dmac Media
The one question every client should ask before choosing a team to build their system is, “what happens next?” Meaning what process does the agency use to roll the platform out to you and your team. How much on-site training do they provide versus phone and email support? The critical period for an eCommerce website is not the build, rather it is the 18 month period after the build which dictates success or failure. The level of engagement and support provided will have a huge impact here.
Lack of clarity about what happens next is the number one reason most business are unhappy with their first attempts at an eCommerce website. Usually the level of time and effort required only becomes clear after they get their hands on the site.
I would stress that there is no wrong or right answer to this question, some agency’s just want to do good work and then move on, others are there for the long term. As long as you, the customer, understand what the after sales is going to be and how long it will last you can allow for it.
So in summary one question and two follow ups:
- What happens after once you give us access to the new site?
- Do you have a specific service level agreement that I can review?
- Can you give me references of three business (similar to my size and budget) that I can call?
Chris Kimera – TechTIQ Solutions Ltd.
“What happens in the event that I would love to work with a different designer/developer in the future? Will I have the files to use for internal use in the future?”
Sometimes web development clients hold the customers project hostage and charge them more in case they wanted to switch supplier in the future or move to an internal team.
It is therefore essential to understand the company’s policy beforehand to prevent and misunderstandings.
A lot of clients move on to us looking to redevelop their existing websites or mobile apps, but the past companies usually hold them back from accessing their past projects ending up spending more to have the project redeveloped or updated.
Simon Middleton – PS Website Design
If you’re redesigning a website one of the first things you should be asking the Website Design Agency is: “what is your migration strategy?”
We’re approached by lots of companies where the incumbent agency has failed to carry out a migration strategy or at best they’ve cobbled something together just before the new website is launched!
If you’re redesigning your website, the chances are that not only do you want the website to look and function better, you actually want it to generate more sales and enquiries. If your agency does not incorporate a migration strategy at the start of the process you could find that your new website does not perform as expected – or worse sales actually decline!
There are many aspects that need to be considered when redesigning any websites such as: platform, structural, content and UX design changes. Therefore, make sure you understand how and at what stage in the process the agency intends to manage migration before you appoint them.
Chris Williams – Williams Graphics
Websites are treated with some sort of godly powers in the eyes of a lot of small business owners and often are expected to perform a level of marketing miracles that are above and beyond reasonable expectation. Therefore, a good thing to ask well in advance is:
“What happens if we find the website you’ve build doesn’t perform as we want it to?”
The whole point of this question is to keep your clients expectations in check. A suitable professional answer should really just lay out all the other options and work tasks involved in running a successful website and allow the client to enquire about those services, or make arrangements to sort them on their own. The best way to explain this is like a gym membership. You can subscribe to the gym, but you’ve got to put the work in to get buff. If a client is particularly good at owning up and taking responsibility, the question any client should ask an agency is:
“Is there anything else we need to do to make the website launch a success?”
Ricky Bailey – Ricky Bailey
The Process – “How does the process work, and how long can we expect it to take?”
Phase 1. Create a Sitemap – This is a map of all the pages to be included on the website, and is usually formatted in a sort of ‘tree’ diagram.
Phase 2. Create Wireframes – Wireframes are important to show the structural layout of the site, and to highlight areas of functionality such as links, forms, feeds etc. Think of this like an architects drawing of a house plan.
Phase 3. The design – The design of the website is produced before building the site. This allows for the client to provide feedback on the aesthetics before the development phase begins. Usually, designs include the homepage, an internal page, a shop/product page and perhaps the blog. Generally, it covers the designs of all the varying layouts within the website.
Phase 4. The development – This is where the designs are produced as a fully functioning website. It is always nice to do this on an online development environment, so that the client is able to see the process at certain milestones.
Phase 5. Snagging – This process allows the client to test the site fully, across various devices and browsers, to ensure things work how they should. Snagging notes are often then passed back to the developers to address any issues before going live with the site.
It is important that these steps are in place as they create a well thought out structure to the process. A time schedule can also be produced which gives deadline for completion of each phase. This is important for keeping the project on track and delivered on time.’
Steve Robertson – Start Point
“Do I have ownership of my domain?”
For me this is an all too common start to any horror story that I have had with clients being screwed over by their previous designer/agency. When you’re looking to create a website for your business it is essential that you have ownership and control of your domain name – in fact I recommend to my clients that they register it themselves while I walk them through the process.
Why is this so important?
Let’s say that you have the most amazing website, your website is ranked #1 for your chosen keywords, customers are visiting everyday and everything is running smoothly. Then one day the agency that is managing your website is no longer reachable, leaving you with a website that is eventually going to be taken down due to your domain and hosting lapsing. This leaves you back at the drawing board with not only the task of finding a new web designer for your business, but it means that all your hard work and patience in SEO has been wasted.
Having a new website away from your old domain will mean all your business profiles and NAP citations will need to be updated to correspond to your new domain. Not forgetting having to take the dreaded climb to page 1 that took hours of SEO work and patience.
Whereas if you have control over your domain name then you’ll have the power to point the domain to a server and maintain your online presence in the eyes of search engines. Of course you will still be annouyed that you’ve lost the website but this can be overcome by asking for a monthly backup service to a cloud storage.
The bottom line is – do not put the future and security of your business solely in the hands of an agency. Take precautions when it comes to ownership. A good agency will want you to have a backup and control over your online presence as we are all human and never know what may be lurking around the corner’
Steve Elliot – 02
Do you understand the primary purpose of our website (or area of site or specific journey in scope) and what it needs to deliver for the customer (first) and business (second)? A properly optimised website should be able to bring in new customers and generate conversions. All websites should be comprehensively tested before they are put live to ensure they are properly functional. If your website performs well customers will have a positive experience, which means they are more likely to complete their purchases and come back to use your services in the future.
Likewise, your brief/quote should always specify any dependencies on the client to provide something needed to deliver the scope of the website. Too many clients wrongly assume that their only role in the project is the signing off the contract – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, your input and preferences are welcome at most stages of the process.
Jonny – White Wolf
‘How will this site benefit us?
Can this site be managed moving forwards, either by us (preferably and make sure you have full access and own parts of the site) or by yourselves?’
Karen Reyburn – The Profitable Firm
“How can I best help and be involved so this project moves swiftly, without being held back by me at all?”
Your chosen agency will definitely rely on your input for your new website build. Whether you’re writing content and supplying images, or your agency is doing all this for you, it’s still a partnership project. Delays to a website project most often stem from a lack of response, generally in connection with providing feedback, raw material, ideas, logins, and other information that only you can provide.
Be absolutely clear as to what your agency is expecting from you, and when. Find out what questionnaires you’ll need to fill in, and when. Understand what system they’ll use to manage the project, and ask how you can help support them. (They will love this!)
When you get your quote, make sure it’s very specific about what you are paying for, and what you are not paying for. Get as much clarity as possible at the beginning so there are no surprises later.
Barry Lowe – San-iT
“How do you measure x?”
Your relationship with your web design agency is an ongoing one – it shouldn’t cease when the website goes live. Ask how the company is planning to measure the success of the website and what the process is if its performance isn’t up to scratch.
What kind of results can you expect? How long will it take for you to start seeing results? Will you be able to compare the old site and the new site?
Andy Sputnik – Sputnik
“Is my site going to be optimised before it goes live, or will I need to pay for that to be done after?”
To raise your Google ranking it is important that your website is both mobile optimised and optimised for search engines. This will help to generate visitors on your website, which in turn equals more sales. Some web developers aren’t good at SEO so it is worth asking whether they are expecting you to do it yourself, in which case you can always hire a third party marketing expert.
Also, make sure your brief sets out a timescale for providing content.
“Does the brief fall within a scope you would call your “sweet spot?”
Is the team competent enough to make your ideas come to life? What training have the team had? What qualifications have they got?
If they are unsure on how to do something they may outsource your project to someone else.
“How big or important will we be/this project be for your business?”
I’ve seen too many examples of where the business is either a) too small or insignificant or b) a massive over-stretch result in delivery failures.
Michael Howard – Urban Bubble
“What will make this site stand out?”
How do the team come up with their ideas? Is the website going to be fully customised?
If the website uses a template it may not be unique and therefore may not stand out.
Your quote should specify a time to provide the finished live site’
John Shinnick – Shinnick Change
“Show me examples of your work?”
Jessica Spencer – DYSC
“Do you outsource your work or is it done in-house?”
We would encourage people to ask this as if it is outsourced this can cause issues with communication. Some companies that outsource don’t know the technical information needed to complete a good brief.
Mike Bailey – Pens By Bailey
“Can I be frequently consulted during the development process?”
Communication between agencies and clients is vital. The more input you have; the less likely you are to be disappointed or surprised by the end result. Even if you just ask for weekly updates via email on a Friday it will help you to feel like you are involved in the project.
John Knott – Zola Systems Ltd
For me, the question of ongoing hosting and support is always the big one. As the client it is important to weigh in these ongoing costs in your decision making. I’ve often found it gets negotiated later on in the process, when perhaps its too late to do anything about it.
Joe Lowe – WUK Media
I think there should be a piece of legislation in place with proven qualities/qualifications before people are even allowed to claim they are a web agency. We see horror stories all the time and we sometimes get tarred with the same brush. Nobody has trust in what web companies say right or wrong.
Are they part of an independent review platform such as FreeIndex or Trust Pilot?
How long have they been trading?
Do they have case studies?
Can any of their previous customers be contacted?
What support level can they expect?
Emily Benwell – Big Eye Deers
“Will the project be completed entirely in-house?”
Is what we advise as probably the most important question. Many agencies advertise themselves as being web developers, but often outsource the work abroad. Whilst this can sometimes provide good functioning websites, it’s very rare.
It also raises the issue of who supports and maintains the website once it has launched. When issues arise the agency who delivered the website might not have the knowledge or expertise to uncover and rectify bugs, and with no knowledge of how the website was built – whether it was on a good or bad codebase – it will be even more difficult. Majority of our clients have become partners of ours after a negative agency experience elsewhere. It is scarily common for agencies not to deliver to people’s full expectations.
Don’t ever compromise quality and functionality for cost.