Questions To Ask A Web Design Company

August 26, 2013In Web13 Minutes

At this point, many users are expecting a high level and quality in web design on the sites they are visiting, which cannot be easily accomplished by individual marketers, freelancers or in-house marketing teams or by popular self-design site builders. Because of this, more people are looking into hiring a web design firm to get a professional and well-coded website.

Before investing time and money in this service, there are several important questions to ask.

1) What Goes Into Their Pricing Structure?

A design firm can provide a high-quality service at a reasonable price, but it is almost always more expensive than hiring a freelance designer because, at the end of the day, you are hiring a team, not an individual. When asking about pricing, follow-up questions may center on: the number of people involved, the estimated time to complete the project, how they determine the hourly rates and any revisions that may be needed. Typically “a la carte” design is more expensive. You are paying for an exceptional quality website. You also need to ask for billable and unbillable hours.  If you are working with a local company, ask how many in-person meetings you are entitled to and what the cost is for outgoing meetings.  Most firms have an hourly rate you will be billed for, so you want to ensure that you are familiar with and comfortable with that rate.  Another important thing to ask is how the ongoing maintenance and any future updates are handled.

2) Examples of Past Web Design Work

Some design firms have a particular niche that they specialize in. Do they have different designers who can match up to the particular niche market your business is in? Suppose they do nothing but websites in one or two niche markets. In that case, it may be difficult for them to determine the right design elements or meaningful conversion aspects in other niches unrelated to your business. Web design often evolves more than just designing the site; in the process, you may need the business cards, brochures, or catalog designed with consistency and the same look and feel as a new website. It’s important that the firm can support you in those requests. 90% of projects come to my web design company, but I realized it’s also true with other agencies, starting as a web designer but ending up with a whole brand overhaul.  In our case is easy as on a team, we have individuals that specialize in certain aspects of the company branding.  This makes us unique and more “agency” oriented. Still, a typical small web design firm should be able to give you or guide you in the correct direction regarding your brand image, even when they do not handle visual branding and graphics in-house.

3) Are They Aware, and Do They Practice SEO Friendly Coding?

Like it or not, search engine traffic can substantially impact a website’s financial performance. A well-coded website with specific elements, like proper usage of “h tags” can and will rank better than one that focuses only on aesthetics without an eye on speed and other elements of search engine optimization. Web design firms should know SEO-friendly coding and be able to give you recommendations for content and text on each page and section of the site to help your long-term SEO efforts. If you are starting a web redesign project, you also want to make sure that current rankings and authority are not lost throughout the web redesign process.  A good web design firm would analyze your positioning and authority on the web and ensure that page rankings and destinations match with new re-designed URLs.  It amazes me how often I see this overlooked, even by some of the industry’s reputable web design companies.

4) Do They Have The Necessary Credentials?

Does the web design firm have a reputation? How long are they in business? Are there reviews available on other sites to show that they deliver on a consistent basis?  Check their LinkedIn, Facebook, Google +, and Twitter business pages and see if they live up to the standards they are mentioning or promising on their website and in the proposal.  Many times I see promises that are not fulfilled, Internet engagement consultants that are not even engaging with its own followers, social media gurus that don’t even have a profile on major networks, or when they do with very little activity.  All of that is a sign that something is not right.  If you want to work with companies that are active in their circles, choose a company that regularly engages with its users. A number of followers can give you a good clue of how engaged they are in communications. All of this eventually ties into the questions on pricing, but this is especially important. Going with a start-up firm or freelancer is often fine, but the pricing should partially reflect the firm’s standing in the industry.

5) Who Owns The Work?

Some firms will try to license a site to a customer instead of transferring ownership. Both models can work, but be sure you know what you are getting for your money. If you have to license the work and are comfortable doing so, be sure to get clear terms and conditions. Are there ongoing payments in addition to the upfront pricing for design and development?  Throughout the last ten years, I personally helped many companies and individuals to move away from propitiatory platforms and long-term commitments with a firm they previously hired.  I saw the pain they are going thru and the unfairness of the proprietary model.  About seven years ago, we put a lot of emphasis on the open web by offering and specializing in open-source platforms.  This brought a lot of success to my agency because people and companies realized that we are not trying to keep them as a client with long obnoxious contracts.  Even if a web firm gets you with one of the long-term contacts, make sure you have your way out.  Just like the house you live in, preferably you want to own your online property, some time is OK to lease it, but when you are building your brand, you want to make sure that the foundation you are building is robust and stable.

6) How Many People Will Work On Your Site?

A bigger team has advantages over a smaller team and vice versa. Bigger teams may have faster turnaround times, but more issues with communication and getting the design correct. Smaller teams are more likely to be delayed, but the work is more likely to be done right the first time or with fewer revisions. At my firm, we opted-in for a small team; it keeps us engaged in the projects, and we can quickly complete them.  Individual freelancers are often late with the projects; we had several clients that run away from freelancers desperate to get a website launched after long delays. Some web design firms have just a virtual or artificial presence in the US; you probably want to make sure not to hire a company like that.  Those companies are overseas-based companies trying to bite into the US market. However, how they design or create a user interface is not tailored to US markets. If they have one person here or a rep marketing their work in the US, most likely, that rep does not have the necessary knowledge of user experience and user interface expected here.  I have seen just way too many projects that started elsewhere, and companies are in a position to start all over again because of miscommunication and different thinking. The bottom line is if your headquarters are in Europe, you want to hire a company from Europe,  if you are in Asia, you probably need somebody that speaks your language. If you are in the US, it’s best to work with a US-based firm.

7) Is The Company Busy Enough To Sustain Your Site’s Development?

This may sound like an odd question, but a company with little work may be at risk of shutting down. While unlikely, the investment a customer makes in a project with a company could be lost should they shut their doors and disappear. Considering that a custom website is not likely inexpensive, a substantial amount of money could be lost.  On the opposite, web companies that do not manage time efficiently take so many projects by offering discounted rates, often getting into a time crunch, making them delay all projects.  When you are getting a quote, common sense is the “rule of thumb” if something is too inexpensive, there is a reason why it is when something is in the normal budget range that is most likely to be OK.


Hiring a web design firm takes a fair amount of due diligence. Taking the time to ask the right questions can ensure that you get what you pay for and that you get it on time.  I asked multiple clients why in the end, they decided to go with us, knowing they had multiple meetings with a variety of web companies here from Chicago.  They often say: “We just felt most comfortable with you and your team.” Feeling comfortable with people from the company is the best principle and will most likely influence your decision when selecting the web design firm.

UI design language on a desktop.

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