If you are looking for a new website, or a redesign of your current one, it probably goes without saying that is important to pick the right web designer for the job. Asking the right questions at the start can determine the ultimate success of your finished website and how stress-free, or not, it is to get the work completed. I have therefore put together some questions for you below, to ask potential service providers at the start. This should help you weedle out the better ones in the field, from the bad, and ultimately make it an enjoyable project to work on, rather than a chore.
Will you review my current website?
A good web designer should have a look at your existing website to determine what currently works well or not, then make some suggestions for improvement. This can include looking at the front end design itself, as well as keywords and web analytics. If you already have a website, this is useful data to have at the start of a project, as it helps to avoid making the same mistakes in future. If you are needing to start from scratch then the designer should also create a well researched plan before jumping straight into the design, based on industry best practices, along with an understanding of your company branding, and main objectives for the site.
Do you set up my domain name and website hosting?
Some agencies provide reseller hosting from major web hosting companies, and some may have their own website servers on site. For both of these options you will be billed for hosting directly from the agency. This can also include domain registration services and renewals. Some smaller agencies or freelance web designers may just set it up for you directly with the hosting company and leave them to invoice you directly. Either way it is important to know the exact details of your hosting; which provider, how you can make technical changes if need be, logins and passwords etc. You should be in control and be able to change provider if you need to quickly and efficiently, in the event that you have any issues with your agency or designer in future. Personally I prefer the direct set up with clients as I am not interested in making a profit on hosting, or holding a client to ransom should they decide to transfer away to another agency at any time.
Will I get to sign off the brief before we start?
Most agencies or freelance designers should arrange a meeting with you before doing any work, to discuss what your exact requirements are, find out more about your company message and branding etc. They should also make suggestions for anything that is missing from a marketing and design best practice point of view.. After the meeting, this should all then be typed up into a quote / contract, with the opportunity for you to sign or make any changes / further requests before getting started. In this way there is no ambiguity as to the exact work being undertaken, along with key timelines, prices and maintenance options in future.
Who provides website content?
Your agency or freelancer should be flexible enough to work with content you provide, or be able to create the content required for you. Some business owners like to be more in control on how they present their business than others. If you are providing copy however, do be prepared for the agency to make some changes in order to put their marketing / SEO flair onto it, so that your website can be found by search engines, or potential customers can get all the information they need quickly, once on your website. In terms of images, the agency or designer should have access to a stock photo library, or may even have an in house photographer / illustrator to provide more bespoke images for your site. They may also accept photos taken by yourself, but might reject them due to quality or size issues as there are certain requirements for professional web and print design.
Can I make changes to the design if I don’t like it?
Hopefully, the designer has presented an initial design that works well for you, based on the design brief agreed. However all good service providers should be flexible and work to give you a end product you are happy with – design changes should be part of this. There may be a certain number of changes included in the project price, or they may need to quote again for the extra work. At the end of the day it is a two way communication process between customer and service provider to get the design right. You should be clear about what you are looking for at the outset, and the designer should be able to listen well, applying their skills accordingly.
Will I be able to update the site myself?
This is important as inevitably you may need to update the website throughout its lifetime with new information; company news, personnel changes, case studies, updates to services and products etc. A regularly changing website is also good for SEO as Google likes to see new content regularly. This of course could add extra cost to your overall website budget, so be careful to ask this question from the start. If the agency or designer can set up a Content Management System (CMS) for you and provide training, that will allow you to make the majority of updates yourself, and even though it may cost more to set up initially, will save you money in the long run as you train your staff to make the updates, instead of paying agency rates.
Who owns the website?
Once you have paid the final invoice, in theory the website should be yours to do with as you wish and that you own the intellectual property rights for You should also get a copy of all files and assets created. Check this explicitly with your agency or designer however, as some agencies may have different ideas about IP rights and charge if you wish to transfer away, or send asset files to you in future.
Do you provide website maintenance?
This is slightly different to website content updates, as some websites, especially those set up with an Open Source CMS (such as WordPress, or Joomla), will need software or plugin updates regularly. Once applied, the site should also be tested for any unforeseen problems as a result of the update. A small yearly maintenance fee should cover that and is important to make sure the website is working optimally as new technologies come out, as well as security patches.
Will I be able to see the visitor statistics for my website?
Its all very well having a brand new shiny website, but if you don’t actually know how many people have found it, what keywords they used to do so, and which pages they visited etc, you will never know if it is performing optimally. A good web designer should set up at the very minimum some basic analytics for you via a Google account and give you login access, or send regular reports.
Do you provide Search Engine Marketing Services?
Following on from visitor stats, making sure your website is set up properly with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) in mind is key in ensuring your website can be found by potential customers. Some extra code and research is needed for all pages, as well as sending Google your site map to tell them you want your pages be indexed. Ask for up front costs, and if they can’t do it, you may need to find an external agency to do this part for you.
So there we have it! I haven’t included the obvious in this list such as asking for previous work examples and testimonials, as I feel the sort of questions above are more important to help drill down into how a web designer actually works and whether they know more than just how to make a website look good. And we all know testimonials can be faked, right 🙂
This post is written by Rachel Toy of Spirit Creative, a freelance web designer based near Leighton Buzzard. If you would like to learn more about how to improve your current website and get it right this time, call me on 01296 662172 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.