Important Criteria for Choosing a Web Design Firm

October 9, 2008

We recently posted an article on the benefits of investing online during tough financial times. Ron Amundson posted a comment in response and had a great question; since due diligence is a key part of this expense, what should people look for when choosing a web design firm?

This is the right question to be asking in the current economic client, efficiency is important. It doesn't make sense to hand your website over to your teenage nephew and it doesn't make sense to spend $40,000 dollars or more with an agency that delivers the first half of an abstract campaign. Finding the right fit means you must ask the right questions.

For those hiring their first web design firm or for those who have been burned before, it is difficult to know what exactly to look for.  To help, we put together a list of some top criteria to consider when deciding with whom to invest your online marketing dollars:

  • The Web Design Firm's Website - It's a shocking truth, but many web design firms have terrible websites. While it is fine for their site to look different than what you're looking for, the site should be well thought out and demonstrate capability. As a potential customer, if you don't get their site, how can you trust them with your marketing? Look for a firm with a clear website that communicates their philosophy as a company and as a web designer. Also, it is 2008; if they don't have an up-to-date blog, they probably don't understand the web.
  • Diverse Body of Work - When looking at the website firm's portfolio, the designs should differ based on the needs of each organization. You do not want a firm that simply provides cookie cutter solutions and all of their websites look alike, or they are just literally using templates. Check out the firm's portfolio and see how they use different design techniques and different web tools they use to solve their clients' problems.
  • Web Experience - There are plenty of good designers out there, however, not everyone has the skill set or experience to design for the Web. Web design presents a unique set of challenges that is best handled by designers experienced in interacting online. Expert marketer and blogger, Seth Godin, recently advocated for "looking for the guy with a hammer", meaning it is usually favorable to go with someone that excels in a specific field (web design) rather than just an excellent generalist (design).
  • Service Guarantees - We've had many clients begin working with us after other leaving other web design firms, due receiving poor service from the first firm. This can be tough to avoid. One way to get an idea of their service is to check out their service philosophy. Every firm should post this to let clients know how they approach customer service and how they keep their clients happy. Our Service Philosophy outlines that every client has our cell phone numbers and we never charge an hourly fee for tech support or a simple phone call. If the firm you're looking at doesn't publicize their service philosophy, make sure to pressure them for specifics during their pitch and proposal.
  • Technology Service Provisions - This criteria focuses more on the firm's technology service rather than its customer service.  When visiting examples of the firm's work, be sure to note if the sites are running slowly, demonstrating that the firm put them on a slow server. Also, check with the firm to see their backup policy and security efforts.  For example, we host all of our sites on a dedicated server with RAID and nightly and offsite backup.
  • References - A capable and reputable web design firm should have no problem giving you references that can vouch for the firm's work.  Some firms publish these on their site (we feature testimonials in sidebars throughout our site) and others choose to keep them out of the public domain; however, upon request, any firm should be willing to provide you with a list of at least 3-5 clients that can vouch for their work/service.

Each project has its own budget and specifications, which will require you to look further into each firm based on your requirement, but this post should serve as an overview for things that should quickly qualify and disqualify a firm.  Too many times, we've had people come to us after wasting a lot of money on a firm that didn't deliver. By using these criteria, you should be able to curtail your risk and potential of having a bad experience.  What are your thoughts?  Do you have additional criteria you use when choosing a firm? Have you had a bad experience that you could have avoided?  Comment on this post or get in contact with us. Hopefully, this post helps make you the decision that's best for your organization!

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