Posted on October 21, 2014
Planning for a website redesign is exciting but can also be equally overwhelming. The complexities of website design, development, marketing and strategy require specialized competencies, so selecting the right agency for your business can often make or break your initiative. With so many factors to take into consideration, it’s important to go into the process with a defined list of criteria and expectations. Explore these twelve tips for selecting a digital agency for your next website design project.
1. Think Beyond Web Design Services
There are thousands of website design choices out there — from freelance designers to large agencies and everything in between. When planning for a site design or redesign, it’s important to look for an agency that offers a suite of integrated services — including design — to support your full digital needs. Having a single agency provide strategy, design, development and marketing services offers the convenience of “one-stop shopping” and avoid a seemingly endless game of “telephone” between partners. Additionally, it allows you to establish a more comprehensive, effective digital presence as the agency fully understands your goals and can develop a cohesive, integrated strategy to achieve them.
2. Appreciate The Value of Strategic Guidance
You are designing or redesigning your website because you have specific goals. A website redesign is simply a tactic to help reach your overall objective. A worthwhile agency will see beyond your initial request, helping you to define a short- and long-term digital strategy that aligns with your plans. Look for an agency that will take the time to understand your audience(s), develop a customized approach for your project and recommend the right services to achieve success. You don’t know what you don’t know, so it’s important that your agency provide strategic guidance every step of the way.
3. Research Responsive Website Design & Development Experience
Building your site using responsive design is the standard these days, so selecting an agency that has demonstrated experience designing and developing responsive websites is critical. Creating a custom, responsive site will cost you a bit more initially, but it will immediately benefit you and your audiences given the trends in mobile usage. Ask the agency for examples of responsive sites they have built, and take each out for a test drive on your devices so you can experience them for yourself.
4. Select a Content Management System For Now (and Later)
With so many content management systems to choose from, it can be difficult to decide which will be the best for your business. It’s important to define your site goals, including — but not limited to — marketing, design, technology, workflow, security and compliance. An experienced agency should be able to guide you towards a CMS that will be a good fit now and down the road based on your goals and budget. Pro tip: make sure you understand the content that you can customize on your website, and who will own the website if you decide to part ways with the agency.
5. Evaluate Designs Beyond The Visuals
Many agenciesdevelop beautiful-looking websites. The challenge is designing gorgeous websites that are also aligned with best practices for user experience (UX). Furthermore, the site design must be compatible with search engine optimization (SEO), content and maintenance strategies. Design fads come and go but strategic agencies will advise you of the “why” behind the look and feel — specifically how the designs will help support your business and marketing goals.
6. Plan for Content Development
Redesigning a website with the same content as your old website is the digital equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. You should look for a digital agency that understands and develops strong content to UX, SEO and business/marketing goals. Integrated marketing agencies have copywriters on staff who will work seamlessly alongside the design, development and marketing teams to produce website content that aligns with the site strategy. Your agency should also have the capability to produce additional content for ongoing consumption – from blog posts to infographics, videos and more. An agency that specializes in these services and tactics allows for continuity of content with your new site and saves time and effort in getting multiple vendors involved in subsequent content creation.
7. Understand and Demonstrate Search Engine Marketing Expertise
Search engines are most often the number one or two source of traffic to a website, so it’s no wonder that search engine marketing (SEM) has become such an important part of any digital plan. As a prime differentiator amongst firms, select an agency that can not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. Understand what SEM services the agency offers, and ask about ranking results for other clients. Also, be sure that the agency can help you beyond the site launch, as you explore enhanced services such as pay per click (PPC) advertising.
8. Confirm that Knowledge Equals Experience
All agencies purport to know about their business, but it is demonstrated experience that really separates agencies from each other. It’s important to evaluate a firm’s working knowledge based on a variety of criteria. If you are in a highly specialized industry, a firm that has demonstrated experience with other clients in your industry is critical. However, it’s also important that an agency bring innovation and technology from other industries to keep your site competitive and fresh. Always ask for at least five client references and probe those clients with questions that will increase your comfort level with your decision. Additionally, take a look at any awards and recognition that an agency has received because those help provide an additional validation of the firm’s quality of work.
9. Know Who Is Doing the Work
Many agencies outsource work so they don’t have the overhead when project work ebbs and flows. The problem is that outsourcing can create inconsistency in terms of process, talent and relationships. Find out if the digital agency you are interested in has the full project team in-house and also ask when they can begin your project. This will give you the peace of mind that you are hiring the team they are proposing to be.
10. Don’t Be Coy About Your Budget
Starting with a budget range is helpful for an agency to know where to begin the conversations. Buying a custom website is not a commodity with a fixed price tag and as such, factors that affect price include the services offered, number of pages, third-party licensing fees and much more. Defining your budget range early in the game will help a good agency point you in the right direction in terms of services and products, or politely decline the engagement if you are simply not a fit for each other. Be honest with your project criteria and select an agency that can help you achieve your goals within your budget.
11. Understand Ongoing Support Model
These days, most websites are not online brochures and instead, are direct reflections of your continually evolving business. Define upfront how you anticipate supporting the website’s changes internally, and understand what type of services the agency can provide post-launch. Define expectations for response time, ask about support processes and understand what kind of budget commitment you should anticipate. A reputable agency will want to work with you well past your website project so that together, you can execute against your digital plans.
12. Feel the Love
It is truly possible to like, if not even love, the agency you work with. From the initial call or meeting you have, you should feel very comfortable with the team you have spoken to, and actually look forward to continued dialogue. Much like dating, not every agency is a fit for every business. But, don’t underestimate the importance of the “vibe” you get from your conversations because you will be working with those people for months and hopefully beyond.
The selection of your web design agency is something that requires careful consideration. Once decided, you’re entering into a commitment for the duration of the project lifecycle. You not only want to “live” with the decision; you want the new site design to be a rewarding experience for every key stakeholder. Your goal should be finding a digital agency that can add value to the web project, resulting in a world-class site that’s on spec, on design and on budget. Let these twelve tips guide your process for choosing the right web design partner for your total site success.