Considering a new website? 5 crucial conversations to have BEFORE you hire a web designer.

Are you considering a new website? Congratulations!

We hope we can save you some time, money, and headache—here are 5 questions to ask a web designer BEFORE you decide to hire them.

Conversation #1: Can I see examples of your work?

You want to make sure the person or agency has experience. But asking if they have experience is one thing; asking if you can see examples of their work is another. The developer or agency should have examples they can produce quickly. And ask to see some recent work, since sites that were done two to three years ago may not be representative of their current work.

Follow-up questions:

  • Have you created a website for anyone in my industry?
  • How long do most of your web projects take? Can you give me a specific example of a project timeline?
  • Are the websites you create mobile responsive? Which one can I try viewing on my phone?

Conversation #2: Do you do the design and development in house?

Business people pointing at paperwork with pensEver wonder about the difference between a web designer and web developer? Sometimes web designers focus more – or exclusively – on the design aspect, and sometimes web developers only focus on the code and not as much on the design. That’s not always true, but consider asking about the person or agency’s strengths.

In some cases, you may find a person or group who’s contracting out some of their work to third parties. (For example, if they focus more on web design, they may contract out the development part.) If you’re okay with that, that’s fine! But it’s good to be aware of who’s involved with your project.

Follow-up questions:

  • For the examples you’re sharing – what was your role? What aspects of the site, if any, were completed by a third party?
  • How big is your team, and how long have you worked together?
  • Will I own the design rights after the work is finished?
  • Do you ask for permission before you showcase a client’s work in your portfolio?

Conversation #3: Will you help me create, or help me migrate, my content?

Today’s websites are more than page design. We suggest you work with a person or group who will make sure your site loads quickly and is easily findable through Google.

Plus, we hear this horror story all the time: “I hired someone to do my website, but they are still waiting on me to get them all the content. I feel like I’ll never finish. I’m just too busy to write all the stuff they need!” Sound like you? If so, you really need to work with a group that will help you with not just with the design but the content—writing copy, creating page names, captioning photos, etc.

Follow-up questions:

  • Do you write the web copy, or am I responsible for that?
  • How do you optimize content for the web? Can I see a website speed test for any of the sites you’ve worked on?
  • Will you help me optimize my content for SEO? How would you describe, in layman’s terms, your SEO strategies or best practices?

Conversation #4: Do you think a CMS is right for me?

Business people working at table with laptop and paperworkCMS simply stands for Content Management System. You can think of a CMS like an engine – it helps to run a website but doesn’t necessarily affect how the website looks. Using a CMS is a great idea; it can help make your website much easier to manage.

The most common CMS is WordPress; however, many developers use Drupal or even custom CMS solutions. There are merits to any decision, but you want to make sure the developer or agency you work with has good reasons for why a tool works for you. (And it shouldn’t just be, “That’s the CMS we use.”)

Another reason to ask – if a CMS is being used, there’s a good chance the person or agency is using widgets, plugins, or themes as well. That’s great; those things can be really helpful! But you want to make sure your developer is using high-quality tools (and that you’re not paying too much for a site that over-relies on off-the-shelf components).

Follow-up questions:

  • What widgets or plugins do you use, if any?
  • Will you be using a specific theme for my website? Where is it from/can you show it to me?
  • Can you show me, through a demo site or similar, what the back-end of my site would look like?
  • What annual costs can I expect to maintain the site? Are there licensing fees/plugin costs?

Conversation #5: Will you help make sure my site is published, secure, and maintainable?

Creating a new website is quite an investment. You want to make sure you’re working with a developer or agency who will help you create something sustainable. That includes easy backups and restore options, in case there are problems—so that your investment is protected and secure!

You also want to consider free tools like Google Analytics that can help you track website traffic (to learn things like who is visiting your site, how long they’re spending on your site, and what pages are visited the most).

Finally – how will the site be updated? Will you be able to change text/images yourself? Will your social media efforts integrate easily? Asking these kinds of questions before you start a project will help you ensure that your content is protected once the site is up and running.

Follow-up questions:

  • How do you suggest I create and maintain regular backups of my site?
  • Would you recommend any security or SPAM protection plugins?
  • Is integration of tools like Google Analytics included in the development fee?
  • Will you train me on how to update my site after it’s complete?
  • How will the site work with my current social media/marketing efforts?
  • Once the project is complete, can I contact you if I need to change something? What do you charge for website updates once a project is complete?

Additional Recommendations

  • Create a contract. Even if it’s a simple contract, make sure that it defines the scope of the project, the project fee, and the estimated timeline. Also make sure it specifies who owns the design rights of the work after it’s completed.
  • Ask for recommendations or testimonials. Don’t just take their word for it; ask to talk to clients who are happy with the agency’s work.
  • Structure the project in phases. Organize the project so that the design phase is completed early on, or even first. That way, you can assess your satisfaction with the agency after you’ve seen design ideas. If you and the agency aren’t seeing eye to eye on designs, you haven’t paid any development costs yet. You can pay the fee for the design phase and then end the contract.
  • Make sure the domain name and hosting account are in your name, not in the web agency’s name. If you can, request to pay for those costs directly (not through the web agency) to prevent middle-man fees.
  • Try to secure a project-based fee structure that’s defined ahead of time, rather than an hourly-based contract. Project-based fees can help protect you from ballooned projects that go over on estimated hours. If the person or agency pushes for hourly, establish a cap with clear scope descriptions.
  • Make sure your content is ready for a new website. If the agency is not going to help you review content for SEO, UX, etc., make sure to hire an editor or ask a friend to help you review.
  • Plan for time to test the site. The person or agency should create the site on a test server, so you can view and test a live version before the site becomes live on your server. That helps you make sure you correct any errors before potential clients/customers see it!
  • Design for your audience, not for yourself. Make sure you’re communicating to the designer who your target clients/customers are, and try to design with that target audience in mind! Spend time making sure your web designer truly understands who you’re targeting and what actions you need that target audience to complete on your new site.

Next Steps

When it’s time for you to meet with a potential web designer or agency, consider bringing this list of conversations with you.

And, of course, let us know if we can help! We love #coffeeandideas, and will be happy to help you outline a project, review proposals, and more, just as another excuse to talk about what we love doing!

(And if you’d like to work with us on a new web design project, well, we’d welcome that too!)