Practical questions to ask when appointing a web design agency

We work with lots of design agencies and constantly get asked by our clients for recommendations.  Sometimes clients come to us with a preferred partner and we ask the ‘tough’ practical questions that could help avoid unforeseen problems down the road. 

Q1. Will the project be completed entirely in-house?

Consider asking for details of the specific team who will work on your project, and their recent or relevant experience. This is good to know in itself but can also reveal whether the web design agency intends to outsource your work to another company or freelancer, possibly overseas. 

It may be worth asking if there are any technical areas that the web developers aren’t proficient in. If you have specific plans and ideas in your head, are they able to fulfil them?

Q2. How do the team come up with their ideas?

Is the website going to be fully customised or will it use a template?  If so it may not be unique and therefore may not stand out. 

  • What Content Management System (CMS) will be used?
  • How easy is it to update?

Q3. What happens next?

What process does the agency use to roll the platform out to you and your team.

  • How much on-site training do they provide?
  • How much is required?

What about maintenance after the initial build, will you have to pay for every update/change?

  • What is their process post build?
  • Do they offer support or is that for you to manage? 
  • What is their hourly rate?
  • Many do 15-minute billing as a minimum, so costs can build up if you ask for small changes that just take a minute or two

Q4. Who else have they worked with in your industry or using a similar project brief?

Pick some of their case studies from their site and ask how long the project took to complete. 

  • Are you able to speak to some of their relevant clients?
  • No use speaking to a hairdresser about their ‘portfolio’ site if you have an e-commerce build
  • What work are they most proud of, do you like it, is it fit for purpose?

Take a look at their website, do you like it?  Can you navigate it?

  • Does the brief fall within a scope they would call their “sweet spot”?
  • How big or important will this project be for their business?
  • This will highlight if you are priority client, you don’t want to bottom of the pecking order dealing with a junior.

Q5. Do you have ownership of your domain?

Imagine the agency that is managing your website is no longer reachable, leaving you with a website that is eventually going to be taken down due to your domain and hosting lapsing. 

  • What happens in the event that you would love to work with a different designer/developer in the future?
  • Will you have the files for internal use in the future?
  • Many web designers will use Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop to make custom graphics for your site that aren't possible to be made in your website building platform.
  • You need to have these files, both the completed ones and the original files. It will make your life easier in the long run when you want to change something.

Q6. Will the site be optimised before it goes live, or will you need to pay for that to be done after?

To raise your Google ranking it is important that your website is both mobile optimised and optimised for search engines. This will help to generate visitors to your website. Some web developers aren’t good at SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) so it is worth asking them about their skills, if they intend to outsource it, and what experience they have with SEO. 

You can always hire a specialist SEO agency.

Q7. The build process – how does the process work, and how long can you expect it to take?

#1 The sitemap – This is a map of all the pages to be included on the website and is usually formatted in a ‘flow’ diagram. This is really important and the UX (User Experience) needs to be carefully considered.

#2 Wireframes – Wireframes are important to show the structural layout of the site, and to highlight areas of functionality such as links, forms, feeds etc. This is the blueprint of your site.

#3 Design – The design of the website is produced before building the site. This gives you the opportunity to feedback before the development phase begins. Designs usually include the homepage, an internal page, a product/service page and sometimes the blog. Generally, it covers the designs of all the varying layouts within the website.

#4 Development – This is where the designs are produced as a fully functioning website. It is always nice to do this on an online development environment (do they use one?) so that you’re able to see the process at agreed milestones.

#5 Snagging – This allows you to test the site fully, across various devices and browsers, to ensure things work how they should. Snagging notes are often then passed back to the developers to address any issues before going live with the site.  Ask how many revisions/rounds of edits are included in the price.

It is important that these steps are in place as they provide a solid structure to the process. A time schedule should also be produced with deadlines for completion of each phase. This is important for keeping the project on track and delivered on time. Don’t be a stop on progress, they can only reach agreed milestones if you sign things off / respond in a timely manner. Things do not happen overnight, so if you have a week for review, expect a week for revisions.

Finally

Make sure you have a contract in place, that spells out what you’ll be paying for, what the deliverables are within the stages and who owns the licenses etc. Think of it as a house build, if you want to be in by Christmas you want a contract that states as much.