No matter your particular reason for wanting a website—a personal blog, new corporate identifier or budding e-commerce business perhaps—it’s tempting to go the cheap and easy route when hiring someone to design the site. Indeed, many people fall prey to some typical pitfalls: getting a friend or family member to do the work, looking for the least expensive designer possible, letting a designer run amok and getting a final product you don’t like—the list goes on and on.
However, by doing a little homework and using some common sense it’s easy to avoid the most common mistakes made when finding a designer. Here are six questions to ask that can protect you on your quest to engage the perfect website builder.
1. Is your designer a legitimate business or an accredited freelancer with a strong portfolio and excellent recommendations?
Like any industry—tech or otherwise—there will always be those who whose work stands out and those who treat their job like a hobby or diversion. And in web design there are far too many of the latter. To begin, ensure the web design firm you’re investigating is a real business: thoroughly check their references with a phone call or email and go through their portfolio. And don’t forget to inspect their website for quality and to see if it has the elements you’d want in your own site. In the end it’s far more unlikely that a reputable firm will do shoddy work and run off with your money (this happens more often than one would think), and a professional firm will have the experience in dealing with clients, will listen to their wants and needs and will provide solid and useful feedback.
2. Will they be responsive to your questions or concerns?
One of the most prevalent complaints from clients is a lack of timely responses—or any response for that matter—to queries. And this is why it’s important, as noted above, to check references thoroughly. When you call with a problem, need something explained in layman’s terms or even just want to change a certain element of your site, your web designer should get back to you in a reasonable amount of time. This is especially critical if you need files released and the designer is dragging their feet: you should never feel like you, your site or your information is being held hostage based on another person’s inability to manage their time. Non-profits should be especially sensitive to this problem—if the designer doesn’t feel as though they’re making enough money for their work, they may be more likely to be unresponsive to questions, complaints and necessary site fixes.
3. Will they build your site from scratch or use a template?
You want your website to stand out, and the best way to ensure this is to have a firm or designer build it from scratch. Sites based on templates tend to look generic—if you feel like your getting a steal on a site design, chances are it’s a pre-fab and your sacrificing a lower price for quality. So insist on originality that reflects your brand and distinguishes it from others in the field. Remember, a solid web site is an important investment in your company or organization.
4. Will they provide you with a Content Management System (CMS)?
If you want to manage the site yourself without having to learn to write code, ask the designer or web firm to develop it within a CMS framework. With it you can edit, add and delete pages from anywhere, a nice option for those who like hands-on involvement. The platforms—insist on one that’s “open source”—are relatively easy to pick up and you won’t have to worry about chasing down the designer every time you want to make a change. Note: don’t ever agree to using a proprietary CMS touted by your designer or web firm, as you can easily get locked in to using their platform exclusively. This can translate into major headaches if their CMS is clunky, complicated or an outright nightmare to learn and use.
5. Will they incorporate Search Engine Optimization (SEO) into your site?
Here is where you need to ask the right questions. A serious web firm or designer should know the principles of SEO back and forth beyond just meta tags and keywords. It’s a vital component if your site is going to be indexed properly by search engines, and can make a big difference in terms of traffic—visits equal click-throughs which, in turn, compute to a solid user base that impacts your bottom line whether it’s sales, donations, volunteer recruitment etc.
6. Is the contract clear and concise?
This should be a no-brainer to anyone on the search for a designer. The contract should lay out all the specifics for what’s expected from both parties, including time frames for completed work, expectations of satisfaction with the completed site, follow-up support from the designer or firm and, of course, a listing of fees for every aspect of the project.