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How to choose a web design agency

How to choose a web design agency what you need to know. 

With endless web design companies out there, choosing a solution for your new or redesigned site can be a daunting task. At first glance, most of your options may seem equal. After all, they all lead to pretty websites, right?

But investing in a new website is a pretty big undertaking for most small and medium businesses. Often, it means spending significant chunk of your annual budget in exchange for a huge marketing asset that you’ll use every single day for the next few years.

So choosing a web design agency that truly has your business’s best interest at heart requires digging a little deeper. While you should trust the professionals to do their job well, you still need to be sure that an agency understands your vision and can deliver on it at a price that works for you before you decide to work with them.

Fortunately, there are some simple questions you can ask yourself to help sort through the agencies out there and find one that will help your business long-term. In this blog post, we’ll walk you through each step of the web design agency search and show you what to look for along the way.

Before shopping for agencies

Before you dive into a rabbit hole of Google searches for top web design agencies, take some time to consider what you really need — and want — in a website. Let the following questions guide your search:

1. What level of expertise and customization can you afford?

The very first thing to consider when starting to look for a web design agency is what kind of website you can safely afford.

Let us be brutally honest with you upfront: If you haven’t budgeted at least a few thousand rands for the project, a DIY website is probably going to be your best option. We say the same thing to companies that approach us looking to pay less than R1500 for a site — that’s simply the starting price range for custom, hand-coded, strategic web design.

Yes, there are literally thousands of articles advising businesses just like yours to steer clear of DIY website builders, with most of them citing generic points like “it won’t be as usable” or “you can’t customize it perfectly.”

They’re not wrong. For a company that’s looking to dramatically boost its online presence and convert significantly more customers, a DIY website is by no means ideal.

How many wix or squarespace website do you see making it to the top of google? Most business owners don't consider that getting a website design is just the start, seo ( ranking on google ) and getting traffic is the important part and this is where wix, squarespace and any design agency that is not in it for the long term with you fail. 

Still, if the budget isn't there, it simply isn’t there. The truth is that you can create a decent-looking website very affordably with drag-and-drop builders like Squarespace or Wix, and for the most part, the templates are fairly well-coded and designed. In a pinch, DIY is better than nothing.

If you do have the budget for it, an agency-built website is by far the better option. The design is always much better because — if your agency uses a fully-custom CMS like New Perspective Design — it’s created from scratch to meet your business’s specific needs and hand-coded for better security and performance. And the vast majority of the time, the underlying strategy and written copy are worlds better, too, given an agency’s collective years of experience in content strategy and brand positioning.

2. What do others in your industry all have in common?

Take a look at the websites of some other businesses in your field, both locally and nationally. What do the majority of them have in common? Are there certain standards that your audience will expect to see on your website, given your industry? Consider features like:

  • Appointment-booking functionality for hospitality and medical professionals
  • Online payment gateways for online stores like Payfast or paypal
  • Store locator for companies with multiple locations
  • Social media logins for SaaS companies
  • Social media sharing buttons for publications, blogs, and media sites

If your company is one that relies heavily on customers in your local market — like wellness clinics or construction contractors — take a deeper look at your local competitors’ websites. These companies draw from the exact same customer pool as you, so chances are you share website visitors. What are your competitors doing well? What are they missing that you can uniquely provide?

When you know what’s standard in your industry and in your market, you’ll be able to have a more educated discussion with an agency later in your search. Then, when it’s time to discuss what features your website should include, you’ll be able to tell the difference between an agency that just wants to tack more billing hours onto the project, and one that actually knows how to take your business to the next level.

3. What is your design aesthetic?

The next step is to consider what design and aesthetic preferences you may already have. This is essentially where the graphic design, branding and marketing departments of a design agency come into play.  Do you feel more at ease when browsing a website with a light color scheme or a dark one? Do you find yourself gravitating more toward serif or sans-serif typefaces?

Redesigning-your-website east london
Redesigning-your-website 

Some of these preferences may not necessarily match up with web design best practices. For example, if you’re a pediatrician, you’ll want to steer clear of dark color schemes, no matter how much you may personally love them. It is essential to understand that your website is not there for you to like but its there to convert your target market and their design tastes may be different than yours. The more time you spend thinking about what you want and need in a website, the more aware of it you’ll be when you spot it in an agency’s portfolio.

4. What are your additional design, marketing and branding needs?

Websites need images and logos to engage your visitors and give them a feel for your company. If you’re building a website for the first time, those images have to come from somewhere, and if you’re redesigning your current site, you may need to revamp your brand’s entire aesthetic to bring it up to date.

Having a professional photographer take images of your business or a graphic designer design a logo for your website may really boost what the web and graphic designers of a agency can do for you, it's not a requirement. 

Once you start shopping for agencies

Now that you have a general idea of what you need and want in a website, it’s time to start looking for the right agency to help bring it to life. Keeping your answers from the previous section in mind, make a list of agencies that also meet the following criteria:

5. Does their portfolio match your preferred aesthetic?

First impressions — how is their work?

Most web design agencies design and build their websites themselves, so consider their site as the very first item in their portfolio. What do you think of it? Does it function smoothly and is it easy to navigate? Do the page designs have a natural flow? Remember, If their site is difficult to use, yours likely will be too if they build it.

Next, browse the work samples they’ve featured in their design portfolio. The goal is to find an agency with past projects that have the same vibe that you’re going for with your new website. Be sure to actually visit the websites they display and get a feel for how they work, many agencies will showcase only a few of their best designs while the rest of their work is terrible. 

If you’re not excited by the other websites an agency has designed, chances are you won’t be excited by what they come up with for your brand. And if you’re not excited or moved by your own website, how can you expect your potential customers to get excited about your company? (You can read more about what customers want to see on your website in our previous blog post.)

6. Do they publish case studies of past clients’ results?

A top web design agency should bring more to the table than just pretty visuals. They also need to back up those designs with solid data that proves their strategies are on point. Their websites should load faster and rank higher than others, and if an agency you’re considering can’t show those kinds of results, it’s a pretty good sign you should keep looking.

You should also look for a team that brings a creative, problem-solving approach to your website. Look for unique functionality across their previous projects, because this shows they take a tailored approach to each client.

Want to know exactly how the sites we’ve designed are doing? Check out some of our work.

7. What do their past clients think of them?

Just because an agency produces visually compelling, strategically sound websites doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be a joy to work with. So the next step in your search for the right web design agency should be to do a deep dive into their online reviews to get a sense of what their past clients really thought of their experience.

Most agencies will feature a few testimonials on their site, and these are a good place to start. Make note of which positive aspects these reviews highlight — like timeliness, communication, and friendliness — and consider whether these align with the qualities you’re looking for.

But don’t stop there.

Remember, agencies choose these reviews specifically because they include glowing praise. To make an educated decision, you need to know what both sides of that working relationship look like. You need to read some unfiltered opinions, too.

Google website design reviews
Google website design reviews

Take a look at their reviews on Google and Facebook, keeping an eye out for real reviews — i.e., feedback from actual clients, not just from friends and family. What’s their average star rating, and how many reviews make up that average? The more reviews there are, the more weight that rating carries. How recent was their last negative review, and what reasons did the client cite for leaving it? Do the other negative reviews mention the same issues? Are these issues dealbreakers for you?

 

Another good source for finding a web design agency that gives its clients the white-glove experience: Clutch. Unlike some other review sites, Clutch conducts real interviews with past clients to compile a “Best Of” list for most major markets. Here at New Perspective Design, we’re honored to have been named one of the “Top East London Web Design Agencies” and “Top East London Web Designers” for the past several years in a row.

 

Once you’ve found a few agencies you like

Having followed the steps in the previous section, you should now have a list of agencies that might be a good fit for you. In this section, we’ll walk you through some of the finer details to consider to help you narrow down your list and ultimately choose one agency above the rest.

You may be able to learn some of this information from the agencies’ websites, but for most of it, you may need to reach out directly and have a discussion about your specific website needs.

8. Do they prioritize user experience?

Your website should be many things: aesthetically pleasing, informative, and compelling — and at the root of it all, it should be functional. While this may seem like a simple topic, user experience should serve as the foundation for your web design agency’s efforts.

Experienced agencies let usability drive everything they do. If you ask why they placed a button where they did, they’ll have a thoughtful response. They take a smart approach to choosing colors, determining spacing, picking fonts, and more. And it’s all because they’re carefully considering how to provide the best possible experience for the user. We have a full article on graphic design theory here.

This is a stark contrast from simply making a website that looks nice, and it can have lasting implications for your business. Consider these examples from InVision:

  • Adding infinite scrolling lowered Time.com’s bounce rate by 15%.
  • ESPN.com experienced a 35% jump in revenue after incorporating community feedback in their design.
  • Choosing a specific shade of blue led to an $80 million increase in Bing’s revenue.
  • Slow page loading speeds cost retailers $2.6 billion in lost sales each year.
  • Website first impressions are 94% design-related.

Perhaps the most important factor that plays into your website’s usability is how mobile-friendly (or responsive) it is. More than half of all website visits come from smartphones now, a percentage that’s increasing each year. And it’s been estimated that by 2020, 45% of all e-commerce will be conducted on mobile devices, compared to just 20% in 2016. So the first step in providing your site visitors with a good user experience is to make your site easy to use on mobile.

Website usage statistics
Website usage statistics

That good user experience leads to happier customers, and it also leads to measurable metrics like lower bounce rates, longer read times, and higher conversion rates. Ask your potential web design agency how they’ll ensure that your new website will be as user-friendly as possible. If they’re prepared to walk you through their approach — and they seem excited to do so — you can bet they’ll think about your users just as passionately when they create your new website.

Take note if they mention search engine optimisation or ask about your marketing plan, this means they are not intending to drop you dead in the water with a traffic less website. 

9. How do they approach website content?

There’s a reason that Moz, an SEO software company and perhaps the largest authority in the SEO world, has nearly 400 blog articles dedicated solely to the topic of content. There’s an overused phrase in the SEO industry that “content is king,” and this statement only becomes more true with each Google update.

Creating website content used to be as simple as dropping keywords onto a page and giving the copy a quick edit. Now, it’s much more complex. The best content marketing is highly strategic, even predicting user intent to determine the entire structure of the site. Its also paired with various other strategies such as social media marketing  to draw users with content in the form of posts, videos and more to your brand and website.  

But most companies don’t know how to approach content correctly. Nor should you have to.

Crafting compelling copy takes practice, skill, lots of trial and error, and a deep knowledge of marketing best practices. That’s a lot to shoulder all on your own, in addition to the day-to-day of running and growing your business.

So as you consider your shortlist of agencies, look for one that demonstrates a strategic, thoughtful approach that proves they know how crucial content is for your website’s success. Because design agencies don't necessarily have industry experience in your field you will often find the best outcomes in terms a website content is one that combines your industry knowledge with their industry knowledge. Giving you the best of both worlds. 

10. What changes do they recommend?

A top web design agency will work closely with you to create a design that fully realizes your vision and functionality needs, starting from Day 1. So before you hire an agency, ask them what major changes they recommend.

Good design isn’t arbitrary, and a good agency knows that. Any designer you work with should be able to back up their choices, and you should feel confident that they have a plan for success. If they can’t, or if you don’t, that’s a big sign that they may not be the right fit for your project.

11. Do they work from templates or scratch?

There’s a pretty big divide in the web design world between designers who use templates and those who start from scratch on each project. We’ve seen our fair share of each, and while you can end up with a decent website through either method, we prefer designing from scratch and coding by hand each time.

Imagine that you just shelled out $7,000-$12,000 for a major piece of custom digital real estate. The website looks beautiful, and you’re thrilled to show it off … until you realize that it looks eerily similar to about 15 other websites that same agency built.

If we had to guess, we’d say you probably would feel a bit cheated. At the very least, you probably wouldn’t be thrilled.

Starting from scratch with each new website we build lets us adapt our designs to your specific needs while giving you a look that’s all your own. And in our eyes, there’s really nothing better than a site that’s 100% your own (to say nothing of the superior functionality).

12. Do they test before launching?

Testing may be the most important part of building a website because it highlights gaps in functionality and user experience. Nobody wants to pay for a site that breaks the first time someone clicks away from the homepage or that only looks right on one specific browser.

Building a new website and not testing it before launch is like cooking a new recipe and not tasting it before you serve it to guests — there’s simply no way to tell if you’re delivering something that’s high quality. And if an agency doesn’t test for quality, you’ve got to wonder: Where else are they cutting corners?

Good web design agencies test every function of your website multiple times on at least the 4 main browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge/Internet Explorer), and test both the desktop and mobile versions from Apple, Windows, and Google devices called responsive web design. If an agency you’re considering doesn’t check all of these boxes, we advise you to move on to the next one on your list.

13. Will you own your site once it’s live?

You may not know this, but some web design agencies retain ownership of the sites they build. This makes it hard for you to make changes as needed down the road, and can even allow them to repurpose your design and content for other clients.

Look for an agency that gives you full ownership and copyright of any marketing assets they create for you, like websites, logos, mobile apps, etc. It’s common practice to allow them to use your website (or other materials) in their portfolio and distribute it to their social media channels and email lists. But other uses, like copying your site for a competitor, should be strictly forbidden.

14. What’s included in the price?

This is a question you should be very clear on before signing an agreement to work with a web design agency. Websites can be pricey projects as it is, so it’s important to be crystal clear on what you’re signing up for. Ask specific, detailed questions like:

  • Does the quoted website design price include special features, like scheduling capabilities, a members-only area, or an app?
  • How will they bill for extra work that wasn’t in the original project scope?
  • How many rounds of revisions will they provide?
  • How much will you need to pay upfront, and will there be any payment milestones throughout the build?
  • Is there an additional fee for copywriting your website content?
  • Will they provide ongoing technical or SEO support?

While the answers to these questions are really up to each specific agency, be sure that the answers they provide fit within your expectations and what you’re comfortable with paying.

15. What does your gut say?

Throughout this process, remember that nothing beats a direct conversation with the experts who will be working on your website. The right agency for you will be one that’s happy to answer your questions and be honest with you every step of the way.

Above all, trust your gut. Never underestimate the value of “clicking” with a design team, and don’t pursue a working relationship that will leave you feeling uneasy about your investment.

We here at New Perspective Design believe wholeheartedly that your website should be both beautiful and functional. If yours is lacking in either department, we’re here to help. Tell us all about your project, and don’t forget to ask us any questions you have about our process.

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