Choosing a web design agency is one of the most important decisions that a business can make. Businesses that understand the importance of having a well designed and developed website are investing in the long-term success of the company.
In many cases, a visit to your website is the first time a customer interacts with your brand — and they will draw conclusions about your business based on this interaction. There’s a reason why first impressions are so important.
If a visitor to your website encounters a clunky design and muddled experience, they may bounce away (most likely to your competitor) and search of other options immediately. If your website design is clean and guides the visitor naturally through different pages (keeping them on your website longer) you are creating the foundation for a long-term relationship.
When you choose a web design agency, all of this can be at stake — if you don’t know how to identify the best web development company.
7 practical tips when vetting your web design agency
Look for a web design agency that avoids overly trendy designs
A website is an investment and, like any worthwhile investment, it should keep providing value to your business for years to come. As a 30-something career woman living in New York City, I like to compare good web design to a pair of classic black heels. Investing in a quality pair of classic heels that I can wear many different places — such as the office, meetings, and dinner — is much better than purchasing a new pair of shoes every time a fast fashion house sends something down the runway.
Web design agencies that favor classic designs understand that being trendy will get your brand noticed, but not always in a positive way. Trends fall out of fashion as quickly as they come into it, meaning that you’ll have to constantly pay to update your design scheme in pursuit of the next hot thing.
There’s a significant difference between modern web design that could never be mistaken for something that appeared on a GeoCities page in the 1990s, and trendy design that will look outdated in a year or two. Effective, modern web design is always centered around intuitiveness, user-friendliness, and timeless aesthetics; as opposed to trendy design, which is rooted in gimmicks and a desire to draw attention to itself.
The best web designers understand how design and copy work together
When clients come to Big Drop for web design, we always emphasize the importance of using visual aesthetics to make your written copy more powerful. Unless you are running a photography business, you most-likely have copy and content (think: product/service descriptions, your mission statement, blog, statistics) which a good web design agency can make stronger using visual expressions.
It is rare that a company’s website serves one purpose and has only one stakeholder. Instead, businesses today use their website as their hub on the internet and have many different types of visitors: potential customers, existing customers, other businesses interested in partnerships, media and press information, and location information. Most-likely, the bulk of the content on your website will come in the form of copy, which is why it’s important that you have a classic and clean design that can properly render it on all types of devices.
A talented web designer will focus on the overarching user experience and messaging being conveyed in the content — and use their best practices to develop a website that helps visitors of all types find the information they came for quickly and efficiently. After all, you can have the best designed website in the world, but if a prospect or a customer can’t easily find what they’re looking for on the site, it will be for naught.
Project managers and web designers should understand your goals and ideas
Innovative web design agencies will come prepared to your planning sessions by having researched your brand and your needs. They should also have some creative ideas about what kind of design elements could have the biggest impact on your digital presence.
While you are certainly relying on them for their expertise about web design and development, it’s important that they listen to and understand your goals, refraining from being dismissive about your particular ideas for the website. After all, the best web design agencies will rely on you to be the expert around your business and goals; they will take those goals and build a website around them.
For instance, many lackluster web designers may view the quality of their proposed work only through the lens of the design itself, ignoring your concerns about whether or not the redesign will have the desired effect on conversions. Your website exists for very specific reasons, and a quality agency will always listen to these reasons and work with you to accomplish your ideal outcomes. 1
Insist on viewing a large variety of live websites
Life before the internet: it existed and there were businesses that provided valuable products/services that would later be cannibalized by their digital counterparts.
The music industry was one of the first industries to struggle with adapting and managing their product in a digital environment. Upset over copyright infringement violations, which file sharing services like Napster facilitated, and unsure how to respond to new market entrants, like Apple’s iTunes store, many music companies and artists struggled to evolve their business model into one that was profitable. Today, the arguments continue over streaming services, like Spotify and Apple Music, that pay fractions of a penny for each song played.
Other examples of industries that had difficulties adapting to the new digital market: booksellers and authors, magazines and traditional news publishers, TV and network cable stations, and telco providers. Companies in these high-risk industries had a lot to lose, and, ultimately, many of them weren’t able to adapt.
The ones who did successfully adapt did so by shifting many of their products/services to a digital format. Those that could not simply shift their products/services to a digital format, took the next logical route: adding digital products/services to their portfolio and marketing it to their large database of prospects.
One of the digital products/services that legacy businesses sell is website design and development.
While I am certainly not suggesting that the websites that these legacy businesses design and develop are inferior, I do encourage you to ask for a few different examples of live websites when viewing their portfolio. The reason is simple: many are templated and do not incorporate modern SEO best practices. If you are investing in a website, you want the final product to be unique to your business goals.
Big Drop is always proud to show off our latest work (including live websites). If a potential client were to send me an email right now about some portfolio pieces, I could provide them with live websites sorted by industry, B2C/B2B, company size, goals, e-commerce, etc. We also post our portfolio in many different places, including Behance and Dribbble which are popular graphic and web design communities.
Mediocre web designers, who may be exaggerating their capabilities, and the legacy businesses I referenced previously will want to impress you by showing you static screenshots of their most beautiful design work. These types of website providers know that they don’t excel when it comes to websites that use design, SEO, and UX/UI best practices — so instead they will try to entice you to sign a contract based on the aesthetic quality of the work alone.
When vetting web design agencies, always choose to partner with a firm that will allow you to experience live versions of websites they have designed. This is the only way to know for certain that their designers have the ability to create pages that will not only be superficially beautiful, but also provide a natural and logical digital journey for your customers.
Responsive web design (RWD) is non-negotiable
Responsive design is a web development technique that allows desktop webpages to be viewed in response to the size of the screen or web browser a visitor is using. A site designed with responsive web design adapts the layout to the viewing environment by using fluid, proportion-based grids, flexible images, and CSS3 media queries.
Responsive web design has become even more crucial as the use of mobile devices grows.
To address the changing device environment, in April 2015 Google changed its search algorithm to devalue websites that were not mobile-friendly/responsively-designed. If a drop in your website search ranking wasn’t incentive enough to use responsive design for your next website redesign, consider the fact that tablet consumption increased by 30% from the end of 2013 to the end of 2015, and smartphone consumption grew by an astounding 78% during the same period.2
Companies must be prepared for the continuation of this phenomenon by incorporating responsive design into their platforms. Responsive design provides website visitors with a seamless and well-designed experience no matter which type of device they use by automatically formatting the content to fit each user’s specific screen.
Quality web design firms know how to help you choose a CMS
A content management system (CMS) allows you to control and manage the content on your website, without technical training and programming experience. A CMS stores all your website’s assets and lets you manage them easily, whether you want to edit text or delete an image.
The most popular CMS are:
Regardless of the industry your business is part of, it’s almost impossible for contemporary companies to compete in the digital landscape without the aid of a content management system. Content reigns supreme among modern business websites, and your design template and content management system must bring out the best attributes of each other in order to both engage the reader and give them the information they need to confidently make a purchase.
The best web design agencies have a thorough understanding of the content management system’s role for the company. They will work with you to choose a CMS that makes sense for your business goals, and create a UX that takes unique advantage of the CMS to drive value for the customer.
Remember to retain ownership rights
Creating a digital presence for an organization can lead to some sensitive issues regarding intellectual property. This is especially true as it relates to ownership of the code after the new website has gone live. It is important that you choose a digital agency who, by default, relinquishes ownership rights of the assets they create for clients as part of their working agreement.
Your website should be a living breathing being — and be updated with fresh content on a regular basis. To make these content updates and additions, you will need access to the CMS and code that powers your website. Unless you plan to have your web design agency manage your business’s website eternally, avoid choosing a partner that locks you into their content management system or other proprietary system and always opt for open source coding.
In addition to the copy and code of your website, you should also be given copies of the photography, videos, and images created for your website. After all, you can reuse that content on your social media pages, in printed marketing collateral, email blasts…the list is endless.
Agencies with integrity know that their work speaks for itself, and their customers will keep returning to them because of this fact and the relationships that they maintain. Carefully review the contents of your agreement to ensure that your organization retains ownership of all website assets once the project has been completed.