Jun 16, 2011

How to Choose A Web Design Company

Let’s face it. There are a lot of web design companies out there to choose from – big companies, little one-man shops, foreign contractors, hosted solution providers, local vendors, and more. Choosing the right web design firm for your website development or redesign can sometimes be daunting with all the choices out there. Here are some guidelines to help you find the right fit for your company’s needs, personality, and budget.

Types of Web Design Companies

Big Web Development Companies

A big web development firm can be anywhere from 10 employees to 200 or more.  Obviously, one major advantage of working with a “big” company is having all of that talent and expertise at your disposal.  Typically, once a web development team grows beyond a handful of members, the individuals will have specific areas of expertise and specialization, giving you a diverse group of professionals and experience to draw upon.

Potential Pitfalls
However, in order to actually benefit from a large company’s size, you’ll want to make sure that all of those people work together in the same building in a collaborative environment. Just because a web design company lists 100 employees on their website, doesn’t mean any of those people have ever met; they could all be sub-contractors who work individually on projects.  Be sure to confirm that your website won’t be developed by someone working out of their home office… if you’re going to pay “big company” prices, you shouldn’t be getting one-man shop results.

Another potential problem area can be communications and bureaucracy.  Sometimes, big companies get too big.  So instead of speaking directly with the designers and programmers working on your project, you’ll need to go through an Account Representative, a Project Manager and maybe even an electronic feedback system.  All of these layers add cost and time to your project.  They also remove you from directly interacting with the people who will have the most impact on the success of your website.

Small and One-Man Web Design Shops

Most web design companies have less than 10 employees.  In fact, the majority of the results that come up for “web designer” in the search engines will be web development companies with only one to three permanent developers.  If you’re looking for personalized service and a one-on-one relationship with your web designer, this can be a real benefit.

Potential Pitfalls
However, there can be very serious drawbacks.  The first is the potential lack of specialized experience.  Be very careful to make sure that the charming web design company that you are researching has the specific technical know-how required for your project.  For instance, if you are in the market for an e-commerce website, be sure the web design company has experience programming that type of site.

In addition, make sure the programmer or developer who will be performing the work on your project is part of their full-time team.  One of the biggest issues many clients run into when dealing with smaller web design companies is the “disappearing” programmer syndrome.  While this is not guaranteed to happen, you’ll want to review customer referrals and the company’s team bios to make sure they are stable enough to complete your project in a timely and effective manner.

Marketing Firms

Many times, you’ve already established a relationship with a Marketing or Print company. They designed your brochures, letterhead and business cards, so when it comes time to build a website it might make sense to keep your business with the same company.  This is a good solution for many entry-level websites.  If you only need a few pages with no programming or content management, a marketing firm can design a good-looking website in keeping with your existing brand.

Potential Pitfalls
Be wary of embarking on a larger, more complex project with a marketing firm though.  Web design and development is a highly specialized field, and a marketing firm that concentrates primarily on print may not have the expertise you need to build a successful website.  Elements like search engine optimization, programming, custom design, mobile development, hosting, and content strategy for the web are likely to be weak or overlooked in your website project.  Any money you might have saved by “bundling” your services might be lost by an ineffective website. Ask whether they have a dedicated web development staff, then see above regarding small and one-man shops to avoid potential pitfalls.

Local vs. National or Foreign Vendors

The wonders of the internet and technology means that you are no longer limited to doing business with local vendors only; you can choose the web design firm that fits your needs and budget, whether they’re located around the corner or around the globe. In general, the main benefit to working with a local web design company is the convenience and comfort of working with a development team face to face – you can visit their office and speak with them directly.  For national or foreign web development firms, generally, you’ll have a broader variety of skills and expertise to choose from.

Potential Pitfalls of Local Firms

Sometimes the convenience and reassurance of looking your web designer in the eye might come at the expense of experience and skill-set.  If you are located in a very small town, you may only have one or two web designers to choose from, and they each might have only limited portfolios and expertise.  However, you should never assume!  The global reach of the Internet makes it possible for some web designers to ply their craft from the middle of nowhere… be sure to ask questions and determine the company’s qualifications before you rule them out.

Potential Pitfalls of National or Foreign Firms

If your project calls for complex, custom programming, you may be tempted to seek out a web development company in a large city, or maybe seek out that big-name company that was featured in a magazine.  Be aware that many times these companies will be much more expensive.  You’ll want to be sure that their portfolio and qualifications justify the added expense.

Plus, coordinating a project via telephone and web conference can either be incredibly smooth or a horrible nightmare.  Ask the potential company about their process?  Do they have a set process with phases? Will you be able to preview work as it is being completed? Will there be regular, open communications between the development team and your company’s decision makers? How does it all work?

Another detail – make sure any time difference will not be prohibitive.  If it is nearly impossible to speak to that firm in LA because your company’s hours in South Carolina  only overlap for a few hours, then the time frame for your project will almost certainly be extended unless the web design company you’re working with has developed a system for working around this issue.

Hosted Solutions and Do-It-Yourself Templates

There are many do-it-yourself solutions available online – just Google “website templates” and you’ll get more results than you can sort through.  Popular examples include the Godaddy.com Website Tonight service, Wix, and Yola.  These website solutions promise to get you online fast by letting you choose a design from a pre-made gallery, upload your logo and photos, add your pages, and launch your site.You’ll typically have no setup or initial design fees, just low monthly or yearly costs for the service.

Potential Pitfalls

While these might be ideal for small companies with a limited budget, you really do get what you pay for.  If it is important for your website to compliment and reinforce your company’s branding and image, a template is a bad solution for you.  You run the risk of looking cheap and generic to customers who find you online.  You’d almost be better off without a website.

In addition, if you ever wish to move your website to another provider (perhaps your website goes down every afternoon because of poor hosting quality), you’ll be forced to start from scratch.  You can’t actually “move” your website to a new website host, since the template design is not owned by you, just borrowed.  Finally, customization is impossible.  If you need anything outside the box, a do-it-yourself website system simply won’t do the trick.

So now that you have an overview of your choices, here are some questions to ask potential web design companies to help you make the right decision for your company’s website.

Questions to Ask When Choosing a Web Design Company

  1. How big is your team? What are the individual team members’ specialties?
  2. Is everyone full-time and located in the same office? Do you use sub-contractors for specific portions of website development?
  3. How long has your company been designing websites?
  4. Have you been recognized with industry awards?
  5. What is the typical turn-around time for a website my size?
  6. Can I speak directly with the web designer and/or programmer who will be working on my website?
  7. Do I own full copyright to my website design once it is paid for and published online?
  8. Can I move my website to another host if necessary? Would there be fees involved?
  9. Will I be choosing from a template design, or will I get a custom design created just for my website?
  10. If I get a custom design, how many design revisions can I expect during the design phase?
  11. Are the following included in website development: search engine optimization, content strategy/copy writing,  website statistics, reporting?

Want to Learn More About the Website Development Process?

Learn How to Wreck Your Website Project in Four Easy Steps
Read 13 Reasons Not to Design By Committee
Make sure your Your Website Matches Your Business

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