The agency dating game is exhausting, let’s be honest. Finding the right partner is a big investment and carries a lot of risk, much like finding a life partner. That’s why we’ve put together some tips, precautions and things to consider when looking for the right web design and development agency.
Cost vs need
Perhaps the most confounding part of finding a web design agency is reconciling the wild discrepancies in price of those you approach. How can one agency estimate $20,000 while another $120,000? Let’s break it down.
There are absolutely situations where a cheap and cheerful WordPress or SquareSpace theme will do the trick. For these sub $10K projects, a freelance designer and developer are probably the best way to go. Normally, these sites are meant to establish credibility and trust, rather than engaging users or convert visitors into customers.
From here, the waters become increasingly ambiguous, with agencies offering everything from templated “one size fits all” solutions and outsourced talent, to entirely customized websites crafted around deep user research.
This variation in approaches to website design and development highlight the importance of our next point.
Know your situation
The more you know about your requirements, stakeholders, customers and competitive environment, the better. Specifically, some key questions to answer before approaching a prospective design agency are:
- What kind of website do I need? (i.e. personal website, e-commerce, portfolio, business website, nonprofit, online community, blog website, etc.)
- Who will be part of the decision making process? What about working on the project itself? What qualifications or talents do they bring to the table?
- What doesn’t work about your existing website?
- Are there any complex features, integrations or functionality that are required?
- What are the goals of your website?
- Do you have any existing market, user or competitive research your partner can build on?
Know your competition
Knowing your competitors––and customers––is vital when crafting an exceptional user/buying experience that embodies your brand and differentiates you from others in your space.
Additionally, researching how your competitors are engaging their customers can reveal new, previously unknown opportunities. For example, say an industry leader has created intuitive search functionality that improves how customers find products across the website; you’ll want to partner with a website design agency that can improve and iterate on your competitor’s strengths.
Similarly, the questions a competitor features on its FAQ section can help inform the kinds of content your site should house.
The web is no longer a place for brands to just show up; it requires continual observation and optimization. And, like in any constantly evolving environment, being up-to-date on what’s coming down the pike is essential if you want to remain competitive.
What factors does Google consider when serving up search engine results? What new devices should inform the user interface of your website? What’s the average internet speed of your users? What might that speed be in a year or two?
Accounting for these trends will not only help identify the right web design and development agency, it’ll help you achieve a higher return on investment in the long run.
About budget, expectations, internal challenges… all of it. Like a marriage, the relational foundation you establish with your web design agency will determine the outcome of a project. That outcome, and the partnership require honesty to succeed. Some signs you’re speaking to an honest, experienced website design agency are:
- They’ll let you know early if there’s a fit, as to not waste your time.
- If there is a potential fit, they’ll work with you to prioritize project requirements, and make any trade-offs needed to help the project stay on time and budget, while achieving its goals.
- If not a fit, the agency should recommend a different website design agency or freelancer who may be a better fit for your project.
The portfolio speaks volumes
An agency should be judged by its body of work and the length of its partnerships. Fancy visuals and awards––while great––can often be manipulated, and are not always an accurate indicator of project success. When reviewing a web design agency’s portfolio, consider the following:
- Has the agency demonstrated its ability to help partners achieve transformational results?
- Has their work increased a website’s usability?
- Have product sales increased since the project’s launch?
- Have operational efficiencies increased?
- Does the new website rank better?
- How does the agency’s work stack up against its competitors?
- How long has the partnership lasted?
The internet is a treasure trove of history. More than what’s on their homepage, dig and see what the history of prospective digital firms.
Communication is a two-way street, and should be clear and transparent on both sides. An agency should prioritize your project, just as you should prioritize your partnership with a prospective agency.
How quickly, and the way in which an agency responds sets the stage for what a future partnership may look like. One-off mistakes aside, it’s wise to keep an eye out for how your prospective partner prioritizes communication.
In summary, we’ve discovered that transparency, alignment and courage are the foundation of all powerful relationships. Regardless of which web design agency you use – big or small, count on the fact that your project will have challenges. In fact, be cautious of any agency that tries to tell you otherwise.
At the end of the day, what determines project success isn’t flawless execution or lack of friction, but how together, you and your agency partner assess challenges and collaborate in achieving a desired result.
Like all relationships, forming a strong relationship with a web design firm takes work. At times, you may feel discouraged, but stick with it. The time and effort you commit to establishing a strong relationship with an agency will make all the difference in the world.