If you or your organization is looking to expand or enhance your online presence, finding the right website design or development partner is one of the most important steps to your success. These days there are certainly no shortage of options to choose from, and that’s a good thing. However, that’s also a problem, since finding the right firm that’s a fit for your specific need is now like search for a needle in a haystack. There are several questions you can ask web design firms to narrow your focus and help you choose the right partner for your project.
Where is the firm located?
A website consultant can work from anywhere provided they have reliable Internet access. That means they can have customers next door and customers on another continent. This is both an advantage (for them) and disadvantage. SIX15 has clients in several states outside of Michigan, but honestly, I can provide the most value to those clients that are local. Having personal access to your developer who’s local is important.
How will success be measured?
Delivering under budget and having a website delivered that adhere’s to website standards is not a strategy. Those are great things, of course, but you can’t measure how a website provides value to your organization by validating it against the HTML5 specification. A good website firm should provide an explanation of the current state, as well as a detailed strategy for the future state and expected results.
What are the deliverables?
Seems obvious that if you’re hiring a web firm to build a website for you, then you’d get a website at the end of the project. What’s not so obvious — and any firm worth talking to should know this — is in addition to that website, you should also receive any support assets for that website and full rights to all those assets. Even more so, regular reports on how well the site is performing (relating to the previous question). These reports are valuable and can be used to find out what needs to be refined post-launch.
What software licenses are involved with the project?
While there are no licenses involved with the language of the web (HTML, CSS, etc), if the website is to use any sort of content management tool such as WordPress, Squarespace, or commerce software such as Shopify or Stripe, the web firm should make you aware of any related recurring fees for those tools. Even certain premium WordPress plugins must be renewed each year to keep the code-base up-to-date and secure. These costs should be explained to yours part of any project discovery.
How will you track visitors and conversions?
To have your new website generate new leads and be a true revenue generator, it takes more than just installing Google Analytics, looking at monthly reports, and calling it a day. Performing A/B tests on copy, buttons, or forms helps to figure out what works best for your intended audience. Heat map tracking software shows you exactly where your visitors are clicking and navigating. These are all tools to help you refine your website to convert website visitors to customers.
How will you communicate status?
I mentioned earlier that having a local firm to work with has its advantages. Whether that’s possible or not, having reliable and regular communication with your website firm is paramount to a successful project. Email alone won’t cut it. Skype, plain old telephone calls, or even online chat sessions are all important. But having a schedule, to-do lists, and being able to electronically share content and needed assets is a must. SIX15 uses Basecamp, the industry leader for online project management.
Will they implement or take advantage of email marketing?
Having a website is a given. It’s 2015 after all. However, email is and probably always will be the default internet tool. It’s not going away. Permission based marketing is on fire right now. Having website visitors trust you with their email address, and providing them value with recurring email campaigns is a proven technique for converting visitors to customers. Setting up an email service and corresponding auto-responders should be a part of any quality website firm’s deliverables.
Do they provide retainer or on-demand maintenance packages?
What happens after your new website goes live? What happens if something happens — you get hacked, a server goes belly-up? Do you have an IT person you can call to get the support you need when you need it? In addition to regular performance reports, as I talked about earlier, a quality web firm will offer maintenance service packages on some sort of retainer scenario. Typically billed monthly or hourly, you should consider this when determining your budget for online marketing.
Will they enable a Content Management tool for the website?
Directly related to ongoing maintenance and upkeep. Have you considered who will be responsible for maintaining content (non-code) on the website? Will the development firm integrate your new website with a CMS such as WordPress, thereby enabling you to maintain all text and images on the website without having to rely on someone else? Content Management tools are commonplace these days, and it’s almost unheard of to publish a site that is not somehow dynamic in nature. Expect more from your web firm than just fire and forget.
Does the web firm have a lengthy, tedious, process?
Having a detailed scope of work is important for any successful web project, and a good web firm should ask for this in the first few conversations with you. And in turn, this scope should dictate the complexity and timeframe for the project. Most firms have a general process in which they organize their teams and deliverables. But not all projects are the same, and a web project should not be shoe-horned into a rigid process. Their process should be tailored for each separate engagement.
Does the web firm understand your objectives and goals?
Assuming you have a goal for your website, and a scope of work that includes specific objectives you’d like to see realized, any web firm you talk to should sit down with you one or more times for a discovery session so that they fully understand what it is that you want. Sometimes in these discovery sessions, what you want and what you actually need are two separate things. Identifying these items can’t happen with one 15 minute phone conversation. You don’t want a technician that simply installs WordPress, slaps a design on it, and click’s publish. You want a web professional that will consult with you to identify real solutions.
There are many other factors that come into play when looking for your next web development partner, and these questions just brush the surface. If you or someone you know is ready to take their online presence to the next level, I would love to chat!