Posted on 10th Apr, 2017
by James Pardoe
by James Pardoe
The Standard Approach
1. The SearchI’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you need a new website. You probably googled something like “website design Dubai” and saw a long list of providers, each of which said they are the best at what they do. Hmm...
2. The EnquiryYou clicked on a few, browsed their sites briefly, and sent an inquiry to the ones you liked the look of.
3. The First EngagementSome of them got back to you and you’ve had a chat. You arranged a meeting with the ones you liked.
4. The Initial MeetingEach company you met with gave an elaborate presentation on how they are the best.
On the surface, they all seem so perfect. So what now? How do you really know if they are the best? What does that even mean?
How do you decide who is best for YOU?
This article shines a light under the facade to help you to identify the truly great web design companies, and which one of those is likely to be the best fit for your own unique requirements and business objectives.
A Process of EliminationWith so many potential providers vying for your business, you need a way to whittle them down to just one. I’ll show you how to do that through a process of elimination.
To help, each section ends with an Elimination Check. Any company that fails the check can be eliminated from your list. There are 16 checks and I’ll explain each one as we go along.
The Most Important ConsiderationBefore you approach anyone, have a think about what it is that you need. You need a website (duh!), but why do you need a website?
Here are a few scenarios which may resonate with you:
- You’ve just launched a company
- Your company’s website needs updating
- You want to improve your reputation
- You want to show off your work
- You need to sell products online
- Customers are finding your competitors instead
- You want to provide information or extra value to your customers
This brings us to the first elimination check.
Elimination Check 1: Do they understand that the core purpose of a website is to generate business?
If an agency is focused on creating a website “for the sake of it” or “to look good”, then what is the likelihood of them creating one that generates large quantities of sales or inquiries? How will you realize a high return on your investment?
What’s Your Budget?We all want the very best but very few of us can afford it. It’s important to find a provider who can deliver you something of value without crippling you financially. To find out what you should expect for your money, take a look at my article on how much a website costs.
“Would you rather invest a small amount into something that returns nothing, or a large amount into something that returns a lot?”
The price of a website is an important consideration from a cash flow perspective, but remember that a well-designed website will generate business. It’s an investment, not a cost. Would you rather invest a small amount into something that returns nothing, or a large amount into something that returns a lot?
No matter how much you invest in your new website, if it’s going to generate a lot more business then it’s worth it.
That’s why generating business through the site is more important than your initial investment.
With that in mind, if you think you’ve found a provider that can deliver a high performing website but their price is too high, speak to them about trimming down the features or number of pages until the price is comfortable for you. Alternatively, ask them about their payment structure; maybe you can spread out the investment over a few months.
Elimination Check 2: This one’s obvious: Can you afford them?
There’s no point in having an amazing website if the company has gone bankrupt!
Types of Service ProviderThere is a range of providers available which suit different types of businesses.
Companies Vs. FreelancersFreelancers are usually the cheapest way of getting a site created because they have fewer overheads. Only work with freelancers that come recommended because they are notorious for disappearing mid-project or delivering sub-par work.
Keep in mind that when you hire a freelancer you get one person. To create a website from start to finish, you need to consider user experience and be objective focused, design something beautiful, and program that into something high quality and interactive. This means you need to be analytical, creative and logical. This is a very rare combination and you don’t want to end up with a jack-of-all-trades because the outcome will be sub-par.
You’ll probably need to hire two or three freelancers to get the job done well. You’ll also need to be available to manage the project and perform regular quality checks yourself.
If you hire a company you’ll get a whole team of individuals who are more specialized in their given tasks. For example, you generally have User Experience Designers, User Interface Designers, Programmers and QC Testers working on your website through the different phases of the project. Depending on resources, more than one person at a time can be allocated to work on your project, which means your website is completed faster.
Another benefit of hiring a company is that you are given a Project Manager who will have experience in driving the team to create a website from start to finish.
In short, the output of a company will be higher quality and delivered in less time than a freelancer, so only opt for a freelancer if you can’t afford to go with a company.
Development CompaniesDevelopment companies specialize in software engineering. Because of this, they may not be willing or able to provide the user experience or design aspects of the project.
Engineers are great for solutions, but aesthetics? Not so much...
These are the key elements that ensure a website generates business for you (would you buy the above shower or sofa?). Therefore, I’d only recommend approaching a development company if you already have everything else ready and just need it coded.
Creative AgenciesThe strength of creative agencies is, of course, their creativity. Due to this they usually lend themselves well to advertising, innovation, and design. They are hired by the Cokes and Nikes of this world because they are good at increasing brand awareness and attracting attention in new and exciting ways.
Creative agencies often offer website design services, but keep in mind it’s not their specialization. You’ll probably get a very good looking website, but that’s only one piece of the pie.
Their specialization is on non-interactive design (such as print or video). A website is a whole different animal and so you may not get the user experience, conversion-centric design and cross-device compatibility that you need.
Digital Marketing Agencies (Digital Agencies for short)A website is actually a marketing tool. It’s the final stop before the visitor becomes part of the sales cycle. That’s why Digital Marketing Agencies are heavily focused on website design.
There are two types of Digital Agencies: Creative and Performance.
Digital Creative Agencies overlap with the category above, though they have more expertise on the digital side and will be able to give you a good-looking website that is cross-device compatible.
Performance Agencies are measured on the results of their marketing strategies. As such, they are more focused on creating websites that generate business for their client. That means they address all of the key elements that ensure a website’s success.
The really good Digital Marketing Agencies are able to combine creativity and performance to create websites that generate business and look good (because reputation and quality perception have an impact).
One added benefit of hiring a Digital Agency is that once the site is launched, the same agency can then support you in marketing your company as well.
Elimination Check 3: Are they the right type of company for your business objectives?
It can be very tempting to be seduced by a great looking website portfolio. Be sure to check the processes behind the scenes to make sure they have considered every step of the journey. Ask for case studies on how the website impacted the client’s business and generated more sales. Try the websites on your mobile phone and other devices/browsers to make sure they still look good. Are the websites easy to use? Don’t accept images of websites as the finished product.
Providers sometimes specialize in a specific industry such as F&B or Retail. In the UAE, the choice is more limited and there are very few (if any) who specialize exclusively in one industry. Check the provider’s client list to get an idea of whether they’ve worked with companies in your industry before.
If a company has never worked with your industry, it doesn’t mean they can’t support you, but it should be a consideration for elimination. Do you think there will be a steep learning curve for them to truly understand what you do and who your target audience is?
A rule of thumb I’d suggest: If they haven’t worked in your industry before, see if they ask a lot of questions about your company, industry and target audience. A company whose team is inquisitive and eager to learn about you is probably willing and able to learn about a new industry and its quirks.
Elimination Check 4: Are they able to understand your industry?
My own experience with outsourcing is limited, but that which I have had has been painful. Speaking to some of our team who have done it extensively, the feedback is not great either. The consensus is that outsourcing your project abroad can have price benefits, but it generally comes at a cost in terms of the website’s business performance, quality of output and communication.
Local or International?
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule and if you’ve had a positive experience I’d love to hear about it!
You should also consider the company’s understanding of the local market and your target audience. Different audiences are influenced in different ways and their societal and cultural values and beliefs do make a big difference. So your chosen company should understand your target audience and what makes them tick.
As with above, a provider that asks lots of the right questions is usually able to overcome these obstacles through research.
Elimination Check 5: Do they understand your target audience?
The Human Element
Next, you need to consider your working style. Are you hands-on or hands-off? Do you want frequent communication? Do you want a lot of control or say, or are you happy to leave it to the experts?
You’re going to be working closely with your chosen company for a number of months, so it’s important that you feel comfortable and that your personality fits well with their company culture. Make sure the company understands your expectations in this regard because if you don’t fit on a human level, a positive outcome from the project is unlikely.
“If they struggle to communicate before the sale, what will they be like after it?”
I would recommend meeting the person you’ll be in constant contact with throughout the process. Ask them how they prefer to communicate, how frequently, and to what degree of control they tend to give clients. Send them a few emails and call them to see if they answer. This will shed light on how effectively they communicate with you.
Don’t kid yourself. If they struggle to communicate before the sale, what will they be like after it?
One last titbit on the subject; keep in mind that behind the scenes, if the provider and the team like you, they will want to help you. So if your way of working and your values align with theirs, it will be of great benefit to you.
Elimination Check 6: Do you work well together? Do you like them?
Be brutally honest with yourself. Your gut feeling is often right. If you feel excited to work with them and comfortable/happy in their presence, that’s a great sign!
After-Sales SupportAfter-sales support is something that’s rarely considered before the website is completed, but often vital to the life of the website once it’s live. Unfortunately, we’re approached by people who have quite often been let down by their agency after the sale has been completed.
The best way to check if the agency has strong after-sale support is to ask them for references. Call up their past clients and ask this specific question.
Another good way is to find out what drives the agency. For example, our highest priority is our reputation, so if any issues with the website crop up after we’ve launched it, we will fix them free of charge because we care about the quality of our work. An agency that cares more about sales and profit may have a different attitude.
Top-tip: If you think that you’ll need a lot of support to make changes to your website on a regular basis, ask the agency if they offer maintenance packages. You can often get more value out of this rather than paying for ad-hoc work. If they don’t already have a maintenance package in place, question why.
Elimination Check 7: Will they support you once the website is live?
Are you referring to questioning on the level of after-sale support provided by the agency?
Established agencies have a pre-qualification process to ‘qualify’ you and your business. This process ensures that agencies don’t spend time on prospects that don’t fit or who are unlikely to close.
If you find yourself being pre-qualified, this is actually a very good sign. It shows you that the company (A) has established processes in place to ensure consistency and quality, and (B) they are good enough to pick and choose their clients. Furthermore, if you fit their criteria it means that they probably work with other companies in similar circumstances to yours.
One thing to note: You probably won’t know that you’re being pre-qualified. It’s not a polite thing to tell someone! The way you’ll know is if they ask you lots of questions about your objectives and budget and don’t talk a great deal about themselves. Pre-qualification happens during the very first communication that the agency has with you (usually over the phone), but may also span into your first meeting with them.
Elimination Check 8: Do they care about who they work with? If not, why not?
Things you should consider
Cross-compatibilityWebsites can be viewed across a range of devices like desktop computers, tablets, and mobile phones. Each of these devices has different screen sizes, different proportions, and different resolutions. Not only that, but there are also multiple different browsers used on these devices, each of which renders code slightly differently.
You want your website to look amazing on every device that your potential customers use. This means that the final website should be cross-compatible.
I recommend checking the provider’s websites on as many different devices and browsers as you can, to make sure that they look consistent across them all. They should look good, but also be easy to use and navigate. If you notice any issues, this could indicate a lack of cross-compatibility in their work.
Elimination Check 9: Are their websites cross-compatible?
Mobile friendlyThis is closely related to cross-compatibility. However, you can still have a cross-compatible website that’s not mobile friendly.
A cross-compatible website may work on a mobile, but if it’s not mobile friendly, it won’t have been specifically designed for use on mobile. This means large buttons and fonts, with careful consideration for positioning of content to be easily digested on a small mobile screen.
It’s easy to tell if a website has been specifically designed to fit on your mobile screen, or if it’s simply a scaled down or stacked version of the desktop site.
Keep this in mind, because the use of mobiles to browse the web is only increasing, and has surpassed that of a desktop in many countries.
Elimination Check 10: Are their websites mobile friendly?
Quality controlWithout quality control processes in place, it’s very likely that there will be bugs on your website. Cross-compatibility is only achievable through a process of trial and error by testing the website on as many different devices and browsers as possible and fixing any inconsistencies.
Our quality control processes consist of several sub-phases:
1. Developer Checks
The developer checks their own work before handing it over.
2. Tester Checks
We have a dedicated Tester who completes a long checklist of checks on different devices and browsers including large screens, normal screens, laptops, tablets, and mobiles.
3. Designer Cross-check
The Designer cross-checks the website with the designs to ensure it is accurately replicated.
4. UX Cross-check
The User Experience specialist uses the website to ensure it is easy to use and follows the wireframes.
5. Project Manager QC
The Project Manager has ultimate responsibility for the quality of output, so they do a final check before notifying the agency owners.
6. Owner QC
As owners of Grow, we want to make sure our quality remains high so we personally check every website that goes out.
7. BETA Testing
Our Project Manager notifies the client that their site is ready for BETA testing, where we then recommend that they share the test link with all their friends, family and colleagues. The more people who use the website, the more different devices and user experiences can be tested. This often throws up a few final issues that would otherwise have been missed.
All issues are then fixed before the site goes live.
By the way, when we launched Grow we didn’t have such a thorough testing process. These processes have been put in place over a long period of time as a result of our experiences and through necessity to ensure high-quality output every time.
Elimination Check 11: Do they have robust quality controls in place?
Timely delivery (time is money)People in this city are not well known for their timekeeping abilities. Projects are no different, and personally, I’m surprised if something is completed on time. Keep in mind that a delay to a project that generates money means a loss of potential sales. So timely delivery is very important.
Having said that, delivery of a project that’s high quality and effective is even more important. So don’t compromise on quality in order to save time.
The best way to ensure that a project is delivered on time is by getting your provider to send you a high-level project plan. This should include project milestones and dates for each. Put those dates on your calendar to make sure they are met. Remember though that you are just as responsible for timely completion as your provider. They will need timely and concise feedback on a regular basis, as well as assets like content, images & videos.
Elimination Check 12: Will they set milestones and deadlines, and provide you with a project plan?
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)SEO is an especially important consideration if you’re revamping an existing website. The provider will need to make sure the new website is optimised for search indexing, and also that any old links are redirected to the new links.
Failure to do this can severely impact your existing SEO and cost you a lot of traffic.
Elimination Check 13: Do they offer on-site SEO and consider existing links?
The phases that a project is divided into depends on the company and how they structure their projects. For example, these are the top-level project phases we follow:
Phases of a Project
6. Testing & QC
8. Website Launch
9. Performance Review
Generally speaking the more phases there are in a project, the more it costs. But remember they are there for good reason and will result in a far more effective and polished website.
If the provider doesn’t have project phases or has very few, you should question why. Generally speaking, without phases or processes in place there is very little structure to a project and nothing to ensure consistency. Important elements may be left out or missed, issues will be harder to identify, and miscommunication is likely. In short: Expect a stressful experience.
Elimination Check 14: Do they have structured project processes in place?
Finally, there are some key red flags that you should look for when deciding on the perfect partner. All of these count as criteria for elimination:
Avoid These Red Flags
Only Talking About ThemselvesHow much does the provider talk about themselves versus asking you questions about your company? Your first meeting should follow the 80:20 rule. 80% of the time you should be speaking, 20% of the time they should be speaking. If this ratio is met, they are learning plenty about your company and will be more likely to give you what you need.
If they haven’t asked you in detail about your company and your target audience, how can they possibly know what is best for you?
Elimination Check 15: Are they really and truly focused on meeting your business objectives, or do they just want the sale?
Bad ReferencesThis is an obvious one, but keep in mind that the company will only give you references for their best clients and biggest success stories. What about the ones that went wrong? I’d recommend looking at their client list and contacting those companies (the marketing manager or business owner, depending on the size of the firm) to find out how the project went.
Also look online for reviews, and contact any companies that left negative reviews or low scores.
One caveat to this is that sometimes there is such a thing as a bad client. If you come across a bad reference, I recommend raising your concern with the provider. It’s always good to get both sides of the story, and you may discover that the client was unreasonable in their demands.
I’ve put together a list of questions you can ask references to quickly understand how well the project went.
Questions To Ask Referred Clients
About The Quality Of The Project Delivered By The Web Design Agency
Elimination Check 16: Does the provider have bad references? If so, are they able to justify why to a satisfactory degree?
If you’re reading this, the chances are you’re highly experienced in your field. As such it’s easy for you to determine the level of experience someone else has in the same field. But when you step outside into new territory, it can prove challenging to identify a person’s level of experience. You’re going to be trusting them with not just your money, but your business’s future success.
The fact that you’re reading this article means that you are doing your due diligence. As such your chances of making the right choice are now drastically higher.
I hope I have given you the insight you need to identify the true experts. Not just that, but those who look beyond the paycheck and take your success seriously. It’s these people who will ensure your new website generates more business and helps your company grow.
Here’s a handy checklist I’ve put together for you to quickly evaluate the website provider and their suitability for your project.
Tips To Ensure Success
In Selecting The Right Web Design Provider
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