You've decided that you need a website or website make-over (if you're in doubt, see Do You Really Need a Website?).
You've also decided that you need a web designer to help you (if you're unsure, see Do You Really Need a Web Designer?).
Maybe it's not clear to you how to go about picking a good web designer.
It's really not all that much different than picking any other contractor. You might not know a lot about the Web, but you know enough to make a good decision.
Let's go through some factors you should consider in making your pick.
Where Do You Find Them?
But before we get to the selection considerations, how do you get a list of candidates?
Some good approaches are:
- Get recommendations. You probably know other business people in your area who've had websites built for them. Ask who they used, and what they thought of them.
- Do a Web Search. Because of the nature of the business, a web designer had better have a good Web presence. Searching for designers in your area should yield quite a few names.
- Contact Your Chamber of Commerce. Your local Chamber of Commerce probably has a list of local web designers who are members.
Types of Web Designers
There are many skills needed to build a good website. Some of the more important are:
- Graphic design: Creating the "look" of your website.
- Website coding: Coding the underpinnings of your website so that it works as desired in all major browsers.
- Web development: Developing any behind-the-scene applications or scripts for special features.
- Internet marketing: Determining how best to market your product through digital media (websites, email, banner ads, etc.).
- Search Engine Marketing (SEM)/Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Maximizing how well your website performs with respect to online search.
Not everyone is expert in every area. Some common "packages" are:
- Website Designer. The generalist. Can design and code a website with reasonable regard for SEO.
- Website developer. Specialist in the development of custom web applications or modifications to standard packages.
- Graphic designer. Specialist in the way that the website looks (photos, drawings, design details. etc.)
- Internet marketing consultant. Expert in marketing products online.
- SEO consultant. Specialist in optimizing how well the website pages place for relevant search engine queries.
Think about which aspects of web design are most important for your business, then talk with prospective designers to see what their strengths and weaknesses are.
If you have a strong need for all of the specialties and have a lot of money to spend on your website, you might consider an agency that can provide multiple specialists.
Factors to Consider
Let's take a look at some of the more important factors that you should take into consideration when making your choice.
Can You Work With Them?
Building a website requires a lot of cooperation between you and your designer. The process is going to be a lot smoother if the two of you get along.
I recommend an in-person interview of anyone that you are considering having develop your website. This should give you an idea of whether the chemistry is there.
Should They Be Local?
Because of the nature of today's interconnected world, your web designer does not necessarily need to be located nearby. They could be hundreds (or thousands) of miles away and still get the job done.
Two aspects to think about when making this decision are:
- Determining the "fit": If the web designer is not local, you will need to determine whether you can work with them via a phone conversion or other means.
- Buying local: You need to decide how important it is to support your local designers. After all, don't you want locals to support you?
How Does Their Portfolio Look?
Take a look at the designer's portfolio (if they don't have one, that's a real danger sign). Actually click through to the sites. As you're doing so, think about the following:
- Do they look good? Not all of the sites will necessarily be to your taste (clients differ), but they should all look professional and well-designed.
- Do they all look the same? If the sites looks similar to one another, the designer may be modifying a "template" rather than designing each from scratch. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the service should be priced accordingly.
- Do they load quickly? What's the performance of the sites? Sites that a sluggish can drive off prospective visitors and hurt your search engine rankings.
- Do they work with popular browsers? If you have access to multiple browsers, try them out on the sites. You want your site to work well regardless of what browser the visitor is using. Web sites that only work for one browser can be a real problem.
Find Out What Parts They Did Themselves
The fact that the designer has a site in their portfolio doesn't necessarily mean that they did everything. Make sure you know which aspects of the site the designer did themselves, then take that into consideration when evaluating the designer's skills.
Ask What They Know About Internet Marketing and SEO
At a minimum, your site needs to be designed with SEO in mind. Depending on how important search is to your business, Internet Marketing skills may also be important.
Time To Decide
As I said in the introduction, picking a web designer is not really that much different than picking any other consultant. I hope that the pointers I've provided here help you clarify exactly what you need to think about when choosing the designer for your project.
Let me know your experiences, and any other areas that you think are especially important.