Choosing the Right Web Design Agency

It may seem easy to pick a web design agency for your website. It is also easy to get in a bad situation with an agency or freelancer that may not have it all together. We talk about what to watch out for and expect when working with an agency for your web design project.

February 4th, 2019
Last Modified: November 14, 2019

chosing a web design agency

A Small Business Owners Survival Guide

As of the time of this writing, there are over 1.8 billion websites out there and over 135,000 US-based agencies that provide web design, not including freelancers.

At first glance, choosing a web design company seems like a quick and easy task: Google it, check out a few design company websites and choose one that looks cool.


Picking a web design company without doing your homework can lead to a whole host of issues, mainly a poorly done or incomplete website.

Let me give you an example:

I recently received a call from a person who was very upset about their web design experience. They had hired a web design company in September and were given a verbal plan that included a launch in January. While their website launch did indeed occur in January, the content of the newly launched website was not what they expected.

When I spoke with the web designer that had done the job, I got an entirely different story of the course of events. Because no contract was signed and the website redesign plan was not put into writing, neither side could prove what they were saying was true.

Suprised? It is a common occurrence.

Situations like this happen daily. Web design companies are not required to be licensed or have any specific education, so without anything in writing you have absolutely no guarantee of what you will be getting when the project is completed. This makes it critical for anyone hiring a web designer to know what specifics to look for during the search process, as well as warning signs to watch for as well.

Before you Commit to your Web Design Agency

Know your options and how to pick the right agency for the job. Read below to learn how to effectively select a web design company that will do the quality and type of work you need.

Communication: The #1 Trait of a Successful Web Designer/Client Relationship

It is important to clarify each participant’s role when doing a website redesign. Different tasks can be divided in different ways between the client and the web designer, and if one or both doesn’t follow through on tasks they are responsible for, the project will fail. Clarifying task responsibilities also prevents misunderstandings and confusion.

Have a regular check-in schedule

It is a good idea to set a regular time to have a check-in call or a way to check the progress of the project. Every agency is a bit different; it could be a combination of a phone call, an email, or if the agency uses a project management system, they may provide some of the communication through the system.

Calling your agency without a schedule can run the risk of catching them in the middle of another project and you wouldn’t have their undivided attention.

One thing we hear often is that many agencies do not answer their phones. Smaller agencies and freelancers may let calls go to voicemail if they are all working on projects with deadlines. This is usually okay as they are checking messages, email, chats, texts, and other ways they receive communication from clients, during their breaks or stopping points.

What to Know About the Effective Exchange of Information

Candid conversations are essential in a good client/web designer relationship for 2 reasons. First, by openly discussing expectations along with clarifying the division of tasks between the client and the web designer, you avoid misunderstandings and confusion. Second, when detailed knowledge is clearly communicated to each party, each is better equipped to make smart and strategic decisions which will benefit your business.

Business Owner Communication Responsibilities: It’s important to remember that you know your business better than anyone and have important knowledge that needs to be shared with the web designer such as:

• Information about your business: Paint a picture of your business for the Web designer. Who are your customers? Why do they want your product? Is the demand seasonal? Facts like these help the Web Designer think strategically when designing your website.
• User behavior in your business: How do customers behave in your business? Do they make quick purchase decisions or slow ones? Do discounts or sales change buying behavior?
• Business processes: Help the web designer understand different processes in your business so they understand what purchase data needs to be collected, how tools such as list sign-ups might help your business, and more.
• Business goals: What are your short-term and long-term business goals?

These details equip the web designer with the information they need to plan the website user-experience (UX) around these facts and objectives

Web Designer Communication Responsibilities: Web designers need to be aware that their customer is not an expert in web design, so the designer needs to communicate a clear picture of changes they plan to make and why. Communication needs to include:

Listening. A large part of the web designer’s job in the exchange of information process is listening. They need to listen carefully to the details you give them so they understand your customer behavior, your industry, and your business process.

Communicating clearly what changes/creations they plan to make to the website before making them, and explaining how the changes will benefit the business.

Recommending actions the client can take to maximize search engine rankings (Note: It is the client’s responsibility to follow through on these recommendations if they want to their search engine ranking to improve)

• Explain how the customer’s user experience plays a role in the redesign process

What are the Warning Signs of a Substandard Web Design Firm?

Knowing these signs will prevent website redesign disasters that occur when you hire a sub-par web designer.

1. No Contract a Sparse Contract

Read your contract carefully! If your web designer asks you to sign a contract that is vague or confusing, or worse, no contract at all, I advise you to go elsewhere. The contract needs to clearly lay out what is included in the website project, who will provide what deliverables, a time frame for the project, and cancellation policy.

Each contract is different and will include the above and more. The key is that you read and understand the contract. Often, business owners get excited about the project and just want to get it started. Slow down, read, and ask questions.

2. They don’t answer questions in a way that you understand.

There is a significant potential for gaps in communication from the start. You know your business, this techie person knows their stuff, and you each need to try and explain what you know to the other person. The key thing to watch for in this situation is how well the designer is able to clearly explain the process, what they need from you, and what recommendations they have for your website creation or redesign.

Avoid any person that throws niche/techie words at you without offering to explain what they mean. Don’t expect a simple answer, but make sure you understand the process behind the explanation.

At the same time, you need to make sure you explain your recommendations to the designer clearly, so they understand what you need from them.

An Example:

One marketing recommendation commonly made by website designers is to place the social icons at the bottom of the website. The business owner, on the other hand, may ask for these to be at the top of the website.

A good web designer will not just do what the business owner asks. They will talk to the owner to get an understanding of why they want the social media icons at the top of the page. Then the designer will explain that if the goal of social media efforts is to direct potential clients to the website, once the client gets to the website there is limited value in having social media icons be the first thing they see.

The web designer should work with you to plan a desired “path” for each potential customer that includes their internet pathway to the website, and the path you want them to take once arriving at the website. This allows you to correlate the user path on the website with your business goals.

Each design element of the website is to guide the visitor down this path. Your designer should help you avoid inadvertently adding hurdles along the way that could divert the customer from the purchase process.

3. Unrealistic promises

Avoid the web designer that will promise you the moon and the stars. What might these include and what are potential red flags? Read on.

Promises 1st-page ranking on Google. Could you make 1st-page rankings on Google? The best answer is maybe. It depends on how much competition there is, what keywords you are ranking for, how old the domain name is, how many links are pointing to the website, and many other factors. There is no way a website designer can “promise” this to you.

A better response would be: “We will research the keywords and phrases for your industry, look at your online competitors, as well as where you are now in Google in a web audit. We will add the elements that Google and other search engines look for to achieve ranking. Our goal is to improve your rankings in search engines, but since we do not control the search engine’s algorithm, we cannot guarantee search ranking results.”

Maybe not the answer you were looking for, but it is the honest answer. They may make recommendations along the way to help with search engine optimization (SEO), or if they aren’t well-versed in search engine optimization they may recommend that you hire an SEO expert to achieve your desired results.

4. Prices too good to believe

Every business has a budget and wants to get the best price on any investments. Don’t do this when it comes to your website. Unskilled or flaky web designers will discount their services unrealistically to get the deal. The end result? You get what you pay for – low price will mean low quality.

So, what is a reasonable price you can expect to pay?

A fully-customized website with custom integrations may run $5,000 – $10,000 or more.

Customized websites built on a platform like WordPress: $1,500 – $8,000 or more.

Purchased pre-designed theme (i.e. ThemeForest or monster templates) which is then customized for your business: $700 – $3,000. The price varies depending on what type of website it is. E-commerce websites with a lot of features will run higher, while information websites will run in the lower ranges.

SAAS Websites – That is a technical word, but these are the Squarespace, Wix, GoDaddy site builder, and other “solutions” that offer drag and drop web design. These are simple to use platforms that are designed so people with no coding knowledge can put together a website. These come with a monthly fee that varies depending on the add-ons that you add to the website. In this situation it’s important to know that you do not own the website and when you stop paying, the website goes away.

5. Consistent Bad Reviews

Don’t just rely on the references the web design agency gives you. Do you due diligence and check the company out online. Some may have a bad review or two, ​but that is not necessarily a reason to avoid them, especially if they have been in business for a while​. Instead, you are looking for trends, consistent bad reviews, or similar topics of complaint on multiple websites where you are reading reviews about the business.

You also want to see how they handled any bad reviews. Did they answer them? How did they answer them? Check multiple places as well as one might complain to the BBB and then post a review on Yelp. The agency may have answered the concern on the BBB but didn’t on Yelp.

It is also a good idea to check multiple places as sites handle reviews in a different way. For instance, Yelp tends to cherry-pick the reviews it posts. Showing the negative ones and hiding the good ones. Some reputable sources to check for reviews of web design companies include Google, BBB, Facebook, Alignable, LinkedIn, and a few others.

Since you are in business you understand reviews are just one side to the story. If you feel pretty good about the agency but have a concern about a review, ask them about it. Get both sides of the story before making a final decision.

Summing it All Up

In our original story, who is to blame? The web designer who, in their mind, did exactly what was asked? Or the client, who expected they would receive more than what was delivered? It is a catch-22 situation: because there was poor communication, coupled with no written contract containing expectations, we will never know who was responsible.

Our hope is that the information contained in this article prevents you from falling into the trap of a flaky or inexperienced web designer who lacks the experience or work ethic to properly complete your website creation or redesign.

Coming Soon. Questions to ask when choosing the right agency for your business.

Filed In: Website Design

Richelle Anderson

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Since 2006, the Lighthouse web design and marketing team has been creating custom websites and strategic marketing strategies. Each marketing campaign is built around the goals and needs of our clients and backed by solid marketing strategy.

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