Questions to ask before hiring a web design agency

Question to ask a web development agency before you hire them
  • 15
    Aug

If you have a website and want it redeveloped or you are thinking of having one built you will need to find yourself a web development company. From our knowledge of our clients experiences and our knowledge of the practices of other web design agencies this decision has the potential to result in high costs with a very poor return on your investment.

The main issues are centred around a combination of services being over priced and poorly implemented website development practices. We are going to summarise some of the things to question when choosing a web design agency.

Bespoke & proprietary Content management Systems

This can be an issue with both independent web design agencies and also large web builder portals like Shopify or Wix. The problems are the same although generally more costly when independent agencies tie you into their own Content Management System (CMS).

The problem here is that your website will be built using a system that you will have very limited developmental access to and a system whereby the data is stored in a custom and potentially inaccessible form. This is a question of ownership and control.

Make sure you understand what system your website is going to be built using. What you need to ask is:

  1. If you wish to move your website, can you export all of the content that is stored in the website’s database?
  2. Can you export the website theme / template / design and move it to use again?
  3. If you need to, can you independently develop the website and add new functionality?
  4. Can you easily add new content to the website yourself if you need to?
  5. What are the monthly licensing costs?

Some website agencies build your website using their own custom CMS. This usually means that you cannot move the website from them if you fall out with them or the running costs become too high. Sometimes they may allow you to move it but you have to buy a license for using their CMS which is always prohibitively expensive.

Even with web builder portals like Shopify and Wix it means that you cannot move your website from them and in many instances you cannot export your contents database.

Essentially, if you plan on using a custom or proprietary website builder portal you need to assume that if you want to move your website in the future or you want to add extra functionality, and even sometimes just content, that it is going to cost you. If you do sign up and you want to move you must assume that you are going to have to start from scratch, with the full cost of a web development project.

Generally speaking we would advise that you use a common open source CMS and arrange your hosting through a web hosting company. That way you have complete control over the website administration access and content. This mean that even if you switch CMS you can export your content in a usable fashion. A professional web development agency will be able to then move your content between CMSs or if you stick with the same one, e.g. WordPress, it can simply be imported.

In essence, why rent a website when you can buy one?

Monthly running costs

We have found businesses can get charged ridiculous monthly running costs, often for very little work on the part of the web design agency.

The two sources of running costs for a website are Hosting (and domains) and a monthly retainer for maintenance and adding content to the website.

Firstly to hosting. Website hosting is very cheap. If you are paying anything more that around £5.00 pcm, give or take a few pounds, then you are paying too much. If you have a basic brochure website using a single domain and perhaps one email address it can be even less, just a few quid. So if you are paying £200 + per year the question is why, what are you getting for that over and above normal hosting? The chances are nothing.

Secondly there is the issue of monthly retainers. A monthly retainer can be justifiable and provide a service. However we often find that some clients that have moved to us pay a monthly retainer when they have no need. Again, if you run a brochure website you may not need to add new content very often, maybe once a year sometimes (not recommended though). So why are they paying £20+ per month when they may only ask for the web agency to do an hour of work on the site once a year, that would be £240+ per hr!

Also, many website builder portals charge a monthly fee. These can seem reasonable at first but be aware that often the basic set up is very basic and that in order to have functionality that would be required for a professional website you will have to pay monthly fees for addons. The costs start mounting up and what initially seems like a very cheap option can soon be very costly especially as at the end of it you don’t really own your website.

So, make sure you calculate how much you will be paying a month for your website and make sure that those fees are justifiable, that you are getting something for your money.

Design

Essentially, does your web design agency offer a full design service? If not, are you paying too much for what are off the shelf designs?

When clients move to us with a website designed by another agency we inspect the website theme / template so we can establish if it is a free, off the shelf theme, or whether it has been designed specifically for their brand. Often what we find is that websites are built using a pre-built theme but the client has been charged a bespoke design fee. We tend to charge either for a development project using off the shelf themes are using custom builds. Then the client pays for what they get.

There is nothing wrong with using off-the-shelf themes, as long as they are built properly, the main issue is how much you pay for that service.

The advantage of a bespoke theme is that they are built for your brand and with the necessary functionality for your website to best sell your brand, services and/or products.

All website themes are not built equal. This can be especially true when it comes to what is called technical SEO. This is where the coding practices employed on the website maximise its search engine friendliness. Some themes are very poor at this.

Another common problem with off-the-shelf themes is that they can be very reliant on 3rd party plugins. This can make them very slow and cumbersome. Basically every time a visitor is requesting a page from your website the server it is hosted on is having to do a lot of processing in order to pass back the web pages content.

So ask the web agency how is your website going to be built? Ask them what provision there is going to be for technical SEO and how well it will perform.

If your web design agency doesn’t mention SEO or ask you what your goal is for the website then it’s difficult to see how they can build a correct solution for you.

A plethora of website solutions

At the end of the day there are many different solutions, some will suit your purpose and some not. The main thing is to make sure that the solutions you are being offered are fit for your purpose and that you are not being overcharged.

A good web development agency will take time to talk to you, to understand your business and what you need to get from your website. A good website development agency will come up with several different solutions and explain to you what the pros and cons of each solution is. Then it is up to you to sit down and think about where you expect to be in a few years time and, if all goes according to plan, what you will need from your website.