Choosing a web design agency is the most important decision you'll make about your website.
Sounds dramatic, but it's your digital agency who will have a hand in every aspect of your site, from how it looks, to how it works, to how it performs in search engines.
But picking the right design agency for you can feel daunting, so in this article, we'll talk about all the important things that will help you choose an agency that is perfect for you. We'll go through:
- Does web design really matter?
- How to choose the right design agency (infographic)
- Your website brief
- The web design quote
- Making your choice
At the end of the day, choosing your web design agency is a mix of finding the right skills, at the right price, from people you feel comfortable with and confident will do a great job.
Looking at all of these angles should help you make the right decision, and get you a brilliant website with the perfect creative agency.
If your immediate answer to this is "no", then it actually might be best for you not to hire a design agency at all!
If design really doesn't matter to you, there are plenty of nice templates out there that cost very little and can get your organisation online very quickly.
But should design matter to you?
Well, it matters to your customers.
Research shows that:
- First impressions for websites are 94% design-related
- 75% of consumers admit to making judgements on a company's credibility based on the company's website design
- 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if the content or layout are unattractive
- 57% of internet users say they won't recommend a business with a poorly designed website on mobile
Your website's design is a huge part of how a customer views you, your services and products. Even if you only use your site as a reference point, if your customers visit and find it out of date, hard to navigate, or looking just like your competitors, then they're unlikely to form a good opinion of you.
Good website design can make a good first impression on new customers, reinforce the reputation you already have, and give them a good user experience on your site.
Great website design can help increase conversions, make visitors choose you over your competitors and create an experience on site that visitors will want to come back and use over and over again.
But an amazing agency is one that works alongside you to design and build a website that's the perfect balance of yours and your customers' needs, and forms a relationship with you that helps your site grow, develop, change and improve as time goes on.
So, what makes you confident that a particular design agency is the right choice for you? And how do you work out which provider gives you the service, relationship and value that you're looking for?
Get a quick overview of some top tips for choosing the right agency by taking a look below. And, if you find this infographic useful - feel free to share it too!
Read on to go into a few of these points in more detail.
When you're looking for a design agency, the first stop is usually the internet. Even if you've had a recommendation from a friend or have noticed a local agency's advert or office, you're probably still going to look up their website before getting in touch - and so you should!
A web design agency's own website is going to give you a great first look at what they can do, and you'd also expect that their own website is going to be an example of their best work.
Be careful to avoid the pitfall of thinking "I wouldn't want this on MY site", however. An agency website is likely to have very different goals to your own, so it's much more important just to look at the design and styles in general.
If the site looks dated, if things aren't working on there, or if you've seen sites just like it before, that's a bad sign.
It's worth checking how the site works on mobile and tablet too, it's a good way of checking that the company puts as much effort into their mobile design as they do on desktop.
Experience & Expertise
How long a digital agency has been in business is another good way of analysing their experience.
Web design is an industry where there are lots of freelancers setting themselves up as a business one month, and finding a salaried position the next, which can leave you high and dry if you need work on your website.
Bigger isn't always better with your agency, but you need to pick a company that's the right level for you. Lots of clients want the assurance of knowing who's working on their website at any given time, or who will answer the phone when they call, but some want the assurance of knowing there's a full team in place so there will always be someone available when you're needed.
Industry Specific Web Design
You'll also want to look at examples of their past work, case studies, testimonials and reviews.
Something that comes up a lot is clients looking for a design agency that has experience in their industry, or an agency that exclusively does websites for their sector.
Lots of people feel that this is a good way of making sure that your web designers understand you and your business, but in fact, it can cause big problems.
Web design isn't like creating a product, you actively don't want every one to be the same - because two companies in the exact same industry aren't identical. Your company is unique, and your website needs to be too.
An agency that only designs for your sector is likely going to have a checklist of "things you'll need". They aren't likely to have much flexibility or the inspiration to think outside the brief, come up with new, exciting ideas, or find ways for you to stand out - because they've done this all before, many times over.
Another thing to watch out for is websites that all start looking similar.
Some digital agencies will use a couple of templates and simply rework them for clients, swapping out images and colours instead of creating a new design from scratch.
That's fine if you're looking for something cheap and cheerful, but if you want your website to stand out, or if you're being quoted for a bespoke website, make sure you're not getting the same as everyone else.
If an agency has a wide variation of websites on their portfolio, then that's a great sign that they're doing unique, bespoke design for each of their clients.
Check to see if their portfolio includes sites that look dramatically different from each other, use different layouts, or includes sites that work differently to others.
When was the last time this agency wrote a blog article? When was their last Tweet? What do they like to talk about?
The content on your agency's site is a good way to get a feel for who they are and what they're like, as well as showing you their level of commitment to their own marketing strategy.
If you want your website to rank well, it's a good idea to choose an agency who can show they take an active role in marketing and SEO for their own company. Even if you don't choose them for ongoing marketing services, it shows they've got the skills to do all your on-site optimisation and get you off to a good start.
Blog articles and subjects are also a good measure of how experienced an agency is. If you're reading lots of headlines about good design practice, technologies and SEO, it's a good sign that this is an authoritative business.
If the blog is mainly about the business itself, without much information on the industry in general, it's a sign that they might not have a lot of knowledge to share.
One aspect of choosing the right agency actually depends a lot on you. It's how a web design agency responds to your brief.
It is really important to have some kind of brief that you can take to different agencies. It doesn't have to be incredibly detailed, and it shouldn't be set in stone, but it will help an agency understand what you're looking for from your website.
We've got a more in-depth guide for writing your website brief, but in short it should include:
- Some background information about your business and your project
- You main goals for the site
- A description of your target audience(s)
- A loose rundown of the content you want to include
- Any specific functionality you need
- Your website budget
Ideally, your agency should want to meet with you to talk through your brief, but another positive sign is asking more questions about the project.
If you've provided them with a rough ballpark for website pricing, they should also be able to let you know whether they can give you everything you need within your budget, or give you some suggestions on how to make that money go further
Providing a website brief is a really helpful part of the process for you, as it gives you a framework for your expectations with the website.
It's also a big help to your web design agency, as it gives them a background level of knowledge about your project that makes it much easier to provide suggestions, ask questions and give you ideas about pricing and timescales.
If you've got any qualms about providing this sort of information about your project upfront, don't be afraid to ask your agency to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement first.
NDAs are really common in the design industry, so any good agency will be more than happy to sign that for your peace of mind and protection.
Don't just speak to one agency. Even if you're 100% certain that these are the guys for you, make sure you've spoken to a couple of other agencies as well. You might find that someone else gives you suggestions on how to make the most from your budget, or is offering functionality you hadn't thought about, or has a portfolio that you like better.
Make sure you have a proper conversation with each agency too. Remember, you're not buying a toaster here, you're looking for someone who will look at your business needs, and design and build a website that's going to achieve your goals.
Try to meet in person if you can, or at least virtually via a video call. Not only will that make it easier to talk freely about the project, but it can also give you the chance to check out their workplace - is it a big company, or a boutique? Is the company actually a freelancer and not a full agency?
Your agency's communication skills are important too, you need to know your designers are listening to you and trying to understand your company and customers. If they simply tell you that so many pages and a contact form costs x, they've already put your project into a package formula, and they're not actually thinking about what you need.
Another thing you'll learn from meeting your prospective design agency (which is often overlooked), is whether you get on with them.
You don't need to be best friends with your designers, but finding them easy to talk to will help form a better ongoing relationship. If you find your digital agency easy to talk to, it's going to be much easier for you to communicate what you want from the project, and to give them good and honest feedback.
A good communication test is how quickly they get back to you, and how engaged they are with what you're saying.
If you send an email out to a web agency and you don't hear back for a week, or just get a price list with no real interest in your project, that might be a clue that they aren't great at staying in touch, or that there's no-one at the company managing communication.
But if you get a fairly swift response, or an email that addresses your questions specifically, then that sets a great precedent for future communications.
Sometimes, an agency just needs to be honest with you. If you come across a designer or developer who tells you that your timeframe isn't feasible, or that a function that you want isn't going to work, that can be the sign of a really good agency.
The key to whether this is actually a good sign is whether that agency explains why something isn't going to work the way you want, or better yet, thinks about an alternative solution for you.
There's nothing worse than an agency who agrees to give you everything you ask for, without any clear plan on how to deliver. If they over promise and can't deliver, you'll end up with a website that never manages to achieve the goals you set out for it.
Much better to work together to find an alternative. Even if it's not what you want to hear.
Once you've provided a brief and had a conversation (or ideally a meeting) with your prospective agency, the next step is generally to get a quote.
Remember that the quote is about more than just the money, every agency isn't offering you the same product, so don't expect them all to be the same price.
The key is to find which web agency is offering the right service at the right price for you.
A good agency should be providing you with a quote that goes into some depth about what you're actually getting.
If you send them a detailed 3 page brief, and simply get a number back, that's not going to fill you with confidence.
Your website is more than a cost, it's an investment. You need to see that your agency is planning for a website that achieves your goals, and their quote should go into some depth about how they plan to do that.
Talking about technologies can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Ideally you want your quote to talk a bit about what you'll be getting with your site, what platform it might be on, and some of the technical functions they expect it to use.
On the other hand, a wall of jargon is never a good sign.
A good quote should let you know some of the technical aspects they expect to use for the site, and explain what these mean. Even if you don't know what the technology is exactly, you should understand why it's mentioned in the quote.
Everyone wants to know their website is going to look beautiful, but if you're getting visuals within your proposal, it can actually be a red flag.
If an agency is providing you with design upfront, before contracts are signed and deposits are paid, it could be a sign that they haven't put a lot of thought into the website plan, and have just knocked something up quickly.
If this is just to give you an idea of their current thinking, or if you've been quite specific on how you want your site to look, it isn't necessarily a bad thing, but if this is a finalised home page, think about what it means for your site, that the design you're paying for can be given away for free.
However, lots of creative agencies give you a flavour of their design skills by producing a designed proposal, presentation or quote for you to look at.
A good website quote should lay out the functions that people will be able to do on the front end of the website, as well as what you can do in the back end.
This shows you what you can expect from the website's functionality, but will also enable you to see what parts of the site will be editable and manageable on an ongoing basis, so you don't get 3 months down the line after launch and realise you can't add a new product, or edit the homepage text.
Whether your digital agency offers dedicated support packages or not, it's good to know what ongoing services you can expect from them.
If your agency does offer ongoing support services, it's a good sign that they don't consider the project over once the site goes live, and many agencies expect to work with you long after the initial launch.
Your quote should also include a rough timeframe for the project - especially if you have a specific deadline you need to hit.
A great quote will also give you an outline of how the project is expected to progress, with milestones in there to give you a framework for what's expected of you and your agency at each stage to keep things on track.
You really can read a lot into a design agency's quote, and it should give you a lot of detail and depth so that you can make the right choice.
A good quote might show you that an agency is worth a little extra money for the detail, understanding and service they aim to provide. Whereas an email with just a price tag might make you think twice about whether an agency really understands what your project needs.
Choosing the right web design agency for your project deserves a lot of thought, as it's going to have a big impact on whether your website is a success.
All the steps you've gone through should bring you to a point where you feel really confident that you've found an agency that listens, that understands what your goals are, and has the technical abilities and artistic flair to make a website that's going to achieve those goals.
Be sure to check out our own case studies if you're in the market for an agency too - we'd love to chat!