If you’ve ever built a website with a web design agency, you’ll know that not all agencies are created equal. In today’s world, the website is the hub of all digital programming. It’s very possible that it will be the first exposure a lead or new customer will have to your brand. In other words, it’s probably one of the most important and central aspects of your demand generation program. With that said, you’ll want to find a true value-add partner. Below are some tips that I’ve accumulated over the years.  Some are well known… and some are less obvious.

7 things to listen for when speaking with a new web design agency:

  1. They bring creative ideas to the table: Going into the proposal process, you think you know what you want. The agency that gives you just that has done you a disservice. Let’s face it, you’re employing them because they “should” know more than you in this space. So listen for signs that the agency is guiding you towards best practices and optimization opportunities. The right agency is more than a tactical execution engine. The top web design agencies show up to proposal meeting with a thoughtful strategy and conceptual ideas on creative.  In other words… they put some real thought into your project, and you’re not 1 of 10 they are rushing through that week.
  2. They have a portfolio of website customers that still have live websites.  Sounds silly right? Of course, the sites would still be live. Sadly, it’s not always the case.  During the first few meetings, you’ll be shown a number of examples that the agency believes is closest to what you’re looking. These are great. But dig a little deeper. Take a look at their agency portfolio page, and review the sites that are listed. From this, you can compare the screenshots they have on their site to the live customer sites. Check to see if the sites they’ve designed still exist (if they don’t it’s probably a bad sign), or if the site has dramatically changed since the agency you’re speaking with worked with them (a less bad, but concerning sign).
  3. They have experience linking websites to marketing automation & other digital marketing tools: Ask the direct question – “Do you work with software tool (insert solution name) ”. If the answer is yes, then ask for examples (because just about everybody will say yes). You’ll want to see proof. Trust me, in my experience, it’s rarely ever just “a snip-it of code” to add to the site – as tool vendors would have you believe. It can be super complex, and you’ll want to work with an agency that’s demonstrated success.
  4. They can show you the back-end of a site they list in their portfolio (a sandbox version): Agencies love to show the front end. After all, the front end is pretty. It’s designed to grab you. But having a flashy front end does not equate to having a well-functioning backend. Once the site is launched, you’ll likely need to be able to make simple adjustments, change content, add pages, etc – without the help of an agency. A well-designed backend is as important as a pretty front end. Watch for which CMS solutions they work with to make sure it lines up to what you intend on using. Also, focus in on any customizations they may make to the backend – and do some research to make sure the CMS has a way to be updated without breaking any customizations.
  5. They are not cheap: As marketers, we’re always strapped for budget. The website is not the place to skimp. If your top web design agency is cheaper than the rest, make sure it’s not your favorite because of the cost. Building a proper site will take months of hard work. You’ll thank yourself for investing a little more in a partner that will genuinely put the time into doing it right – versus finding workarounds on code that could impact speed, search engine rankings or worse, the overall site user-experience.
  6. They practice what they preach – It’s an age-old tale. The cobbler’s children have no shoes. If a web design agency’s website is not optimized or looks poor, you should take a pause. It could simply mean that it’s a difference of opinion on what great looks like. Then again it could be a real red-flag that signals the agency uses external resources to get the project done – which leads us to the next trait.
  7. They Have web designers & coders on-staff: Many agencies are cobbled together via a network of consulting partnerships. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s very common. However, I’d take this into consideration if the core designers are not employed by the agency you hire. There are a number of reasons you want your web design agency to actually employ web designers (besides the obvious). However, in my experience, the biggest comes down to budget control. Because a web design project is such a big endeavor, it’s difficult to completely nail how many hours it will take to get it right. It’s not uncommon for you to go over in hours. An agency with “in-house staff” will typically just absorb these hours (if they are not too onerous). However, when you have a sub-contractor relationship, they cannot, and you wind up having to work with multiple levels of pass-through that may get you stuck with having to go over budget.

And as a quick BONUS suggestion, really get to know the team you’ll be working with at whichever agency you choose. You’ll be tied to them for the entire project, and you want to make sure a good working chemistry is there.

Want more?  Check out tips for selecting the best digital marketing agency.