Hiring a web designer (or web design company) can be a confusing task if you aren't sure what to look for.
If you're thinking about getting your first website but don't know where to start, then this article should help: it's a list of questions (and answers) to ask before hiring a web designer.
Don't gamble on your business
How do I find a good web designer?
Ask friends, work colleagues or people you trust for a referral. Whatever you do, don't flick through the telephone business directory or use search engines as this can be a bit of a gamble.
Should I hire a freelancer or a web company?
This depends on factors like budget, the type of website you want, ongoing site maintenance, updating the site yourself, your expectations (sales? business leads? a captive audience?) if a freelancer can deliver all your requirements and so on.
Here's a few pointers:
Freelancers can sometimes offer lower rates, but it's worth checking to see if they are part-timers or students, as this working relationship may not last. For example, will the freelancer still be in business this time next year? Find out how long they've been in business and what their future plans are. It might be best to opt for a full-time freelancer
A freelancer has to take a holiday sometime, so there may be periods when you don't have web support
Dealing with a company can make you feel more confident in their abilities to deliver
Do I need to hire a local web site designer?
Hiring a local web designer brings with it some advantages but if all your friends recommend a web designer who lives on the other side of the world then ask yourself these questions:
Would you prefer to meet the web designer in person?
Would you want to visit the web company premises?
How would you resolve any problems that may arise? A face-to-face meeting is unlikely if they live on the other side of the earth
Are you happy to pay a little extra for currency conversion charges?
Choosing a remote web designer can bring with it advantages like lower rates or a fresh perspective on how things get done (cultural differences etc.). And with technologies like Skype available for free, it's very simple and convenient to chat with your web designer from anywhere.
How much does a web site cost?
In short: the final cost should reflect your requirements. If you want a small brochure site that does nothing more than provide information about your company and services it's likely the cost should be reasonably low. However, if your site needs more functionality you should expect the price to rise. For example, if you want to sell products online or send out newsletters to your subscriber list this will increase the price. You will also need to consider other costs like purchasing stock images, producing graphics (like a logo), writing content (perhaps using the services of a copywriter), web hosting, domain name purchase and ongoing maintenance.
Avoid web designers who offer fixed price packages or cheap websites; it's asking for trouble. Remember, you get what you pay for. The last thing you want is a rubbishy looking website or one that doesn't work on a mobile phone.
It's probably a good idea to negotiate a fixed price deal based on all your requirements and timescales. If you ask for something extra after a price has been agreed, then expect to pay more.
Will my website be accessible?
In many countries it is illegal to have a website that is inaccessible. It is your responsibility to have an accessible website, which means choosing the right web designer. Any professional web designer will know how to design, build and test an accessible website.
If you're not sure what's involved in commissioning an accessible website there's a handy document available for download called BS 8878, which details everything you need to know. It covers things like the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines which your web designer should already be aware of. If they aren't avoid them.
How long does it take to design, build and test a website?
Just like working out the cost of your site, the time it takes to design, build and test your website will always be reflected by your requirements. Bigger websites with more requirements will inevitably take longer to deliver than smaller websites.
Don't underestimate how long it takes to design a logo or a business card, or the effort involved in developing bespoke software. Whatever you do, don't leave it to the last minute; try and plan at least three months ahead.
How do I get my web address?
Your website address, sometimes referred to as your domain name or URL, can be arranged by the web designer but there's nothing stopping you from purchasing your own domain name prior to choosing a web designer.
If you have still to decide on a web address then your web designer should be able to advise on what makes a good web address and what's appropriate for your particular website or business. Once you've agreed what web address to go for, your web designer can register it for you on your behalf (with a domain name registration company) or you can manage it yourself; there's not much to it. And depending on the type of web address (top-level domain, second-level domain, country-code second-level domain etc.) it can be purchased for up to ten years in advance.
Will my site be listed in search engines?
Any web design company worth their salt will be able to get your site listed in search engines very quickly. And they shouldn't charge you any extra for the doing this either. However, if you're hoping to get your site listed high up in search results then a web designer isn't solely responsible for this. You need to use the services of a marketing company or a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) expert.
To get your site listed high up in search results you will need to focus on producing quality content; the type people will want to read. For this you may need to hire a copywriter, journalist or professional blogger. It's no secret: fresh, regular content is the most important step in optimising your site for search engines.
Ask for references
How long have they been designing websites? Choose someone with a good track record and lots of experience. Ask for at least two reference sites, ideally work similar to your own requirements.
Unless your budget is tiny or they come highly recommended from a trusted source, then avoid a web designer who has just started out, especially if you value your own reputation.
Do they have a blog or personal website?
Check out the personal sites and blogs of potential designers. You can learn a lot about what they are like, what they're interested in, if it's a web design blog, how knowledgeable they are on the subject and how popular their site is (check their Google page rank or Alexa ranking).