#1 - How long have you/your company been building Web sites?
Why? Because experience does matter.
BANG!: Started building Web sites for our clients in 1996 (remember dial-up modems?)
The Web design business has an extremely low cost of entry and seems to attract many people working in some cases part time and from their kitchen table. Anyone with a computer, some inexpensive software and an account with a hosting company can call themselves a Web designer. You should be concerned with how long they will stay in business (80% of small businesses don't survive the first five years). Your Web site will be a living and constantly evolving marketing tool and will require regular improvements & security updates. You definitely don't want your Web designer disappearing on you (we get calls monthly where a company can no longer reach their old Web designer).
#2 - How available and responsive to your needs are they? How do they handle support?
Why? Because there will be times when you are going to need some help, especially if they are responsible for your e-mail.
BANG!: Has a full time Customer Support Specialist who works 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. We also have knowledge base and support systems available 24 hours a day. As part of our development process we also include training which will allow you to make updates to the site, both text and photos, even video if desired. We also prioritize existing client site updates in our work flow. We often hear horror stories of it taking weeks or months to get simple updates done.
When you have questions or need assistance with the site or your e-mail, how does the company handle support? Is it e-mail and pray or is there a structured system in place for supporting you? Is there a knowledge base available of frequent support questions? What are the support hours? Are their support packages available to reduce the cost of support services? Do they provide training on how to add, edit and delete content from the site? How to make blog posts or work with an e-mail marketing system?
Again, a part timer working in the kitchen may not be available during your normal business working hours. How quickly can they respond when you need their assistance?
#3 - How large is their staff? And how long have they been with the company?
Why? Because "One man bands, don't always make the sweetest music"
BANG!: Has a staff of Seven seasoned pros all dedicated to Web design, development and hosting with an average of over 10 years each with the company
Web site development is a multi-discipline practice. It takes left brain creative types to develop attractive designs, right brain computer geeks for the programming, and we've found staff that measure somewhere in the middle make the best SEO (Search Engine Optimization) experts. For these reasons you want a firm with several experts building your site. Beware of the "One Man Band" who says they do it all. In our experience, they don't do it all well. Also make sure there are sufficient numbers on staff to effectively handle the number of clients they have. Everyone needs to take a vacation now and then, who will take care of you when your usual contact is away?
#4 - How much experience does the individual or firm have?
Why? Because "Old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill".
BANG!: Our experience? Lots and lots. Truthfully we've lost track of how many sites we've built, but it's certainly measured in the Thousands. Additionally we've worked across many industries from banking to manufacturing. Experience gained through repetition and our constant desire to improve our skills so we can assist our clients in growing their business.
Related to how long have they been in business... it makes a difference whether or not a Web designer has been at it full time, for how long and how many staff are dedicated to Web development. It also makes a difference how many industries and types of sites the Web firm has worked on. A company that spends all of their time building the same site over and over again for the same industry with a different log on the site may not have the experience to be effective with your company & industry.
#5 - How many clients does the firm have? How long have they been clients?
Why? A firm with few clients should make you suspicious.
BANG!: We manage over 400 domains for our clients with an average of Six years retention each
Either they haven't been at it long or they aren't taking good care of the clients they do have. Also ask how long on average do clients stay with the firm? Again, a small number may indicate customer satisfaction concerns.
#6 - Do they have a proven process?
Why? While each site (at least built by our team) is unique and is carefully designed to portray a clients brand and image, the process should be similar for each.
BANG!: Yes, a process fine tuned over the last 18 years while building Thousands of sites
A firm with much experience will have a standard operating procedure or process in which they work through the design, development and deployment process. There are some research and development processes that must be handled first before design and content development can be addressed. A less experienced firm may put the cart before the horse and worry about design concepts before proper planning has been done. Be sure to ask what their development process is and have them show it to you ahead of time, preferably in writing so you know what to expect. Also beware of the company promising a complete project in a short period of time. Proper keyword research, site plan development, design concept development, and content generation take time. Since you'll probably be living with your site for a couple of years, it makes sense to develop slowly and strategically to make sure the finished site meets or exceeds your expectations and business goals.
#7 - What are the capabilities of the Web firm you are considering?
Why? While today you may have simple needs, tomorrow may bring highly complex sites with advanced functions as your company grows. Is the designer you are considering capable of adding advanced features and functions as your needs grow? For instance you may start with a simple "brochure" site with nothing more than text and photographs describing your products or services.
BANG!: Extensive. We've helped small companies create their first on-line presence and have helped International Corporations develop their E-commerce capabilities and tie the back end into the existing ERP systems... and everything in between.
Be sure to think ahead though to future needs. Will you want to regularly communicate with your customers through an e-mail marketing system or e-newsletter? Will you someday want to provide e-commerce functions for your customers to purchase directly from you? Will you want that system to integrate with an existing account software like QuickBooks or a high end ERP system? Is the company you are considering only comfortable with basic frameworks like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla? Or do they have advanced systems that are customizable to your needs? What about content development and writing for the site? Can they provide these services as well or will you be forced to write your own content? Wouldn't you rather be with a company that can lead you in the right directions vs a company that you'll have to push to keep up with you?
#8 - Search Engine Optimization - Does the Web site development company provide SEO services as part of the project?
Why? It's not enough today to have a Web site. If you don't rank on page One for keyword phrases relevant to your products and services you simply don't have an effective site.
BANG!: Yes, in fact we start with SEO in mind... what do your prospective customers search for and how do we convince Google to send them to you.
Does the individual or firm you are considering for your project have a proven track record of getting their clients ranked well? Do they provide SEO (Search Engine Optimization) services? Both on page and inbound link building? Or do they outsource this work to others? Do they have case studies showing success in getting sites ranked well for generic keyword phrases (as opposed to your company name)? Do they provide a guarantee of measurable results for the site (BANG! does!)?
#9 - Mobile Site Development - How will the individual or firm handle mobile (smartphones & tablets) visitors to your site?
Why? We are already seeing as much as 22% of traffic to some of our clients sites come from mobile devices.
BANG!: We use Google's preferred method of Responsive Web Design for our projects
As we are writing this in 2013 we are already seeing as much as 22% of traffic to some of our clients sites come from mobile devices. How will your Web development firm handle this traffic? Will they provide a responsive site that automatically adjusts to fit the screen resolution of the site visitor's device (Google's preferred method)? Or will they redirect the mobile visitors to a purpose built mobile site optimized for mobile viewing? Or will they do nothing at all to accommodate what could be 1 in 5 visitors using a mobile device to view your site?
#10 - E-mail - Will the individual/firm assist you with corporate branded e-mail?
Why? We shudder every time we see a company miss the opportunity to brand themselves and improve their image when they instead use an ISP provided or free e-mail account to conduct their business.
BANG!: Yes, of course. We handle the e-mail for 90% of our clients
Will the firm you are considering provide you with e-mail addresses at your domain? Do they provide effective spam filtering and virus protection as part of that package? Will they provide support for those e-mail accounts? At BANG! the answer is Yes, yes and yes. We've been doing so since the 90's.
#11 Who will host the site and be responsible when there is a server issue?
Why? This area is probably the biggest differentiator between a professional firm that will take care of your every need and a lone wolf designer.
BANG!: We own and operate our own servers. There will never be any question as to who is responsible (we are) for the complete delivery of your site from design concept to delivery to your prospective customers.
Will your designer take care of the critical function of hosting your Web site? If they do, is it on their equipment (servers & network) or a 3rd party that they have little control over. When something goes wrong (and over time it always does as servers are still mechanical devices that fail) are they in a position to effectively deal with any outage or problem and correct it as quickly as possible? Or are they at the mercy of a huge company and they are a little fish in a big pond? What you want to avoid at all costs is a situation where your Web designer is blaming the hosting company and the hosting company is blaming the designer. In that situation you are the one stuck in the middle and will likely be in a losing position.
#12 - Social Media - Will the individual or firm you are considering assist with Social Media?
Why? Social Media can be a very effective way to stay in touch with your loyal customers and court new ones.
BANG!: Yes, we'd be happy to
Will your chosen firm assist you with the setup of your business on the relevant social media platforms (and they differ greatly whether you are a B2B or B2C company, while retail and restaurants have another group of social platforms to engage with). Are they adept at integrating social media with your site? Can they provide training for social media best practices? Do they have resources for content development if you don't have the time to do so?
Bonus Question - Internet Marketing - Once the site is live will your Web designer assist with marketing of the site and your firm through other avenues?
Why? If you truly want to harness the power of the Internet to grow your business your Web site may only be the starting point.
BANG!: Yes, with our 18 years of experience we know that for some clients the site is just the beginning.
There are many other ways to market your company and site. This may include implementing a Google AdWords or remarketing campaign, purchasing ads on relevant sites, assisting with the creation of banner ads, E-mail marketing, blogging, or social media efforts. Do they have resources they can recommend for other marketing including print work, business consulting, or business networking groups for word-of-mouth marketing?
We hope these questions have given you some ammunition when exploring relationships with other Web designers. If you have questions about anything here don't be afraid to ask! You can reach us through our contact form or call us at 602-427-5626 ext. 1 for sales.
Brian Rideout, Chief Pixel Pusher of BANG! Web Site Design