Stop wasting your digital budget! 5 Critical questions you should ask a new Web Agency in 2019

Hiring a web design agency or freelancer can be a tricky business. With so many choices, where do you begin? Here are some helpful tips which may reveal the quality and knowledge you’re buying into!

What is your approach to designing a website?

Over the years we’ve working on a variety of projects, some of which have been for large agencies or websites which we have inherited from a previous web designer or agency. When talking to clients it’s astounding how much the approach to design can vary. As the main designer at Ransome Design, I view the design process as a fundamental “make or break” part of a website. Even if the underlying code is fantastic, poor visuals or an inappropriate design will result in a website which you may be disappointed with! I have worked with agencies who ask the client to sign off a design based on a mood board, not actual visuals. Other freelancers and agencies may provide one or more designs to select form, some take in depth research into your demographic first before even touching a design program.

I believe some red flags to watch out for are;

  • An agency or freelancer that does not ask enough questions about your target audience such as their age, interests, gender, location and more. For example, a design could look super modern with the latest minimalist design cues, but if your audience is the 40-60 age group you may find that straying from convention is a serious mistake and will alienate your users.
  • A lack of architecture. If you have a large website with many pages navigation is paramount to success. If your site’s structure is an afterthought you may regret this when users turn around and say “it looks pretty but I can’t find what I’m looking for”. We advocate wire framing on most projects, and larger products demand full planning for user flow and conversion. I really like tools such as InVisionApp for this purpose:

Is the project a bespoke build?

We specialise in making bespoke WordPress themes and plugins, and charge according to the time and complexity of a task. There are, sadly, freelancers and agencies that cut massive corners by using pre made WordPress themes, often with little to moderate customisation, and package this as bespoke work. I have always felt this type of work has its place when it’s honest and above board, but when clients pay good money for an off-the-shelf website that isn’t made for their brand or business, I do this is morally wrong.

Ask your freelancer or agency if they are using bespoke code for your project. As good question would be “Are you using a framework?” and “Are you using some kind of parent or base theme/template for my project?”. Then, do your research and look at what you’re paying for. Also ask if there are future costs in using any framework or template.

Do you include SEO with a new website?

I think this is a great question because of clients can (wrongly) assume that SEO is included with their new website. SEO (search engine optimisation) is, in many ways a totally different job/discipline to website design and development. SEO can also be costly, time consuming and most campaigns runs for at least 3 or 4 months.

One obvious sign that SEO may be included is that you have a monthly retainer. If you’re offered a retainer, ask what is in included. Don’t settle for a bog standard report and no hard evidence of work, it’s something that is automatic with software and takes moments to create – a real money maker. Instead, ask what actual work will be undertaken to grow your website each month.

Your website agency or freelancer may include an initial SEO setup of your page titles, meta tags and headings in your content, perhaps offering advice for publishing future content. It’s best to ask to clarify what your budget is being used for.

Will you install Google Analytics for us?

A simple but important question to ask. All to often I inherit a project and find the client has no historic Google Analytics data (or any other tracked data showing user behaviour, popular pages and so on). This means that discussing new layouts, structure and other features is much harder. It can be “stabbing in the dark”. With no real data to work with, how do we know what and why we’re designing and building? Ask for Google Analytics because it’s a small task that should take no longer than 15 minutes to install, also ask for admin permission on the account. Better still, make your own Google Analytics account and forward the tracking code to your agency or freelancer.

What happens if you go over the budget?

This depends how you are billed and the terms in your contract. If you don’t have a contract, I would find another designer/developer. Ransome Design charge predominately on fixed price, but sometimes work is also billed to the nearest minute with or without a hard limit which has been agreed with the client. Some agencies and freelancers may bill against an estimate which, when breached, will bill you for extra time. Make sure you understand the conditions and what extra costs you will be liable for if the project goes over budget. It happens frequently as designers/developers can be too optimistic when quoting in order to win a contract, only to find they have underestimated how much work is required.

In 2018 I worked as a consultant on a large project, offering a layer of protection between my client and the large agency they hired. The project took almost double the original budget so the agency tried to pass on the costs to the client as that was in the contract terms! I was instrumental in saving my client a great deal of money as I put the project specification and time sheets under the magnifying glass to find anything we could use to fight our case. With my knowledge of code I managed to help the client obtain a large reduction on the invoice because various deliverables that should have been in the original specification were missing, and this was not the client’s fault. Don’t find yourself in a situation like this, it’s stressful, costly and miserable – instead ask what happens if you go over budget and don’t encourage scope creep.

I hope this has given you some good questions for your upcoming project. If you have any further questions, please drop us a message via the contact page.