7 Things To Look For When Hiring A Web Design Company
November 11, 2014
Before we get started, I want to assure you that this isn’t going to be a “Hire Yelling Mule! We’re the #1 Boston Web Design company!” post. This is a post that will hopefully help you get the most out of your web company, and ensure that they don’t take advantage of you.
I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now. Every time I sit down with a new client who just got screwed by their old web company (this happened just yesterday), I’m furious hearing the stories about how badly they were taken advantage of. Whether it was paying for “SEO” when they didn’t do so much as fix the page titles, or looking at a site that they paid $10,000+ for that isn’t worth even $500 the way it was built, I feel bad for my new client. Don’t get me wrong, all of the crooks and hacks out there result in Yelling Mule getting a good amount of business, but I don’t like seeing people get screwed.
Over the past few years I’ve compiled a list of things to look for when hiring a web company:
1) A Nice Website
This should be a given, but believe it or not most of the time I research the company that screwed over my new client it’s clear by their website that they didn’t know what they were doing. The first thing you need to look for is design. Their site should look modern, be updated frequently, and have clear calls to action. We’ve all heard the saying “a plumbers wife always has a leaky faucet”, or the one about the cobbler, but proverbs aside, even the busiest web company should find time to update their own site and practice what they preach. If their site looks like it’s from the early 2000’s and their last blog post was about this new website called “The Facebook”, they’re not the company for you.
2) A Properly SEO’d Website
If you’re hiring a company to build you a website, it’s important that they are experts in SEO as well. There are a couple of things you can look at to quickly determine if they have the slightest clue about SEO:
- Page Titles: If their home page title is “ACME Web Design” or is 200 characters, they don’t know about proper keywords in page titles and page title length.
- H1 Usage: View the source of their home page and search for <h1>. If they have more than one, or none at all, they don’t know about proper heading tag usage.
- URL Structure: If their “Services” section has a URL of “www.acmewebdesign.com/page.php?id=159” then they don’t know about SEO friendly URLs.
- Non-www Redirect: If you can type in their address as “www.acmewebdesign.com” and “acmewebdesign.com” without it redirecting to one or the other, then they don’t know about non-www duplicate content.
3) Samples Of Their Work
Whenever we hire a new designer or developer here we ask them “how many websites have you built in your life?”. If they don’t pause for a second to think about it, then they’re not Yelling Mule material. At any given time we can be working on 10-20 websites in a WEEK, so if someone has only done 2-3 in their entire life, that means they were likely school projects and they don’t have any real world experience. We’re guilty of not having the most up to date portfolio, but we try to have 30-40 samples in our portfolio at any given time. If the company you’re researching only has a handful of samples, and they can’t send you more because they “aren’t live yet”, you should immediately move onto the next one.
4) Samples Of Sites That Match Your Desired Style
Sometimes it makes sense to go with a company that focuses on your vertical, for example a real estate agent wont have any trouble finding a real estate web design company. If you do choose to go this route you should be careful. Many times these sites are templates to help the company pump out as many as possible. They’ll sometimes have some really good back-end systems to run the site, but your design may not be custom designed for your company. If you don’t choose to use a company that focuses on your vertical, it’s important to make sure they have samples of sites that match the style that you want. If a company has been designing sites for a respectable amount of time they’ll likely have a sample of a design that is very close to what you’re looking for.
After you’ve confirmed that all of the above is in place, and you’ve received a proposal that includes what you need at a price you can afford, make sure you always ask for references. It’s easy to check Better Business Bureau, Google+, Yelp, Facebook, etc. for reviews, but those don’t always tell the whole story. There’s no better way to verify a company is legitimate than to speak with one of their clients who just finished a project with them. If they hesitate at all to give you references, RUN! We have 3-5 references ready to go on a moments notice at all times, and we’re not afraid to let potential clients speak to them. A respectable company should be proud of the work they produce and have a great relationship with all of their clients.
6) Detailed Contract
This may be the most important item of all, as it’s the foundation for the entire project. If all they ask you to do is sign the proposal with no details regarding full scope of the project, timelines, payment breakdown, etc, tell them you want a formal contract. This contract should specify that the agreement is between the two companies and not individuals (if both are companies), the nature of the relationship, the timeline for the project, the full scope of the project with detailed descriptions of each feature, a full site map, a breakdown of costs, whether or not the price is an estimate or the cost of the project regardless of whether or not they under quoted it, milestones such as design approval, testing, launch, etc, and payment schedule. You should always have your attorney look over the contract and ask for a Word document as opposed to PDF so your attorney can easily add notes / suggest edits.
7) Monthly Reports
If your project includes SEO, or you decided to add an SEO campaign after the project was complete, make sure it includes monthly reports, and more importantly make sure you read them. I’ve witnessed far too many people say they have “ongoing SEO maintenance” only to realize after thousands of dollars and almost a year of “maintenance” not one blog post was written, not one inbound link was established, and all of their page content, titles and photos are a mess. Before you sign any SEO contracts make sure you understand exactly what you’re getting, and it’s clearly outlined in the contract what they’re expected to do every month. For most people SEO is like magic, so it’s easy for web companies to take advantage of people.
I hope this list helps, and if you’ve been burnt in the past I hope you’ve recovered and found a company that can fulfill your needs. One item I left off the checklist is meet your contact at the company, or ideally everyone involved with your project at the company, in person. I left this off because it isn’t always necessary. I have some clients I’ve never met because they live in California, Florida, Italy, etc. and it doesn’t make sense to fly out for the scope of the projects. But that being said, if you’re hiring a local company, or you have a very large project in the tens of thousands of dollars range, definitely meet with them before signing anything!
Have you been burnt in the past? If so please share your story in the comments.