Your company is getting a new website. Exciting news!
Now it’s time to hire a web design agency and actually go through the web design process. Cue the worries and stress.
We know that choosing a web design partner is a huge commitment. Your website should be your best salesperson—attracting new customers, interacting with potential leads 24/7, and directly impacting sales. Trusting another company to ‘get’ your business, your goals, and your audience, and translate that into a design…that’s scary stuff.
We’ve put together this complete roundup of checklists to help you get the most out of a web design agency partnership. From hiring an agency to buying yourself valuable project time and giving better feedback, here’s everything you need to stride confidently into your project.
Choosing a Web Design Agency: Questions to Ask
You want to hire the best possible agency to work on your website. That’s a given. But how can you find that winner among similar competing companies?
It comes down to asking the right questions, and being clear about your specific needs.
Before you start approaching agencies, you should prepare a clear project outline. The more information they have, the easier it is for them to decide if your project is within their capabilities and a good fit.
That’s right—a good web design agency will be willing to say no. It doesn’t benefit their reputation to take on a project that could turn out poorly. Most well-established agencies have a network, and are happy to recommend someone else for your project.
Here’s how to craft a clear, concise project outline to give to an agency.
Web Design Project Specs Checklist
1) Your Requirements
This one is hefty, and that’s okay. Tell them as much as possible!
- Is there a specific issue or issues that you want the redesign to address?
- Will this require expert advice, such as a UX design or SEO specialist, or do you already have that data and just need it executed?
- Are you sticking with your existing branding, or is this a rebrand?
- Do you need their help with the rebrand too, or have you already got that work done by a different designer?
- Are you keeping the same pages, or expanding to incorporate new content?
- Do you have all of your new content (photos and copy), or do you need help with that?
- Is there content on your existing site that’s being retired?
- Do you have marketing tech integrations like email or CRM? If not, do you need to add those things to the new site before launch?
- Do you want any new customizations, such as forms, event calendars, flexible content blocks, post templates, or social media feed integrations?
- Do you have tracking pixels that need to be migrated, such as Google Analytics/Tag Manager, Facebook, or Hotjar?
2) Your Timeline
Let the agency know if you have a “nice to have” launch date in mind, or if you have a firm launch date that needs to be met (and why).
3) Your Budget
It seems obvious, but you should know ahead of time how much you will spend, if you need it broken into installments, and if the total is flexible. This helps both sides think ahead about issues that can come up after the project is underway, such as design or development additions you realize you need, or lengthy project delays inadvertently caused by your team.
4) Your Availability
Who will be in contact with the agency throughout the project, and how often will they be available for feedback and questions? This directly impacts the project timeline.
If you come prepared with all of that information, it should be quick and easy for any web design agency to know if you’re a match.
But what if they just want to take your money, but aren’t actually capable of delivering the requirements or deadline for your project? That’s a valid concern! A web design project can last months, and is a sizable investment.
That’s why you need to know exactly what you’re looking for in an agency.
6 Questions to Ask a Web Design Agency:
- What are their services and capabilities?
No website project is simply ‘web design’, and most agencies have specialties or lists of other services. Look for web development, UI and UX design, and SEO – this should always be included at every stage to carefully preserve your existing SEO, and to boost it with fresh optimizations. If you plan for new content and need copy support, don’t forget to ask about an experienced copywriter!
- What is their experience?
You can usually see their completed projects on their website, but don’t be shy about asking for more. Keep in mind that a skilled designer can work with any branding, aesthetic, or user experience needed, so look at the overall quality of their work rather than the individual details. Ask about the age of the company, experience with your industry, and the size and scale of projects they’ve worked on.
- Where are they located?
With the rise in remote work, a company’s address no longer necessarily represents the location of the team you’d be working with. Make sure there won’t be issues related to different time zones that could cause delays.
- How busy are they?
Just like defining your own availability and deadline to them, it’s fair to ask if you’re one of five projects or 50. Find out how quickly you can expect responses to feedback or questions, and what they will do to keep things on track if they become busier.
- What is their process like?
An agency with a repeatable process is much more likely to deliver on time and within budget. If they don’t talk about their process on their website, you should definitely ask for a description.
- Who will you work with?
If you’re going to spend a couple of months talking almost daily with this agency, it can be beneficial to hop on a call with at least the key players between your two teams. Listen for how they talk about their work – does it put you at ease and make everything clear, or do you feel confused or even put off?
Use these questions to inspire a few more of your own, so that you can really narrow down the candidates.
Speed up the Process: What to Prepare Ahead of Time
Once you’ve picked your agency, it’s tempting to sit back and wait for them to set things up and ping you when they’re ready. They know what they’re doing, right?
But you can buy yourself time right here! There’s work you can do before the project starts that can lead to a speedier launch – or bank time that could later balance out delays at different stages.
- Assemble Your Logins
Start now on collecting all of the logins the agency will need. This might include admin access to your existing website (you can ask the agency for an email address to grant permissions), DNS login, hosting credentials, Google Analytics or Tag Manager (another one where you ask for an email to grant them permission), and logins for any marketing tech that’s integrated with your website.
- Gather Your Brand Assets
The agency will need your logos and other relevant brand files, so have them in a folder ready to send.
- Got Customer Data? Grab That Too!
If you have buyer personas, keyword research, heatmaps, or any other data that will help the agency understand your business, unite it into one folder or PDF for sharing.
- Plan for New Photos
You don’t want to invest in a gorgeous new website, then fill it with old, low quality photos. If part of your design includes a visual refresh, book those photos now. Ask for minimum image size requirements from the agency to give to a photographer. You can use stock photos, too, but in cases like team member headshots or project photos, you definitely need the real thing.
- Sign Up for New Tech
If the website redesign is going to include new marketing tech for CRM or email, or even a Google Maps API for location filtering, configure those tools now. The agency can give you direction on anything you might not yet know you’ll need for your new customizations.
- Prep Your Team!
Make sure everyone understands their role in the process. Give everyone involved a chance to look over the agency’s process, the project timeline, and to plan for their part of the project.
Keep the Project Rolling: Feedback and Communication
Once the web design project has started, it should be all about collaboration. There will be deliverables bouncing back and forth, with lots of communication to work through each stage.
Remember that you’re partners in this project – you should always feel okay to take time thinking before providing feedback, to ask for changes before approvals, and to ask questions if something isn’t clear.
There are some stages of a web design that often take longer than expected, because it’s hard for you to know upfront how much work will be involved and what that will look like. Usually these stages are design approvals, providing the agency with content to fill your website, and QA.
To get the most out of your partnership, there are two key areas to focus: feedback and communication.
4 Tips to Communicate Well and Give Solid Design Feedback
- Unify Feedback
Projects can get hung up when multiple stakeholders add their personal thoughts onto every design deliverable. It’s a smart approach to have one or two people collect all of the feedback, check it over for questions that have already been answered and alignment with project goals, and then deliver it at once.
- Put Your Audience First
Every design decision on your website, from layout and button placement to whether a banner should have a video or photo, is about your customer. What will result in the best possible experience for them? An experienced design team will have done their research. It’s important to ask yourself if your feedback is based on hunches, guesses, assumptions, or someone’s personal preference, or if it’s what your customers want.
- Speak Up
Don’t be shy about asking questions or raising concerns. This is a collaboration! You’re working with a team of experts, and they shouldn’t mind explaining design choices to you, or receiving your constructive criticism. Design is a process, and it’s okay if you don’t like the first result – or even the first five! As long as you’re giving clear, logical feedback on what you want and listening to their insights as well, you’ll get to the result you want.
- Keep Talking
Nobody wants to see your project fail to meet its deadline. One of the biggest causes is lengthy turnaround times to answer questions or deliver feedback, or feeling like you have to work through challenging stages by yourself. Hold stakeholders to deadlines for feedback, based on the project timeline. If you’re stuck, reach out! There’s a good chance other people have been stuck on the same thing, and there’s advice or support the agency can give.
- Mind Your Lane
You’re the expert on your business. The designers are the experts on web design. It’s easy to get excited and unintentionally start giving design feedback that’s actually design instruction. Keep in mind that you don’t have to provide the solution – just the request. Give specific feedback about what you don’t like or what isn’t working, and let the designer deliver a new approach.
The most important thing you can do is stay open and honest with a designer. They want to give you a great website, you want a great website, and your customers demand a great website. Collaboration is the way to get there.
You’re now armed with these checklists, and hopefully your own new ideas for how to choose a web design agency and keep the process efficient. Ask questions, do your homework, and trust your instincts. That’s how to end up with an awesome business website.