A company’s website is a critical part of an overall marketing plan.  Choosing the right web company as your partner is equally critical and can greatly improve your return on investment (ROI).  A good website can enhance revenue streams while conversely; a “not so good” website can actually drive traffic away from your business.  As retail giant Wal-Mart experienced, online sales increased by over 30% to approximately $10 billion, accounting for nearly 8% of its $114 billion in quarterly sales.

So, while not every business can do $114 billion in quarterly sales, here are a few things to keep in mind when making your selection.

To have a functional, successful website, the partner you choose should have several skillsets, which is rarely found in just one person.

Graphic Design
Art is subjective and normally, when someone looks at a website, they initially decide whether they like it or not.  What’s important to realize is that while it is your website, the design needs to be appealing to a large audience that could potentially be your future customers. Make sure your web design partner understands your targeted demographic.

Do the companies on your short-list have a solid understanding of digital marketing?  Do they know it well enough to structure the content, images, and navigation?  Remember: if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter.

Coding & Development
When a development team looks at the design of the website, they obviously need to make it function. Professional developers have a ton of tools at their disposal and often times, a team has people with different “specialties” which could include a specialist that will make sure the website is crazy-quick.

Search engine optimization is a topic that a lot of people claim to know a lot about, but in reality, it’s a niche segment that plays a very important role in being successful online.  Can the team handle both on-page as well as off-page SEO? A good rule of thumb: if they can’t do it for themselves, how can they do it for someone else?

You need to trust your development team.  A reputable, professional web design & development team has ethics. They should be looking out for your best interests and help you do things right the first time. Ask about images.  How do they acquire them? Are they properly licensed? Then, ask them for proof of licenses. Since it’s likely that you’ll be working with this team for a while, make sure they’re organized, make sure you know who your contact(s) is/are and you all get along.  It really is a kind of “business marriage”.

If you can’t provide all of the original content for the site, you might need to have that content written. Some development companies don’t write content; they depend on the client to provide it. Ask your team if they have (or work with) a copywriter.  If copyrighting is needed, is the cost included?

So, now that you know the major skillsets to look for, you might also consider the following:

  • How are updates handled?
    If you or your staff wants to be able to make changes to the site, will the site be developed to accommodate that? If not, you’ll need to pay for future updates. It’s always nice to have both – the ability to make changes yourself, but also that “safety net” as a backup.
  • Local or Non-Local
    Does it matter to you whether your web development company is local? Theoretically, it shouldn’t matter, but if you look at this as a relationship and not just a one-and-out, it might. Either way, your team should have a proven track record and a reasonable response time.
  • Technical Stuff
    You need to own your domain name. Make sure it’s registered the right way.  If you’ve ever wondered whether you own it, do a quick check at who.is.  You’ll see some technical stuff on the results page, but what you want to look at is the “Registrant” information – that’s who has full control of the domain.


OK, so we have an idea of the things to look for. Now, where do I find a good developer and how much is all of this going to cost?

First, ask around.  Referrals are earned by offering awesome service.  Ask colleagues, clients, vendors, and other people in similar businesses.  If that route ends up as a dead-end, check out search engines.  Do a simple search on “Reputable Web Design Company (CITY)”.  The results should give you a short introduction of a company.  Start compiling your short-list.

When you’re talking or meeting with companies, it’s CRITICAL to make 100% sure that you’re describing and asking the same questions to everyone; compare apples to apples.

Ask about their design process. You’re looking for a company that has a structured, trackable, well-documented and systematic process.

You should expect them to be asking most of the questions; questions that relate to your business and your goals.  Getting to know your business is the only way they can effectively create a plan, which in turn will create an effective website.

Look for a design portfolio.  You’ll get a feel for how they design websites.  Do they all look the same? If so, they probably use a template – move on.  Don’t be afraid to ask specific questions about specific designs.  They should be able to provide insights as to how it benefits that client.

Do they have an in-house graphic designer? If not, do they work with only 1?  Every graphic designer has their own “flavor” and working with more than 1 is always best.

Is initial on-page SEO included?  It should be.  Every page should have title tags, header tags, proper META information, good keyword density, “alt” tags on images and if anyone mentions the word “Flash”… move on.

Check reviews online, but if you can have a conversation with one of their current clients, that’s the best option.  That way, you can get a true sense of satisfaction. Be sure to ask about responsiveness, professionalism and how smooth their project was. Were they completely satisfied and were promises kept?

Talk about post-launch.  How is the site maintained?  Some firms will charge a monthly fee whether you use them or not, others charge for the actual time spent doing actual work. If you’ll be making changes and run into something over your head, where does support end and billable time begin?

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines.  Can they meet yours?  Is the deadline realistic?  Most reputable design companies are on some type of “lead time”, where they’ll be able to begin your project XX days after you officially engage them.  That’s a good thing.  Try to avoid design companies that can start the project immediately.  Good design & development firms are busy – at least steady.  It’s like walking into an empty restaurant… if no one is eating there, chances are, it’s for good reason.

Let’s talk money.

Ask the companies to explain their fee structure and be sure to get an estimated project cost.  Make sure that things are spelled out what’s going to be provided at what cost.  You don’t want any surprises.  Some companies work on a project basis, others work on an hourly basis.  What’s the average hourly rate a reputable web company should charge?  Great question, but a tough one to answer.  Numbers are all over the board, but normally, you’ll find companies charging between $50 – $150 per hour.

Talk about a little thing known in the industry as “scope creep”.  Web design & development projects very rarely go unchanged during development. How do they handle that?  Change order/change fee?  Make sure it’s understood.

Make sure you get and understand their billing process.  Some want a percentage down and the rest upon completion.  Other companies have variations on that, albeit milestone payments, timed payments or whatever.  Make sure payment terms are completely understood and agreed upon.

There you have it.  Hopefully, this information will guide you on taking the first step to finding the perfect, reputable web design & development company for your project.  Remember – you’re hiring them, they’re not hiring you.  Remember your priorities and make sure they know them too.  If things don’t feel “right” to you, move on.

Steve T.