Hiring a good web designer can be a challenging, time-consuming task and if you don’t know the right questions to ask, you can end up wasting lots of money for a site you don’t like.
Your website is the foundation of your business if you’re running a business that sells information products or services like coaching and live seminars.
Almost all other software systems that you’ll need to get in place for your business, such as your ecommerce, email marketing, and paid membership access control, need to integrate and function well with your website.
Your site is the hub of all your other software systems, which means that having a solidly built, secure, easy-to-use website that converts your visitors into customers is vital to your business.
For many people, building their website is one of the first things they do when creating a new business. If you’re at that phase, or if you’re about to do a major redesign of your site, consider asking any potential web designer these questions during your first meeting with them.
Getting answers to them will allow you to make an intelligent decision about who to work with and who to steer clear of.
1. How do you manage payment for the website? When will payments be made and how much percentage of the project will each payment be for, if you take multiple payments?
It’s common for designers to request half of the full project cost up front, before they start building the site, with the second half of the payment due after you sign off on the last round of revisions.
Be sure that you understand what the payment terms are before you sign the contract.
2. Are your sites easy to use for visitors?
A good designer should be well versed in website usability and user experience topics. You want your site to be very easy for your visitors to use, or a very large percentage may never make it past the home page.
A great maxim to live by when creating an easy-to-use site is “Don’t make your visitors think.” Steve Krug introduced this concept, and many other useful usability concepts, in his book “Don’t Make Me Think!” I highly recommend reading it, and it’s great if your designer has read it too.
3. Do your designs increase conversion rates for your clients, and if so do you have any proof?
There will be a part of you that wants to make a website that you really like, for yourself, but that may not necessarily translate into a site that your market will like, and it also may not get you a design that converts well.
In order to convert visitors into prospects or customers, your site will need to have a design that incorporates proven high conversion design elements, such as particular layouts of a marketing video and sign up form.
4. Do you do A/B split testing to find the design elements that convert the best?
This is a great follow-up question for the previous one.
The ideal way to discover design options that convert the best is to test them against each other. This is called A/B split testing.
The process works like this: you create two different versions of the same page, such as your homepage. One version has one design concept, and the second version has almost the same design but with one modification. It’s often a very small difference, such as the color of a “sign up now” button.
Using A/B split testing software, like Google Website Optimizer or Optmizely, you test the two variations of the page against each other to see which one results in more conversions.
The definition of a successful conversion is defined by you, but it most often is something like sign ups for a free offer, newsletter, or the purchase of a product on a page.
You continue to test design variations until you come up with a winning design.
5. What do you charge for designing sites?
The designer might respond to this one with some variation of “Well, there are a lot of variables involved and I’ll have to write you a quote to get an exact number,” and if they do, that’s fine. There are indeed a lot of variables involved, but it’s worth asking if they’re able to give you a ballpark estimate.
They will likely need to gather more information before they can give you a rough estimate, but sometimes they can give very general estimates like “For simple brochure sites with not much functionality, I charge $2,000.”
6. What software do you use to create sites?
If you want to be able to easily update your site with minor changes to the text, and perhaps uploading new photos, by yourself, I recommend looking for a Worpress designer.
7. If you use WordPress, do you design a custom theme and have it coded into a WordPress Theme, or do you use themes from theme providers and then customize those?
If they design from scratch and then either code their design into a WordPress theme, or have it coded into a theme by someone else, the cost of the project is going to be substantially more than if they start with a pre-designed WordPress theme and customize it to fit the needs of your site.
If you want a completely unique design that’s not similar to anyone else’s site, you’ll want a full custom design from scratch. Just keep in mind that you’ll pay a lot more for that.
You can get a great looking site by designers that start with a pre-designed theme that they then customize into something unique.
8. If you use themes from theme providers, which providers do you use most often?
It’s good to know which theme providers they like to work with, because some create themes that are better coded than others, and trust me, you want a well-coded theme.
It will cut down on potential code conflicts between your theme and plugins (or extensions), and the Google bots will like your site much better if the theme is coded with SEO best practices in mind.
After they give you a list of the theme providers they usually use, you can Google them and do some research to see if they are a top theme provider and find out what kind of reviews they get.
9. Do you build sites with SEO in mind?
This is related to the previous question. Most of the top theme providers use code structure that’s helpful for search engine optimization work you’ll do on your site’s content.
This is another reason why it’s good to know which theme providers the designer likes to use. You can go to the theme provider’s site and see what kind of SEO efforts they take when designing and creating a theme.
There’s a lot of little things that go into getting a good search engine result position, and well structured code is just one, but it’s an important one.
10. What happens after the site is built? Who manages it and keeps the software updated?
You don’t want to end up with is a website built on some type of content management system (CMS) software, like WordPress or Joomla, with no one keeping the core CMS software, and all of it’s plugins/extensions, updated to the latest version.
Not keeping those things up-to-date is the biggest reason that a lot of websites get hacked. Outdated software leaves large security vulnerabilities wide open on your site, making it easy for hackers, or their automated bots, to cause major problems for you.
It’s certainly not the only way hackers can get in, but it’s better to keep software up-to-date so you can remove any potential vulnerabilities.
If the designer isn’t going to keep the software of your site up-to-date when new versions come out, you’ll need to either learn how to do that yourself, or find someone who can keep an eye on your site and upgrade software as needed.
Alright, you can read part 2 of this post here. There’s another set of vital questions to ask a web designer before you sign a contract…
The domain name registration one is a particular case in point Forest. I have come across so many small business owners who do not legally own their own site, because it has been bought by a web designer who may not even still be in business. Yet it’s perceived as a ‘technical’ point, when it’s actually a basic business ownership one.
Great post Forest. Your top 3 questions are spot on! I recently did a post about this very subject: but coming from an under the hood perspective in light of a recent session I had with some mentees who were ALL being ripped off in some form or another. My post is here: http://brightspark-consulting.com/under-the-hood-questions-to-ask-your-web-designer/ It might add to some of your well made points.
Thanks much, Maryrose! That’s a great one about having your name on the domain name registration. I forgot to mention that one in my post. Thanks for adding your points to the discussion!