Google for web designers or web design companies and you will get millions of results for companies that promise very similar things: timely, inexpensive delivery, search engine optimization and cross-browser compatibility, etc. Now if they were all so good, why are there so many crappy websites you can ask? Here are some ratings to help you distinguish the good web designers from the bad ones.
A great portfolio shows creativity, variety of styles, and most importantly, has examples of real work from clients and not just school-specific work. Make sure the overall style of the web designer in your portfolio matches what you are looking for. Test your previously launched websites to make sure they are easy to use, error free, suitable for your target market, and load quickly.
A great portfolio always trumps design education or experience. Web designers with too much experience may be configured in their own way and less open to new ideas or trends. And just because someone has taken some design classes doesn’t mean they have a good eye for it. We have found many websites that offer web design services with horrible websites.
No matter how stellar your designer or agency is, if they can’t respond to your calls or emails in a timely manner during business hours, they most likely won’t be able to meet your deadline. This can spell the death of your business if your project is urgent due to something like a product launch. Some freelance web designers are moonlit, which means they have full-time jobs and pick up the odd project here and there for extra money. Be careful around those people because they will likely not be around when your project goes wrong, forcing you to lose your deposit.
Whoever chooses must master the web technologies that their project requires. If you need Flash for an animated clip, make sure your web developer is proficient in Flash Actionscripting 3.0. If you want to turn your website into a CMS, make sure they are well versed in your chosen CMS and the web technologies that support it. Most of the open source CMS are controlled by PHP. It is always better to hire an expert who can excel in the things you need rather than an expert in all trades who is mediocre at everything. You should generally be able to assess this based on your online portfolio.
Your timeline adapts to your timeline
All projects have a preferred deadline or time frame that you would like to see completed. Inexperienced web designers often cite overly optimistic deadlines. No matter how simple your website design or redesign is, it is almost impossible for the design process (from concept to completion) to take less than two weeks because there will always be revisions. I always laugh when a potential customer e-mails me and estimates that their new website is very basic and shouldn’t take more than 2 days. It is much more professional to quote a longer timeline and deliver earlier than expected. However, if your web designer says it will take much longer than your competitors, you may be working moonlighting.
Design companies often offer a full service because it requires a team of developers, designers, and marketing experts. Full service means they offer comprehensive web solutions like SEO, e-commerce, branding, mobile compatibility, and social media marketing all in one place. You will rarely find a web designer who is an expert in all of these categories, so some companies hire design firms if they have the budget.
Communication skills are just as important as design and programming skills because if your web designer communicates with bad grammar or misspellings, so will your website. Do they express the problems well? Can you translate the complicated technical jargon into simple terms? You can easily assess your communication skills through your initial calls, emails, and project proposal.
Marketing / SEO experience
What good is your website if your target market can’t find it? Your web designer or design company must understand how to promote it. If you found your web designer through Google with industry-specific keywords, then you must know something about SEO. Here are other simple SEO techniques that your web designer should implement to build his web presence:
- Generate new content relevant to your target market with a blog
- Write a meta title and descriptive tags
- Include your keyword search terms in your titles and captions (H1 and H2 tags respectively)
- Sprinkle keyword search terms all over your content.
- Create a sitemap for search engines to crawl
- Add your website to online business directories
- For more SEO strategies, check out my blog post on how to generate high-quality web traffic.
Ask for customer references and be sure to call them. Ask your clients if they responded, on time and on budget. Some web design companies look for work through freelance websites like Guru, where you can find reviews.
Presence in social networks
Social media helps you respond to people who talk about your brand and understand how they perceive your company. There are so many social networks, but the ones to monitor are Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. A good practice is to post a status update every time you publish a new blog post or web content.
It’s key to consider all of the above and then consider cost or budget if everything else falls into place. The cheapest quote is rarely the best.