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So you’ve resolved that you’ll need some help on the web design front, but you remain a bit uncertain about to whom you should turn. It’s a perfectly normal (and common) situation. There is no shortage of web design companies, and choosing the right website design company can be a daunting task.

Some patience and early planning is probably in order. You’re making an investment, and you’d like to get your website right the first time. While time may be of the essence, know that making the wrong choice can really backfire. If you find yourself having to give your site a total overhaul after a few months, the process will go on even longer. Moreover, picking the wrong website design agency can itself lead to an unreasonably long turnaround time.

In short, make your choice carefully. Perform the same kind of due diligence you’d apply when outsourcing any serious business operation.

Here are some considerations to include along the way.

Look At the Company’s Own Website

First impressions matter. The attention and effort a design company gives its own site can be a strong indicator of what you should expect when it’s working on yours. Does the company’s site look smooth and professional? Is it easy to use? Are you able to find all the information you need without rigorously searching for it?

These are the kind of factors that matter for just about every website, including yours. Presumably, an ideal design company would invest sizable effort in its own web presence. If that presence doesn’t measure up to your expectations, chances are you’ll be disappointed with your results.

Granted, this is only a very cursory first step. A good-looking company site certainly doesn’t guarantee you’ll receive the same kind of results. But this is still a prerequisite worth considering. At minimum, it demonstrates what the design company is capable of and whether it has the resources to offer you a similarly impressive product.

Check Out the Company’s Portfolio

The next item on your checklist is reviewing other sites produced by the company at which you’re looking. Ask to see some samples of its work. Sometimes such samples will be readily available for you to check out. It’s usually a good sign when a web design company readily promotes its portfolio. You’ll know right off the bat that it’s proud of its work and has nothing to hide.

These kind of portfolios aren’t just about assessing quality. They’re also about determining whether you and the company share the same kind of vision and philosophy when it comes to building a site. Put simply, are the two of you a good match?

It’s worth keeping in mind that other sites likely incorporated some measure of input from the clients themselves. So results may vary somewhat significantly. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, you’ll probably want to have some say over how your own site works and what it looks like.

Investigate Their Website Design Process

While you don’t always want to get entirely bogged down in technical jargon, you should familiarize yourself with how the design company goes about completing jobs.

“Ask for an explanation on how he or she structures projects and describe the types of management tools, workflow management and milestones used in seeing the project through to completion,” writes Entrepreneur’s Andrew Medal. “A well thought-out design plan will be a confidence builder in choosing the right design team that can finish the job.”

Posing these kind of questions can also give you a better sense of the project’s timeframe and what you should expect from the final product. At the very least, you want to make sure the design company can describe its process in fairly short order—evidence that it’s developed such a process in the first place.

You can also ask for more specific insight into the kinds tools and software the designer plans to use.

“Some web developers stick with a certain type of design structure or software and may not possess the type of experience with the technology you’ll need,” Medal adds. “Describe the site you are looking for and ask what software he or she will use to make that happen. Discuss the options you want on the site and find out how the designer will make that happen.”

Again, this is about finding the right match. You may have a very capable company in mind, but that won’t count for much if its expertise doesn’t perfectly line up with your needs.

Discuss Your Respective Visions for the Site

It’s important to discuss the final product from the outset, exchanging ideas about the design plan and what you should ultimately expect. Some clients let this part of the dialogue get away from them. They later find themselves with a site that doesn’t quite line up with their intended goals.

Building websites may be in large part a science, but it’s also an art. And there’s a philosophical component to that art. Make sure you’re on the same page about that philosophy. This can be the perfect opportunity for you to show the designer some examples of what you ultimately have in mind.

“Pick a few you like for their aesthetic (perhaps it’s what you’re trying to look like), others for their workflow, maybe others for their function,” explains CodeCraft campus director Bill Adkins, per CIO’s Jennifer Lonoff Schiff. “This will help designers know your taste and goals.”

Does the Website Design Company Really Understand Business?

While the look and functionality of your site are likely your first priorities, chances are the site is also a means to an end—namely making money. Your web designer should understand that. And that means having some seriously familiarity with commerce and the kind of clientele you happen to be targeting.

Yes, the business end of your site is ultimately your responsibility. But in a perfect world, your ideal design company has enough marketing acumen to build (or rebuild) your site with the customer in mind.

That kind of expertise can have a range of implications. One example is ensuring that your site is as mobile-friendly as possible. Your potential customers will frequently be searching for products, services and information via mobile devices like smart phones and tablets. As a result, you’ll want your site to be mobile responsive and designed to accommodate those smaller devices.

You’ll also want to strike a balance in terms of content. There should be enough information for your site to provide a valuable service to users, but they shouldn’t be completely overwhelmed by text. That can have the counterproductive effect of redirecting users to simpler, more straightforward sites.

Be Sure Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Is In Its Wheelhouse

While on the subject of business prowess, remember that your site’s various virtues won’t count for much unless it’s also easy to find. That’s where SEO comes into play. This is the process by which you can improve your site’s chances of be ranked highly by major search engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo!.

“Search Engine Optimization is incredibly important to making sure your site is visible in organic search, assuming you prefer not to shell out endlessly to Google AdWords for every lead,” writes Business 2 Community’s Corey McCarren. “Imagine this—a web team builds you a wonderful site; it is both aesthetically beautiful and as functional as you could ever want. But there is no meta-data, no guidance on improving search rankings, and all of the pictures used don’t have any information to tell Google what they are.”

Effective web design and SEO are inextricably linked. You don’t want a site that attempts to game the algorithm system. That can actually cause Google to penalize your site. But you definitely want search engines to have an easy time indexing your site, and you also want to make sure the population of meta-data is automated so that you don’t have to fuss with it every time you publish new content.

There are elements of SEO that are pretty straightforward, but others require some technical expertise. It would be wise to ensure that your web designer has that kind of expertise (and that it’s fully caught up with the newest algorithms and trends in an ever changing SEO landscape).

Getting It Right

This is just a short list of recommendations. The bottom line is doing your homework, just as you would with any other important investment. Remember that websites have largely replaced Yellow Pages, business cards and other means by which potential clientele learn about your business. Taking its design seriously can very well be the difference between revenue growth or stagnation.

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