With the list of priorities for business owners and marketers continuously growing, it’s no surprise that most businesses choose to outsource their website design and build to an agency that can make it their sole priority.
Communicating what you’re looking to achieve to your prospective agency is the first hurdle. You’ll also want to ensure that the questions you’re asking during this process are the right ones so that you can be confident you’re making the best decision for your business.
In this blog, we’ll outline the top 15 questions we get asked when meeting new clients and discussing their website requirements so that you can be sure you’re getting the right information before you commit to an agency.
It’s crucial to find out if your agency is using an established, well supported CMS like WordPress, or if they’re using a niche or bespoke solution. We’d recommend avoiding bespoke platforms so that you’re not limited to any one provider, (i.e. the agency you choose) which can be complicated long-term. It also means you wouldn’t be able to find training resources or help online, so you’ll always be reliant on the agency that created your site.
If they are using an established CMS, you should also ask if they’ll be using an off-the-shelf theme or if they’ll be creating a fully customised design for you. This answer will inform the price, and you ensure you get value for money.
Depending on your budget or the level of quality you’re looking for, you might want to avoid agencies that outsource their design and development to other businesses or freelancers, UK-based on not. Doing this might give you a lower cost or the agency a higher profit, but they won’t be fully committed to your project. You also won’t be able to guarantee the quality of the work, and neither will they. It can also become complicated when it comes to feedback, as this will be passing through many people before reaching the one that’s working on your website.
Ask the agency if it’s possible to visit their offices and meet the team. From our experience, this will give you a better level of engagement with those working on your project, making it much easier to iron out the inevitable issues that arise with any project, and it will also help to establish strong, long-term relationships, all of which contributes to creating a great website.
Seeing a portfolio of completed projects similar to what you’re looking for will give you the confidence the agency can deliver what you’re looking for. It’s also an excellent opportunity to see what sectors they’ve worked in before and how established their client base is.
If they’ve delivered projects like yours in the past, this will give them a better chance of achieving success for you, as they’ll come armed with knowledge and insights of what works in your industry. But don’t discount an agency if they haven’t worked with a business or enterprise like yours – a good creative agency should be versatile and adaptable, and the fact that they don’t come with any preconceptions means they may bring new ideas that could give you an edge over your competitors.
Once your website has launched, you’ll want to be able to edit and maintain this in-house, especially if you’re looking to manage a blog. Find out early on if the agency plans on handing over the admin information post-launch, especially if you want to have full control of your site. While some agencies may offer a monthly subscription for the website instead of a full one-off cost upfront, the subscription model may mean you are in effect only renting the site and will therefore never actually own it.
If you are going to have full control of the website, it’s also worth finding out how much support or training the agency will give you with the CMS ahead of launch. You’ll want to ensure you know how to make basic edits and if you can go to them if there are any issues further down the line.
Most agencies should only charge you once for the design and build of your website. The only ongoing costs should be if you’re opting for hosting or a maintenance/road-mapping retainer. Otherwise, if you spot any additional fees, be sure to question what these are and how your business will benefit from them. Sometimes agencies will charge an artificially lower cost for the initial website, only for the client to later find out that they have very restrictive access and can’t undertake even the most basic of content updates. They then find that they are tied into expensive ongoing maintenance contracts and have to ask the agency every time they want to update some text or an image.
Having a responsive website is vital for a variety of reasons, and nowadays it’s a given that a new website should be fully responsive, quick to load and optimised for mobile devices and tablets as well as desktop computers. We explore this in our blog: ‘Why having a responsive website is so important.’ Make sure your agency is designing your website with a ‘mobile-first’ mentality to give your site the best standing when it comes to speed, ranking and user experience. Be sure that they’re also not designing the website to serve a reduced experience on mobile devices, as this can be frustrating to users who may have seen a particular piece of content while viewing the site on their laptop, only to find it gone when viewing the site on their mobile.
With more established platforms such as WordPress, it’s pretty easy to integrate with almost anything. The majority of leading 3rd party systems will usually have a plugin or other off-the-shelf solution to link to a popular platform like WordPress. Depending on which CMS (content management system) your agency is using for your new website, you might find successful integration limiting or non-existent.
If you’re using a CRM (customer relationship management) system, Marketing Automation software, a payment gateway, or even a contact form manager, it’s likely you’ll want this to integrate with your new website. Be sure to check ahead of time whether or not you’ll be able to achieve this easily with the system they’re proposing, or if the agency will need to build a custom solution to achieve the integration. It’s worth finding out upfront, as a custom integration could mean significant additional time and costs on top of the website.
It’s important to find out from your prospective agency if they’re using a search-engine-friendly CMS (content management system) and clean, well-structured HTML markup which will make it easier for Google to crawl your website. It’s also worth asking them how they will handle things like 301 redirects for URL changes to avoid crawl errors.
You should also ask them if the CMS can include an SEO management feature which will allow you to control the keywords, meta title and meta description for each webpage, which is critical if you want to rank well on Google. Other features such as site speed, SSL certificates and Schema.org microdata are also significant contributors to successful search rankings.
Website speed is a critical factor in the success of your new site. It can also have long-term SEO implications, and it affects the overall user experience. The longer a user has to wait for your website to load, the more chance they’ll leave to go to one of your competitors. Ask each agency how they will tackle website speed during the build process, and which benchmarking tools they use to measure this. You could even ask them to commit to a certain level of performance ahead of the launch.
If you’ve already created content for an existing site, manually migrating this could take hours or even days. Or if you’re creating new content for your website, the process of adding this to the CMS can be equally as time-consuming.
It’s worth finding out if your agency can migrate your content or if they can populate your site’s content in-house rather than giving this to you and your team. Sometimes this may mean paying them to manually populate the content for you, which could be beneficial if it frees up your time for more important tasks, but the agency may also have automated tools that make the process much quicker.
Content is the last part of the website to be completed but can usually be the most time-consuming and is often the biggest blocker to launch, so be sure to tackle this early on to avoid missing your deadlines.
Keeping the user in mind throughout the whole process should be a key priority as the user experience can make or break your website. Ask your agency how they approach UX and what testing practices they follow. Ideally, they should have tools and processes to involve real-world users at various stages of the website’s development.
If your agency is using a self-hosted platform like WordPress, then hosting is something you need to be considering. Additionally, your website is going to need a domain name and SSL certificate if you haven’t already got one. Hosting can often be an afterthought, but if you’re going to be investing thousands of pounds on a new website, then it makes sense to invest in decent hosting to support your new investment. The price of hosting can vary wildly so it’s worth finding out whether they’ll provide this or if you’ll need someone else to handle it for you.
Regardless of whether security is a top priority for your business or not, you should raise this in the hiring process to determine if the agency follows best practices. Every CMS handles security differently, so it’s essential to ask them to outline what steps they’ll be taking to maximise security and if there’s anything else you might need to look into to help enhance this.
If you’re not already aware of GDPR, then you should check out the official ICO website. Your agency should, however, already have an in-depth understanding of the legislation and will be able to explain to you how they’ll ensure your site is being compliant. This needs to include a privacy statement explaining how you’ll be collecting and using visitor data, as well as an explicit ‘opt-in’ for those wanting to receive marketing emails from your organisation.
While nobody likes to think it could happen to them, it’s crucial to have a backup solution in place in case your website goes down, is hacked, or if there was some other issue with your website that stops it from working. If the worst does happen, it’s worth finding out how your agency will manage backups, where they keep them, how many of them are there, how frequent they are, and do you have access to them.
Backup solutions aren’t just for if the worst happens. If you’re updating the website’s plugins or core system, it’s wise to take a backup first, so it’s also worth finding out if this is part of your agency’s maintenance programme.
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