11 Things You Need to Know before Choosing a Web Design Agency

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Building a website from scratch is expensive. Rebuilding one, even more so.

Pick the wrong web design agency to build or rebuild your website, and the end result could be spiralling costs and no return on investment, rather than an increase in traffic or conversions.

Choosing a web design agency shouldn’t feel like a gamble.

To help you find the right website design and development agency for your business, we’ve picked eleven things you should know before choosing one.

Why Should You Listen to Us?

Thousands of businesses send us their websites to review every year. Unfortunately, we see too many websites that are clearly not ranking at the top of Google or converting enough leads or sales because their websites have been built by web design agencies that prioritise design over revenue generation.

These websites look good, and they could probably win some design awards too, but they don’t earn any organic search traffic, and barely convert at over 1% (if at all).

Websites should be built with purpose. They should be built to:

  1. Rank at the top of Google.
  2. Convert traffic into leads.
  3. Aid the conversion of leads into sales.

Websites should look great and represent your brand well, but they should convert like machines too.

Building high-traffic, high-converting websites is something we know how to do very well.

By the end of this blog post, we hope that you’ll be able to find an agency to do that for you so that when you decide to request a website and marketing review, your website will fit in the “Ready to scale their marketing” category and not the “Needs to be rebuilt from scratch” one.

1. Does the agency have a process?

In our experience, inexperienced website design agencies don’t follow a process. They know how to build a website, and there might be several roles defined within the team that builds it, but they’re all working from memory, not a standard operating procedure (SOP) or tasklist.

That’s how mistakes are made. That’s how more time is spent on designing landing pages that have all the latest HTML, CSS and Javascript widgets but don’t contain any sales-optimised copy or clear calls-to-action.

Your agency shouldn’t be jumping into the design stage before understanding your business. They certainly shouldn’t be drafting product pages before understanding your product or your customer’s typical sales journey.

There should be a consistent process of stages, each with a defined SOP, including:

  1. Research.
  2. Wireframing.
  3. Designing.
  4. Building.
  5. Quality checks.
  6. Post-launch quality checks.
  7. Post-launch performance improvement.

If you’re talking to an agency and they can’t outline a series of stages like those above, that’s quite a red flag.

2. Do they do their research?

You wouldn’t launch a marketing campaign without doing customer research.

No web design agency should design and launch a website without doing plenty of research either.

There’s so much to understand about a business and its target market that could (and should) influence the structure and design of any website build or redesign.

The design and development team should understand:

  1. What your business offers.
  2. What your competition is doing.
  3. What your industry looks like.
  4. What your target market looks like (and how they behave).
  5. What your target market is searching for (and what kind of content best helps them).

If your target market typically reads a lot of information before deciding on a company, your website needs content at the core.

If your target market is well educated about your industry and is looking for the company that best matches their needs, your website needs to be designed to quickly and effectively communicate your value proposition and unique selling points.

If your web development agency suggests that the first thing they’ll be doing (post-sale) is jumping into the design or build phase, consider doing more research yourself and look at other agency options.

3. Do they understand multiple industries?

Industry-focused website design and development agencies are a good thing. They’ve found a process or design style that works, and they’re effective at producing the same consistent builds for all of their clients.

Therein lies the problem.

If an agency serves only one industry, they’re much less likely to try out different design styles or conversion-rate-optimisation techniques working well in other industries.

For example, if something is working really well for direct-to-consumer or eCommerce brands right now, your agency should be trying to test it on your website too.

If there’s an emerging design trend leading to more time on site, a lower bounce rate and a higher conversion rate, you’d want your web design agency to at least consider replicating it on your website too.

If that agency uses the same “tried and tested” design on all their client websites, where is the competitive edge for those sites?

Imagine every car manufacturer producing the same identical car. Where’s the competitive advantage? Why would you choose one car over another one?

Instead, your website needs to be tailored to your needs using the best user experience and conversion-rate-optimisation principles available, not just “what normally works for our clients”.

4. Do they have experience with both small and large websites?

Web agencies that only build smaller websites tend to have trouble with big ones. They’re not used to working on such a large scale and become quickly unstuck, and that’s when costs start to spiral.

On the other hand, development agencies that only build large websites tend to over-complicate smaller website builds.

You need an agency used to doing both.

They should be able to research, plan, design and build any website size.

The web design agency you choose needs to understand the differing needs of different industries, how their market tends to navigate online and how complex or simple the website needs to be.

5. Do they have expertise in multiple platforms?

We’re fond of agencies with a singular platform focus. It allows them to build great-looking and functional websites. The downside, however, is that they might not necessarily be using the best platform for your business.

Agencies solely focused on Shopify, BigCommerce, or Magento will have a hard time building a non-eCommerce site for your business.

We’ve been asked multiple times to review a website built on Shopify — not because they have products to sell, but because the developer knew the platform better.

The website was overly complicated, and visitors were encouraged to add products to a basket for a quote rather than to checkout. Instead, the best lead generation solution for that business would have been to offer a consultation call.

The same can be said for companies specialising in platforms like Squarespace and Wix. Yes, they’re getting better at adding eCommerce functionality, but they’re incredibly limiting from a user-experience, conversion-rate-optimisation and (especially), a search-engine-optimisation point of view.

If you need a lead generation website, you need a platform like WordPress that has plenty of room for customisation.

If you need an eCommerce store, you could build that in WordPress too, but if you need something simpler to manage, it could be built in Shopify.

The worst option is the agency that only builds in its own custom platform. One that you can only go to them to update. One that, if the agency shuts down and stops working on their custom platform altogether, results in businesses having to pay five or six-figure amounts to migrate their websites away from them.

For more on this point, plus another ten that aren’t covered in this blog post, download our free eBook, 21 Things You Need to Know before Choosing a Web Design Agency.

Don't hire a web design agency until you've read this eBook

Front cover of 21 Things Your Need To Know Before Choosing a Web Design Agency

6. Do they understand your business?

Your business isn’t the same as the others. Your competitors might sell similar services or products, but it’s your expertise and higher quality that sets you apart as the best.

It’s important that the web development team you commission to build or redesign your website understands the differences between them and you.

They also need to understand how your business makes money.

  • How do you earn leads?
  • How many touchpoints do you need to have with your leads before they convert?
  • Do they need to see just one page or several to self-educate and convert?
  • Does your business convert better via blog content or squeeze pages?
  • Would it be better to sell your services as a package on the site, or do leads convert higher and spend more when they’re face-to-face or speaking with someone over the phone?

These are just some considerations your agency should be making time for.

If they don’t understand this, they’ll build the wrong website for you with a sales funnel that doesn’t work. Fixing the funnel after the website has gone live won’t be cheap either.

That’s why it’s so important to work with a business partner and not just a vendor.

The cost of choosing an agency that doesn’t understand your business is not just a drop in leads or an insignificant lead increase, it’s a drop in total business revenue. Scary.

7. Do they understand your brand?

Branding is one of the most significant parts of your marketing.

People see your brand and immediately know a lot about your business.

Depending on how you’ve crafted your brand’s story, they could see a reliable business with great customer care. Or, they could see a business that doesn’t follow through on their promises, with a customer service team that never answers the phone.

Your website needs to be built with your brand principles in mind.

The web agency you choose needs to understand the value of your brand and how it should be used on your website to help promote your brand story, your value proposition and your unique selling points.

Take Apple as an example.

When their products are sold in other technology stores, they’re not just on the shelf with every other available phone, tablet or computer. They’re typically separate, displayed in the same style as their flagship stores. They have the same maple-wood tables with lots of space between each item (unlike the other product tables where items are squashed together).

Brand guidelines are being followed, and a brand message is communicated, even if it’s not in an Apple store. They’re using their branding to repeatedly remind potential customers that Apple is uniquely different.

Choose a web design agency that knows how to use your brand and how to utilise it to increase your website’s conversion rate.

8. Do they prioritise conversions and functionality over design?

We’ve mentioned it throughout this post a few times, but conversion rate optimisation is a crucial yet often overlooked part of website design.

We regularly say to people who submit their websites for a review that their traffic strategy looks decent, but their website is never going to convert that traffic.

Conversion rate optimisation is far too often overlooked in favour of flashy website designs. No wonder, then, that we regularly see conversion rates under 1%.

Another overlooked area is user experience.

It’s amazing how many websites we are sent that are completely unusable. Again, they might look great, but if people can’t use them to find out about your business and then convert, what’s the point?

It must be great for web design agencies to be able to show off design awards they’ve won, but if the businesses they’ve served aren’t seeing an increase in conversions or revenues, it’s only the design agencies that make any gains.

If the agencies you’re choosing from are more focused on talking about the awards they’ve won and not the results their clients have earned, take caution.

9. Are they conversion rate optimisation experts?

Yep. We’re banging the drum here, but this is the area we’re most passionate about (and for good reason).

Last year we reviewed thousands of websites. The number of them with conversion rates below 1% was astonishing.

We’re deeply passionate that businesses considering building a website or rebuilding one don’t fall into the same problem of having a new website built that doesn’t offer any return on their investment or earn them any leads or sales.

Simply put, the agencies you’re considering need to talk about conversion rate optimisation.

They need to be working from best practices, but they also need to know what not to do (based on industry expertise). They also should know how to test and improve a website’s lead generation performance.

For example, conversion rate optimisation agencies (or teams, like ours) are constantly running a variety of tests for their clients. A/B testing, for example, is a brilliant way of testing whether a landing page could convert higher than it currently does. The findings from those tests should then influence the design of future landing pages and websites, which the best web design agencies should be doing.

10. Are they user experience experts?

User testing is one of our favourite things to do. We use tools like Hotjar to do it, but it can also be achieved by standing behind people and watching them as they use your website.

As an agency of digital natives, it always surprises us just how differently other people use the internet.

Sometimes we see people having trouble finding buttons that you’d assume to be obvious, but because of their size, colour or wording, are not as clear as we expected.

Those people are often outliers and an exception to how 99% of people use the web, but now and again, we’ll spot something that could be blocking 100s of conversions on a website (that we didn’t build but have agreed to run pay-per-click ads to).

Another part of user experience that’s often overlooked is how the website is to use on mobile…

11. Do they understand the importance of mobile friendliness?

77% of the traffic to the Exposure Ninja website comes via desktop devices.

Does that mean we should ignore the other 23% of visitors visiting via mobile or tablet devices? Absolutely not.

Every website visitor is a potential future client. Yes, your traffic might be dominated by one traffic source, but your next high-value client or SQL might see your LinkedIn ad on their phone, click on it, and spend the next half an hour reading your content. You just never know.

As a digital marketing agency with search engine optimisation at the core, we also appreciate that mobile-friendliness is a key ranking factor in search engine rankings, especially Google.

Google uses a mobile-first indexing system. That means that websites are ranked on the performance of the website on a mobile device.

Now, even if 77% of your traffic is via desktop, like ours — if you’re reliant on organic search traffic, you’ll need to optimise your website for mobile first, desktop second.

Make sure the web design agency you choose not only knows this but practices this.

10 More Things You Need to Know

There’s a lot more to consider when you’re choosing a web design and development agency, many of which we’ve covered here.

But we can think of ten more important things you need to consider too.

We’ve gathered 21 things in total that you need to know and put them into a singular eBook. You can get a copy of it for free by visiting this page or by clicking the “Download this eBook” button in the call-to-action box beneath (you wouldn’t believe how many websites we review that have zero calls-to-action in their blog posts).

Still have a few questions?

Still a little unsure about how to choose a web design agency or whether your website might benefit from just some conversion rate optimisation tweaks instead?

If so, drop your question in the comments section beneath or send it to our team via the form on our contact page.

Alternatively, you can request a website quote for your website project via our Website Development page, or submit your website to our website and marketing review.

After that, why not read through some of our best blog posts and videos about website design, development and conversion rate optimisation (linked below).

Don't hire a web design agency until you've read this eBook

Front cover of 21 Things Your Need To Know Before Choosing a Web Design Agency

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