So your business or organization has decided to build a new website! Congratulations on this exciting endeavor! You’ve gone through the other steps required before actually designing a new website, and you’ve found a few web design firms. You've read their reviews and looked at their portfolios. Further, you've made that first contact to reach out to them and now comes your big moment.
The question then is, how are you going to decide which web design firm you will actually hire? How will you determine if they are the best fit for your project? This next step can be a difficult one because if you’re interviewing more than one firm, you are going to be handing out a couple of “No's” in addition to awarding the contract to the firm of your choice.
Whether you've designed a website before or you're a web veteran, we're going to give you the best questions we've heard from clients in the past 20 years of building websites. Download a printable version here!
First, here are a couple of considerations we recommend before your meeting. A web designer is not a mind reader – while they are trained in both design/technical skills and hopefully consultation/people skills, in order for them to provide you with the great solution that you seek, they're going to ask a lot of questions to get information from you that will help them meet your requirements. Here's how you can help them right up front in the interview process:
Provide every web designer with identical information and give them at least a few days to look it over. The information should include:
After you’ve provided the information outlined above, the next step is the interview. The questions you ask are important because the responses you receive can help you make a decision in your web designer interview process.
Did you have a chance to look over the material I sent to you? Was there anything in particular that stood out?
This is an obvious one because you want to see how much time the web designer has invested in getting ready for the interview. However, if you haven't paid your web designer anything yet, you can't expect a full in-depth consultation, but they should at least take the time to review the information you sent and have some meaningful questions prepared and ready for you.
Who are the people on your team you might see as a good fit for working on this project?
This is an important question because having more than one mind on the project is important to your firm. In deciding who you’ll award the project, you must consider who is available and whether or not they have someone or a team of people in mind who can contribute different ideas and play off each other to give you the best results.
Are my project deadlines for concept and completion realistic?
This is important because you want to make sure the web designer is going to be available and is flexible for when you're ready. Most projects don't actually begin when they're intended, but a lot of companies have a hard deadline. Be sure to flush out any particular reasons your launch might be delayed.
Should I anticipate any expected overages beyond your initial estimate?
We've seen a lot of companies quoting projects on an hourly basis. This can be dangerous for a couple of reasons – sometimes the web design firm could be providing extra services to you that are not outlined in the original proposal, and this can result in a lot of additional costs.
How do your invoicing and billing work? What type of milestone payments would you be expecting?
You want to know if your web design firm is expecting you to just send in paper checks when things are due. Are they expecting payment over PayPal, which, in our opinion, is not a great idea, or do they have some type of online invoicing system where you can pay with credit cards online, set up payments, view payment history, etc.? Evaluate what's important to you in this step.
What is your process like? Will I have an overall view of the various phases, design through launch, so I know what to expect?
This is a really important question because, quite honestly, some designers just wing it while other web design firms have a step-by-step process. That process is important so that things aren't left out or forgotten. It also ensures the client doesn't get frustrated feeling like there is no movement towards completion.
Can you tell me about the types of best practices you employ in your designs? And how do you keep up with the latest design trends?
We're going to give you some answers below, but we don't want you to give them to the web design firm verbatim. Instead, let them tell you what's important. If they don't give any of these examples below you can follow up with specific questions. Here are some important things your designer should be talking about:
Will you incorporate SEO best practices into the website you design for me?
As an experienced web designer, we know that the answer to this question will almost always be "no" unless you specifically ask your web designer. If your web designer says that they do incorporate SEO into the website design process, ask them a few more questions. How do you do keyword research? Will you review your keyword research with me? Will you make SEO friendly changes to my title tags, header tags, description tags, and alt tags? Will you be doing this work in-house or using an SEO reseller?
Will I be able to edit my own content? Will you train me on how to edit it or do I have to go through you?
An ideal situation is a website where you can go in and make little changes like edit text, update things that may change frequently, or add photo galleries to a blog post. However – let's be realistic – a really well-designed website created by professional designers will require a professional designer to make some changes.
Is my website going to be completely custom or will you be applying some type of theme?
Things you should know about this: If you're going with WordPress, for example, a lot of developers will use or buy a theme. This can help speed up design and development, but there's no guarantee the developer of that theme may be there in the future. Therefore, make sure they are purchasing products and services that are used by a wide variety of people, and is one that offers some type of support for a paid plan. If the website is going to be completely custom, ask them about the technologies they are going to be using and whether those technologies are being used by a wide pool of developers.
What is your creative process like?
This is important because you want to make sure you're kind of feeling the vibe from your web designer. Here, you want to consider the following: Are they esoteric? Are they organized? Do they pour a cup of coffee or a glass of wine? We think talking about this will help you feel like you have a good connection with your web designer.
If you provide a design that we’re generally unhappy with, how do you handle it?
This is an interesting question. Some designers become emotionally invested in their project and they have strong feelings about what they designed, while others just want to build something great that the client also loves.
After I receive my first concept, how many rounds of revisions will you provide to me and how long will it take between each round of revisions?
This is important because some web designers can go dormant, especially the smaller web design firms or the one-person-show freelancers – they've got a lot going on and are trying to manage everything by themselves. It's good to set expectations right from the start. If they tend to hide during the project you can call them out on it because you asked them in the beginning how long to wait in between changes.
What type of quality control or testing process do you have between the time you will design the site and the time you will launch it?
This is really important because when you get your site, you typically want to be happy about it. Customers are going to notice it and you're going to send people there, and if you’re marketing it, you will want it to be perfect. A lot can happen during the web design: the project code can be broken, spelling and grammar issues may occur, mobile design issues may arise, you name it. We have a four-page checklist of every single post-launch problem we've encountered in the last 15 years. I tell clients up front that though we have an extensive testing process, things do still slip through the cracks. However, we do our due diligence to make sure the website is flawless when launched.
Do you host websites or would we have to host it?
Many firms like to host their own websites typically because they think it's cheaper or they found some ad somewhere for $9 a month hosting. The truth is, there a lot of things that can go wrong on a hosting account – we've seen people who forget to pay the bill lose the login and are unable to keep track of the account as a result, and hackers get in and use the account for illegal activities, and so on. You may spend a little bit more, but it is better to have your website designer control the account. This gives them complete responsibility and complete access to everything to make sure that your website is running at its best.
If I call you with questions after the project, what do you consider billable? What is your hourly rate?
Let's be honest here, companies stay in business by charging for their time. But what you need to consider is, are you going to get a bill for $8.75 every time you send a quick email? Or do they have some sort of formal consultation process where they can block off times and charge you accordingly for the expertise they have acquired to earn a living on?
Are there any pieces of my projects which will be handled by outside freelancers or contractors?
It's important to ask your web designer which pieces may be handled by outsiders because even though those freelancers are contractors that are probably working with them regularly, it still leaves a level of uncertainty. On the flip side of it, not every company can employ the best of every field, including complex integrations that may be needed for your project. A company having all of that talent in-house will certainly be a higher price.
After we launch, who will be responsible for website changes and how long would they typically take?
Quite honestly, our best clients are those who came from other web designers, who said it took one to two weeks to get any kind of response from them. A 2- to 3-business-day turnaround is typically considered great for a web design firm. A good response will be something like, “We do our best to give a 1- to 2-business-day turnaround, with exceptions if we're handling some sort of emergency or we have a holiday."
Will you give me all the passwords necessary for my website, including the database file system, FTP, admin login, etc.?
If your web designer doesn't provide all of these types of access to you, it is a good sign that they are just smashing your website on a host with a ton of other websites and everything's kind of mashed together. This is not good for you or their other clients.
Have you recently fired a client or suggested they go somewhere else? If so, why?
It's important to know what your web design firm considers a conflict. Do they have a high threshold and are they reasonable or do they have a tendency to just get what they want and kick everyone else to the curb?
Your web designer is just that – a web designer – not a Marketing Agency, a PR Firm, or an attorney who can consult on legal questions. Their job is to take information about your business and your vision, understand your competitors and who's coming to your site, and then develop and design something amazing that caters to your audience and achieves the results you were aiming for.
If you're in the process of selecting a new web designer, download these questions and use them during the interview process!
Do you have a suggestion on what questions to ask a web designer in an interview? Send us a note!