With 2020 just around the corner, you may be looking at your marketing budget and thinking about a new website.
In an industry with no barriers to entry, the quality of website and digital marketing vendors can swing wildly. How do you know you’re selecting the right vendor? This guide will help you navigate the vendor selection process, ask the right questions, and select a strong partner for your digital marketing efforts.
Phase 1: Identify
As with any other selection process, it’s important to narrow the field to an initial short list. Doing so will minimize the time you spend interacting with vendors that are clearly not a good choice. We’ve identified two steps to help you through this process:
Step 1: Search
A vendor’s website should provide a wealth of information to help you identify whether a vendor is a potential fit. A quick Google search will identify some potential candidates. Be sure to search for a mix of regional keywords as well as industry keywords. For example, you can search based on your city, such as “Pittsburgh Web Design.” You should also search using industry terms, such as “manufacturing web design” or “law firm web design,” depending on your specific industry. Your industry search keywords can also be combined with your regional search keywords.
Step 2: Website Review
Once you’ve identified a list of 5-10 companies, begin your website review. Pay close attention to these areas:
- Portfolio: Does the portfolio showcase compelling projects? If the work on the website doesn’t work for you, then the vendor can be scratched from the list.
- Staff: Does the organization identify its staff? Is the staff well-rounded, including project management, creative, development, etc? A quality group will include these positions at the very least.
- Content: How is the content written? Did you learn anything from the website?
- Quality: The vendor’s website is often a reflection of their capabilities (and if it’s not, it should be!). If the site is of poor quality, it’s most likely a reflection of their capabilities.
Phase 2: Engage
Your next step is to interact with each vendor on your short list. An initial call, email, or contact form submission will begin the process. During this step, consider the following:
Did the vendor address your call promptly? If the vendor takes a while to respond to your sales inquiry, you can rest assured there will not be any more urgency once you become a client.
Did your initial point of contact understand your needs? Did they seem competent, well-spoken? Remember, the barriers to entry in the digital industry are very low, and some vendors can be quite inexperienced. You should expect nothing less than a well-spoken, competent first point of contact, as it’s often reflective of the overall competency of the agency.
Did the contact do all of the talking, or did he or she ask questions about your business and goals regarding the project? A competent vendor will want to begin to understand your needs before considering even and initial picture of what the project might look like.
Did the vendor identify a clear next step, and provide you with an idea of what to expect? Many companies are not process oriented, and if they address the sales process loosely, the project will most likely reflect the same.
Phase 3: Interact
Once you have identified a few vendors that you are comfortable with, your next step is to meet with your finalists. During this phase, here’s what to look for from the finalists:
Inexperience can reveal itself through a lack of professionalism. Sometimes companies give creative vendors a pass on their professionalism, chalking it up to “well, they’re just creative.” It’s important to recognize the difference.
As you dive deeper into the prospective vendor’s processes, you should ask to meet with the individuals you will be working with. You should meet your project manager and the creative director, at the very least. Those individuals will be highly involved in your project, and a good relational fit can mean the difference between a successful and a failed project.
A qualified vendor should be able to provide you with in-depth examples of work similar to what you’re looking for. Since there is no governing body with the industry, a qualified vendor will walk you through work they’ve completed in the past, and provide you with strong references related to the projects that you select, not them.
Proposal Process & Details
Many vendors provide a one-size-fits-all proposal, and hope that the prospect isn’t savvy enough to know the difference. The proposal process should include significant discussion regarding your business goals, and the proposal should clearly be tailored to your company. Details related to each phase of the project, along with specific deliverable descriptions should be included. Remember- if it’s not detailed in the proposal, it’s not included in the price. That’s why the typical “low cost option” usually contains fees that aren’t necessarily hidden, but not accounted for because of the vendor’s lack of detail and understanding.
Many companies treat a digital marketing purchase much like buying a widget. They issue an RFP with requirements, don’t talk to the vendors through the process, and then make a buying decision based on the proposal alone. Projects that result from this type of process often fail.
Creative, intangible projects such as website design require a significant amount of pre-sale consultation. There are many ways to execute a project to meet a specific set of business goals, and there are many questions a vendor should have throughout the process. Additionally, the relational fit is important and often gets lost within the RFP process.
RFPs are not recommended, however, if an RFP must be issued, by far the single most important thing that can be done to ensure the process will work is to provide vendors with the opportunity to have a sit-down discovery session after having received the RFP. This will provide the opportunity for the vendors to better understand the project, ask questions, and provide options. If a vendor fails to take advantage of the opportunity, that vendor should be disqualified from the process.
Platform and Technology Considerations
Unless you have a very specific requirement for a technology platform, you should discuss the options with potential vendors. A quality vendor should provide options, however, be wary of the vendor that provides too many options. If too many options are provided, it could be a sign that there’s no real technology focus at the vendor, and that can indicate poor quality and future support issues.
Open Source vs. Custom
Many companies consider open source platforms under the false assumption that an open source system can be worked on by virtually any other vendor that has experience on that platform. However, there are many hidden dangers with open source software. First, security issues are much more significant because open source systems are often the targets of hackers. Additionally, by definition open source means that the software has no central developer- many open source implementations contain code written by many different developers, which can lead to more difficult ongoing support should something go wrong.
Custom or hybrid systems can be a great alternative to open source in most situations, assuming the vendor is stable and has a large install base with its custom platform. Typically, support is faster, easier, and is required less frequently with a custom system. The reality is that most companies stick with their vendor for years, and if they’re well supported, the underlying platform should not make a difference.
For websites implemented on a content management system, your vendor should provide ongoing training opportunities for your staff. Without ongoing training on the system, new employees that need to utilize the system will stumble through self-training, which is extremely unproductive.
Your vendor should have a dedicated support scenario in order to address time-critical needs. Many vendors do not have a formal support structure in place due to the expense; however, a strong client support infrastructure is imperative.
How do I choose a web design company or web designer?
Begin by Googling web design companies in your city (or within your industry). Review websites for a strong portfolio, experienced staff, and quality content. Create a short list and begin making calls. Take note of response time, answers to your questions, and if there are clear next steps. The most important thing? Consider: is the company listening to you and your unique challenges? Did the contact do all of the talking, or did he or she ask questions about your business and goals regarding the project?
What questions should I ask a web designer?
What are some similar businesses you have worked with? How long have you been in business? What makes you different? What are the average ongoing costs for clients? What is your project management methodology? What CMS do you develop on? Will my design be custom? Do you provide hosting and support? What are the next steps?
What is the best website design company?
The best website design company is the company that listens to your needs and doesn't pressure you into a solution you or your budget aren't comfortable with. The best company should provide you with workable website options. Remember, you don't need to include every bell and whistle for your initial website launch. You can phase out your approach. The company should build a team for your project that is based on your goals and your industry. From the initial consultation to the strategy and development of the site, the company should be responsive and engaged.
What is a website design company?
A website design company is a company that designs, develops, and in some cases hosts, your website. If you do not have the time or skills to build your own website, you may decide to hire a website design company to do it for you.
What should I look for in a website design agency?
The most important thing you should look for is a portfolio that includes comprehensive case studies for previous website projects. You will also want to look for a business that has a fast response time, prioritizes your unique business goals, provides you with workable options, has a long history of doing high quality work, and offers ongoing support for your business.
Download the How to Choose A Web Design Company ebook which includes the content above as well as a bonus Web Design Company Checklist that you can use in your vendor selection process. If you have any questions or concerns, let us know. We'd be happy to help you navigate the process.