Your website has about .05 seconds to make a positive impression on visitors.

What will they see first? How will they feel? Will they bounce or will they stay? Choosing a brilliant web designer is one way you can increase your chances of making a positive impression.

Digital Excellence Awards | Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Web Designer

Let’s consider three more numbers: 

  • New visitors to a website form an opinion in 50 milliseconds (Source). That’s .05 seconds to make an excellent impression.   
  • 38 percent of users will leave a website if the content or layout are unattractive or not relevant (Source)
  • 57 percent of users say they will not recommend a business if their website is poorly designed (Source). 

So, you need a website that loads quickly, looks great, and is easy to navigate while providing users with the relevant information they need. This shouldn’t be a problem when you’ve got the right web designer on the job – one whose design philosophy aligns with yours and offers the services you need. 

We’re going to show you 10 questions you can ask to separate the rookies from the experts to make your web design project successful.

1. What Are Your Goals for Each Website You Design?

When asking what a web designer’s goals are when they design a website, you’re looking for something beyond, “Customer satisfaction.” Of course, the primary goal is a satisfied client, but what do they do to ensure this? Answers could include:

  • Optimizing websites to provide high ranking in search engines;
  • Building websites that provide excellent user experiences to increase conversion;
  • Using clean, minimal design for a modern aesthetic;

There are a variety of answers, but this question opens the door to discover how they approach designing a website and how they factor your goals and business needs into their process. 

2. Have You Designed Websites for My Industry?

Working with a web designer with experience in your industry may not seem like a high-priority issue, if their overall portfolio and examples are impressive, but issues related to compliance, security, and legal issues may need to be considered. For example, legal websites need to be incredibly careful with their content to ensure they aren’t making promises or claims while healthcare websites have to ensure HIPAA compliance.

Consider asking follow-up questions to get more clarity:

  • What do you consider to be the highest priority for [your industry] websites? 
  • What specific challenges do [your industry] websites face?
  • How large are the businesses you typically work with? 

Even when there isn’t a need for special circumstances, working with a designer who understands your industry and has foundational knowledge to apply to search engine optimization, site structure, and page layout can lead to a better performing website. 

3. What Is the Web Design Process?

Asking this question provides insight into the internal process of how a designer maps out and implements the strategy. A reputable agency will have a clearly defined process they can explain easily and succinctly, including things like who will be involved in designing your website, what their role will be, and even how you’ll be involved. 

For more insight, ask these additional questions:

  • What are some common obstacles that can hold up progress and how do you avoid them or overcome them?
  • What part of the process takes up the most hours?  
  • How much testing takes place before the website goes live to ensure it’s ready? 

You’re looking for answers that ensure the design process will not only be smooth, but that the team knows how to troubleshoot at every stage to ensure they are delivering a fully-functional website on time. 

4. What Is Included in the Contract?

While you’ll discuss the hourly rate and overall cost of the project, it’s more important to know exactly what you’re getting in the rate. A website that includes professionally written content and is optimized for high-ranking search engine results may cost more, but it will have a much higher value than having to do all the writing and SEO yourself. Most likely, the website designers will have an itemized, in-depth list of what is included in the price as well as the price of any add-ons. 

Additional questions:

  • Will the site be optimized to improve search engine rankings? 
  • Will your previous content be imported or will new content be written?
  • Are privacy policy, cookie policy, and custom 404 pages included in the contract?  

You need to know exactly what the pricing includes and does not include, as well as what additional costs may enter in so you know what to expect as well as determine if you’re getting a good value. 

5. What Is the Turnaround Time?

After discussing the scope of the project, the designer should provide you with a realistic timeline, including a basic schedule for meeting milestones and a solid, informed estimate of how long a project of your scope should take. Also, if there are deliverables they will need from you, they should include that information in the discussion as to how that can affect the time to complete your website. 

Often, the answer is much more complex than a set time period, so we would recommend looking for additional information:

  • Will aspects of the process be outsourced to shorten the turnaround time? 
  • Will every part of the website be custom-built or will you be using a template? 
  • After the launch, will there be additional time spent on the website to ensure it’s operating smoothly?

Having as much information upfront about when you can expect your new website to be ready allows you to more effectively plan your business to include marketing, sales, and even an uptick in business!

6. Will You Use a Content Management System to Build the Website?

A content management system is a type of platform on which your website is built that allows you to log in and make updates, edit, and add pages, images, and content without having to use code like HTML or CSS. They can be customized through plug-ins that add features to your website, like contact forms, security features, and Ecommerce functionality. The most common CMS is WordPress as it’s intuitive, easy to use, and offers near limitless customization options.

Learn more about their process with these questions:

  • Why would you use [CMS] as the content management system? 
  • Are any plug-ins included to increase site functionality or do you recommend we add any? 
  • Can I see a demonstration or examples of the CMS you’ll be using?

We would highly recommend only working with a designer who uses a CMS as it will allow you more freedom and flexibility to make the most out of your website as well as keep it updated to extend its lifespan. 

7. Will You Train Me to Use My New Website?

Even if you’re familiar with the CMS on which your website is built or it’s similar to your old website, your designer should still walk you through your new website. It’s important that you’re familiar with how to log in, make edits, and add new users. Plus, your new website may have plug-ins or third-party features integrated into the backend, like search engine optimization or online payment tools.

Learn more about what you can expect with these follow-up questions: 

  • Is training included in the contract or will this be an extra cost?
  • Do you offer on-going support for a set period after launching the website?
  • What is your turnaround time for getting back to me with support and training questions?

Because your website is such an important tool for your business, it’s absolutely essential that you’re comfortable with using it.

8. What Are My Responsibilities During the Design Process?

When you hire a web designer, they’re going to be doing most of the heavy lifting, but you should never be out of the picture. It’s important to know going into the project what is expected of you, whether it’s simply filling out a discovery questionnaire and providing approval, or if you’ll need to provide content at specific intervals. This allows you to plan properly and ensures you’re doing what you need to do to keep the turnaround time estimate accurate.

Follow up questions to ask:

  • What will you need from me to ensure you have the best information and foundation to design my website (ie: a discovery form to fill out, etc.)
  • How often will we meet to discuss progress on the website and how often do meetings last?
  • What steps do we take if there is an aspect of the design I don’t approve or have concerns with? 

In order for your website to succeed, you should be a part of the process, and a reputable web designer will want to touch base with you regularly and want your input.

9. Who Owns the Website?

There has been a shift in web design in which agencies will build and host a website to their client for an ongoing “rental” fee. Often, this is a more affordable cost for small businesses, but if the client leaves the agency, they will have to build a new website and can even lose some of the content.

Even if “renting” a website is the right option for you from a financial standpoint, ask these questions to make sure you don’t miss anything in the fine print:

  • Can I transfer the website and all components, design elements, and data to a third party for hosting? 
  • Can I register the domain myself? 
  • Is there anything proprietary related to my website that I do not own. 

Generally, if you hire a web designer to build your custom website, you own the site and all content, but you certainly want to verify before you sign a contract.

10. Can You Provide Me with References?

Whenever you hire any service, you should ask for references, and this is especially true when you’re investing in a new website for your business. Speaking with previous clients gives you a more comprehensive picture of what to expect from the process, how communication flows, and whether there were any concerns with meeting deadlines or unexpected costs.

We recommend following up with any references to ask the following:

  • Would you work with [Web Designer] again? Why or why not?
  • Were there concerns or challenges with working with [Web Designer]?
  • Has your website been successful and met the goals you had when you started? 

If a web designer doesn’t provide you with references or seems hesitant to do so, consider this to be a very large red flag. 

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About the Author: Dave Sweeney

Dave is an Emmy-Award® winning web designer/developer and has worked in the digital media industry in both newspaper and broadcast television since 1999. He has also worked as an Art Director for a medium-sized advertising agency in the South Florida market and TheeDigital's customers' are benefiting from his talent these days.

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