This article on ‘Questions to Ask Your Digital Agency Before you Sign a Contract’ came out quite nicely so I thought I’d pop it in here… Enjoy!
- What qualifications and experience do the business owners have?
Web design companies often change hands and if you’re not careful, you’re likely to find that the person who runs the business knows very little about designing websites or best-practice online marketing principles. If you want to know you’re in good hands, choose a web design company with an experienced, qualified management team who have been running the business for at least a few years.
- Do your designers work in-house, or do you contract them out?
A lot of companies contract their designers out and they rarely, if ever, set foot in the same office as the person who answers the phone. That’s not necessarily a problem, but you’ll find designers who work as part of a motivated team tend to do better work than those working from their bedroom, in Eastern Europe. Quality control is also much easier when everyone is sitting within shouting distance from each other, and if you can pop in and talk to the designer at their desk on their computer, it’s much easier to communicate what you want and get your ideas across.
- What qualifications does your team have?
University degrees and TAFE courses are no substitute for talent, but they definitely help make it shine. You don’t need a PhD in Information Technology to build a website, but it’s good to know that at least a few people on the team have taken the time to get a tertiary education and learn best-practice principles from those in the know. Any high school student can knock together a basic web page these days, but if you want a site that helps you make money, you need someone who has studied the theory behind making that happen.
- Who does your programming?
You’ll invariably need a feedback form, shopping cart, funky map or some other little gadget on your website at some stage. Make sure the person who does the programming knows their stuff and get a reliable, set-in-stone estimate of the timeframe for completion. Many web design firms out-source the tricky bits to interstate or overseas contractors and communication errors and long, unexpected delays are common.
- Are you certified by Google?
Google offers certification courses to people and companies who can demonstrate that they know how best to promote a site in their search results. It’s certainly not mandatory to have a site built by a Google-certified company, but it does show a high level of commitment and professionalism, not to mention recognized expertise.
- I want a website, but I also want help marketing it, do you do that?
Online marketing is more than just getting your site into Google, although that’s arguably the most important start. A good web design firm should be able to help you work out exactly how the Internet fits in your overall marketing plan and point out strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for you. They should be able to provide you with a detailed search engine optimisation plan that embodies Google’s guidelines, create and manage a paid search campaign, advise on banner ad placement and suggest other ideas like affiliate marketing, social media and viral. If they don’t do that, they should at least be aware of the issues and able to put you in touch with a reputable firm who can help. The last thing you want is a website designer who builds the site without even considering any marketing opportunities – or worse, one who doesn’t know enough about what they’re doing and ends up getting you in trouble. If they’re claiming to be an expert, ask for solid proof of their claims and evidence of their knowledge in peer-review journals and mainstream publications.
- What are the payment terms?
Most companies will ask for a deposit up-front before they start working on your project. This helps with their cash-flow and it’s a sign from you that you’re serious about getting something done. A normal amount is anywhere between 10% and 50%, anything more than that and it’s starting to look risky. A website is a big investment, so ask if you can pay the remainder of the fees off over a period of a few months. Make sure you get a detailed quote that outlines every component of the project and ask if there are any fees over and above what they originally say. You don’t want to find yourself paying for endless ‘updates’ after you thought the site was finished.
- Can I update the website myself?
Ask what sort of content management system they recommend and if they offer a variety of choices. This will save you big bucks.
- Do you provide a money-back guarantee?
Ask what will happen if you’re just not happy with the end result, or if they fail to complete something they said they would.
- Can I ask some of your clients about your service?
Find out what work they’ve done and call their clients to see what they thought of the service. Any half-decent agency will have a bunch of testimonials, but every agency in the world has done work for their brothers, sisters and cousins at some stage. Ask for a few examples, and call them. If they were happy with the service they shouldn’t mind a quick chat about your potential new designer.