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10 questions to ask a web design company before you sign

If you're shopping around for a web design company, here's a few questions you might want to throw at the potentials before you commit. The answers will help you spot the difference between a reputable firm and one you might best avoid.

How much is a new website?

The price of a website can vary of course, but most small businesses tend to spend between $2,000 and $5,000 on their site. Larger organisations with lots of information, or online stores tend to spend about $5,000 to $10,000, big publicly listed companies usually spend over $10,000, but it really does depend so much on what you want to get out of your site. If you've only got $3000 to spend, we'll help you maximise your impact with something simple, elegant and to the point. If you want to really start using the web as a serious business tool there's so much we can help you do, no matter what your budget is. We'll guarantee you one thing though, you won't get a better result for the same money from anyone else.

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.

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. Some web firms utilise their own in-house CMS however this can also be risky if the company stops supporting the CMS or changes direction (this doesn't happen often, but it does happen).

e-CBD uses the MODX Content Management System as it's easy to use, SEO friendly and above all, is "open source", which means developers from all over the world can modify the platform to make improvements or add new features.

How long does it take to build a website?

This depends on many things including how big the site is, how quickly we get the creative brief back, and how prepared you are with your website assets (including content, images and video). It could take anywhere between 2 weeks and 2 months to build a website.

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. 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. We also make sure our team stay up to date on the latest developments in digital technology and trends as the web world is continuously evolving.Â

Who does your programming and development?

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. Some web design firms out-source the tricky bits to interstate or overseas contractors and communication errors and long, unexpected delays are common.

I want a website, but I also want help marketing it, do you do that?

Internet 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 social media, content strategy 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 information would I need to get together?

Work out what pages you think you need and write them down. If you're not sure, just put some ideas down. Look at existing websites that are similar to what you want to do and make notes. Start taking pictures, or finding images of products you want to mention. If you decide we're the right people to build your website we'll do up a quote for you and outline exactly what information we'll need. If you're really busy, or you're not good with words, or you want some expert marketing advice we can do everything for you and put our copywriters on the job.

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.