How To Pick the Right Web Design Agency for Your Website Project

Hiring the wrong agency to build a website will cost precious time. Picking the wrong agency could even be the nail in a company's coffin.
When starting a new website, if the focus is more on what that website needs to look like instead of answering the site visitor's questions, then the project is in trouble. 

If design is considered more important than understanding the everyday problems of the consumer, then the chances of finding success are extremely low.
Getting a new website that looks great is easy. There are almost limitless options. Anyone can spend as little as $5 a month to a few hundred thousand. Whatever the budget, someone can get it done.

Yet, getting a new website that will be successful and help a business grow, now that's tough.

An Agency That Only Delivers What Is Asked Is Dangerous

Web design has grown and evolved into a complex field. For conducting business, however, most people still approach the strategy of Web design as if it were still the early 2000s. At the turn of the millennium the dotcom bubble popped and the Internet was no longer a fad. From the ashes rose a new way of doing business online - encapsulated in the amorphous term of Web 2.0. Websites were no longer beholden to machines that operated off of DOS. Websites were free to become works of art that wowed their site visitors.
The birth of "Web design" had arrived.
That was almost 20 years ago. The world has changed over and over again since then. Consumers are no longer stuck on dial-up connections. Being tethered to a desktop is a time long gone. Everyone is online practically 24/7. It's an on-demand world. The digital landscape now defines everyone's existence.
Yet, most Web design agencies insist that the same old tactics from 2004 will still work today. Design, design, design. It's all about the design. The pitches and the arguments from these agencies are well known.
"You need to stand out if you're going to succeed!"
"You only have ____ seconds to make a first impression!"

And on, and on, and on.
Even the "smart" agencies are pushing a design first approach. They use data from studies that say people have a shorter attention span than goldfish. They say this proves that something special must be done to make people take notice. 
Motivated consumers are unique. They're not daft, and they're not as flighty as a fish. Motivated consumers are looking for the solution to their problem. They're not online to be entertained. They're there to solve a problem.
A design-first approach has three fatal mistakes:
1. Focusing on design first ignores the customer. It puts all the focus of the website on the business's own wishes, vision and ego. Worse, it forces the perspective that the consumer is "as flighty as a fish." Instead of helping the customer on a one-on-one level, a design-first model sidetracks the website's objectives into impressing the masses.

2. Design has become commoditized. This has turned Web design agencies who use a design-first approach into becoming mere order takers. The very people who are depended upon being the experts are reduced to being simple order takers for the client. If the client is happy, then the agency is happy. The agency delivered what the client wanted.

3. A design-first approach minimizes any website into being a simple digital brochure. It fragments the company's marketing initiatives into silos. It isolates the website into a "thing." Instead, a website should be the hub of a company's entire digital marketing presence.

An agency shouldn't be hired because they have the technical skills or the creative abilities lacking by the client. If so, then the client will only get what is asked for and not what is needed.

An Agency Should Be Hired To Build What Is Needed

Any prospective Web design agency should be considered as a partner, not as an order taker that is there to fill the technical know-how gaps.
As an analogy, the prospective Web agency can be thought as in terms of the athlete - trainer relationship. The athlete is the one who needs to be built up to succeed. The trainer is the one who knows how to get there. It's a partnership of two groups striving to achieve the same goal.
A professional Web agency should understand that a website is more than a simple touchpoint for prospects. They should know a website is everything to a business when it comes to marketing.
The right Web agency can be identified by the questions they ask right away. Questions such as:
  • Who is the ideal customer?
  • Why would the ideal customer be on the website?
  • What is the visitor's biggest problem related to the unique value proposition?
  • What does the visitor hope to accomplish on the website?
  • What should the visitor do on the website?
  • What other marketing channels are being utilized?
  • How is traffic being driven to the website?
If a Web agency is asking more about design and functionality than they are customer personas, buyer journeys, cost per acquisition or industry challenges, then it's the wrong agency.

A business website should be built for the ideal customer, not for the business.

Identify and Avoid The Vampire "Agencies"

It takes a lot of work to make any website successful.
Long before the project ever gets to the design conversation, the following should be accomplished:
Define the online goals. These should be specific! Getting more sales isn't going to cut it.
  • Establish the branding voice for the business.
  • Develop and understand all the customer personas.
  • Map out the buyer's journey.
  • Create a measurable call-to-action strategy.
  • Craft a customer focused content strategy.
  • Document the website's SEO strategy.
  • Analyze the website's functionality requirements.
  • Detail any third-party integration requirements.
  • Establish the CMS strategy.
  • THEN the design conversation can begin.
Any Web agency that wants to jump straight into design should be avoided at all cost. They'll suck what little budget a client has dry and they'll leave the website lifeless.
A business website should be considered as a 24/7 salesman. A design-first agency will only deliver a new pair of clothes. Sure, the new website may look great, but there's no new added value. It's not smarter. It's only subjectively "prettier."
Shopper beware! 

These agencies are out there, all over, and they just won't die.

Not Enough Budget For Such A Large Project

If there really isn't the budget for a full-service agency, then a viable solution is using a DIY service provider. A DIY builder covers the cost for design, code, hosting, technical SEO and more...for pennies on the dollar.
Any website project that is restricted by a small budget should avoid any design agency altogehter. Instead, that money should be invested in a better marketing strategy. 

A professional copywriter, conversion rate optimization (CRO) expert or a SEO/PPC agency are all options that will deliver a higher rate of return than an un-optimized redesigned website.
Focusing on how a website communicates with its site visitors will yield far better results than worrying about adding a fancy background video.
Remember, a website is for the customer, not for the business.

About the Author
Daniel-Davidson-Spring-2017-ByDanDesignCoDaniel Davidson has been in love with design and marketing for the last two decades. He is a husband, proud father and the founder of By Dan Design Co., a premium Web design agency that specializes in crafting and designing online marketing strategies. When not working with clients, Daniel spends his time documenting, writing and promoting what business websites need in order to succeed.