Selecting the right agency partner for your A/E/C firm’s website redesign can be a challenging task. While proposals play a role in the process, interviewing and asking the right questions can provide you with the insight needed to better inform your selection decision.
In no particular order, we’ve come up with a list of 15 questions to ask a potential web design and development partner before choosing who will handle your firm’s next website redesign:
1. Do you have expertise in the A/E/C industry and with similar websites?
While this may not seem overly important, the A/E/C industry is incredibly unique and complex, so the learning curve required for a redesign partner to get up to speed might be too steep (or costly). Just like hiring marketing staff that have previously worked in the industry is a benefit, choosing a redesign partner with A/E/C industry expertise is advantageous as well. It will be incredibly difficult for a digital agency to provide helpful recommendations related to content, site architecture and user experience if they do not have true expertise in your industry. But at the same time, look for a partner that has experience in other industries, too. While a partner that exclusively works exclusively in A/E/C may provide great insight, they won’t be able to bring best practices and ideas gleaned from working in other industries.
2. What aspects of my project will be performed in-house vs. outsourced?
Just because an agency lists web design and development as a capability, doesn’t mean its a core service offering or that they are actually staffed with the experts needed to truly (and effectively) provide the service. So understanding what portions of your website redesign will be or won’t be performed in-house is another important consideration. While certainly not a deal-breaker, having to leverage third-party vendors for pieces (or the entirety) of a website redesign project can add complexity, cost and scheduling challenges. Not to mention, there are some pretty major advantages a “self-performing” and “design-build” digital agency can bring to your website redesign project. If a potential partner plans to use outside support, it’s important to know who they’ll be using and what portions they’ll be working on.
3. What is your web design and development process?
Process plays a major role in the design and development of a website and process can vary greatly from agency to agency. Every digital agency has developed their own internal process that guides their projects and some are better than others. Knowing what the process is, how it gets implemented and how it will ultimately impact you and your project is helpful to understand. It’s also important to know who will be involved in the project and what each person’s role will be.
4. Will my website be fully custom or a “customized” theme?
There are a lot of websites out there masquerading as custom websites but they’re merely pre-built themes that have been customized for a particular client. Budget limitations may require using such themes; however, if you are paying for and expecting to receive a custom “stick-built” website, it’s critical that you ask this question. A custom website means that every pixel of design and layout has been performed by the firm and the website has been “hand coded” by a qualified developer.
5. How do you ensure a consistent and usable experience on all devices?
With few exceptions, responsive web design is the Google-recommended (and industry-recommended) best practice for building a website that is not just mobile friendly, but “friendly” and optimized to create a consistent and ideal user experience for all devices. Understanding how each firm approaches mobile users and responsive design throughout the entire process will be insightful and perhaps eye opening.
6. What content management system(s) do you recommend and why? Can you show us a demonstration?
Most web development companies have their personal preferences for particular content management systems (CMS). But it’s beneficial to understand why a web design firm recommends a particular CMS platform and what the pros and cons are of that platform. Be sure that the strengths of the platform you choose align with the needs and functionality requirements of your website.
Many clients assume that a CMS website will function the same on the back end, regardless of who you partner with to develop the website. However, the back-end design of the CMS interface and the administrative functionality often varies greatly. So it’s helpful to request a website demonstration to better understand how customized and intuitive the CMS of their websites are. After all, your company will be using this feature the most, so it’s imperative that it is easy to use for your team.
7. How long will the project (realistically) take?
The length of a website project varies greatly depending on scope, complexity, schedule and both the client and web design partner’s ability to hit deadlines. Based on an understanding of your project needs, a potential web partner should be able to give you an estimate of how long a project like yours typically takes and provide a basic schedule for key project milestones. They should also help you understand what factors can affect the schedule and where issues typically arise.
8. What will be required of our firm throughout the project?
Successful websites are not built independent of the client. And while you are clearly hiring an outside agency to design and build the site, understandably there will be work required on your part to get the project completed. Going in, it’s beneficial to know what will be required of you and your company, from a resources, time commitment and deliverables aspect.
9. How will you optimize my website for page speed and search engines?
Search engine optimization (SEO) has changed dramatically over the last several years. What was once a highly technical exercise is now much more about creating the content that your audience is searching for online and serving it up to them in a user-friendly manor. There are technical best practices related to SEO and page speed that should be implemented and can make or break your firm’s ability to rank well. So be sure to ask for each agency’s specific approach to page speed optimization and SEO and seek to understand how they’ll ensure your website has both the right content AND the right technical optimizations.
10. What kind of testing and quality control checks do you perform prior to the launch of a new website?
Testing is a critical process that should be completed prior to launching your new website. It’s absolutely essential for your website to render smoothly on various browsers and devices, so your web design partner should conduct cross-browser testing on the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Edge, as well as cross-platform testing on the latest versions of iOS and Android for tablets and smartphones. Seek to understand how they handle graceful degradation as it relates to the browsing experience of older versions of Internet Explorer. It’s also important that your partner follows a checklist of internal quality assurance measures to ensure that all bases are covered before launch.
11. How will you handle hosting, security and maintenance?
While not necessarily a top-of-mind issue, hosting, security and maintenance are critical factors in your website’s performance and success. Many firms elect to have their web partner host their website to avoid having to manage the process internally. While this is often recommended, it’s important for your firm to understand what kind of hosting environment the agency is providing and what security hardening measures (Website Application Firewall) are being put in place to prevent intrusions. It’s also important to understand how CMS updates will be handled and whether or not nightly, incremental, full-site backups are being performed. Most marketing teams are not equipped to make CMS updates as there is potential for breaking the website if there is plugin or software compatibility issues. Along with hosting, your digital agency should also be providing security, backups and maintenance of the CMS and plugins to ensure optimal ongoing performance.
12. Can you work within our budget parameters?
While many firms are hesitant to share budget information with a potential web development partner, it’s useful for them to know for several reasons. Think of it like sharing your budget with a realtor. If they don’t know your budget, they won’t know what kind of house to show you. It’s important to understand whether or not a potential web partner can work with the budget you have and include as many or all of your wish list items within those parameters.
13. What’s included (and not included) in your price?
Every agency prices websites differently, so understanding what the pricing includes AND doesn’t include is vital. At the end of the day, you want to understand what you’re getting for your money, what additional costs may come up along the way that are accounted for in the proposal and how they’ll handle estimating and billing for things that fall outside of the scope. When it comes to billing, no one likes surprises, so be sure to gain a clear understand of the pricing before signing a contract.
14. What is the full breadth of your capabilities?
Websites are arguably the greatest marketing asset that a company possesses. Therefore, selecting a redesign partner that understands marketing at a high level is critical. Also, website redesign projects often involve much more than just web design and web development. In fact, you’ll likely need the services of marketing strategists, content strategists, copywriters, photographers, videographers, etc. It’s essential to hire a firm that has most, if not all, of these capabilities in house and can provide them on an as-needed basis.
15. Can you provide client references?
Last but not least, it’s always a good idea to talk with a potential partner’s previous website redesign clients to get a better understanding of the company. What was it like to work with them? How did the final product turn out? How successful has the website been? What (if any) pitfalls should you be aware of? Speaking directly with previous clients is a great way to round out your due diligence and gain a more complete picture of your potential redesign partner.
Ask good questions, hire the right agency
Determining who is best equipped to build your website, as well as choosing who you want to partner with on the project goes far beyond their mere capabilities and expertise. That’s where asking great questions and listening for great answers is key to the selection process.