How to choose a web designer

1. Do they know how to code?

A good web designer knows how to code in the basic languages i.e. HTML/CSS, and typically has some knowledge of PHP and Javascript. Without this simple knowledge, you'll tend to be provided with a 'ready-made' template site at a low cost since the design is not theirs, it's already coded, and all they need is your content. However, that defeats the object when what you want is something that is unique and suits your needs and the needs of your business.

They should also know how to use some sort of design package like Photoshop, so they can optimise your images to fit perfectly within scale and look pixel perfect. The website should adhere to recognised standards. The site should be written to conform and validate to the standards defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) wherever possible – this will in turn, mean your site should be cross-browser friendly (i.e. Appear the same across various different types of web browser).

All of our sites are hand coded using valid XHTML or HTML5 and CSS. We also use PHP and MySQL, Javascript and JQuery. We use a range of Adobe products including Photoshop and Illustrator for design and image optimisation. Sites are checked to make sure they conform with current W3C web standards where possible, and we also check accessibility to make sure they meet at least the minimum requirements for disabled or text only users.

We test sites for cross browser compatibility with all of the major browsers i.e Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera.

2. Do they ask questions about your business?

When approaching a web designer, they should ask a number of questions about you and your business, this is so the end result of your site would reflect you and your business i.e. do you have an existing logo and/or corporate colour scheme, what do you hope to achieve with the site, how many pages do you need etc.

We have a pre-project questionnaire which we encourage potential clients to fill in so that we can get a better idea of what they are after before we send a quotation. We also ask for feedback throughout the design and development process to make sure the site fits the client’s needs.

3. Do they have a varied portfolio?

Look at their portfolio/case studies and do a Google search and check that the companies exist and have the same website that the agency designed.

Do you like the website designs they have produced? It’s a mistake to assume that just because these sites might not have the exact style you are looking for that they are unable to help.

They should ask you to provide examples of other sites that have caught your eye and any features that you would like included in your site. This is where they can give you a more accurate price without being shocked at a later date.

You can view our portfolio here

4. Can they supply testimonials from existing clients?

A good web design agency will have testimonials from clients and they should be current so you can check them.

You can view a small selection of testimonials from clients on our home page and we are happy to supply additional references you can check upon request.

5. How long has the agency been around?

The web has seen many changes in a relatively short space of time, if a website design agency has been in business for five or more years it have obviously been managed well. The internet has seen the boom and bust of many companies. Those that live to tell the tale are obviously being run well.

We have been in business since 2005 and we have more than 10 years' experience of the IT and web industry.

6. Do they outsource their work?

Check to see if your project will be developed in house or if it will be outsourced.

There are many cases of companies that have an account management team, and an outsourced development team in India. The problems with this scenario are many- the poor quality of the work produced, poor communication between the account managers and developers, delays due to time zone differences. Does the account management team even bother to check the back end code? Does it meet current guidelines and legal requirements?

We are a wholly UK based company (based in Epsom, Surrey) and all work is handled in-house, we do not outsource. All code is checked to make sure it meets current guidelines and any potential copyright or legal issues are always flagged up.

7. Are they contactable, approachable and professional?

Make sure you get a phone number and not just an email address (and not a premium rate number either). Ask the design agency what the turnaround time is for responding to emails. Remember if you have urgent changes you need to be able to get through to the design agency as quickly as possible. Designers not providing a landline phone number or a business address may be harder to contact when you need them the most.

Do they use a lot of jargon or explain things clearly? Do they make suggestions that are relevant and suitable for your business? Far too often companies try to sell you products that you don't need.

We have a local landline phone number you can contact us on as well as an email address and an online contact form. Our postal address is available on all quotations, agreements and invoices. We aim to respond to all emails within 24 hours and most site amendments are carried out on the day of request (where possible).

We will make recommendations but we never try to sell something we don't think you need. We try to keep any jargon to a minimum but please feel free to ask for an explanation if anything isn't clear.

8. Will they register the domain name to you?

The web designer will ask you if you have already purchased a domain name or not. If you ask them to purchase one for you, make sure it is registered in your name, otherwise if at any time you fall out with the designer, you may find that they attempt to hold on to your domain name.

We always register domain names to the client using their details so they are the legal owner of the domain. Domain names are included with our hosting packages and we will manage the domain for you including renewals so you don't have to worry about renewing it yourself. If you want to transfer your domain to another hosting provider you are free to do so, although we do ask that you give us written notice in advance.

9. Where will your site be hosted?

Ask them where your website will be hosted and most importantly, what country the server that will host your site is actually located in.

It is critical that if your target market is the UK, your website is hosted in the UK. Also ask them what the server uptime is and if site files are regularly backed up. The uptime is the % of time without any outages (i.e. websites being unobtainable). You should be looking at 99.5% and above.

All our sites are hosted in the UK in secure data centres and backed up regularly. All the servers have a guaranteed uptime of at least 99.9%. More information about our web hosting can be found here.

10. Do they provide written, no obligation quotations?

Make sure you get the quote in writing and make sure it’s clear that the copyright of the website is yours once completed, excluding any images/artwork that was purchased/produced by a third party etc. Are there any hidden costs, like set up fees or holding fees? Ensure all charges (including any future and/or recurring charges) are spelled out to avoid any ambiguity and problems further down the line. Make sure you read the terms and conditions. Ask them how they will be invoicing you. You will usually be billed in stages of development, starting with a deposit (a percentage of the final quoted value), and for each milestone of the project. DON’T ever pay for your entire website up front, a good developer won’t ask you to do this anyway. Also make sure that you discuss timescales and don’t be afraid to disclose a budget figure – it can help a lot.

We always provide a detailed quotation including any recurring costs such as web hosting. Our hourly rate for support and site amendments is shown on our website and also in our terms and conditions.

We ask for a 25% deposit prior to starting a project and the remaining cost is split over 2 payments however, we can also spread payments over up to 6 months if required for larger projects to help with budgeting. Payment instalments are agreed prior to commencement of the project and clearly laid out in the agreement form along with the estimated date of completion (where applicable).

Once the site has been paid for in full you will own the site copyright and associated files. We can provide FTP access so you can access the site files on the server or we can send the zipped up site files to you in an email on request. We can also provide the files on a CD/DVD for a small fee which covers postage costs etc.

11. Will they update you regularly?

Your web developer should create a test web address, where you can monitor ongoing development and provide feedback throughout the design and development process.

We upload layout ideas to our server, either in a test area on our own domain or in a development area created on the client’s domain (if we are hosting the site). Clients can then view and provide feedback on the designs. Clients are also updated at every stage of the development process so they can preview the site online.

You can view more about how we work here.

12. Is basic SEO included?

Check the web designer is considering SEO by asking them whether they build websites that are SEO friendly. Do they provide online marketing as well as web design? What other services to the web design agency offer?

All our sites include basic site optimisation as standard. We also offer enhanced optimisation and marketing campaigns including assistance with social media e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc. We can assist you with HTML email newsletters as well as designs for print and for offline marketing. More information on SEO and marketing can be found here.