Web design agencies are two-a-penny, so how do you make sure you pick the right one for your project?
It’s very easy to set up a website claiming to be an established, busy and profitable web design agency when the person behind the site might be anything but.
We work with 100s of clients to provide new website design and build services, and we also provide support for nearly 200 sites, so we have broad experience in dealing with lots of clients with lots of different websites (whether we’ve built them or not).
The insight we have managed to gain off the back of this is simple.
There are far too many people paying web agencies for extremely poor websites.
So how do you know the web agency you are talking to will deliver?
Like a lot of stuff online, what we see at face value is not always real.
It’s very easy for anyone to buy a cheap, professional-looking theme and set themselves up as a ‘web design agency’ with little effort.
Just because something looks good online, it doesn’t mean the people behind it know what they are doing.
A lot of agency-related themes come pre-populated with text that unscrupulous people simply change to their own liking:
- 100s of happy clients
- Over 500 websites launched
- Team of 15 developers
These are just a few of the things you will frequently see on agency websites that can sometimes prove false.
So how do you check out your agency?
Firstly, check them out on Companies House by finding their company number and looking at their accounts.
A quick skim over the balance sheet will tell you much about them.
Net Assets and Shareholder funds are the things to look for – are they increasing or decreasing? Do the figures seem low?
If an agency claims to have built 100s of websites, then a low turnover or lack of Cash in hand would seem odd.
Not often the most reliable, as these too can be spammed, and often people leave fake negative reviews, but it’s worth a once-over.
Every agency has had one nightmare client, so there are usually one or two negative reviews, but if they are largely positive, that’s a good sign.
Audit a few of their sites.
Running a few sites through Page Speed Insights takes a few minutes, but it will give you some insight into the quality and care of the build and their technical skills.
One thing to note here is that sites can decline with age, so when an agency launches a site, it might score well, but if it’s not looked after, these scores can drop over time.
Check out the more recent work examples from their portfolio.
Ask the right questions.
Always as these questions of an agency before you even ask for a quote:
- Do you do the work in-house, or is any part of it outsourced
- How many people are full-time employed at the agency
- Where are you based
- Do you build bespoke sites or use off-the-shelf themes
- What approach would you recommend for a project of X scale
- Who do you recommend for hosting
- Do you provide post-live support, such as maintenance and SEO
- Can you provide references (if you don’t trust the reviews)
These are the basics; you should ask all the agencies you contact to answer these questions.
Firstly, it will let them know that you are serious about your website, and secondly, it will weed out any one-man bands pretending to be agencies.
Note that there are plenty of fabulous freelancers out there, but if you think you are talking to an agency and then discover it’s a freelancer, that can be an issue if part of your decision process was the team size.
Speak to the boss.
Salespeople can sometimes say anything to get a sale, so make sure you speak to the Managing Director or Partner of the agency.
They will make time for new business enquiries, and once you have spoken to them, you may get passed to a senior staff member for the actual proposal side of things, but you’ll get a good feel for the team.
Meet on Zoom.
If it looks like the person you are speaking to is in their back bedroom, it could be cause for concern.
Yes, many people work remotely now, but design and build is a team game: you get the best results when a team is inputting on your project.
Check their claims.
If they have partnership logos on their websites, don’t take them for granted.
If they are claiming to be a Google Partner, for example, check them out on Google – you will be surprised just how many agencies claim to be ‘partners’ of big brands when in fact, they are just sticking their logos on their websites to try and tick-off psychological influencing to convert you.
Are they reassuringly pricey or dirt cheap?
Pay peanuts, get monkeys. This is 100% true in the web design industry, so if an agency’s prices seem too cheap, avoid them.
Not all agencies are public about their charges, and there’s often good reason for this, but every agency has a range that they work within.
Here at Toast, we work on sites between £2K and £20K. We generally don’t go for larger sites as they are not a good fit for the team and monopolise everyone, so we know what we are good at and the projects we work best on.
It’s essential to speak to the people that will be doing the work.
Most web agencies are small in the UK, so when you are talking to someone, there is a good chance they will be working on part of your project themselves.
After a few minutes on the phone, it’s very easy to get an idea about whether someone knows what they are talking about or if they are just a salesperson or farmer.
Gauge their generosity with their time.
If the person you are talking to seems like they can’t wait to get you off the phone, there’s a good chance they are overstretched.
Obviously, people are busy, and web designers and developers do put in the hours to earn their money, but if someone is willing to take the time out (or get something in the calendar) to talk further, it’s a good sign.
It’s actually also a good sign if they want to talk to you before making a proposal. This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a good thing if you email an agency and they come back with a request to talk on the phone or Zoom.
I don’t like doing quotes for people I have never met or spoken to.
What to do if your last project went South.
We talk to many people who have had their fingers burned by terrible experiences with agencies where they promise the world and don’t deliver.
If you’ve had an experience like this, choosing an agency to get your website to where it should be can be even more challenging.
Following the above advice will help you to avoid choosing another donkey to work on your site in the future.