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Selecting a Website Design Firm: An Introduction

02-10-10 Ben Callahan

How do you find a company that you can trust, that knows their stuff, that’s easy to work with, and who can give you results? There are a few things you can do to qualify the companies you’re considering working with.

There are a lot of website design and/or development companies out there. Just in Dayton, Ohio I can spout off about two dozen without much trouble. And Dayton isn’t exactly a web design mecca. So how do you find a company that you can trust, that knows their stuff, that’s easy to work with, and who can give you results? There are a few things you can do to qualify the companies you’re considering working with. While this won’t guarantee you’ve made the best choice, it should at least weed out the bottom 80%.

The Proof is in the Pudding

First of all, any serious website design studio should have their own website. Spend some time reading what they have written. You should start out looking for basic things like grammar and punctuation. While it’s quite normal that the folks who are the best at making websites may not be the best at writing, they should be able to communicate effectively. Remember that websites are the most accessible communication tool out there, so the writing is very important. Most companies that know what they are doing understand the value of presenting themselves professionally, so grammar errors should be a warning flag.

Also consider if you are able to find the things you’re looking for. Is the site intuitive to navigate? Read about the principles of the business and the core values of the organization. Try to determine if the voice they present their principles and values with is consistent with their identity. All of these are clues in helping you make your decision. You can boil this all down to one question: If they can’t get their own site right, why would they get yours right?

Also, you shouldn’t do business with a website firm that isn’t regularly generating content. In the end, the reason websites exist is to get content in the hands of consumers. Dynamic, relevant content is what customers want and what Google is looking for. A company that isn’t writing good content doesn’t understand this. This dynamic content could be in the form of an “articles” section, a blog, or at least a news section (with more than “Here’s a cool link” or “This site just launched” news items). We’re talking about content that demonstrates how smart and how active these folks are in the community. Also, check the dates on their last few posts to get a feel for how frequently they write. A good minimum to look for is new content once each month.

Learn from Others

Another simple approach to take is to check out their portfolio. First of all, has this organization built sites that are comparable in size and functionality to what your project requires? If you’re building a ten-page informational site about your business and all they have in their portfolio are thousand-page enterprise-scale sites, they may be a bit out of your price range. If the reverse is true, you need to seriously evaluate whether they can manage a large-scale job. And don’t be afraid to call a few of the folks they’ve worked with. Find out if they come recommended and ask if they kept to the schedule and budget.

Form Versus Function

As you review the websites that your selected firm has built, be conscious of the age-old balance between form and function. Many firms have a recognizable preference for one or the other. Design firms that have added web development as a capability tend to favor form, while I. T. organizations or application development companies lean towards function. Ideally, both are equally important. Remember that a website is primarily a communication tool. Your potential customers are interacting with your brand every time they navigate your site. It needs to be beautiful and engaging (form) but it also needs to work well (function). Emphasizing one or the other does not suffice in today’s business environment. Ensuring that your selected company builds websites with an appropriate balance between form and function will significantly benefit your brand.

Wrapping it Up

These are just a few items to consider as you search for a trustworthy website development firm for your project. All of this can be overwhelming, but breaking it down into smaller, more digestible portions will help you get through it. When all is said and done, it’s worth a little struggle up front to ensure you have a good fit for the duration of your project.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series addressing technical considerations when selecting a website design firm.

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