5 Key Questions to Ask Your Next Web Design Agency


In the maddening and sometimes indifferent world of the wild, wild web, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between those who talk a good game and those who have the applied experience and deep bench to ensure your web project is a raving success.

Here are a few key points to consider:

Who will be performing the work on my website?

This may seem like an obvious question, but you might be surprised by the answer you’ll get from many agencies whose business is based entirely on outsourcing. Yes, that’s right! The digital realm is no different from the industrial world in that it can be much cheaper to outsource jobs to overseas workers where the US dollar goes further. Now, we’re not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing, just something you should be aware of.

Does the agency you’re speaking with actually have in-house web developers and designers on staff, or are they more of a ‘sales’ organization that subs out work to various web designers and developers (including overseas)? Lack of transparency is a warning sign, and buyers should know exactly what they are purchasing. This also applies to other forms of programming services that you may need for your project, such as integration with other databases, ERP or CRM systems. Agencies that have in-house coders, web developers and designers have big advantages in being able to design, build, and service your website platform from inception to completion. Agencies that perform all work in-house know their limitations and typically have far superior quality control than those who subcontract and outsource jobs to potentially untried and untested contractors.

Request a defined communication plan that explains points of contact and frequency of contact!

You should discuss how frequently you will receive project updates and what level of detail you should expect during your scheduled communication. Some website development projects can take months until ‘go live’ and it’s vitally important you define communication expectations and establish mutual trust and respect between team members.

Clear communication is mission-critical in any web development project. Most experienced web agencies will have a designated Project Manager who will be entrusted with ensuring all project details and all internal communication is documented, and issues and concerns are addressed clearly and directly. This Project Manager is also the one who will perform final QA to ensure your website is ready for launch.

What project management software tracking will be used and what level of access will you have to view tasks, resources, objectives, and timelines?

This could be an online project management system where hours are being logged and tasks recorded, or it could be as simple as Excel spreadsheets used to track the project. Regardless of the mechanism, the important point is to define a project plan and stick to it. You may not see tons of value in having this level of accountability when things are going great, but if you’re not prepared to identify and deal with potential obstacles, then you could be setting yourself up for failure. The project plan should be interwoven with your communication plan to ensure maximum satisfaction.

Does the web platform have a Content Management System (CMS)?

Most businesses and organizations we work with expect to be able to create pages, update product listings and post blog-posts articles without having to rely on a web design company to make these types of web updates. A user-friendly CMS in this scenario is not something to be taken for granted. It should not cause your frontal lobes to throb every time you need to update your blog-posts. If, on the other hand, you prefer your web agency do this for you, it is important to know what costs are involved in making necessary updates regularly.

  • Does your web agency charge by the hour?
  • Is there a monthly fee for support?
  • Are there any limits to support hours on a monthly basis?
  • What’s included with your support plan?
  • Will your agency train you on how to use their CMS?

Not having a user-friendly CMS to make needed updates could very quickly become an expensive proposition.

Basic website security questions you need to consider:

Does my website package include a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate, and what is the cost?

Today, every website should have an SSL certificate. And SSL ensures all data being transmitted to and from your website is encrypted as it travels across the web. This protects your valuable data, and your clients, from being compromised by hackers. This is vitally important for forms that are submitted, ecommerce transactions, and to projecting a secure image for financial institutions.

What are my annual hosting costs, and what is the renewal cost?

Your website maintenance costs should be broken down in clear and easy to understand terms. You may also wish to define what level of continuing support you may require and whether there are any fixed costs associated with this. It is often better in the long run to have an ongoing support plan added to your monthly hosting arrangement.

Does my website have protection against malware attacks and viruses?

Unfortunately, hacking and malware is a reality, and you need to have defenses in place to protect your website. It is important to ask your web provider where your site is being hosted, and whether they scan for malware daily. Also, they should be able to explain what the plan is in case the website is compromised.

Is your website backed up on a daily basis?

Let’s imagine a worst-case scenario where your website is hacked on Wednesday at 9am. To put it simply, if the site is backed up daily, you could reset your web files and database to Tuesday at 9am. This ensures minimal data loss, if in-fact you make frequent website or product updates.

Who will perform necessary updates to any supporting software?

Like all software systems, updates are a necessary and reasonable part of the World Wide Web. The web agency or hosting company should have a regular documented plan for applying operating system, database and other patches/updates to keep your site secure, scalable, and performing well.

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