With a seemingly endless choice of web design companies and price ranges, it’s not exactly easy to compare providers and choose the right web designer for your business. So, below are 10 questions to ask your web designer that should help. The good news is, creating a winning online presence isn’t out of reach, even if you don’t have previous experience of the process. The key is finding a professional who understands your goals, and can provide you with the right answers.

The fact is that driving real, tangible, commercial results from a website can be hard. Yes, a skilled designer can give you a beautiful result, but that’s not the be-all and end-all. It’s important to recognise that good design provides a subjective experience. Whereas, design that gets good results is all about the numbers… What numbers? Your visitors, subscribers, leads, customers, conversions and sales. The kinds of numbers you can quantify in dollars, euros and pounds.

So, how do you know if your chosen designer can make things happen for you? These 10 questions to ask your web designer will help you find out:

Questions to ask your web designer

10 Questions to ask your web designer

1. What is your skill set?

This is one of the first questions to ask your web designer. A professional web designer should have creative and technical skills. These should include expert level Adobe Photoshop, and the ability to hand-code several web languages (HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, and either PHP or ASP). Without these basic skills, they can’t credibly call themselves a professional web designer.

A skilled all-round designer will always be thinking ahead – about your visitors, about your content design, about SEO, about ease of use, about customer conversions, and plenty else… Not only will they have the technical chops, but also possess organisational and project management skills, a maniacal attention to detail, and an ingrained understanding of the necessity of testing.

If your designer has to stop and think about this one for more than a second or two, forget it. A real designer knows their strengths and will be more than happy for you to know them too! Be sure to make this one of the first questions to ask your web designer.

2. Can I see examples of your work?

A professional will always have a portfolio, and you should be able to visit the actual websites to see them working live. One of the questions to ask your web designer is if they designed and wrote the code for the websites themselves, or if they downloaded them from a third party and only did some simple modifications. Be sure to ask which examples are in a similar price range to your budget.

Are these sites appealing? Are they easy to navigate and understand? Would you describe them as being of “international quality”? Can you find what you want? Would you buy from this business? A designer’s portfolio should give you a good idea of their capabilities. If you can’t find anything to impress you here, it’s unlikely you’ll end up with a result you’ll like.

If a designer’s website contains few links to actual projects, but relies on glossy images of un-named generic websites, take it as a red flag that they’re pulling a fast one and trading on appearances, what you might call “smoke and mirrors”. Sad to say this isn’t at all uncommon. Finally, be sure to look them in the eye and ask “Did you design and code your own website from scratch?”

This is one of the most important questions to ask your web designer. A legitimate professional will of course be proud to say “yes, it’s all my own work”.

3. What planning and research do you do?

Designing a website to achieve results requires planning and research. You’ll get a good idea if your web designer knows what they’re doing from their answer. They should be aiming for a basic analysis of your business, your goals, your competitors, and your marketplace. They should be comparing data from keyword research, search engine records, visitor numbers and more.

They also need to understand who your customer is, because that’s who they’re designing for… How much time should this take? It can vary from a few hours to several days. That may seem a lot, but this is actually the most critical part of the entire process of designing a website. Without a rock solid understanding of what you should be doing, you’ll be throwing mud at the wall.

4. What kind of results can I expect?

If you’re looking for a web designer who can get your business actual results, then try to find someone who publishes case studies detailing what they did for their clients. For example, if you read something like “The new website I designed for client XYZ helped double their visitor numbers and increased their online sales by 30%”, then you’re on the right track.

Otherwise, ask them directly. If they’re legit, they’ll happily provide you with examples. It’s all about the numbers, so if you want your website to produce revenue, be sure to add this to the list of questions to ask your web designer.

5. Do you create wireframes?

Wireframes are the equivalent of blueprints for websites. During the design process they’re used to work out the optimum placement of sections and elements (for ease of use and best customer conversion), and allow for easy communication between designer and client. They’re an important design aid, they help to prevent mistakes occuring, and speed up the development process.

Of all the questions to ask your web designer, this is one of the best for spotting a professional. If your respondent appears baffled, that’s not a good sign…

6. How can I make changes to my website in the future?

The Web doesn’t stand still, it’s in a state of constant flux with new websites launching 24/7 – figures for 2012 indicate a rate of 140,000 per day. If you launch a new website and forget about it, you’d better hope all your competitors do the same, or you’ll lose out to them before you know it. A well managed website is always under construction, always growing, always evolving.

Many business owners, feeling the need to get a website up and “out there”, aren’t looking ahead, and fail to recognise the need to keep their site fresh and relevant. But, in order to give visitors a reason to come back, and to give the search engines faith in your operation, you’ll want to make sure your content is updated regularly, once every month or two at an absolute minimum.

One of the important questions to ask your web designer regards their policy for updates. Will they provide you with a content management system (CMS) for you to update your content yourself? If they do the updates, do they charge hourly? If so, is it by a minimum hour, or divided into 15 or 30 minute increments? If your designer is providing the hosting, are any updates included?

If you’re using a content management system, find out exactly which parts of the site you can update, and which parts must be updated by the designer. Will they offer you training, and is this included? This is important, because if you want to make a small change like a phone number or address, you need to know whether you can do it yourself, or whether you’ll have to pay for it.

Whilst web designers offer varying degrees of facilities for updating websites, there is no standard, so be sure to add this to the questions to ask your web designer, and get specifics.

7. How long will it take?

You’ll get a broad range of answers, as it depends on the complexity of the project and the process. In the case of a small business website with just a few pages, if all your content is ready in advance (text, images, sales pitch etc.) your site can normally be ready in a couple of weeks. At the other end of the scale, a multilingual real estate portal can take 2-3 months.

The more your designer is doing for you, the longer it will take. The less time your designer tells you they’ll need, the more corners you can be sure they’ll cut. You’ll always get what you pay for, and a professional will know the value of their work. A final factor to consider is how available you can be during the design phase. Easy communication is an essential part of the process, so be ready!

8. What about a domain name and web hosting?

Your website will need a domain name (e.g. mywebsite.com) and a web server to host it (a powerful computer, attached to the internet with a high capacity connection, where your website “lives”). One of the questions to ask your web designer is if they offer these services, or help you set them up. Find out up-front, so you can factor the running costs into your marketing budget.

Domain names

Beware the offer of a free domain! (there’s no such thing…)

Your domain name is your most valuable piece of online real estate, and the person who registers and pays for it is the legal owner. Transferring domain ownership can be tricky, and it’s by far the best state of affairs if you own yours outright from the start. Buy yours from a reputable domain registrar – look for good tech support, and an easy-to-use control panel.

Don’t go for the cheapest option (it’s cheap for a reason). When you’re putting together the questions to ask your web designer, be sure to ask for some recommendations, and expect to pay €15-€25 per year depending on the extension (.com, .co.uk, .es etc.)

Web hosting

Questions to ask your web designer should include hosting. They may supply it as part of an overall website package, or provide files for you to host yourself and help you set it up. The hosting may need specific extras, like databases, content management, and email. It’s essential that your hosting matches the system requirements of your website, and that it’s secured against hackers.

Proper management of a website’s hosting, and pro-active website security take knowledge and experience. Protecting customers’ data, deflecting hacking attacks, and maintaining easy passage for search engine crawlers are the kind of tasks with which a webmaster is concerned on a daily basis. Ask your designer/host about their backup strategy, and their approach to website security.

Again, don’t go for the cheapest. Expect to pay €20+ per month for a decent quality of hosting. Any less, and either corners are being cut, or you’re on shared hosting, whereby you’re sharing space with potentially thousands of others. Expect downtime, poor tech support, slow loading pages, and random problems with your emails. If you’re in business, cheap hosting is a false economy.

9. Once my design is completed, who owns what?

This is one of the most important questions to ask your web designer!

Beware of designers who claim copyright ownership of your logo, or the visual design and layout of your website in their agreement. The finished product (html templates, css, images and other files that constitute the finished design) should be yours to use in the future as you see fit. You should also retain any original graphics files, in case you want to work with another designer.

You should also own all of your text, and all data pertaining to your business, customers, enquiries and transactions. Don’t make assumptions, and be sure that everything is clear before signing any agreement. The last thing you’ll want is an unexpected legal dispute because you skipped the fine print. Finally, ensure that when your domain is purchased, it’s your name on the credit card!

10. How much is this going to cost?

As with anything, you get what you pay for. Quality takes time and expertise, and both have a value. At the cheaper end of the scale you’ll find hobbyists, amateurs and cowboys trading on the fact that no typical small business owner is equipped to spot the difference. Two websites that look identical can be worlds apart behind the scenes, and earn you wildly different results as a consequence.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it – a business owner goes for the cheapest deal they can squeeze, gets a pretty looking, but relatively useless website designed, and 2 years later they’re still languishing on page 2/3 of Google and wondering why… So think of your website as an investment. Done right, it’ll usually pay for itself pretty quickly, and then you’re into extra profit.

Be sure to consider the questions to ask your web designer, and contact several web designers for quotes. Look for someone who has confidence in their abilities, and is aware of their worth. If you’re offered a quote without being asked specifics, forget it. If a designer asks you heaps of questions about your business, marketplace, competition, marketing and  goals, you’re on the right track.

Cost will depend on a number of things – e.g. the page count, images, the intricacy of design and layout, forms, search boxes, mailing lists, ad banners, shopping carts, audio/video, user accounts, different languages, and the amount of content that’s being created for you. In many respects building a website is like a building a house, with potentially as many technical considerations.

And finally…

When you’re considering questions to ask your web designer, be sure to ask them if they have case studies or evidence to support their work. Talented web designers will have examples on hand of how they have helped other businesses in the past.

Use these 10 questions to ask your web designer, and you’ll be able to avoid some major pitfalls that can cause a web development project to go wrong. Always take your time before signing the contract, ask the right questions, and know the facts. Your working relationship with your web designer should last many years, so be sure to do the due diligence before you begin!