HOW TO CHOOSE A WEB DESIGN AGENCY

WEB DESIGN

two people looking at a plan

CONTENTS

21 min read

Choosing a web design agency to work with on your company’s project is one of the most interesting and exciting prospects in any job.

You get to look at loads of different, cool, and unique design portfolios and, if you’re the Marketing Manager or person about to make that crucial decision, you get to make a major choice for the future of the business.

Choosing the right agency to design your website will have a huge impact on the shape of your company moving forward.

If you get it wrong, you could end up blowing your budget on something that’s considered by your board of directors as a massive waste of time, money, and effort.

But you shouldn’t feel pressured when making this decision. We know it’s all a bit scary but we’re here to show you how to measure quality web design, and not make the wrong choice.

There’s also a complete list of the services and deliverables you should expect from any web design project available to help you measure up your options with a bit of extra know-how!

For actually choosing the web design agency you want to work with, well… let’s go through what you need to know.

Outline Your Project

Finding the right agency should start with you understanding what your company needs.

Ask yourself the following questions:

What is the website actually for?

  1. Driving traffic
  2. Increasing brand awareness
  3. Give customers a way into your business
  4. Sales
  5. Raise awareness for a particular cause
  6. Build a community

Who are your core audience?

  1. What accessibility needs might your audience need catered for?
  2. What is the most important thing for you when thinking about your website?
  3. Do you have an appropriate budget for building your new website?
  4. What are your businesses’ unique selling points?
  5. What are your business goals (long term and short)?
  6. Have you considered which CMS you’d like to use?

All of this and more is covered off in our web design brief.

Whilst this can feel overwhelming, putting a solid brief together for your project is a massive step in the right direction.

It gives your internal team something to rally around, give your project laser focus, and it also gives you something to take to your shortlisted agencies to help them understand your project.

A few of the questions above might seem impossible to answer without any sort of context.

Some might not even apply!

The main thing is, it’s better to have as much information as possible rather than considering key questions down the line.

Web design can be a tricky thing to pin down as well, especially when it comes to budgetary requirements… so, to start off with, here’s a bit of a primer on cost and timescales.

person holding credit card

How Much Does It Cost to Build a Website?

Every single web design project is different, and the requirements for each website varies so wildly that it would be crazy to put an exact estimate on how much any one website could cost to build.

Do you want something totally out there, custom APIs, fully integrated cloud based securities and an internal database that works across several subdomains? Probably a bit more expensive than a blogging platform with only a little bit of customisation.

For the sake of putting a number on it, let’s just say no serious agency is getting involved in a project for anything less than five figures. Designing an optimised, fully functioning, SEO friendly bespoke site isn’t easy, and takes a substantial amount of time and hard work.

Go to your big San Fran agencies, or some of the larger Central London agencies, and you could easily be into six figure quotes for your website.

Investing properly at the start will ensure you don’t have to go through this project again in a couple of years. Technology, and especially internet based technology, is so fast moving that investing in a website that has a bit of future proofing and good user experience is well worth it.

It all depends on your requirements and the ins-and-outs of the project, but you should be prepared to invest a substantial amount of your budget, or suffer with a really poor website down the line.

How Long Does A Website Build Take?

How long is a piece of string?

Every single web design project is different.

On top of that, so is every single web design agency.

Some agencies focus on only working on a small handful of projects at a time, others have a wide range of clients they’re working with at any one time.

Timescales are variable, but at a minimum, you should expect at least 3 months for your web development project.

Again, it depends on the specific web deliverables, and how substantial your changes are going to be.

If it’s a full visual overhaul and there are a lot of branding and rebranding considerations as well as the technical aspects of your build, the timescales have to be adjusted to reflect this.

Utilising the brief template will help guide your timescales and expectations, and you’ll be able to see how big and complicated (or not) your project will be!

Finding the Right Type of Agency for Your Project

This next part sounds easier than it is.

If you’ve never looked for an agency before, you might end up confused with all of the different terms flying around.

For example:

  1. Branding agency
  2. Brand consultant
  3. Creative agency
  4. Digital agency
  5. Marketing agency

The list goes on and on, and because there’s little to no barrier to entry in creative services, you have one-man-bands and small shops spinning up all over the place.

Digital agencies and marketing agencies tend to do more on the SEO / digital PR side of things, whereas brand consultants will focus a lot more on the branding side of things.

As a creative agency Canny Creative can handle everything, end to end- branding and rebranding, web design and build, content marketing and SEO… we do it all!

What Makes for a Good Creative Agency?

It’s fair to say that there is an abundance of web design agencies out there, so how can you tell a good one from a bad one?

Quality of Work

The first thing you want to look into is the work the agency has done previously.

Almost all agencies will have a portfolio or ‘our work’ section, and any agency that doesn’t should be avoided!

When browsing portfolios, consider how applicable the web design is to your business or industry. The graphic side of things will be fairly interchangeable, but the typical user journey will be wildly variant between businesses.

When you start to get a bit of an aesthetic feel for how the agency tends to design websites entrusted to them, start considering how your specific audience would go through a user journey.

Not everything in the portfolio will be relevant, but if you’re looking for a new website, chances are you’ll have a good idea of what you are looking for- even subconsciously.

piles of folders

Are They Established?

Asking how long an agency has been trading for is probably redundant. New agencies can be just as good as older agencies who have been established longer.

However:

Having some background pedigree and maybe even some recognisable named clients can be testament to what they’ve been trusted with in the past.

This though, isn’t the be all and end all. A lot of big name businesses have trusted the wrong agencies, and lots of smaller agencies have worked brilliantly with other SMEs.

If it was my business looking for a new website, I would definitely be interested in seeing a track record of our potential partner’s work.

A Word of Warning

Design and branding awards mean jack shit.

In the design and branding world awards are easily manufactured or bought. So don’t pay too much attention to agencies claiming to be award-winning.

Creative agencies are, by their very nature, creative people. Therefore it’s easy to see how they may get creative with their own brand positioning and marketing language.

I repeat, pay no attention to agency awards unless you’re prepared to do your full research into them. Some are great, but, more often than not, they carry no weight whatsoever.

Searching for Web Design Agencies

Where to start when looking for a web design agency? Although there are plenty out there, it isn’t exactly something you stumble onto.

Google and Search Engines

Defaulting to Google is probably the easiest option.

Thing is here, is you’re going to get the advertisers and people paying for PPC. I’d skip past them, and see who’s coming up organically. They’re normally more relevant, and that in itself shows that they know how to build websites that Google likes- their SEO must be fairly good at least!

Decide whether proximity matters to you. Covid changed the world, making it smaller than ever, but this is still completely your call.

Two things to consider:

  1. Do you imagine needing an excessive amount of face to face time? (Most agencies will travel anyway, but if you think lots of face to face meetings is crucial, proximity always helps)
  2. Is local knowledge a factor in the success of your web project?

Unless you’re a local business targeting local people (yes, that’s a League of Gentlemen reference) – then it’s probably not a major consideration.

Also, if you’re in a major city, the chances are you can get more for your marketing budget outside of your area.

For example:

I know Canny’s rates are often up to a 1/3rd cheaper than London based agencies.

By virtue of having an NE postcode instead of an SW1A postcode, Canny has far less intensive overheads and our market point isn’t dictated by a hyper wealthy economic environment.

If you’re going to work mostly virtually anyway, it’s often worth considering how much markup is being put on prices just down to the geographical location.

Consider the deliverables over the postcode, unless there is a very good reason not to!

Dribbble

If you’ve not heard of Dribbble, it’s essentially a showcase of “pretty designs” made by designers and agencies.

It’s good, but it’s often not functional design.

Consider your audience, and what they’ll most engage with. Sometimes a gimmicky graphic isn’t as valuable as a clean, functional site without the bells and whistles- but it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of cool, clever graphics on Dribbble.

Having said that, Dribbble does serve as a great directory and makes finding agencies easy!

man browsing on laptop

Your Own Network

The best way to find a web design agency to partner with on your new web project is by tapping into your own network.

Chances are, one swift post on LinkedIn, or reaching out to other marketers or founders you know will help build up a great list of agencies to check out.

This way you can get personal feedback from people too.

Once you’ve got a list of agencies to check out, it’s time to move on.

Check Out Their Website

This is the first touchpoint I’d encourage you to engage with. In theory, any web design agency worth it’s salt should have a pretty well designed website, right!?

Ask yourself:

  • Does their website look good?
  • Is it interesting?
  • Do they offer the services we need?
  • Is their site updated regularly?
  • Do they share industry thoughts and insights?

At this juncture, I’d be looking to remove any agencies who are instantly giving you a negative impression.
For example:

Their site is slow to load, and when it does, it’s full of crazy things, spinning @ symbols and the like.

Or worse, it’s built on a terrible free site builder.

For any agencies dealing in web design, designing your own website is the bare minimum of what they should be doing.

Check Out Their Work

While you’re on their site, you’re going to want to check out their work.

After all, what use are they if they can’t produce the goods?

But try and get out of the mindset of:

“That looks nice.”

You want to be looking for the problem, the solution they came up with, and the results.

Professional agencies go beyond creating good looking work, and get into work that solves real world problems.

Pay close attention to statistics and real business metrics.

Presenting a website that was delivered is good.

Showing the impact that the website the agency built in tangible numbers that contextualise the web design project is better.

Follow Them on Social Media and Subscribe to their Mailing List

Following your shortlisted agencies on social media is often a good way to immerse yourself in their world.

It’s not a perfect mechanism for judging or removing people from your list, but it can give you a great insight:

  • What are they sharing?
  • Are they posting regularly? If not, why not?
  • What do they seem like as people?
  • Can you imagine yourself working with them?

Social media can give you all these sorts of insights!

And, join their mailing list too. Are they putting out good content there too?

Putting out good content is a good insight into how they operate and think. If they value thought leadership, chances are, they’re actively engaged in the industry and have a reputation to uphold.

Once you’ve gone through this process, you’ll probably have a more refined shortlist.

And now it’s time for the super difficult part!

person making a list

Narrowing Down Your Shortlist- and Making A Decision

You’ve got your shortlist now, so it’s time to carve it down and find the perfect agency for your business.

To cut your list down significantly, you can filter the agencies with the best reviews- either according to google or anecdotally- and cut anyone who doesn’t come up trumps. It’s a little bit arbitrary, but can be the most effective way of working out who to partner with.

From there, cut out any agencies that didn’t grab your attention in the first instance- don’t be afraid to go with your gut!

After that, think about how relatable the blogs, thought pieces and email newsletters are. Are these people thinking about stuff in the same way you do? Do you connect with what they are saying? Can you see yourself building a solid working relationship with these people?

If you like what they’re putting out and can imagine yourself working with them, keep them on the list. If not, it’s time for them to go!

Make Initial Contact

Shortlist in one hand, web design brief in the other, it’s time to make initial contact.

Send an email. Don’t call, as you’ll either not get an answer and become frustrated, or you’ll interrupt someone at the agency.

Emails are much, much better, as they allow for mutual respect of each other’s time.

The one thing about email is that they have to be pretty well thought out- there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to write the initial contact email.

Picture receiving this email:

“Hey,
I’d like to discuss our project with you.
Thanks,
Rachel”

That sort of email is the type of email that often goes ignored or is last in a pile of promising enquiries to reply to.

Something more like this:

“Hey Agency X,
Love the work you did on The Acme Corporation project. We’re looking to rebrand our company and think your team might be a good fit for us.

We’ve already prepped a rough Web Design Brief, which I’ve attached to this email.

Could you please take a look at it, and let me know whether it’s worth setting up a call to discuss?

Thanks,

Rachel”

Something like that works wonders.

You’ve shown them you’re researching their agency, and it’s not just a scattergun approach.

You’re delivering a clear outline of the scope of work required via the web design brief- that allows the agency in question to cost out the work, and give a realistic timescale for that work.

It also gives the agency a chance to see if they think they are the best person for the job- if your web design project has a lot of very high level necessities that require a lot of specialist knowledge, some agencies may not be able to facilitate that.

First contact via email is definitely the way to go, and then from there all you have to do is…

Step Back

Once you’ve made contact with your shortlisted agencies, it really is over to them.

The ball is no longer in your court!

You’ve done all of the legwork and can now sit back and wait for the agencies to come to you.

This process can also be enlightening- if you think about the right things if and when you hear back from the shortlisted agencies.

Some things worth keeping in mind is:

  1. How long does the agency take to get a reply?
  2. Is the reply personal to your enquiry, or just a generic boilerplate reply?
  3. Is the agency coming to the table excited to get going? Are they passionate?

All of these are important to consider, but not the be all and end all.

If an agency takes a little while longer to get back to you, this might be a good sign- it probably means the agency is busy! If the reply is a little bit more personal it shows a level of respect for your time, similar to how YOUR email showed respect for the agency’s time.

say cheese lettering on a black background

Passion is hard to fake.

If they seem excited by your project, and passionate about the things you could do together going forward. That tends to be a good indicator of how your partnership with the agency will develop. Genuine interest and excitement in your company and your situation will serve you well in the long run.

The other thing is, as much as your email was your opportunity to make a good first impression, the agency’s response is your first impression of them.

You’re looking to form a partnership that lasts for a long time, not just a one-and-done scenario.
First impressions matter, going both ways!

Compare Responses and Make Your Decision

The different agencies on your shortlist will want to handle the next steps differently.

You’re likely going to come up against one of several scenarios:

  • No Reply
  • Request for a call / meeting
  • Acknowledgment and denial
  • Acknowledgement and quote
  • No Reply

If the agency doesn’t respond within 5-7 working days they’re not interested, or they’re too busy to reply. Either way, it doesn’t bode well for a sustainable, profitable relationship!

Request for a Call / Meeting

This is the typical scenario. If they’ve been through your brief and want to set up a call or meeting, go for it.

This means they’re engaged, and want to bring you onboard. Any agency worth their salt, won’t proceed to a proposal or quote without speaking to you first anyway to get a really in-depth understanding of what you need from them and how they can help you.

Acknowledgement and Denial

Sometimes, an agency will flat out deny a project. And that’s fine! That means you’re not a good fit for them or they’re not a good fit for you.

Better to find that out now than further down the line.

Acknowledgement and Quote

This can happen too. If your brief is super detailed and doesn’t need any clarification whatsoever, you might get a trigger happy agency replying with a quote.

This isn’t a bad thing, but I always imagine quotes like this to go sideways quickly when the project gets underway.

Remember:

Having your web design brief ready is always a good thing, but you should always expect to take a call with your agency shortlist.

Once you’ve had the calls and the proposals are in, it’s time to make your final decision.

There are a few things to consider when looking at the design proposals.

Are the Quotes Comparable?

When we talk about comparing quotes, we don’t mean just cost comparisons. Especially when it comes to web design, you get what you pay for. Whilst going on Fiverr and getting a quick job done cheap can be tempting, it can often do more harm than good.

For a true picture of what the quotes are offering, and how much ‘bang for your buck’ you’re getting, take a look through our deliverables and services page and see which quote best covers off all of the essentials best.

It is vital to not cheap out on your web design agency budget, because getting your rebrand wrong can become more costly to repair the damage done than it would have cost to pay competent professionals in the first place!

Which Looks Best on Paper?

Not to be overly cold and calculating about this sort of thing, but a pros and cons list can really help guide a decision.

If you’re caught between two agencies, thinking about what attracted you to them and their work on initial glance can help. To be objective, write down all of the positives and negatives you think might factor in your relationship with the agency.

Another good way to decide who looks best on paper is to look for testimonials and what previous clients of the agency have said about them.

Although testimonials and reviews are completely subjective and should be taken with a pinch of salt, they are a good litmus test for how good an agency is to work with on a project.

two paths in a forest

Go with Gut Feeling

I’m a big believer in gut feeling decisions. I think in today’s world ‘just knowing’ something is entirely underrated, but I find that with a bit of introspection you tend to know deep down what will be best for your company.

Your gut feeling is led by the little subconscious intangibles that your brain will pick up on without you even noticing. Think about a time where you’ve met with an agency or external provider and the meeting was super positive and you just felt at home.

There are a lot of things people can fake, or sidestep with salesy jargon, but- as we mentioned earlier- faking passion and genuine interest in a project is much harder to do.

At the end of the day you are inviting an agency into your business, and you’ll potentially have to work with them for the long haul depending on the scope of the project.

Who did you get on with the most? Who had a better overall general feeling? Who seemed like you’d work well with? This isn’t necessarily about friendliness, as plenty of people have friends who they’d hate to work with!

On the other hand, if you don’t find the agency friendly or welcoming in the first instance, you’ll likely find them difficult to work with along the project.

Either way, your gut will know!

Conclusion: How to Choose the Right Web Design Agency For You

Choosing the right agency will have a truly transformative positive impact on your business.

Especially when considering the in-depth complexities of web design, and the minefield of brand identity, audience demographic, brand dilution, user experience, load times, cumulative layout shift, and other important considerations, choosing the right agency is vital.

Finding the right level of expertise for your project and developing your relationship with the right agency can provide you with an invaluable resource, both in the short term to get your blog up and running, and in the long run when you are looking into marketing, hosting options, and more.

More often than not, the right agency is right in front of you all along… maybe they even made a blog post about ‘how to choose a web design agency’ that you spent a solid 15 minutes reading in depth… anyone spring to mind?

Just in case you need to send over that web design brief for Canny to take a look at, you can ping us an email anytime!