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April 1, 2011

Put Your Site in Good Hands

There are thousands of web designers and web design companies out there ready to design your website. How can you choose the right one – someone who will understand your business and make sure your site is visible to search engines and your potential customers? Here’s a quick guide to help with the process.

What to Look For in a Web Designer

First of all, take a look at the designer’s own website. Is their information up to date? Browse the site and its pages to make sure the site is functional, and appears to be updated regularly.

Don’t forget to take a look at the portfolio to see what they’ve done recently. See if the sites they’ve created look like something you would want designed for yourself. If you’re looking for an e-commerce site with a shopping cart and thousands of products, check whether the firm has any experience in this area.

You should look for a web designer who knows how to help you get found in search engines. Check for the following:

  • Do the websites they’ve created follow search engine optimization (SEO) best practices? You can do this quickly by looking at the Website Visibility Report for each website.
  • Is the web design company’s own website ranking well in search results? If they show up on the first page of results for a search like “web design [the firm’s city],” they probably know what they’re doing when it comes to SEO. You can also check the PageRank of the firm’s home page.

Tell Your Web Designer What You Need

Knowing exactly what you need for your site is the most important part of scoping out the project. If you don’t know what you want from the beginning of your engagement with a web designer, you can both get confused and frustrated – and the project is almost guaranteed to run over time and possibly over budget.

A lot of elements go into any website. Your web designer needs to know everything you want to include in yours so he can accurately scope and price your project.

What’s the main goal of your site?

Start off simple. Let the designer know what the main goal of your site is. What message are you trying to convey, and what is the purpose of your site? Think about what you want visitors to do when they come to your site. A few examples:

  • Sign up for an email list
  • Download a file
  • Participate in a discussion on an article, message board or social network
  • Click on ads
  • Purchase a product or service

What kind of site do you need?

There are plenty of different kinds of sites out there: e-commerce sites for selling products; portfolio sites for photographers and artists; informational sites with articles or blog posts…and many more.

Web designers specialize in all kinds of different sites. Some designers stick to specific kinds of sites, so find one who’s good at the kind of site you need. Make sure you describe your requirements to any potential web designer you talk to.

Is your website going to sell something?

If so, there are quite a few details that you need to think about. You could have a huge e-commerce site with hundreds of products, or you could offer one special service and sell just one thing. E-commerce sites often have hundreds of pages – if not thousands – with product images and descriptions on each one. You need to tell your prospective web designer what kinds of details you’ll want on each page.

Do you want customers to be able to leave ratings or reviews for products? Do you want them to leave testimonials for your service? Reviews can boost your site’s position in search results, so it’s worth thinking about.

You need to let the designer know if you will be adding content to your site’s pages on an ongoing basis, or if that job will be up to him. Keep in mind that designers charge by the hour for tedious tasks such as adding hundreds of products to a site. You can save a lot of money by doing all this yourself, if you’re on a budget and willing to learn how.

Payment is a critical component of e-commerce. How will the payments be handled? Are you going to use PayPal, or some other kind of software? Integration of different scripts may take more time and cost more money. Discuss with your designer what’s right for your budget, and even more important, what will work best for your visitors. You want to make it easy for them to give you money, don’t you?

What about multimedia?

If you want to include any kind of audio, video, or interactive content on your website, you need to explain very clearly what it’s for and what it should do. Think about what the experience should be like for your website visitors. Remember that creating any kind of interactive experience will take more time and cost more money.

How social will your site be?

Social elements such as message boards, contact forms, guest books, order forms, blogs, or live chat can make your site more interesting and attractive to visitors. They also need to be explained fully to your web designer. Think about how you want these things to look. A web designer can give your blog or message board a custom design – which will cost more – or create them from pre-designed templates, which will be cheaper. Take a look at a few different blogs, message boards and other social elements of other websites, to get an idea of what you want for yours.

What about updates?

Guaranteed: At some point you will want to change some of the content on your site. You may need to update your phone number, change some text, or add new products or articles. Will you want to make simple changes yourself, or are you prepared to have your web designer make changes, and charge you for his time? Your answers will help your web designer determine whether you’ll need a simple content management system (CMS) that you can use yourself, or whether he should use a system that’s intended for a web design pro.

If you follow these guidelines, you will be well on your way to getting the website of your dreams.

Need to pick an SEO agency, too? Check out our related article, Choose the Right SEO Company.

This article was originally published by

This article, originally published at, was contributed by Alan Rosinski of Alan owns Animated Web Services, a custom web design service. He also specializes in local SEO for small businesses using Google Places.