Choosing the right web development agency

So you want a new web site design, or maybe just an upgrade. Maybe you want to set up an E-commerce shop, or give your customers access to their data online? All of this sounds great in theory, but you have to make the right choice of supplier. Get it wrong and you could be in deep trouble.

But how do you look for that supplier. After all your are not just wanting a ‘quick fix’ but a true partner who will enhance your online business channel for years. But the problem does not end there, there are just so many facets to a website.

There's the layout and graphics, usability, search engine 'friendliness', online databases and e-commerce, plus of course web applications, including such specialities as membership sites. In the end you need someone who understands them all.

So here are the key steps:

1. Write your web site design brief

2. Short-list a few potential suppliers – choose local if you can

3. View their websites

4. Meet them

5. Invite proposals

6. Then choose your new web design partner

The first step - Writing your web site design brief

Tempting though it is to start approaching suppliers in a rush, you do need to take time to consider your requirements. So prepare a project brief, saying what you want the site to do and who your target market is (this will make a big difference to the 'look and feel'). Investing a few hours now will repay dividends later on.

Then short-list a few possible web site design partners

Start with a web search. Launch Google and look for ‘web site design’ with your geographical area of choice, be it ‘Gloucestershire’, ‘Bristol’ or whatever term fits. Some people choose to go for super-cheap offers from distant, perhaps overseas,  suppliers, but this can be a mistake and they can be difficult to manage and control.

The advantage of keeping your business local

Of course the Internet makes dealing with far away people easy, but the fact of the matter is that there is no substitute for face-to-face contact between you and your web development agency. So, with this in mind it makes sense to choose someone local, that way you can go and see them whenever the need arises.

There are also strong economic arguments for keeping your business local – perhaps you already emphasise this when selling to your customers? Besides the obvious, sometimes a local partner can open new doors for your business too, for the simple reason that they deal with other local businesses, who too want to keep to the 'keep it local' ethos.

Check the prospective suppliers’ websites

Once you have your short-list, have a look at all their websites and, if you are interested in Search Engine Optimisation, see where they appear in Google results. Beware of using the latter (rankings) as a main criteria though as in many cases websites are not designed to get rankings, there 'job' being to act as an online brochure or contact point (and hence they are not 'trying' to get rankings in the first place.

The main issue at this stage is how good their sites look and how easy they are to use. After all you will want a site that will impress visitors and be easy for them to navigate around (and thus find the things you want to tell or sell to them).

Only then is it time to meet

Once you have your final short-list, give the company a call, ask some questions and see if you get the right vibes. Are they friendly and business like, but not too pushy? If they seem to be OK, then arrange to meet (this is where geography comes into play, the more local the better).

Of course you could ask prospective suppliers to visit you. However, there’s lots in favour of visiting their offices. Meeting a team 'at home' can be a real eye opener.

Once you have carried out all of the above, you can start talking prices and time scales. Perhaps you will get quotes from more than one, it is all up to you, but remember, you always get what you pay for. If it looks like a too good to be true deal, then it more than likely is (this especially being the case with databases and SEO), so choose wisely.