Wondering what to look for in a web designer before committing to a serious project? When you’re considering hiring a web designer to build a site for you, you should ask a few important questions and make sure you’re on the same page about a few things upfront to make sure it’s a good fit.
It’s highly possible that your business needs a custom or semi-custom website build by a web designer, but it’s also possible that at this point in time, getting a custom website done will be a waste of time and money. So, I want to make sure that you’re not wasting either of those things! 🙂
Here’s a few things to keep in mind when you’re looking for a web designer to make sure you’re working with someone who is truly invested in the results your site brings you.
- They should ask for your website content before they begin designing your website. Copy dictates design and you want your web designer to understand the importance of clear, non-generic website copy that attracts clients, customers, readers, or whoever you’re trying to connect with through your website. If your designer doesn’t ask for copy ahead of time, this is a red flag because the website they make for you won’t necessarily help deliver your website words in the most strategic way
- They should be able to deliver on the functionality you need on your site. If you need a shop, a client portal, a membership, a resource library, a blog, a contact form, or custom ordering functionality, they need to be able to build a site that does those things. Ideally, your web designer should be able to point out functionality that they see you needing a few years down the line as well.
- They should be an expert on your chosen website platform and they should be able to honestly let you know whether or not they recommend the platform they build on for your business. If they recommend their own website platform as a fit for every business, I’d run away. Different website platforms have different pros, cons, strengths, and weaknesses.
- Your designer should ask you in-depth questions about your audience and your goals so that they can create a site that actually helps you achieve those goals. If they don’t ask you about your products, your customers, and your marketing strategy, I’d be a little skeptical. If this is the case, make sure to ask them about their strategy for designing your website before they get started.
- They should be able to answer questions about what they recommend for SEO, site optimization, analytics, conversion rate optimization, maintenance, security, and content marketing. Whether that’s a referral to another professional or that some of these services are things that they can help with, make sure you’re clear on what next steps are for these website-related marketing pieces.
So now you know what to look for in a web designer, but how do you know when you’re ready to hire one? Here’s what I’d recommend working through before hiring a web designer.
1.) You need to fully understand who your audience is and what your site needs to accomplish before launching a custom site
Custom and semi-custom websites are weeks or months-long projects (usually) and the last thing you want is to spend that much time and money having a site created if you might have to do a full revamp 6 months from now. Having a really solid idea of who your website is for and what you need it to accomplish is key to creating a site that actually delivers results in your business.
One of the first red flags for me that shows a client might be better off with a website template for now is that she’s not sure what her goal is for her website or that she’s unsure of who her audience is or will be.
Related Reading: Does Your Business Actually Need a Website Right Now?
The last thing I want to do is to take someone’s money for a custom site design if they really aren’t ready for it! Mostly because I know that developing a website with no audience or conversion goal in mind isn’t going to get the best results for my clients.
It’s totally normal to switch up your site regularly when you’re first starting out in business and you’re not really sure what you want things to look like, so this isn’t meant to make you feel bad! I just want to save you from hiring out this kind of project and then realizing you want to change industries or niche down differently.
This isn’t to say that you can’t pivot or add new services/products to a custom site, because you absolutely can. But if your audience completely changes, you rebrand everything drastically, or you restructure your business, you’ll probably end up rebuilding your website from scratch or next to scratch. And that would definitely suck if you already spent a lot of money and effort on it!
2.) A website that functions well and converts takes multiple people
Ultimately, building a website is a multi-faceted project, and more than likely won’t be a one-person job. Some business owners are hesitant to make the multiple hires it takes to create a site that does some serious heavy lifting in their business, but if you’re going to do this, I think that you should do it the right way and go all in.
To create a site that connects with your target audience and converts them into clients or customers, you need several moving pieces to come together and only one of them is the website that your designer/developer/both creates for you.
As a web designer, I think that you should hire a copywriter before you hire me. Copywriters are wonderful people who write words that are specifically crafted to create more sales and conversions in your business. This is critical to building a website that actually gets results.
Copywriters are magical, I swear. If you want to DIY this piece of your site, there are definitely options. That being said, writing website copy is a big project and you should consider whether you’re up to the task before committing to it.
Lots of thought needs to go into every headline, call to action, and paragraph. Each word on each page should have a purpose and everything written should be helping accomplish the goal of the page it’s on.
There are three main reasons why you should probably hire a copywriter to write your website copy.
- The number one holdup in a web design project is the content. Website builds that start with the business owner intending to write their own copy generally end up being postponed because the business owner got too busy to write or became overwhelmed with the copywriting process.
- Secondly, I can guarantee you’ll get better results if you have the website copy available before the designer begins creating layouts for the site. That’s because the designer can put together layouts with the copy in mind rather than designing something and then trying to shove the content into it later on. You get a much more custom/bespoke result when you hand the copy over to your designer before she starts designing anything.
- Website copywriters help businesses get more clients and customers. If you’re hoping for your website to bring in more sales and leads, one of the best things that you can do is to hire a copywriter. So if you’re planning to launch a new site, copywriting help should be one of the first things on your list to hire out for.
Websites that launch with real photos of real people tend to do better. The world is tired of stock photos and those cool-but-impersonal illustrations that end up on websites all the time.
Especially when it comes to small business websites and blogs. People want to see and connect with real human beings and one of the absolute best ways to accomplish that is to have a photoshoot with a branding photographer.
Whether it’s just you or it’s you and your team, get some good-quality and on-brand photos of the people behind your business, your workspace, your processes, and anything else you want your audience to be able to see. The difference between launching a site with stock photos and launching one with custom photos that actually represent your business is actually mind-blowing. There is no comparison.
The very first big business investment I made was branding photos and I saw an instant return on that investment because I noticed that immediately, more people were reaching out via my contact form and on Instagram, where I posted some of these photos.
Before I had my branding photo shoot, I was using a couple of stale headshots and some stock photos on my site and I was not getting near as good of results as I do now, even having only done one shoot.
Related resource: Check out this website shot list to brainstorm different photos you’ll need for your site
If you’re going to be trying to rank in search results, I recommend setting up (at the very least) a consultation with an SEO professional. I’d do this before hiring a copywriter so that you can get a list of keywords to hand over to your copywriter so that she can keep them in mind while writing your website copy.
Some copywriters offer this kind of service, so definitely check around to see if that’s the case with any of the copywriters you’re considering.
SEO is a long-term game, though, just so you know. And you’re more likely to see results from it if you’re doing some kind of content marketing in your business. Websites without a lot of content can be extremely difficult to rank, aside from in local searches.
Whether you’re wanting to rank for specific keywords through an in-depth content marketing strategy or you have a local business that you just need to show up in the top 3 map listings or the first page of search results for your area, it’s a good idea to be thinking about SEO from the beginning of your site and beyond.
After you’ve worked with a copywriter, a photographer, and an SEO professional of some kind, it’s time to look for a web designer. Your ideal web designer should be an expert on your website platform of choice. If you’re unsure about what platform you’d like to use for your site, I would ask a few different designers or developers what they recommend.
Having copy and content beforehand is one of the best ways that you can make sure that your investment in hiring a web designer brings you a return on that investment in the form of a well-designed website that pulls its weight in your business.
Some web designers just create the design of your site and hand it off to a website developer while other designers are able to design, create, and launch the site. This usually depends on their level of coding knowledge as well as what platform they’re using.
If your designer is using a platform like Squarespace or ShowIt, they likely won’t need to code much, if at all. If you’re getting a fully custom site built from scratch, you are probably looking at hiring a separate web developer to create and lunch the site based on the designer’s mockups.
I use a web design process that lands somewhere in the middle of these two scenarios, a semi-custom approach. I don’t build my sites from scratch – they’re built on WordPress and use premade plugins – but because I’m comfortable with code and CSS, I customize the sites heavily and can add pretty much any functionality or design change to my sites. I design, create, test, and launch the site and there are a lot of other web designers who provide the same services.
If your website budget is upwards of 10k or so, that’s likely a custom project that involves a website developer to create custom functionality for your website from scratch. If you need your site to function a very specific way and there isn’t already a plugin for that, you’ll be hiring a developer to create that for you.
Also, if you’re picking a website platform that your designer doesn’t provide development services for, you’ll need to link up with a developer to have them build and launch the website.
3.) If you plan to utilize SEO, you need to have a significant amount of content on your website
Your site is very unlikely to rank in competitive searches unless you have high-quality content on your site, and a decent amount of it. There’s a misconception out there that SEO is a one-and-done kinda deal and all you need to do is enter in a few keywords and your site will start ranking.
SEO and local SEO are pretty different but if you are wanting to rank for a specific keyword, you’ll need to be very specific (think “life coach for moms with toddlers” instead of “life coach”) if you want to stand a chance of actually ranking.
Since there are so many websites on the internet, you’re competing with lots of people to rank. Google tries its best to show the search results that it considers to be the most helpful to the people searching for a particular keyword.
There are over 200 Google ranking signals but a lot of that decision-making comes down to how many other, reputable websites link to you as well as how long people click on your site, stay on your site, and actually read your content.
Hopping down from the soapbox: An effective website project needs more than just a web designer
And that’s me speaking as a web designer. Copywriters, photographers, SEO peeps, designers, and developers are all people you should consider hiring when you’re ready to build you a site for your business.
I think that there are a lot of business owners who would be better served by buying a website template of some sort and working with that before jumping into a custom or semi-custom website design project.
Most people change their website a few times before they land on something they keep for few years. So, it’s smart to start with a less-expensive solution, like a template. Then, when you’re more confident in where you’re at in business, you can start the process of building a more custom site.
If you’re super-solid in knowing your audience, knowing what you want to be known for, and knowing what you plan to offer or sell, and you have the time and budget available to hire out the different essential parts of a website project, then it’s probably time to go for it! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about hiring a web designer or the process of building a website – I’d be happy to help out. 🙂