October 21, 2016 | Emily Winsauer

Website Design SAQs (Should-Ask Questions)

VIEO has been doing website design projects since we were founded in 2008, so we've seen our fair share of miscommunication. We constantly review our web design process to prevent as many misunderstandings as possible and keep things running smoothly, a practice that has helped us retain clients and constantly improve.

Most of the problems and delays we come across are caused by a few common issues, and while we try to  address them proactively, not every agency or designer does. That's why we wanted to share these SAQs, or Should-Ask Questions, so you can be prepared to get answers that will help you and your design team get the best results without delays.

Questions about Process

Ask: "What will be expected of me at each stage?"

One of the best ways to keep the process running smoothly is to plan ahead for what's needed from you along the way. This mostly consists of approvals and answers to questions, but a 1-week holdup here or there can really add up!

By asking about the design team's needs at the outset, you can be prepared to answer questions and give your approval in a timely manner, likely by designating someone on your team as a point of contact who will keep track of these requirements.

Ask: "How will you communicate with me during the process?"

If you're frequently in meetings and can't answer the phone, email might be better—or vice versa. You can save yourself, and your website design team, a lot of time by being clear about how you want to be communicated with, and listening to how their team needs to communicate as well. Playing "phone tag" or waiting for days on email responses isn't a necessary part of doing business. It's totally avoidable.

Ask: "What typically holds up the process, and how can I avoid it?"

In our experience, most web design processes are held up by the same few issues (for us, it's usually the same issue—getting website content from the client). While common issues may vary by web design firm, knowing them in advance is the best way to avoid them.

Ask: "Would you like to see my style guide and current marketing materials?"

Most designers would rejoice if a client handed them a style guide to work from; if yours doesn't, I would wonder if they're just recycling the same templates and don't want to spend time on your design.

As web technologies get easier to use, "website designers" are cropping up everywhere offering pre-designed templates at custom design cost. If your designer is only adding your logo and changing background colors, the cost should not be the same as for a custom designed website.

Sharing your style guide and marketing materials also helps when you get a mock-up, because it gives you language to describe what you do and don't like about the design (e.g. by comparing and contrasting the mock-up with your materials). If they're out of date, you can still use them to explain what you want to change!

Ask: "Who will be responsible for entering the website's content, and how many pages are included in my contract?"

For most of our website design projects, we include 10 pages of content entry, and that's plenty for many businesses. When a client needs more content entered into the new site, we add more pages to the quote—but that's not how all companies work. 

Find out if your web design team will be entering your content for you or whether you'll be expected to do it yourself, how much they'll enter, and what it would it would cost to add more pages. This may appear in your quote, but if it doesn't, be sure to check.

The same goes for products in an ecommerce store. Find out how many the company will enter into the store for you, and how much it will cost to add additional products, set up categories, etc.

Ask: "What additional costs could come up?"

All websites require a domain and website hosting, and many sites may have additional hidden costs. Do your due diligence and ask questions such as these:

  • Does your design company offer hosting or do you need to purchase hosting elsewhere?
  • Are hosting costs charged monthly, quarterly, or annually?
  • What are those costs and what features and services are included?
  • Will they be able to set up 301 redirects for any URLs that are changing, and is there an additional cost?
  • How much does it cost to enter extra pages or products into the CMS?

Questions about Assets

Ask: "What do you need from me to get the project started? What will you need throughout the process?"

The digital assets your website designer needs from you may include your website content,a vector image of your logo, your Google Analytics information, product images, contact information for staff, staff biographies, reviews and testimonials, and any number of other things. 

It's a lot, but it doesn't have to hold up your project. Get a comprehensive list at the beginning and chip away at it as quickly as you can so you can sit back and relax while they design and develop your website.

Ask: "What file format does that need to be? What size?"

During the website design process, we need a number of different assets in many different file types and sizes. When the web designer asks you for your logo, be sure to find out what file type and size they need—and to ask again when they need a staff group photo, and staff individual photos, and any other assets you need to deliver.

Images distort badly when they're too small (it's called pixelation), so unless you want your website to look like a child built it with Legos, it's best to ask what the designer needs! If you don't know how to find out if your images are good enough, I'm sure they'll be happy to walk you through it (and if they're not, just ask me in the comments!).

Ask: "Will I own the website and the domain?"

Today, there are numerous marketing firms catering to specific business types like dentists, chiropractors, veterinarians, and even pool companies. These firms pull in businesses with an offer of a free website lumped in with other marketing services or charge a monthly fee for the website. While they aren't all scams, some of these options can get you in trouble and cost you more in the long run. 

Before you commit, check the fine print. If it seems to good to be true, it is. (Online, you can safely drop the "probably" in that old adage). Ask your marketing or website firm if you'll own the website, content, and domain. If the answer is no, just remember that not owning important business assets can really put your company at risk. 

Questions about Results

Ask: "Will the website be responsive/mobile-friendly?"

We could write volumes about optimal responsive website design or the difference between responsive and mobile-friendly, but suffice it to say that if a website designer tells you "no" when you ask if your site will be responsive, you need to get out of there. Mobile devices now account for more than half of all website traffic to top sites. If your site doesn't look good on a smart phone, it's not helping you.

Ask: "This isn't going to be hard-coded, is it?"

If the answer is yes, RUN AWAY! 

This octopus runs away yelling "Nope Nope Nope Nope" when he's told that his website will be hard coded.

An "old school" HTML site forces you to rely on a developer for changes. Speaking of which...

Ask: "How easy will it be for me to change or add things after the website goes live?"

If your website is website powered by a content management system (CMS), you will have full control over your content. That means you will be able to change or update your website text, images, and menu items at any time in future without the help of a web professional.

If your website does not use a CMS, you will have to pay a developer to make changes. Not only is this costly and inconvenient, but prevents you from making the most of your website as a marketing tool. In some cases, your web design company may insist on making all changes and charging you an hourly fee.

When comparing providers, be sure that your website will be managed through a CMS like WordPress or the HubSpot COS (which is one part of the HubSpot marketing platform). More developer-oriented CMS solutions like Joomla or Drupal may involve a learning curve you're not willing to take on. 

At VIEO, we include training at the end of all of our projects, but some companies charge extra to show you how to use your new website. Check your quote to see if training is included in your contract.

Ask: "Is this built with a proprietary or open-source CMS?" 

There are pros and cons to each, but it's important to know what you're getting. Along with other benefits, open source solutions are typically free. Web design firms should not be charging for WordPress software, though they may need to charge you for paid plugins. You should be paying only for the time and expertise it takes to design your website and install the functionality required for your business needs.

Be aware that with open source solutions, your webmaster will need to keep your software updated with the latest security releases and backed up regularly, unless your website design company provides support plans to handle those services for you. 

Unlike open source website software, proprietary software is not free to the public and will include licensing fees. These are typically paid annually or quarterly. Our favorite proprietary website software is HubSpot, which offers some advanced features that WordPress does not. These features include the ability to integrate directly with your contact database, track your visitor to lead to customer conversions, display different content to different visitors dynamically depending on their stage in the sales funnel, and incorporate email marketing automation, just to name a few.

With well-respected proprietary software like HubSpot, you will not need to back up your website or install software updates, and if you ever choose to move to a different website software, you are able to export your content and contacts.

Be careful of a proprietary CMS developed by your design company; you can end up trapped in it if you want to make a change. While some niche CMS solutions (such as for a specific industry) are trustworthy and valuable, it's always important to ask what would happen to your site if you needed to leave the CMS.

Ask: "How many revisions can I make to the mock-up?"

If it isn't included in your quote, be sure to ask what happens when you request revisions to the initial designs they show you. How many chances will you get to give feedback? Will you get a chance to discuss the mock-ups with them, or will they just email them to you for approval? Are they going to charge you if you ask them to make changes? Like we discussed above, it's important to know what to expect so you can get the best possible results for your project.

Ask: "How much would it cost to add X function? Can I add that functionality later?"

Some functions can be added just as easily 6 months from now, while others involve foundational elements of your website. If you may need to add functionality like an ecommerce store, secure document upload, or a members-only area, ask your web designer about it up front even if you're not quite ready to add it. 

Ask: "What SEO features are included?"

Strong CMS options like WordPress are built to be "SEO friendly," and you can install additional plugins (like SEO Yoast) to give you even more control, insight, and feedback on your website's SEO value. Well-respected proprietary CMS solutions like HubSpot often built-in advanced SEO features to give immediate feedback as you type.

Regardless, ask about buzzwords like site maps, SEO plug-ins, SEO-friendly URLs, image alt text, and meta descriptions. Find out whether your website software allows for these features and ask if your project cost includes populating these fields (e.g. adding meta descriptions for site pages). If your project is a website redesign, you may want to read our post "Redesign Your Website without Losing SEO Street Cred" to learn a little more about how to conserve your current SEO value during the process.

These days, blogging is so essential to SEO that many people barely think of it as an SEO feature. Needless to say, you should never buy a website without the ability to blog. Social media sharing buttons are also under appreciated; social sharing and engagement impacts SEO and is increasingly important in inbound marketing.

Ask: "Will you be installing Google Analytics?"

You cannot reliably improve what you can not measure. Ask your web developer if Google Analytics installation is included in your website project. This is a basic necessity for any website today to track visitor behavior, traffic trends, referral sources, and to analyze the ROI of your marketing efforts. 

Ask: "What kind of training will you provide on the website when it's done?"

Some companies provide a free support period after your website goes live to allow you to test your training knowledge and get used to your new site. Others may charge for help after training (if they provide training at all). Be sure to ask ahead of time what kind of training is included, especially if you'll need to be making changes to the site shortly after it goes live. After all, what good is a shiny new website if you can't use it?

The big question...

When it comes to website designers, some agencies and freelancers price websites based only on design and content entry, but don't include much more. It's important to find out if your project will include expert advice on user navigation, marketing messages, inbound marketing best practices, and other critical elements that will result in a website that attracts visitors, converts leads, and closes customers.

If you aren't going to get expert marketing advice as part of your project you may pay less (or not), but your website will not deliver the same results. How can you tell? Ask questions about the process and results, and get a firm commitment about what is and is not included in the price you were quoted.

If you’d like a second opinion about your current site before you get started, we’d be happy to take a look—no strings attached.

Let's Talk!


Emily Winsauer

Emily Winsauer

As VIEO's content director, Emily Winsauer was responsible for content strategy for VIEO and our clients for over 5 years. She recently moved to Seattle where she's still creating compelling content in her new role.

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