While the economy struggles to right itself after the tidal wave of 2020, business leaders find themselves in a tough spot when it comes to websites: You want or even need a new website to bring in more qualified leads but are terrified of having buyer’s remorse.
What if the website redesign agency you pick to work with turns out to be a terrible fit? What if you commit to the investment and end up totally underwhelmed?
Understandably, a lot of companies use launch timeline or, especially now, budget as their fit criteria, but there’s a lot more you need to consider before making your choice, even in the best of times.
We’ve put together a list of questions you can ask website redesign agencies while you’re in the research phase. These questions will help get you the information you need to choose the best partner— one that will build a site that both delights your users and accomplishes your business goals.
This is great information to glean out of the gate because it ultimately determines your relationship, next steps, and compatibility.
For example, a company eager to get a few key updates launched in just a few months might find it a nightmare to work with a traditional agency that takes five to seven months to build a whole site. You could go through the entire strategy process and get a plan for build only to learn there’s no way the agency can even come close to your desired launch date.
If you start with this question and don’t like the answer you might be able to save yourself some time.
2. Who will I be working with?
This question will tell you the makeup of the agency’s team and who is at your disposal.
You should find out if you’ll have one point of contact, likely a project manager, to keep communication streamlined and hold everyone accountable to deadlines.
There are a lot of moving parts to a website redesign, and these projects can live and die on communication. Knowing who the players are and what the chain of command is will ensure that communication is as efficient as possible.
3. How will you get to know our business?
It’s absolutely crucial that the agency takes time to get to know your products and/or services, your target personas and their buyer journeys, and your sales process — but that’s just table stakes.
They need to understand your company goals, your top initiatives (how important is recruiting, social responsibility, educating prospects, holding virtual events, etc.), so that your site isn’t built on best guesses.
When you ask this, look for a detailed answer about strategy. Before anyone even thinks about building anything, there should be a discovery session, user research, competitive analysis, and working sessions for the sitemap and page strategy.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it should give you an idea of the kind of work needed to create a website that is truly for your users to accomplish your goals. ...
4. What is your process?
An agency’s approach to website redesign is about philosophy; their process is how they execute, step by step, on the philosophy.
Maybe you learned that the agency’s approach starts with a strategy. How long does it take them to complete the strategy and what are the deliverables in it? Where does design factor in? When does the site actually start getting built?
Asking this question helps you understand what the road looks like so you can decide it’s one you do want to walk together.
If you’ve never been through a website redesign before, you likely don’t know what to expect. Any experienced agency will be able to provide you with documentation about their process and walk you through it.
If you have been through a redesign before, you know how important understanding the process is so that expectations are clear on both sides. Note: Every agency does things differently so don’t expect a 1-to-1 translation from past experiences.
5. Who needs to get involved from my team and when?
An agency should provide guidance on who from your organization should be involved in the process. They should also be able to provide details about how many meetings you can expect to have, how long they typically last, and the kind of action items you’ll be tasked with afterward.
The “time is money” quip wasn’t total BS; your time is extremely valuable so you have a right to know how much of it is needed. By the same token, the agency has a right to know you can commit to it.
Find out how much time your company needs to spend on this project so the people involved can work it into their schedules, and you don’t end up trying to wrangle different people into meetings they weren’t prepared for. That always goes so well...
6. How do you handle content?
Compelling website copy is just as important to your website design as visual design and functionality. You need to determine who is writing new copy or optimizing existing copy for search engine optimization.
Is your team capable of taking it on? Would you rather have external copywriters take a crack at it? Do you want your staff to write the site content with coaching from an expert agency content team?
Whichever way you want to roll, the agency should have a process that suits your needs. Website page copy should get factored into the project timeline so everyone knows when writing needs to happen to have it ready for launch.
7. What happens if we get off schedule?
Timeline is always a concern for both sides. Most likely, you have a particular time frame you want the site to launch in, whether for a marketing campaign, hiring initiative, or product launch.
On the agency’s side, they need to manage other website projects and the capacity of each team member.
No one wants to miss deadlines with all that in the balance, but it happens.
It’s important to know in advance if the agency has a grace period before moving the project timeline, how long it is, and what happens when things do need to shift right. This will better equip you for holding people accountable.
Fun fact: Contrary to popular belief, it is not usually development that derails projects. (Love you, devs!) Getting final content is usually what holds things up. I know that would never happen with you, it’s just something to keep in mind…
8. How do you handle scope changes?
Let’s say you get a great idea for the website while the redesign is in progress — Awesome! Or maybe you realize that an original idea you had isn’t going to work — Less awesome.
The plan you start with might not be the plan you end up with — and that’s okay. It’s best to know ahead of time what kind of changes cost money so you aren’t surprised when they happen.
Ask the agency how they handle change orders. Will they take it back to the project team for an estimate and give you the cost to approve? Or might they just do the work and bill you for time and materials after?
Any professional outfit you talk to will have experienced scope changes plenty of times and should be able to communicate the process ahead of time.
9. Who is responsible for photos and video?
High-quality photos and video can breathe life into your brand, aid your message, and exponentially enhance user experience. Don’t leave it to the last minute to figure out how these key pieces of your site will be incorporated.
Ask who handles image selection and procurement, your business or the agency. Maybe you have company photography that will work well. Maybe you’re going to use stock photos. Who is paying for the stock photos?
Some agencies will give you a certain number free from their account and retain ownership of them, and others prefer that clients own the photos outright. Either way, knowing ahead of time will help you plan for added expense of either time or money.
The same questions apply to video assets. Since we’re talking about photos and video...
Just start talking about it early because this is yet another website redesign component that can affect cost and timeline.
If the agency is creating custom videos for you, they will want to include that element in early strategy planning. If they’re going to be working with an outside vendor, video should be part of the strategy, and they’ll need to manage that extra relationship and deliverable (when is the photoshoot happening?) within the project.
Don’t miss the opportunity to optimize your site’s user experience with unique imagery by waiting until the eleventh hour to ask about it.
11. How much work do you outsource?
Don’t be surprised if a website agency outsources parts of a project. Outsourcing specific pieces of a site can actually be more cost-effective if it would take the agency longer to build, say, a calculator than it would an outsourced partner who specializes in such a tool.
The key part of the sentence is “parts of a project.” It’s a red flag if an agency is outsourcing all of design or development. How well can they understand website redesign if they don’t have the experience? How well can they speak about your project and how quickly can they answer questions if they aren’t actively working on it?
It’s all about what you’re comfortable with. Maybe you’re fine with the agency just being the middleman. Either way, ask in advance so you can decide with that information in hand.
12. How will website management work?
The most important tool you’ll want to ask about is what content management systems (CMS) the agency specializes in.
If you want a HubSpot site and their developers only work with WordPress, you could end up disappointed. Or maybe you want a recommendation, but they care more about what they’re comfortable with than what’s right for you.
You should also find out if they have experience with any integrations you want, for e-commerce, email marketing, chatbots, etc.
Knowing the agency is confident working with the tools you want to use should put you at ease. You won’t have to worry that the scope will get inflated because they need more time to figure things out or, worse, that they won’t actually figure things out and can’t deliver the functionality you want.
13. How is hosting handled?
Find out if the agency will suggest third-party hosting platforms to you or if they prefer to host the site.
If they say they prefer hosting, reply, “No thanks! If you host our site you’ll have too much control. What if I need support when you’re not open? What happens if you close up shop for good? We’d rather have hosting access, thank you very much.”
They will be both impressed and slightly intimidated by your knowledge.
Seriously though, this is an important question because no agency should recommend hosting your site for you. You should purchase your own hosting account to retain control, so find an agency that will help you do that.
14. What does your launch plan look like?
Even though the project is only conceptual at this point, you can still get a general sense of the who, what, when, and how for launch.
Who will be supporting you the week of launch and how available will they be? What can you expect to happen that week and on launch day in particular? When does the agency typically launch sites? (A smart one won’t launch on a Friday if they’re off on the weekend.) How are bug fix requests submitted to the development team?
Tension can be high around launch because everyone has worked extremely hard and wants everything to go off without a hitch. Ask about the launch plan before the project even starts so you can have clear expectations when you have a clear head.
15. What kind of post-launch support do you offer?
No agency should launch your new site, give you two big thumbs up, say, “Good luck,” and disappear. If that’s the extent of their “support” then you should end the conversation there.
The launch of your site is really just the beginning. You should be running tests, collecting user data, and making iterative improvements to make sure it's performing as effectively as possible.
If this isn’t something you can handle in-house, ask the agency if they have strategists who can provide this support. At the very least, ask if the agency will be around to fix bugs and perform maintenance if you need it.
Find an agency worth your dime
Every penny matters in the current financial climate. I know people who will ask more questions than this when researching a toaster purchase right now. Your website will cost more than a toaster.
Take the time to find a redesign agency that is right for your goals and your needs so you won’t end up regretting the investment.
This means having a deep and clear understanding across the company and what your goals and needs are. You also need to know where your pain points are, what your budget is — and finally, what you’re getting into.