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Selecting a Web Design Firm

May 30, 2013

Today’s post is courtesy of Michele Spiewak, an account director at Rhino Public Relations. Questions or comments? E-mail her at Michele@rhinopr.com or visit www.rhinopr.com.

11850299-web-design-developmentPeople say that your eyes are the windows into your soul. Professionally speaking, a web site provides people with that first glimpse into your business – and it better be a good one. Web sites today should not be treated as static marketing tools. They require constant updating with new content to remain useful and appealing to your target audience. If you don’t remember how to update your web site or haven’t heard the term “SEO,” it may be time to re-design your web site. Here are some tips for choosing a web design firm and making the process as thoughtful and painless as possible.

  1. Do your due diligence. Scope out competitors’ web sites and those of other firms that appeal to you. Note the features, photos, and amount of text. Do you prefer the sites with more photos? Minimal text? Social media access on the home page? Does your firm require a client portal for project management and communication? Knowing what you want, what you like, and explaining why is very helpful to the web site creation process.
  2. Craft a thoughtful RFP. For many of our clients, hiring a web design firm is a new experience. Rely on what you already know about RFPs and responding to them: articulate your goals, target audience, project scope, budget, and schedule. Outline the elements that web design firms should include in their proposal. Be sure to ask for functionality across many mobile platforms and include search engine optimization (SEO) to improve your search ranking, web analytics, and visibility. Some companies will take the opportunity to refresh their corporate logo along with the creation of a new web site. If so, engage the services of a graphic designer and build that into the RFP as well.
  3. Request proposals from five or six firms. There are many web design firms out there, designing web sites that range in complexity, technology, and price. Since the process may be new to you, ask for proposals from a variety of firms so you get an education and learn the questions to ask. You’ll be surprised by the array of responses you receive.
  4. Schedule interviews with each firm making the shortlist and insist that they bring the designer and developer who will actually be doing the work. As AEC professionals, we understand selling services involves selling the firm, but knowing who is doing the work is critical.
  5. Personality is important, but technology is even more so. Most web sites can be designed and built in as little as 12 weeks, so the chemistry should feel right between your firm and the selected designer/developer team working together for the duration of the project. Long after the site is completed, however, your firm will have to live with the web site on whatever web platform and content management system (CMS) you choose. Be sure to ask enough questions about the technology the web site will be built on to ensure longevity in the marketplace and ease of use for everyone in your firm making updates. A web-based CMS will allow your non-technical staff to easily update content on both the online and mobile sites.
  6. Assign an internal project manager to oversee the web design process. Typically, your firm will supply all source material, including written content, headshots, and project photography for the web site. (If not, expect to pay extra for these services.) Having one person in your firm responsible for the web design project will facilitate communication with both the designer and developer and ensure that deadlines are met. Remember that delays and redesigns might also cost you money.

When your web site has been thoroughly tested and is nearing completion, prepare your e-marketing. It’s a smart idea to include in your RFP a request for an email blast template that will reflect the new website design and support the firm’s email marketing program with consistent branding. Create an email blast that celebrates your firm’s new web site and don’t forget to announce your new web site on social media.

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