1. Look at the detail of the web design company's own website. This is almost always a good indication of the level of detail your new website will have. See if you can find any areas that have added level of detail, such as images with added effects. This could be rounded corners, gradient effects, colour fading etc. No matter if you do not want those design elements on your own website, it gives you information about the designers and their eye for detail and quality.
2. Know what you want. Even if you don't know the technical aspects or terms of web design, you should have a fairly good idea of what you want the end result to look like. If you leave vital parts of your website design and functionality to the web designer, you are likely to pay more than you have to. If you don't know what kind of features you could ask for, look around online at some larger websites. If you are selling products, you could try and look at ebay.com or amazon.com for some design ideas. If it works for them, it most likely will work for you.
3. Ask if a detailed quote is available. Just as with other areas of business where you have little or no idea how things are done or how long they take, it is important to get a breakdown of services that you are paying for. Are they only giving you a total price for the web services you have been discussing over the phone or email? If so, they are not giving you information that you can use to compare other web design companies with. You should ask what their hourly rate is which can help you figure out from the total cost how long it is going to take to design the website!
4. What level of support is available during and after building your website? It is very important to know how many changes you can make to your website while it is being built that are not going to cost you extra. Is the web design company giving you an option to view work in progress? How about if you change your mind on a design aspect after the website has been designed? These things need to be part of your contract before you agree to have work done. You don't want a surprise invoice for "additional requested web design work" to land in your inbox. Always be clear on what is going to be charged for and what is part of the web design package.
5. What do other clients think about the web designer? If you want to get an honest and unbiased opinion about this, there is no better way than going straight to the source! Find a previous client's contact information and send a quick email asking if it is possible to have them share some of this information with you.
6. Will your site be search engine friendly? Becoming part of major search engines such as Google and Yahoo is the inevitable next step after standard web design work has been completed. When you have a brand new website filled with information about services and products you offer, you want people to find it! Search engine optimization, or SEO as it is usually called, is an art form that takes years to master. It is a constant challenge for the web designer to keep up with ever-changing rules that the search engine companies make for who is more "important" in the search engine rankings.
You should not expect to get this service for free if it is done properly by a knowledgeable person, since it can potentially take more hours to complete than your entire website, and it is an ongoing process. You should be able to settle for a level of search engine optimization that suits your budget and still gives you an increased level of visibility online. Always ask how the search engine process will be carried out since anyone can say they are "optimizing" your website and all they do is adding keyword phrases in a few places.
The most important thing to remember about search engine optimization is that it must be supported by strong research into your specific business niche. If your web designer does not find out exactly what people are searching for when trying to find your type of business, you are just paying for guesswork and are wasting your money.
7. How will you be billed? You want to know how work is being billed, both for web design work that is part of your contract and for extra services or additional hours of work. It is common that a percentage of the total contract is charged up front before web design services have started. It is not recommended without a valid reason to pay more than 50% up front, which is a fair level for both parties. It can be agreed on that additional hours of work are added to the final payment, or invoiced immediately. As long as you feel that your needs and requirements are being satisfied, either way is standard procedure.
8. How much control will you have over content? It is still very common today that all additional work that you want done on the website will be carried out by your web designer. If you want to be able to update content on a regular basis, look for web designers that allow you to log in and update information on your own. This requires your website to be dynamic, using elements of programming code that can separate you from your visitors.
The best type of website for this purpose is a CMS-based website. CMS stands for Content Management System and is a completely different style of web design than a standard static website that only displays the same information every day. If your web designer uses a CMS to design your website, you will be able to have website visitors give comments or write articles directly on your website such as in a blog, or give different people different level of access to content on your website.
This is the direction the Internet is moving today, with so-called "Web 2.0" websites such as YouTube and Facebook popping up everywhere where users can add their own movie clips, images and other information. Of course, your website does not have to have these features to use a CMS, but a content management system allows your website to grow and expand easily for future needs. It is important you try and figure out how you may want to use your website in a few years from now and if you need a CMS or not. This type of design usually comds at a higher initial cost, but will make all changes and additional work on your web site a breeze later on.
9. How is communication between you and the web designer? How fast do you get responses to your emails? Are the responses long or short and do they seem to get shorter for each question you asked? You want to make sure that you can ask "dumb" questions and still receive the highest level of professionalism from the web designer. Is the person you are talking to the same person that will do work on your website? You want to have direct contact with the web designer(s) that are going to work on your website, to avoid miscommunication and "lost-in-translation" scenarios. If you call the web design company, try and get a feel for if they are dedicated to your satisfaction by listening to what you have to say, or if they are constantly doing sales pitches to try and convince you to pay for other services.
10. Ask for a resume. A professional web designer should be willing to give you a resume of his or her previous work and background. Knowing the background of the person or company that you are going to work with (usually over a period of several weeks) gives you a better understanding if you have found a web designer with skills that will suit your needs. What you want to be looking for is someone who truly enjoys his or her line of work and has dedicated his professional life to this field. If a person enjoys doing what he/she is doing, it shows in the detail and quality of the work produced - and eventually in your new website!