The Ultimate Guide To Choosing The Right Web Designer

Frankly I’m sick and tired of hearing stories about horrible web designers. It seems that companies big and small taking money from clients, putting them through a nightmare experience, and never delivering what they promise has become common place. And that’s IF you can get the person to whom you just gave your money to get back to you, or even talk with you in the first place. If that story is a familiar one, perhaps it happened to you, or you’d like to avoid this happening, this is YOUR guide.

What follows is a complete guide to choosing the right person to work with. This comes from my more than 10 years of developing software and websites for clients ranging from one-person operations to Fortune 500 companies. It comes down to 5 things:

  1. Ensuring the right fit
  2. Questions you should be asked
  3. Questions you should ask
  4. Two things you need from the process
  5. Functionality that every website must have

Believe it or not this isn’t all that complicated, if you know the right questions to ask and the questions you should be asked. That’s what this guide provides.

Before we start let’s get some terminology out of the way. In this guide I use “web designer” as the label for the person who will build your website. I could use “web developer” or “marketing person” just as easily. Ultimately though I’m speaking about the person responsible for delivering your website.

Alright. With that out of the way let’s get into it!

Ensuring The Right Fit

You’re a super busy entrepreneur providing top-shelf services and products to your clients. You don’t have the time to learn all this online marketing stuff yourself, and you shouldn’t have to. What you need is someone that won’t mess around, and will give it to you straight. Anything less is a waste of your time and money.

Personality is one of the most important things to look for in a web designer. If you have a personality conflict with the person you’d be working with for a month or two, move on. There are many fish in the sea. Past that really important aspect, here are some general things to look for. You need someone who:

  1. Seeks to understand your business and the value you provide to your customers
  2. Seeks to understand your ideal customers – what language they use, what they want, and what makes them tick
  3. Does research before designing anything. Unless you’re working with someone that worked with a competitor and already fully understands your market, research needs to be done.
  4. Provides design options – 3 options you can choose from is pretty standard
  5. Highly communicative and easy to talk with

You can tell, on the first call, if the person you’re speaking with matches this criteria. How do you know? One indicator is the questions they ask you.

Questions You Should Be Asked

9 times of out 10 your website will provide the first impression to a potential customer; therefore, it must exude your brand and message. It must reach in and speak directly to the core of your ideal customer, in their language. It needs to provide the information they are looking for, and allow them to easily start a conversation with you. To do that, your web designer should ask you:

  • Who is your ideal customer? Please describe them in detail.
  • Who are your current customers?
  • What do you like the most about your current customers? What don’t you like?
  • To present, how have you been getting customers?
  • Do you have testimonials I can look at?

Your website, while technically being for you, is really made for your ideal customers. Think of it like a salesperson working for you 24×7. What will make that salesperson most effective with and appealing to your ideal customers? The overall design is one aspect of your website, but it sure isn’t all there is to it. You can have a beautiful website that turns people off, and vice versa.

At the end of the day you need something that directly speaks to the core of your ideal customer. The above questions, when answered in detail, form the foundation of your website and ALL of your online marketing efforts.

These are the things to look for in your initial conversation. However no conversation is one-sided. To be even more informed you need some questions to ask too…

Questions To Ask

Sooner or later the money issue is going to come up. If you haven’t been pre-qualified by the designer you’re speaking with, you need to qualify yourself in or out. So the first question to ask is how much the project is going to cost.

Huge note: I’ve been told by designers in the past that there is no way to estimate a web design project. I call shenanigans on that as it’s patently false. Every designer worth their salt can provide a price estimate. If they won’t, run the other way and don’t look back. There are many ways to estimate projects, and I know from more than 10 years of experience that it can be done. In fact, if the designer has a process in place they should be able to give you a fixed price. It may take a little more discussion and thought to arrive at that price, however you can definitely be given a ballpark range.

This leads perfectly to the most important question you can ask: what is your process?

Having a process is supremely important. It means that things have been thought through, and you won’t flounder around trying to figure out what the hell is going to happen next. This is another inflection point with your potential designer. If they don’t have a process in place they can describe, turn and run the other way.

While everyone is different there are some factors crucial to success. What you want to look for are:

  1. Use of a project management system for collaboration during and after the project
  2. Initial project kick off meeting where you detail your ideal customer, current customers, current marketing efforts, and familiarity and comfort with both social media and blogging
  3. A research stage
  4. Delivery of a proposed sitemap, which is an outline of the pages your site will composed of

I’ll even go so far as to say that the above list is written in the order they should happen.

Two Things You Need From The Process

Armed with the answers to your two most important questions there are now two things you need from the designer:

  1. References; and if those check out
  2. A proposal

When speaking with references ask how their project went. Did it go according to plan? How did the designer react when snags were encountered (as they always are)? Were they able to communicate at all times during the project? How happy are they and what could have worked better? And finally, what kind of ongoing relationship do they have with the person?

If your potential designer makes it past that phase it’s time for a proposal.

Proposals come in many formats. A long time ago I’d send simple estimates from my billing system, and later switched to using email. Now I have a proposal template that I customize for each potential client.

A proposal should include:

  • The (fixed) price of the project
  • Obvious payment schedule with payment due dates
  • Set schedule of deliverables
  • Clear goals and objectives for the project

Remember, a proposal is not a contract, so it won’t contain all the legal jargon none of us can read. If you accept the proposal, or after negotiating it, that’s when the contract comes into play. I won’t go over contracts here as it falls outside of the “choosing the right web designer” topic, however definitely read over the entire thing before you sign. If you have no idea what it says and means, have an attorney look over it. It’s money well spent.

Let’s wrap up this guide by discussing the features and aspects every business website must have to effectively attract and convert ideal customers.

Functionality Every Website Must Have

I can’t say it enough so I’ll say it again – the goal of your website is to attract and convert your ideal customers. It must visually appeal to them, and speak to their core using their vocabulary. It’s a living, breathing thing that will evolve over time along with your business and your customers. It is the first impression many will have of you.

One thing that really pisses me off is when entrepreneurs are beholden to their web designer for any content changes. Design and functionality changes are one thing, however you should never have to call your designer to make a content update. This covers every aspect of your website and blog.

So the first thing you need is a website built on top of a content management system. I’ve used WordPress for many years, and though there are other options out there, WordPress is by far the most used by companies large and small. My clients love it as it’s very simple to manage all aspects of their sites, and it’s really easy to use. If you can use Microsoft Word, you can use WordPress.

Next, the site should be built from the ground-up for search engine optimization, or SEO. Simply put your site needs to be fast, and you need to be able to control the meta tags – the title, description and keywords – on all blog posts and pages. In addition, you’ll need to link your site to your social media profiles, and be able to easily link your posts and pages together. After that you start going down the rabbit hole, a hole your designer should be able to navigate. Keep in mind though that SEO is a moving target, and while the basics haven’t really changed, there are a lot of moving parts to consider.

Now, content doesn’t just share itself. You’ll want social media share buttons on all of your posts. This is easily done in WordPress either with free plugins or functionality that can be baked into your theme. The order in which these buttons appear is determined by what the research tells you, another reason for that crucial step. Also important here is allowing your blog readers to be able to subscribe to your blog. Depending on how tech savvy they are RSS can be a poor option. I recommend using AWeber and their blog broadcast functionality for email subscriptions. You’ll thank me later for that one 🙂

And what good is having a website attracting all those awesome ideal customers if they can’t speak with you? Right – zero. There are two places on a site to have conversations – blog comments and contact forms. Be sure you have both, and plenty of the latter.

Bonus Section: Measure Everything

Did I tell you how much of a fan of stats I am? No? Well I am. And as a serious business owner you need to know if this salesperson of a website is working for you. And for that, you need website analytics.

All of my clients use two packages that I highly recommend:

  1. HitSniffer – a real-time analytics package and pure awesome to see stats about individual visitors
  2. Google Analytics – the Photoshop of the web analytics world

Put BOTH of these on your site and start measuring everything that happens there.

And That Concludes The Guide

Whew! That was a lot of ground to cover, and you made it! We talked about:

  1. How to ensure the designer you find is the right fit
  2. Questions you should be asked by your potential designer
  3. Questions you should ask them
  4. Two things you need from the process
  5. The functionality that every website must have
  6. And the bonus Measure Everything section

I’ve tried to cover as many aspects as I can; however if you have questions or would like me to talk about any of what you’ve read in more depth, please either leave a comment below and we can discuss it there, or use my contact form.

If this guide has been valuable please use the social media share buttons below and share it with your fellow entrepreneurs. And of course if you need assistance with your website, definitely drop me a line and see if there’s a fit between us.

Thanks for your time!


  1. Great guide Robert, really well done and so right. I’m still in the diy phase but this guide is a useful tool for everyone. Obviously tweeted.

    •  @Andrea T. H. W. thanks Andrea. I’m a DIY’er myself and do this for my clients (along with my team) but I keep hearing so many stories, even from some of my customers, that they’ve gone through hell and not gotten what they wanted and needed. A recent story was the breaking point.

  2. Great list of questions to ask, mate. Back in my agency days before Jugnoo, we had an awesome web designer and she was very thorough in getting the information from our clients, and hitting the mark within two mocks at the most.
    Having said that, you’ll always – ALWAYS – get asshole clients that give all that information then still bitch about the end result. Sometimes you just can’t win… 😉

    •  @DannyBrown very true Danny. There is no pleasing some people. I think anyone that has ever worked with clients can relate to that one 🙂

      •  @RobertDempsey Just noticed the “click to share” to see the full post – interesting approach, mate, look forward to seeing your results if you write about it. 🙂

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