You’re serious about this business venture, so a rinky-dink, DIY website won’t cut it. This time around, you’re doing it right and enlisting professionals. But you’ve heard the horror stories about disappearing sites, hacked platforms, and malfunctioning messes that look like someone’s 10-year-old nephew designed it.
And yes, believe it or not, these things still happen!
So if your goal is to avoid a bad experience, you’re probably wondering what to ask your web agency. Consider the following:
To that end, today, we’re looking at building a website with an agency and what to look for before signing on the dotted line.
Did you know that many web design agencies make clients sign rental agreements instead of ownership contracts? It’s true! So instead of purchasing a digital platform, you’re actually leasing it from the developers.
Why is that bad?
If you ever want to switch developers or hosters, you’ll likely be hit with an astronomically high “migration” or “transfer” fee — and it’s perfectly legal! Some developers simply avoid the topic, making it easier for them to demand huge sums when you want to move on.
So before committing to an agency, ensure that you retain full rights to your finished website. If you want to use another developer or agency at any point, it should be a smooth transition.
There’s nothing wrong with a development team putting a small “designed by” link at the bottom of a website. Although, they should offer you a discount for allowing it.
But putting the web team’s copyright in the footer is a glaring red flag that something is amiss.
Agencies that use manipulative tactics and hold websites hostage can do so because they have admin access to your domain registrar account.
You’ll need to give your developer some access to your registrar — but limit it to delegated status. If you don’t know how to set permissions, lean on your registrar’s support staff. They’ll usually help out with this for free. If, however, delegated access isn’t an option, ask the developer to use Cloudflare. It’s free and gives them the necessary access.
It’s normal for a web agency that’s actively managing your site to lock down the backend to some degree. After all, you want it to be difficult for hackers to breach your platform. Plus, a good developer will protect the code from errant keystrokes that could break the site.
However, you should always have the ability to make text changes. When vetting agencies, always ask about securing an admin login to the backend of your platform; also inquire about permission restrictions.
And don’t forget about any images and graphics! Make sure those come with you, too.
These days, a static website that’s rarely updated won’t perform as you need it to. At the very least, you’ll regularly need to add blog posts and update landing pages, and to facilitate such activities, a content management system (CMS) is a must.
Agencies may try to wow you with proprietary CMSs. But custom isn’t always better, and the only reason many firms do this is to maintain a death grip on their clients. After all, if you cannot easily move or transfer the site, you’re essentially tethered to that developer for the foreseeable future.
WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla are the most common, easy-to-use, and transferable content management systems, and it’s smart to use one.
Algorithms control the search engine result page (SERP) rankings, and these days, they’re very sophisticated. Page load times, grammar, design, backlinks, and internal links — not to mention the content quality and frequency — all play a role in determining whether your site lands at the top of the inquiry pile or in no man’s land.
Sites that fall below a certain standard in bot metrics will perform terribly. To wit, your web development agency should use search and page health monitoring tools, like PageSpeed Insights.
Despite what some factions say, keywords also remain essential. So also ask prospective agencies about their content drilling tools and tactics.
Due to the ever-changing search landscape, agencies can’t pinpoint and promise certain performance benchmarks. However, it’s reasonable to expect improvement, and web developers should be able to provide a range on that front.
These days, website hacking is commonplace. It’s reached pandemic levels, and all small businesses should expect to be hit at some point. In fact, according to itchronicles.com, over 30,000 websites are hacked daily.
If a design and development agency is only building the site, they can equip it with security features, but they can’t promise it will never be breached.
However, robust security expectations are reasonable if an agency is hosting and managing a site for you. So ask agencies how they plan to lock down your site. What security methods and monitoring programs will they use? What will happen if hackers get the better of you? Will there be a backup site ready to go in the event of an emergency?
This line of questioning is crucial if you plan to integrate back-office data into your website.
If your site provides access to sensitive client or business data, it’s wise to enlist a cyber security expert like andrewhenke.com.
Yes, a website needs to look good and function properly, but the content is your platform’s single, most important ranking and customer acquisition element. Without it, you won’t rank well — period.
In the not too distant past, all it took for websites to climb the SERPs were words on a page. Quality didn’t matter. As long as you had a certain number of keywords repeated over and over in specific locations, you were golden.
But things have changed — drastically. Today’s ranking algorithms are smart, and they reward grammatically sound, unique, engaging content that readers find relevant. Every web page, blog post, social media post, and landing page must be polished to perform well.
Professional web agencies offer content writing with most design and development packages. But make sure to get your eyes on some writing samples ahead of time. Ask to see examples within your market niche. Other content considerations include:
Although many newbie developers will swear that they can build a perfectly functioning, beautiful, high-ranking website in 14 days, that rarely happens. Moreover, you should be suspicious of agencies that make such lofty promises.
Building quality websites takes time, and a well-established agency will provide you with a detailed timeline of deliverables.
To help ensure you don’t get stuck with a web agency that blows benchmarks, ask about discounts for missed deadlines.
Ownership, security, SEO, and quality content are what to look for when hiring a web agency. Don’t be shy about asking to see examples of all. If they’re experienced and reliable, they’ll gladly provide links and samples.