When it comes to choosing an agency the options can seem endless. Redesigning a website is a huge investment. It’s so important to partner with the right team to set yourself up for success. You want a website that will produce the results you need on top of getting a good looking website. If you’re in the market for a website redesign, this episode is for you. Let this episode serve as a guide to help you develop the right questions to ask agencies. 

  • Why it’s important to understand what’s already work before a redesign [03:16]
  • Know your why when choosing a content management system (CMS) [05:00]
  • Qualities in an agency you don’t want to forget. [10:15]

Resources Mentioned: 


Intro: You're listening to the Foremost Media Marketing Chat Podcast with Jon Ballard and Evan Facinger.

Evan Facinger: All right. Thanks for joining the Foremost Media Marketing Chat Podcast. We've got a good topic today. We're going to be talking about how to choose an agency for your website redesign. Jon, I know you've got a lot of experience in this, right?

Jon Ballard: Yeah. To be fair. We are an agency, so I'm a little bit biased on what agency you choose, but I think there's some good information for you guys looking at redesigning your website today. So I'm excited about this topic. Thanks for having us.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. And what's great about this topic is that I think it's always going to be relevant because anybody that's been through a website redesign before knows as they're going through the different proposals, that a lot of companies seem to one, craft their proposals differently, have different types of estimates, whether it's hourly or fixed fee, and also different deliverables that if you're not really sure what's listed on there, it can be real tough to make an apples to apples comparison.

Evan Facinger: So with this podcast, the goal, right, and granted, like Jon mentioned, we are going to be biased as a web development agency, but the goal here is to really be able to leave everybody listening with some actual insights into choosing a web development agency. What are some things you should look out for? What are some questions you should ask, just to make sure that they are the right fit, and just like we're not the right fit for every single company, other web development agencies aren't the right fit possibly for your company. So having the right questions, kind of having that base-level understanding is really going to help that project be a success. Many times putting together a web design RFP can be helpful.

Jon Ballard: Yeah. I think one of the things that we see is people just know they need a new website, but they really haven't given a lot of thought as to what should be on the website and where they should even start. So I think it's really important to come at it with a really good plan to begin with. So do your homework beforehand would be my first ...that we can help you, and love to be involved in that conversation, but think about your needs and your goals and start to lay some of that out.

Evan Facinger: Exactly. Figure out the why of that website. Why do you want it to be redesigned? Is it just that you are tired of looking at it? Does it have an older look and feel that you want to make sure that you're portrayed in a little bit more modern way? Or is it not hitting the measurables the way that you need to, whether that's from a search engine standpoint, there's just issues with crawlability, that's hurting your overall search engine ranking. Is it a conversion based issue?

Evan Facinger: Are you not getting enough people taking those next steps, filling out those forms? Why do you want to redesign that website? Because that's going to help you kind of frame those questions in and understand what do you need to get out of it? A lot of times too, it's functionality it's not doing certain things that you wanted to, whether you're a manufacturer, for example, and you want to a distributor lookup tool. Making sure those sort of tools are going to be on that website. So it's getting the actual use out of it. Not just making it look better. Because I think anybody can do that, right? Or maybe not anybody, but making a website look good is one thing making it perform well as another.

Jon Ballard: And I think the other thing that's really important to identify is what's working now. I've seen a lot of customers that completely throw everything else that's working, get rid of some of the pages that were ranking well from a search engine perspective and just not think through, "Hey, what's generating our leads", and then they call in a panic, "Somebody designed our website that didn't take this into account, and we're not getting any leads anymore. Can you help me?" And also a lot of times we end up doing forensic work. What was driving traffic before? What did the old site look like? So take an inventory of what's going on with the site. Now that it's working and what's driving traffic.

Evan Facinger: Exactly. And like my favorite saying, you never want to throw off the baby with the bathwater. So make sure that you're not going to lose everything you want, which we do see that, especially now with modern web design, having less words on a lot of the pages you just kind of want that clean look, a lot of people, and search engines are reading those though. So the issue there is when you have a lot of content, that's all of a sudden stripped away you can lose a lot of your ranking authority inside of Google.

Jon Ballard: Yeah. So let's talk content management systems. I think, I don't know of too many people that are building new sites these days without a content management system. And what I define content management system is, is the ability for a customer to go in and easily update their site without having to know code. They can change pages and add new products and content and stuff like that. So Evan, give me your thoughts on content management systems. What are we using? What do you see out there? What's popular?

Evan Facinger: Yeah, I think there's always going to be a lot of different content management systems to choose from. And what's your goal for the website is going to help dictate kind of which one you want to go with. So are you going to sell online? Right? Because if you're going to sell online, then you're going to be looking at more of an eCommerce type platform and same with the more informational driven or other sort of functionality that's not selling, then you're going to go a different type of route for that content management system. And one thing I see a lot of is a steer towards some of the bigger names and whether that's because there's some past experience with them, actually knowing how to use the tool or you've just heard of them, or you just have that familiarity and you see a lot of that.

Evan Facinger: So for like WordPress, for example, is always going to be a popular content management system because it's the most well known. It has the lion's share of the market. Now the problem with that though, is it just because it's the most well known of the most used it doesn't always necessarily mean that it's going to be the best and the best option for you, for example. A lot of times there's security issues with WordPress because it is so popular. It's the most targeted. There's also a lot of different plugins that you have to get into WordPress to make it work. It can be the right solution for you, but it's just one of the things to consider. And I know that we're very involved in DNN, which is DotNetNuke and it's a different type of content management system. I would say, Jon, we've probably had a lot of people come from WordPress to DNN, right?

Jon Ballard: Yeah. I mean, I think back to kind of echo what you said, it depends on what the function of your website is. I mean, if you're trying to sell online, I don't think WordPress, or DNN are the right solution. You might need something like big commerce or NOP commerce, or one of those that is specifically designed to sell products, but so back to that whole thing we use DNN quite a bit. We also build a lot of WordPress sites, but you know what I mean, it depends on the company and what their needs are. DNN out of the box has a lot of things baked in like user rules and security. And so for a company that's building internet and a lot of maybe pricing models for their distributors and logins and stuff like that, you're not having to use a whole bunch of plugins to set that functionality up.

Jon Ballard: So that might be a better solution. They also have like revision control baked in. That's not stuff you can't get to with WordPress, but you're using third-party plugins, like crazy so that can hurt performance. It can hurt security. It can cause problems with updates. So, for specific instances, DNN might be a better solution, but for maybe a smaller company, that's just going to be updating their site themselves. And they just need something simple that they're familiar with WordPress might be the perfect solution. So, again, it kind of goes back to what are my needs? What are my goals with this website? And that should drive you towards what's the right content management system for you. So, yeah.

Evan Facinger: Yeah, exactly. And I think a good agency is going to be able to have those conversations with you around your goals and be able to make a suggestion based on where you're trying to go, instead of trying to push you towards one type of solution, just because that's the only one that they work in. That would be one thing I would look at if we're talking through what to look for when choosing a web development agency that they work in multiple platforms and they're able to have the conversation as to which one's going to be best for your particular situation. Because the last thing you want to do is get stuck in a content management system that you don't like, that you have trouble with that isn't intuitive that that just leads to problems down the road.

Jon Ballard: And I think the conversation should be had early, too, about upgrading your CMS. Once you get a site, they need maintenance, just like a car, there's new security updates that come out new features so if this company just... And we're guilty of this too, sometimes you just kind of build it, and forget it. They should be keeping up on the security, the maintenance, the ongoing things. And we talked about conversion rate optimization earlier. If you've actively making changes and continuing to improve your website, as you go, maybe you're not going to have to redesign so often because it'll just naturally evolve and change and based on upgrades that we've made to get better conversions and engage people more, but also the back end functionality.

Jon Ballard: The new features come out that you can capitalize on. So, look for a company that's proactive. I think that that'll help you keep that site up to date, help, and keep it secure. Plan to spend some money maintenance because you can't just build a website, one line item in my opinion, and be successful with it and not touch it for four or five years. I think it needs to be a continual process. So, plan to maintain and update that site as you go and find a company that can help you with that.

Evan Facinger: Exactly. It's like buying a car and then never getting the oil change and expecting that car to still run as good as it always has. What's another thing you want to look at when choosing a web development company?

Jon Ballard: I hear this a lot and we get calls like this, I've got... Chose a small web development company, one or two people and I can't get ahold of them. They're gone, they're on vacation. They don't answer their phone when I have a problem. So I think redundancy is important. I mean, it doesn't have to be a huge agency, but somebody that has multiple programmers. So, if somebody's gone, you don't have to wait a week to get your website fixed, I think is really important.

Evan Facinger: Yeah, I agree. I can echo that sentiment there too because we do hear those horror stories where the freelancer, all of a sudden is not answering emails and you don't know what's going on. Or you had a company that was doing it, and it was the main point of contact left and nobody else knows what's actually happening. So having that staff redundancy where it's able to actually go through there so that just because one person leaves the organization, your company's not going to be hurt by that. And things are still going to be able to operate as normal.

Jon Ballard: And to that point, a lot of agencies, kind of dirty secret here, use outsource people. And a lot of times they're overseas. So if there's something critical going on, they may be on a totally different time schedule or not readily accessible or that third-party development team that they have maybe have different priorities. So, having somebody with some in house staff I think is really important. I think you're going to pay a little bit more for that, but that matters when you have a pretty critical problem, especially if your website's mission-critical. So, make sure that they have 24/7 support to answer their phones. They have people that can help you. I think that's all through important if your website is mission-critical.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. That's a great point too, about the in house versus they're just outsourcing everything for you. Because it's just outsource, there's not the same accountability as the insource or in house, which can really cause issues with not only quality, but deliverable when does it come in? What's the timing for, like you said, working in different time zones. Does the quality fluctuate based on what freelancer they hired for it? All of those things are things to be considered on top of a lot of times you run into issues with security. They're sharing your information, your company information to somebody that's just outsourced as a freelancer, and there could be some conflicts of interest there, of course.

Jon Ballard: Yeah. I think the other thing to consider is we talked about content management systems and the ones we mentioned are pretty much all open source. Do you want to talk a little bit about the difference between open source and proprietary content management systems though?

Evan Facinger: Yeah. I think that's a really important topic for this because like we were talking about with the content management systems and making sure that you're choosing one, that's going to be ideal for your situation. What you don't want to do when you're kind of vetting these end up in a proprietary content management system of the agency, because what that means is that you are stuck and tied to that agency for as long as you're running the website because when it's a proprietary content management system, it means that their CMS, they're the ones that control it, update it, maintain it, and you're essentially renting it, I would say, in a sense where you don't have the same control.

Evan Facinger: There aren't other developers that can work with you. Because that's one thing we always say a lot here is if you're working with us and we build you your website, of course we hold this doesn't ever happen, but if somebody didn't want to work with us anymore, after we built their website and wanted to go somewhere else, there's always going to be hundreds of developers that can support what we've done because it's an open-source solution. It's not something proprietary that's tied to us. So there isn't anybody that stays with us cause we have to. Whereas on the other side there are agencies out there that do have proprietary systems and sometimes they tout that as a benefit, but I really see it as a negative because it really ties your hands behind your back.

Jon Ballard: Yeah. We went down that road when we first started our company. I mean, we actually had built our own proprietary content management system. And the challenge was either you're a company that builds content management systems or you're a company that can really help customers integrate and capitalize. So we spent so much time just trying to maintain and improve our content management system, that we weren't able to really work with individual customers and figure out, A, what's the best technology for them, because we wanted to shoehorn everybody into our proprietary system. And then B, really helped them implement the product and get the most out of it. So with an open-source content management system, there's a lot of different development teams, even yourself included, district contributing to that open-source platform.

Jon Ballard: So there's always new stuff coming and security and where that company maybe stretched pretty thin and just focused on their proprietary system and that's what they sell and that's where they make their money. So they're going to make it work for you even if it's maybe not the right solution. So, I'd just be careful. I mean, I'm not saying that there's not some really industry-specific content management systems that might work well for you but vet that out. Think about longterm. If I'm going to move, can I take this with me? Is this a company asset? Or am I just leasing it? What's the pros and cons there?

Evan Facinger: Yeah. And I think another, you brought up a good point when talking about, do they build that content management system? Is that what they really do? Are they specialized in other areas for integration? Is that when you're looking at agencies kind of get a good feel of who they have staffed there, because there's a lot of different components that go into a successful website launch, whether it's backend development, which is heavy programming, integration, those sorts of things, front end development, which is how does this actually look to the user, user experience on there, graphic design, marketing. Those are all very different types of people, different types of thought processes.

Evan Facinger: And you wouldn't want to have like I always say, I would never want to have a back end developer do my graphic design because it's never going to look good, but I would also never want the art director to do any back end programming because they're just different types of mindsets and different types of thinking to go about it. Creative versus heavily analytical on there. So to make sure that you kind of have an agency that's going to be able to handle the entire project without some natural and efficiencies, I would say.

Jon Ballard: Yeah. And I'd encourage you to check references. That's another big thing that I think people just get lazy and don't do. We provide someone or quotes and maybe do your own research call around and look at their Google reviews and stuff that's not solicited. Because you're getting in bed with these people for a long time. If it's an integral part of your business, you really want to know who you're dealing with. And that I think companies have bumps in the road not to say that they'll all be positive reviews, but it's how they handle the bumps that really matter when you're in it. So yeah.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. And I think that's a great point. There's always bumps when there's technology, but being able to, you can always tell a good company with how they handle those bumps and what they try to make things right, and make things happen for their customers. The other thing I would say is important to pay attention to also is how do they handle the actual project management? There are so many different moving pieces. Do they have a dedicated project manager? Do they use a software system to keep track of all of the requests, all the different pieces that can really go a long way in my experience with making a website successful.

Jon Ballard: Yeah. I mean, everything we add to this list, too, adds cost. So, I mean, back to your original point, it's hard to compare apples to apples. At the end of the day, you are getting a website, but it's kind of how you get there and how well it's built. And so if a company has all this extra stuff in there, like project management team and tracking software to get this project done efficiently and quickly and correctly, for that matter, that's going to add to the cost of a one-man shop that's just kind of seat of his pants or some guys that are just, "Yeah, we'll get it there", you're kind of having to direct the show. What's your time worth? do you want to be the project manager for your own website? So think about some of that when you're comparing costs the bigger the organization and the more organized and departmentalized I think the better the process typically to get sites done. So something that I'd definitely consider.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. And I think on top of that too, is a website's not a commodity. So it's really hard to look at it, price by price, and say, "Oh, I got a better deal from going with this company versus another company because they were less expensive." That's not really the case in a lot of situations. You have to be able to understand that different developers, different designers, you're going to get a different product based on who you're choosing. And that quality of that product is going to vary. It's not a commodity where it's just a widget that regardless of who you get it from, it's going to be the same thing. And the quality of that website doesn't just mean whether it looks better for one company versus the other it's how does it perform? What does it do for you? If you're talking lead generation, does one website produce a lot more leads than another?

Evan Facinger: Well that one's going to be worth a little bit more at the end of the day because it's still going to be able to produce a high return on your investment, which is really what you should be after here. When you start talking about web design costs, is it's really an investment to make sure that the money that you're spending on here you don't just get a website done just to get it done. You get it done to get something else done, whether that's more leads, more sales, whatever that situation is when you have that conversation that website should help support that.

Jon Ballard: Yeah. The other thing that I laugh at sometimes, as there's these companies that are out there selling marketing services, like search engine optimization, yet they don't rank for anything themselves. So I think that should be a pretty good clue as to is this company going to be able to help me rank make sure that they're ranking for the terms that they're optimized for so.

Evan Facinger: Right. So what do you think anything else that you'd want to add? I'm sure that we could go on for probably hours. Maybe we have some followup episodes about this too, but anything you'd want to stick with on this one, the initial?

Jon Ballard: I think, again, I'd leave you with make sure there's a good migration plan in place when you launch that new site and make sure they're doing things like 301 redirects moving the old page as identified backlinks and making sure that those are correctly redirected. They have a 404 page that's an error, page not found, that's just customized, it's not just this form of death or page of death. So, I mean, there's benefits to going with a company that has a plan. That's done this a lot. That's got multiple people and the prices are definitely not going to be the same, but you're going to end up paying for it one way or the other, whether it's loss of business, performance, so I'll leave you with that.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. And I think that that's a great ending for it. And really just to make sure that the companies, if I was to add anything, it would just be the company that you choose, here, I know that we're really cognizant about this with everybody we work with. When we're doing a project, we know that it's either, one, somebody's business is on the line, because they're the owner of that business. And we need to make sure that this is going to be successful for them, or even that they are an employee at a company that chose us we were the ones that were chosen for the website redesign.

Evan Facinger: And that's something that we always take serious because that's putting yourself out there that's saying this is the right company, this is the choice, this is going to be successful. So as you're going through and vetting those different types of companies, different types of agencies make sure that, one, you're going to be able to work with that company. They're somewhat friendly, I would like to think at some point that it's not going to be just an awful experience all around that you don't understand the technical information that they're having or they don't seem like they have a plan, like you said. Make sure that it's going to be a company that has the experience, the track record of the completion.

Evan Facinger: That's going to make everything a lot smoother because you can use that experience in multiple different areas. But also that you're going to enjoy the company and that they're fun to work with at least somewhat because projects do depending on the size, it can take a little bit of time. So you want to make sure that it's not going to be just an awful experience for you.

Jon Ballard: And there's a lot of ways to cut costs in web design. You can do templates. You can do pre-programmed modules but is that right for your company? If it's really critical to your business infrastructure, if your design is much who you are or really needs to convert for you when people get on there as a template to the right thing, maybe, maybe not. So, that's a discussion you should definitely have with your web designer. What are your needs? What are your goals upfront? And if you're not having that kind of discussion, and their proposal doesn't reflect that discussion, maybe you should keep looking. That would be my advice to you.

Evan Facinger: And we've actually got a nice checklist too, that we'll add to the show notes, the web developer checklist. So you can actually go through it, it's got different scores. So as you're talking to different companies, you can go through, grade them, see what they are. We'll put those in the show notes, but unless you've got anything to add, Jon, I think we can leave it there.

Jon Ballard: I don't know if this is at home for you and you are looking for web design, we'd be happy to talk to you too and see if we can help you as well, but again, just spend some time thinking about this and wish you luck. It's a big project.

Evan Facinger: Yeah. And don't think that when we say free consultation or anything like that, that's not our way of trying to do a sales pitch. There's been plenty of times where we've had conversations just around best way to go about it, best way to do things, and it's not a sales focus consultation. So no hesitation there.

Jon Ballard: Yeah. We certainly want to want the best for everybody. And this is not meant to be a sales pitch at all. This marketing podcast was really meant to inform you on what to look for. So hopefully it's helped and not that huge, giant commercial this time around.

Evan Facinger: All right. Well, thanks for listening.

Jon Ballard: Yeah. Have a great day, everybody.

Outro: Thanks for listening to the Foremost Media Marketing Chat Podcast. Don't forget to like and subscribe so you can stay on top of your game by never missing an episode. You can find even more marketing insights and show transcripts at foremostmedia.com.