Any guesses for what the very first TV ad was selling? If you said Bulova watches, you either have some unique trivia stored in your brain or you clicked that handy hyperlink. Jump ahead 80 years, and major companies are shelling out millions for high-end marketing agencies, pricey ad campaigns, and costly TV commercials. Hell, the average Super Bowl commercial rate has leapt over 16,000% since they began in the 1970s! So, how do you compete with the current hypercompetitive and costly climate of marketing? Luckily, the playing field is evening out with a little help from smart web design agencies. All you need is a convenient guide on how to choose a web design agency. We’ve got you covered.
Slam Media Lab has years of experience not just in marketing and web design, but also in helping nonprofits and small businesses learn the ins and outs of building websites that rank for SEO, drive conversion, and look damn good in the process. We’re all about providing the tools you need to crush your next web design project, which is why we offer tons of great (and FREE) templates and resources—just like this article—to ensure you launch a website you love.
In this guide, we’ll give you the 5 key steps for how to choose a web design agency that will launch your business to the top of the SERPs. These steps include:
- Craft a plan for how to choose a web design agency that’s right for your mission
- Perform some web design agency detective work, like DIY case studies and effective RFPs (don’t worry, we’ll answer all your questions on both)
- Get a little technical—within your comfort level, of course
- Reach out to web design agencies (more RFPs!)
- Commit to your choice of web design agency
Let’s dive into each of these 5 steps, and guarantee you know how to choose a web design agency to fit your mission.
How to Choose a Web Design Agency, Step 1: Craft a Winning Plan
Simple enough, right? Every good business model needs a strong plan. But, when learning how to choose a web design agency, a strong plan can mean a dozen different things. Are you helping your local nonprofit expand their social media presence? Or did you just launch your first restaurant and need some pointers on local SEO? Slam can help with both! We can also help you craft your best plan for pairing your site build with the ideal web design agency through a quick, simple checklist that covers:
- Recognizing your company’s unique hook
- Defining your mission and pairing it to the right agency
- Being realistic with your goals…and your budget
- Setting deadlines for your important website design milestones
How can all of this help you choose the right web design agency? Let’s find out!
Recognize What Your Unique Needs Are When Choosing a Web Design Agency
Before really diving into how to choose a web design agency, many businesses oversimplify the process. They want a website that looks sharp and modern, with catchy copy and easy navigation, and they want the largest web design agency to build it for minimal cost. Sounds great, right? Before signing that contract, though, ask yourself a few questions:
- Is the web design agency I choose concerned about my unique needs, such as local SEO, specific keyword research, and core values?
- Is the web design agency I choose going to prioritize my build as much as other, possibly larger projects?
- Does the web design agency I choose offer assistance after the build is complete?
The website design agency industry is booming, estimated to reach $3.8b by 2030, which is good news for you. You have plenty of options when choosing a web design agency. Still, many larger agencies stick to a tried-and-true template for their builds, assuming all companies can benefit from their services without tailoring them to your business’s mission. We do things a bit differently here at Slam.
Before taking on any new client, we provide two important questionnaires:
- Brand Discovery Doc
- Messaging Discovery Doc
Every smart web design agency should launch a new project by first understanding the goals of their clients, since no two site builds are ever the same. With our Brand and Messaging Discovery Docs on Notion, we gather all the details we need about your goals and mission before ever worrying about a single wireframe or H2. Our docs ask questions such as:
- What are the 3 most important feelings/values you want to communicate with your website?
- What tone do you want to convey through the language on your site?
- What websites have you used that succeed in their design and copy?
- What websites have you visited that failed in their design and copy?
- How do you want users to feel when reading your website’s copy?
- What tone do you want to convey through the language on your site?
- What value props set your organization apart from your competition?
Are these a lot of questions to answer before even thinking about color palettes and font styling? Yes, and that’s the point. When you set out to choose a web design agency for your website build, be sure to find an agency that is thorough in their process; this will ensure all your questions are answered and concerns are placated by the time your site is ready to publish.
Define Your Mission Before Pairing It to a Web Design Agency
Once you have begun crafting your plan for how to choose a web design agency, your next step is to define your mission statement. Recognizing what sets your company apart is just the beginning; putting that mission statement into clearly defined terms will help your web design agency search immensely, especially when working up an RFQ (more on these later).
For example, we were fortunate enough to design the website for Sage Step Consulting, a consulting firm focused on aiding companies in the Wenatchee Valley and Pacific Northwest. Founder Summer Hess provided us with her clear-cut mission statement, combining Sage Step Consulting’s impact-driven services—from strategic planning to community engagement—with Indigenous Peoples advocacy through the Indigenous Roots and Reparation Foundation.
Does your mission statement need to be as detailed and in-depth as Sage Step Consulting? That’s up to you. Realizing your unique value props and defining them in a clear mission statement can be all the difference in landing the perfect web design agency for your next project.
Be Realistic With Your Goals…and Your Budget
You’ve visited the stunning, fully-interactive websites jam-packed with every feature imaginable—responsive scroll, video embeds, Airtable forms…everything you want for your soon-to-be award-winning website. Ask yourself, though: is this realistic to your company’s goals?
For many, the answer will be yes. Over 40% of small businesses are prioritizing website performance in 2023, a number that is sure to grow with daily advancements in online capabilities (you see the new Apple Vision Pro? Wild). Still, for small businesses, nonprofits, or companies new to web design, keying in on more necessary features—such as keyword research and on-page optimization—might not be as fun as adding video functionality or interactive menus, but it can prove much more valuable from day one.
Being realistic with the goals and budget for your website can be just as important as defining your mission statement. A simple checklist to keep when narrowing down web design agencies includes:
- Setting initial targets for your web design agency, such as launch date, SERP rankings timeline, and site traffic goals
- Pricing out agencies and tiered offerings (every smart agency has a tiered pricing structure, giving you options rather than just a flat, poorly-defined rate)
- Exploring add-ons, such as free templates, expert assistance, and future redesigns
Set Deadlines for Your Major Web Design Milestones
Is setting deadlines for a web design agency you have yet to hire really a priority? Yes. Conveying hard launch dates, SEO rankings goals, and other target milestones for your website build can accomplish two things:
- It can separate serious agencies from incapable ones.
- It can ensure you hit your personal goals for your web design project.
Some agencies may seem great on paper, offer all the features you want within your budget, and have the track record to prove their builds succeed on SERPs, but if their timeline is months or a year away from your milestones, it can eliminate them from your consideration. Want a tip on making this whole process easier? Let us introduce you to our FREE RFP template!
Check out all the FREE templates and resources we offer at Slam!
How to Choose a Web Design Agency, Step 2: Deploy Effective RFPs and DIY Case Studies
Who doesn’t love a good detective show? Tracking clues, following hunches, busting jewel thieves—maybe you won’t be doing as much of the third one, but the first two are essential to landing the right web design agency.
When performing background checks and in-depth reviews of potential web design agencies, two tools are necessary:
- Request for Proposals (RFPs)
- Case Studies
Let’s explore how each tool can help land the perfect web design agency for your project.
Craft an Effective Agency Request for Proposal
First things first: what is an Agency Request for Proposal, or RFP? An Agency RFP is a process where your organization or business invites outside agencies or partners to submit proposals for your specific project. The RFP is an effective way of streamlining your web design agency choice, pairing the best possible agency or partner with your project demands to achieve your desired results.
We break down the basics of RFPs into our 7-point checklist, defining the ideal approach to writing the most effective request possible. Our checklist is as follows:
- Articulate your project needs and goals clearly
- Share a reasonable timeline
- Define your ideal marketing agency’s traits
- Limit the number of partners responding to your agency RFP
- Provide a budget range and how much you’re willing to spend
- Share your decision-making criteria
- Embrace honesty
Our convenient template guarantees you hit all of these points, as well as ensures you avoid common mistakes in crafting your request. Land the web design agency to meet your exact needs with a little help from Slam!
Perform Your Own DIY Case Studies
Case studies, if you’re unfamiliar, are detailed breakdowns of previous projects, outlining all of the work, goals, and accomplishments of the project. For example, we explore our redesign of Intrax Global Internships’ SEO strategy in our Global Internships Case Study. We focus on indexed keywords, value of increased site traffic, and optimized articles to showcase how our partnership with Intrax has benefited both of us.
Most experienced web design agencies will provide case studies for your review, giving you a chance to perform an impromptu analysis of possible options and outcomes for your web design project. Even if a potential agency doesn’t offer case studies, you can perform your own DIY case study through our quick, 5-step review of any site, including:
- Visit your potential web design agencies’ personal websites. This might be obvious, but if the team you want to handle your big website design project doesn’t have a personal website that appeals to you, is that who you want in charge of your build?
- Visit the websites of your potential web design agencies’ current and previous partners. This will give you an idea of load times, interactive capabilities, and site responsiveness (PRO TIP: Check out each site on multiple platforms to get an idea of how each site was built to convert between desktop, mobile, and tablet).
- Reach out to your potential web design agencies’ partners. An attractive or immersive website may only tell half the story. Contacting partners of your potential web design agency could uncover both positives and negatives of working together, such as continued assistance after site launch or, conversely, missed deadlines or poor comms.
- Trust reviews and testimonials…but only so much. Let’s be real: no agency will feature one-star reviews in their testimonials section. Likewise, more people hop on Google Reviews and Yelp to air grievances than to give props. Taking reviews and testimonials in tandem can paint a more complete picture of your potential web design agency, as well as give you some red or green flags to look out for.
- Get technical with your research. Have a background in CSS or HTML? Perform a site audit or caching of web design agencies’ personal and client websites to ensure your website will be optimized for search, user experience, and responsiveness (more on this step soon).
Choosing a web design agency without performing some basic detective work could leave you stuck with a slow, unappealing, and unoptimized site for years. Taking some time to perform DIY case studies and ship well-crafted RFQs can make all the difference in building a website you’ll love.
See how Case Studies are done at Slam!
How to Choose a Web Design Agency, Step 3: Get Technical
For those seeking out a web design agency to handle all things technical, this step may sound like we’re asking you to do all the work yourself. Not quite. Getting a little technical with your research when it comes to how to choose a web design agency can be a valuable step in landing the perfect web design partner.
What do we mean by “Get Technical?” Let us explain.
Deciding among the 84,000+ web design agencies in the U.S. can be a near-impossible task. One method of narrowing down that search is performing a basic audit of your potential web design agency’s personal and client websites. This can entail a number of methods, including:
- Exploring web designer software
- Performing a basic website audit
- Reviewing a site’s cached pages
Let’s take a closer look at each.
Get to Know Your Web Design Software
The reality of web design projects is that, no matter what agency you end up choosing, the software your web build uses will be the one you stake your company’s reputation on. Meaning, before your site launches, you should be certain the software you’re building on is the right one for you.
Just like web design agencies, you have a plethora of options for software, such as:
- Webflow (spoiler alert: we use this)
- Elementor (for WordPress)
- Editor X
And this is only touching on a small percentage of the options out there. To help you hone in on your choice, we break down the differences in our “Webflow VS” series, exploring how our favorite web design software stacks up against these popular builders. Still, becoming more comfortable with a specific software will help filter your search for a web design agency, ensuring you made the right choice long after your contract is fulfilled.
Perform a Basic Website Audit
Does this mean you need to download a special plugin to run speed checks on every single web agency you research? Only if you really want to. Basic audits can range from employing site explorer tools through software like Ahrefs to performing simple Google searches to test SEO rankings. So, what should you be looking out for during a basic audit? Three things:
- Site speed: Almost half of users will ditch a site if it takes longer than 2 seconds to load. If the site you’re visiting is slow, this may be a sign your own site won’t load much faster…
- Search optimization: A quick, easy way to determine if a site is optimized for search: Google it. If it doesn’t appear in the main SERPs—depending on the newness of the site—its SEO may be lacking (or nonexistent). For small businesses, searching by name + “Near Me” can be a strong indicator of local SEO.
- Platform responsiveness: Most search is done on our smartphones these days, so knowing a website looks as good on the small screen as it does on your desktop, and vice versa, is a surefire way to create a better user experience.
Schedule a FREE website audit with Slam today!
Review Cached Pages
This step might be a little more advanced than you’re looking to get when choosing a web design agency. We understand. For those that do want to deep-dive into their potential web design agency’s website and past builds, reviewing cached pages can tell you more than basic SERPs and site speed tests. So, how do you review a site’s cached pages? We’ll use our site as an example.
Step 1: Click on the kebab menu above the meta title.
Did that read like gibberish to you? Allow us to explain. The three vertical dots, known as the vertical dot or kebab menu, above any website hyperlink on Google’s SERPs opens a popup of more options. So where is the option for cached pages? If you click on the down arrow next to “Remove Result,” you’ll find the “Cached” option.
Step 2: Choose the Cached option.
After clicking the “Cached” button, the website will open with one glaring difference: a text header declaring, “This is Google’s cache of slammedialab.com.” You’ll notice the hyperlink for “Full version” is bolded under this text, meaning we are viewing the website as it normally appears. We want the “Text-only version.”
Step 3: Click on the “Text-only version” hyperlink.
Site looks a bit different now, huh? What we’re seeing is how Google reads our webpage. You’ll notice variations in text throughout the page. This is what you want to see when reviewing a site’s cached pages. If a “text-only” web page appears all as one text, this likely indicates the site isn’t optimized for keywords, meaning it’ll be more difficult for Google to identify it for search results. A good mix of header text—the larger, bolded text below—and body text makes for not just better site optimization, but also a more enjoyable user experience overall.
A good web design agency will perform this function for you, but knowing what to look for and how to find it through caching can be a valuable tool when choosing a web design agency.
How to Choose a Web Design Agency, Step 4: Reach Out to Agencies
Before finalizing your web design agency choice, your penultimate step is simple: reach out to agencies. This can mean sending out even more RFQs, cold calling contacts, or submitting request forms via their main website. Whichever way you choose, you’ll want to answer a few questions after reaching out to your potential web design agencies, including:
- How long did it take for the agency to return your request/form/call?
- Did the agency perform any preliminary research into your business model, competition, and/or mission?
- Did the agency seem more interested in helping you reach your goals or just land your business?
- Did your interactions match what reviews and testimonials said about the agency’s communications?
Will answering all of these questions guarantee you’ll land the perfect web design agency immediately? Maybe, maybe not. Weighing each question by how important they are to you and your business, as well as adding more that match your mission statement, will prepare you for the final step of choosing a leading web design agency: committing to your decision.
How to Choose a Web Design Agency, Step 5: Commit to Your Decision
One last step: commit to your web design agency. Before you yell, “Obviously!” at your laptop screen, let us give a few last bits of advice on how to choose a web design agency:
- Committing means more than just choosing. Your website will be around long after your contract is fulfilled, meaning you’re trusting a web design agency to build the website you love that also scales to your growth and changing needs.
- There will be tradeoffs. Is the web design software you build on going to offer every single feature you’re looking for? Hopefully, but probably not. Likewise, the web design agency you commit to might specialize in local SEO for your nonprofit or small business, but it might be at the cost of general SEO. Knowing what you will and won’t get from your web design agency ensures there are no disappointing surprises during the building process.
- Make sure you and your agency share priorities. Is a speedy website build more important to you than on-call assistance? Maybe video tutorials are more valued by your team than Google Meet walkthroughs. Finding and committing to a web design agency is about more than just getting the job done, which is why sharing priorities with your potential web design agency is crucial to finding the perfect fit.
That’s all, folks—all 5 key steps for how to choose a web design agency that fits your needs. The only thing left to do is build the best f*cking website possible!
Looking for more How-Tos to really SLAM your next website build? Check out our FREE keyword research tool full of video tutorials and tips!
Partner With Slam Media Lab as Your Web Design Agency of Choice
Ready to partner with Slam on your next award-winning website build? Reach out today and we’ll get started as soon as possible! Still deciding? No problem; we’ll be here when you’re ready. In the meantime, check out all of our products and resources, as well as even more articles to guide you in how to choose a web design agency.
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