Goldilocks had it easy with just three bowls of porridge—one too hot, one too cold and one just right. If it could just be that easy to find a good web designer. You need someone who understands what sets you apart from the competition, who will design a website that can turn your visitors into customers.
There are so many people doing web design and marketing and so many promises, how do you not pull your hair out trying to find the right one? You want to make a good choice, get the job done right with people you trust and get back to doing what you do best.
I wrote this post to provide a checklist to help you understand what is important and how to shop for the right web designer. This is super important. One of the big problems we see time and again are people so desperate for help with their company website that they jump at the first person/company that comes along. While it may be easy to create a website with all of the tools available these days, it is not easy to do one that works for the business.
When that happens, they find themselves having spent the money and wasted their time, on a site that fails to present the business as a trust worthy solution to a problem, is not responsive, is slow to load, or many other show stoppers.
Of course, I hope you will give New Tricks a shot at your business. Regardless, I want to give you some ideas on what makes a good web designer and where you can find them.[Tweet “Looking for a Web Designer? Here is what to look for and where to find them.”]
What you’re up against
A website (whether it’s good or not) is like building a new house. It involves a lot of decisions: strategy, words, images, graphics, typography, branding, story, technology, design, voice, usability, followers, message, content, conversion, and search engine optimization (SE0). You need it all.
As you try to find “your person”—there’s a lot of hand holding in web design—you see the range and diversity of the market. Some design firms are too big. Others are too small. Some are good developers but don’t have an eye for design. Some are good designers but are not technically proficient. Some can’t write. Some don’t do strategy. Some don’t return calls. Some take forever. Some don’t listen. Some don’t understand. Some say they can do the job, but they don’t have the skills.
A big issue is form versus function. It is not enough to have a pretty website, a creative website or a website that makes the developer or client happy. Your website should be attractive to your target audience, but it also has to be designed well so that you can use it as the hub of your marketing activities. Once the site is complete, posting content on your website, optimizing it for search engines, sharing it on social media sites and sending it out to your mailing list – if done right, will bring people back to your website where your content will be so compelling that it converts your visitors into customers.
Damn. A lot goes into creating a site that can convert visitors into customers. Hopefully at this point you are rethinking that idea of saving money working with your neighbor’s cousin!
The nitty-gritty: 10 attributes of a great web designer
So who is the person who will deliver your most effective new or updated website? What qualities must he, she or they have? Here is my list in no particular order—all are equally important. We at New Tricks take this list very seriously.
- Dynamic Skills and Perspective: A web designer or web design company needs to have business skills and an up-to-date understanding and competency in design, copywriting, images, SEO, development and testing. Gaining and keeping this kind of expertise takes curiosity and eagerness to learn new skills, because the web is in constant flux.
- Communication Skills: Developing a website depends on good communication. It doesn’t matter how good a person’s design and development skills are, if they can’t communicate with you easily, you will not have a good experience. Listening to you talking about your business and its goals, developing a proposal that clearly outlines the process and deliverables, communicating frequently throughout the project and managing the process all take advanced communication skills.
- Collaborative Spirit: Great designers understand the importance of working creatively with their clients and their teams. This partnership is the only way to develop a site that is better than any one person could create alone. To achieve your authentic website, a collaborative web designer will understand your company and what you them apart from the competition. That knowledge will shape the design of your website.
- Unwavering Focus: A good designer never forgets the goal of designing the site to attract and convert the company’s target client into a customer. This involves taking into account the target users’ fears, desires, behaviors and preferences, and making sure that these drive the design. It’s never about their own fears and desires or the client’s design aesthetic. The designer’s portfolio and their references can help you assess that their site designs fit the clients’ needs. Make sure the designs avoid the cookie cutter, one size fits all look that so many web designers resort to.
- Research Chops: A web professional with business experience and an understanding of different industries is better at creating effective websites. Good designers will research your industry, business strategy and competition to design an effective site.
- Copywriting Eye: Great designers understand the importance of developing the client’s story, message and words. In tandem with a good copywriter, the designer drives the process of marrying the words with the images. When this is compelling, a visitor will take the desired action, such as responding to opt-in to an email list or call the company. The words, the voice and tone of the site must be right for the particular type of business and be compelling enough to make sure the business stands out from their competitors.
- Proactive Mindset: Good designers try and stay ahead of their clients, getting their tasks done before the client has to wonder what happened to them. They are quick to report problems and find solutions. All this builds trust and good working relationships.
- Best Practices: Sometimes creative designs and fancy design elements are not the most effective way to meet the goals of the website. Light font on a dark background, call to action (CTA) buttons that blend into the design, cute phrases for navigation links are but a few ways to sabotage website results. If the feature is something a client asked for, a good designer will explain why it does not work and offer a solution.
- Data Skills: Along with good instincts and experience, a good designer will be up on the latest usability research. He or she will use analytics and testing to find out if and how the site is working. A/B testing and target market usability videos can identify what parts of the website detract from the user experience. They can fix those elements so more visitors will want to use your company’s products and services.
- WordPress Technical Expertise: More than 25% of the world’s websites (and 30% of all ecommerce sites) are being created on the WordPress platform and here’s why. WordPress costs nothing with open-source licensing, manages fresh content, offers easy updating for end users, gets good search engine performance and offers a huge and friendly user and developer community just for starters. Not every designer, however, knows how to create a WordPress website that is technically sound, has good performance, fast load times, and is easy to update. Avoid designers who only have put together simple WordPress sites, as well as programmers who have not had experience using WordPress and didn’t read the directions. These folks can create a site for your company that may cause you major problems, so check references.
Now that you know what to look for, her are some tips on how to find a pool of people who can help and pick one who will produce your best website.
- Attend your city’s local WordPress Meetups, where WordPress designer/developers with expertise gather. Meetups are free, volunteer-led meetings covering various WordPress topics. They may be on a beginner topic, but will be run by people with quite a bit of expertise and good standing in the community. To find out what meeting are coming up, look for your city’s WordPress Meetups on Meetup.com. You will meet people there who you will like for your project or who can direct you to the someone with the expertise you need.
- WordCamps are another great resource for finding experienced website professionals. These low-cost, volunteer-run conferences are geared towards WordPress information for beginners, users, designers and developers. You can attend classes, meet the presenters, and go to the Happiness Room to meet experts who can either work with you themselves or make recommendations. WordCamps are held in major cities around the world.
- Even with recommendations from reputable sources, you need to assess each prospective web designer on the ten points above. Check their portfolios and their references. The designer’s own site should be updated and representative of the type of work you expect.
I’d love to hear about your experiences or comments!