So you need to redesign your website, but who’s going to do it?

Choosing the right web design agency can be a daunting task.  It’s an expensive investment, and getting it right is important.

You’re about to trust a company you might not know with a significant amount of your hard earned cash hoping that they’ll redesign your website into a slick, efficient sales engine that customers love… Oh, and you also want it to drive fantastic sales growth too.

The trouble is, who do you choose and can you trust them?…

To help you to make the right decision we’re going to give you 5 top tips, covering 5 main areas:-

  1. Planning your website redesign
  2. Investigating website platforms and options
  3. Researching agencies for tender invitation
  4. Analysing responses and asking questions
  5. Choosing for the right reasons

Top Tip 1.  Plan Your Website Redesign

Now don’t switch off just yet…  It may be boring but if you fail to plan you plan to fail, as my old boss used to say.

So what do we need to plan?

Website Functionality

One of the very first things you need to do when planning a website redesign is understand what functionality you need on your site.  For example:-

  • are you planning on selling online?
  • if so how many products or services?
  • how many channels do you sell via (online, physical shop, mail order etc)?
  • do you want your customers to manage their own information online (addresses, contact details, wish lists, view old orders etc)?
  • is there specific software, like accounting or stock control software within the business, that you want to integrate with?

If you don’t know all of this information yourself you’ll need to talk to the relevant people in your organisation.  This will help you to understand what you, as a business, need the new website to do – do not just assume the answers!

Also take loads of notes! You will definitely need to refer back to the info you’ve gathered.  If you don’t invest the time at this point your website redesign could end up costing significantly more than you thought.

Website Capacity

The next thing is to review how your website is currently managed and hosted.  This is really important.

When a website redesign works well, you should expect a significant rise in traffic, leads and sales.  But, if your existing website capacity is already at a maximum you’re going to experience major problems.

Worse still, your customers will have an appalling online experience and may never deal with you again.  They in turn are likely tell others who won’t bother coming to your site at all.

This is so important that Google now includes a form of page load speed quality score in it’s analysis of your site. This goes towards where you rank for organic search.  The poorer the page load speed the lower down the list you go.

So check your current website volumes against the capacity you’re paying for.  Always take account of peak times in the day and the year to make sure your site can deal with these.  If you sell online or have a customer login area, make sure that you have capacity for enough concurrent users – that’s the number of users that can be logged on at the same time.

Top Tip 2.  Investigate Website Platforms and Options

Ok so by now you know exactly what you want from your website and this will help you to research and begin to winnow out the platforms that don’t suit your requirements.

Shortlist Your Platforms First

Don’t even consider talking to prospective web design agencies until you have whittled your list of potential platforms down to a maximum of three.

Why three?

Most web design agencies will only specialise in a maximum of 3 platforms as the overheads of keeping up their expertise in more than this becomes too costly, especially when there are so many platforms on the market.

Staying With Your Existing Agency

You could of course stay with the design agency you know well but that means…

  1. you don’t know how good they really are unless you’re willing to get comparisons
  2. they might not be value for money any more
  3. they will limit your choice in platforms
  4. staying put may hamper the growth of your business

A Word of Warning:  Be careful when choosing a platform that is proprietary – i.e. the platform itself is owned and managed by the web design agency.  Many agencies work this way and on the face of it there’s nothing wrong with either the platform or the service.  The problems start to appear when the agency doesn’t invest in keeping the platform up to date with best market practices, or when you decide you’ve out-grown the relationship or have a falling out.

When you leave you can’t just pick up where you left off with the new agency. You’ll need to go through a full website redesign all over again. That means all of the designs, templates and pages etc. as well as integrations with existing software.  In some cases you’ll need to manually re-key all of your inventory and website content from scratch.

 

Focus on Flexibility

From a maintenance point of view, some ecommerce platforms are really user friendly and easy to design and create sites. They’re designed to be easy to use, with simple loading and managing of your content and products.  Arguably, if you have a dedicated resource internally you could create and manage the site yourself on some of these simpler platforms.

However, there’s always a catch…

Generally the easier the site is for the end user to set up and manage, the less flexible it is for optimising and improving the experience for the website visitor.

Product page and shopping basket layout and design changes are a case in point (and improvements here can have a major positive impact on conversion rates for sales).  Many of the easier to use platforms simply can’t offer the flexibility more complex and demanding websites need. This is compounded when many site owners want to continually strive to improve the online customer experience and experiment with design and layout changes to increase sale conversion rates.

The platforms that can offer this flexibility are generally those that really need a web design agency with very experienced developers,.  Yes they’re more expensive but they should pay for themselves in the long run through the ability to optimise the customer experience to generate increased sales, repeat visitors and higher average order values.

Top Tip 3.  Research Agencies for Tender Invitation

At this stage you should have a good understanding of what functionality you want to be included in your website redesign and a shortlist of platforms that you’re considering moving to.

This could well include the platform you’re using right now – if it meets your requirements for what you want to achieve that’s great!

Shortlisting Web Design Agencies to Approach

Now you can start the process of selecting who you want to invite to quote for the website redesign work.

There’s no golden list of web design companies to refer to here unfortunately, but some creative searching on Google can help. Try including your chosen ecommerce platform(s), e.g. ‘Shopify’, along with “Web Design Agency” and your county.

If you’re still undecided on the ecommerce platform to choose, do your related searches separately for each platform (i.e. “web design agency Shopify Hertfordshire” then another search with “web design agency Magento Hertfordshire” etc.). This way you won’t just be limiting yourself to agencies that are specialists in every platform you’re interested in, as this could drastically reduce your choice.

If your website redesign project is a large one (along with your budget) then your best bet is to just focus on larger agencies based in the UK (or your country of origin).  In my experience large international web design agencies often misinterpret or simply don’t understand the nuances between how customers from the UK tick compared with those from other countries.

The search results will include both paid and organic results so don’t forget to look at both.

Record Your Research

Once you’ve collated a few potential agencies start to look at their web design credentials and especially the work they’ve done with previous clients. If you like what you see then add them to the list of tender/RFP recipients

Useful Tip: It’s important to keep a record of which web design agencies you research, the platform(s) they specialise in and the experience you have from this point on. So create yourself a spreadsheet and take notes about the designs and any good or bad points.

Isnt’ this just overkill?

I know, it seems like too much effort right?  But later on, after you’ve looked at a few agencies and their client sites, the facts figures and your feelings about the designs and who did what will all start to blur.

Without detailed records you’ll inevitably have to revisit the whole lot all over again to find the sites (and agencies) that you like.

So save yourself a lot of wasted effort and do it right first time.

Experiment With Client Sites

Go on a couple of these client sites and get a feel for how easy they are to use.  Try accessing the site on a desktop, tablet and smartphone.

If they feel clunky and aren’t user friendly, mark them down or remove them from your list, but record it!

Don’t just look at the homepage and product pages. Look at how easy things are to find, and how easy it is to get from one part of the site to another.

If you have time, experiment with the shopping cart. It’s going to be a really important part of your website. Put something in it and go all the way up to the input of your payment details if you can.  Look at how clear and simple it is to use.

Again record what you see. It doesn’t have to be an essay, just basic notes.

Tick Off Your Requirements Checklist

Review your checklist of requirements you made when planning (see it’s come in useful!). Compare these requirements with what you see on the client websites.  Not all of your requirements will be easy or indeed possible to discover from just looking at a website. These will have to be asked separately in the initial discussions and formal tender request.

So now you can start to weed out the list of agencies you want to ask to tender.  An absolute maximum number to invite would be 10, but 5-6 would be ideal. Don’t be surprised if 1 or 2 of these agencies don’t respond or decline to take part.

The ITT/RFP/RFQ Document

There are many guides online that will steer you through writing your tender document. So it’s best to have a look around.

A good, clear guide to writing an ITT/RFP/RFQ can be found on Peacock Carter’s website (they’re a web design agency based in Gateshead).

As they quite rightly point out, you should not be asking for a redesigned version of your website as part of the tender documentation.  This is a significant piece of work and should only be done in association with you, your website visitors (via web analytics and research) and your requirements.

Areas you should look to cover include:-

  • an introduction, covering the project and objectives
  • contact names/numbers of your people dealing with the tender
  • the scope and requirements – this you’ll have done in 1.Planning
  • a timeline – give (reasonable) dates and deadlines for the ITT/RFP and the project completion
  • a budget – even a rough one will do
  • any relevant appendices providing or requiring more info e.g.
    • financial stability (are they profitable, debt free etc.)
    • relevant ecommerce platform experience
    • knowledge of your sector
    • experience integrating your existing software
    • hosting options and fees
    • ongoing support costs/rate-card

Contacting the Agencies

Once you’ve done all of this, call each of the agencies on your list and tell them you want to invite them to tender for your website redesign project.

Tell them about the timelines you’ve laid out in your tender document, i.e. when you want a completed response by and when you want the entire project to go live.

If they’re interested send out your proposal.  Make sure you monitor responses against your timeline and chase for updates.

Answering Questions

You will inevitably receive questions about your tender document. That’s actually good as it shows there is some intelligence being applied.

However, all questions and answers should be circulated to all agencies in the tender process, as this keeps the playing field even. To make this easier to manage you might want to consider using Google Docs with sharing and notification for all relevant parties.

Top Tip 4.  Analyse and Ask Questions

Now for some website redesign assessment and number crunching. Don’t groan, it’s important!

You can use the spreadsheet you created to collate the list of web design agencies as your basis.

To effectively score these agencies you’ll need to add columns that cover all of the questions you asked in the ITT/RFP/RFQ, plus some additional ones.

Here’s a short list of some additional criteria you need to cover:-

  • Quality of design (how easy client sites were to use on all device types)
  • Content design, page layouts, tracking and MI
  • Customer support (how helpful and easy are the agencies’ teams to deal with)
  • Total cost of ownership (all fees, charges and costs over a period e.g. 3 years)

Score all of the criteria on a scale of say 1 – 5, or more if that helps.

If you’ve been recording your ratings for each criteria against each web design agency and client website redesign, then you’re well over half way there already! Give yourself a pat on the back.

If you haven’t then you need to refer back to your notes (remember, the ones I told you to take??) Start to input your scores (e.g. out of 5 or 10) for each section/criterium for each agency.

Adjusting Your Scores

For those of you who did your marking as you went along, don’t be worried about going back and changing some of the previous scores if you need to.  This is pretty normal.

After looking at a few agencies’ work you may find you’ve been over generous or too harsh on previous scores. Don’t worry. Just adjust them as you see fit.  It’s far better to get a balanced scoring than stick with your first assessment.

If something isn’t clear or your notes don’t quite cover the things you need to know in enough detail, don’t worry.  Just ring the web design agency again and ask more probing questions. It’s your money after all and they should be more than happy to help to win your business.

Top Tip 5.  Choose for the Right Reasons

Ok, so after totting up all of the figures you should have a set of numbers that clearly rank the web design agencies according to your chosen criteria.

There may be a single clear winner, but more often than not there will be 2 or 3 design agencies whose scores are quite close.

Cheapest Isn’t Always Best

While the scoring is important, it’s there to weed out the weakest and most ridiculously expensive. More importantly you should by now have a good feel for how easy the agencies are to deal with.

This is really important

When your website redesign project is in full swing you want to know you’re going to have a good rapport with the design team. There will be disagreements, it’s inevitable. But what you want is a team that is easy to deal with and can come up with practical solutions.

In my experience it’s better to go with the design agency you think you’ll have the best fit with, rather than the cheapest price.

If you find there’s more that one agency you feel would be a good fit you can try negotiating the price, better hosting options or additional business services (e.g. marketing, SEO, PPC).

A word of warning: Don’t negotiate too hard. Both parties (you and your agency) need to feel like you’ve secured a good deal. If one party feels they’ve been short-changed this could lead to a breakdown in goodwill and jeopardise the success of the website redesign project.

Once you’ve decided which agency is the winner, sign the contract on the terms you negotiated. Don’t forget to let all of the other agencies know they didn’t win this time, but thank them for their hard work and participation. You may need them to quote again in the future so be courteous and polite.

You may find that some agencies will ask for feedback and input as to why they didn’t win. If you can, refer to your notes and help them to understand how to improve for next time.

Project Kick-Off

Many businesses don’t have the in-house expertise to understand what really good design is or what designs are actually really bad for their customers (and sales).

I’ve been involved with many website redesign projects for clients and there are nearly always serious issues with the designs. Unfortunately these aren’t always obvious to either the design agency or the client until it’s pointed out, but thankfully these poor customer experience issues never made it to the live website.

If you don’t have the expertise to know what good customer focused design is then hire a firm (like ours) that does. It won’t cost as much as you think. But getting it right first time will save you a lot of cost later.

Do not rely on the Web Design Agency to guide you!

Despite what many design agencies now claim they are not experts in UX (user experience) or CX (customer experience) i.e. how people use websites.

Therefore they don’t understand the impact their designs can have on the customer’s ability to find content and ultimately buy what they’re looking for. Their focus is on how the website looks and about adding your site to their sexy portfolio. You’ve also got to appreciate that they’ll be keen to get the job done as quickly as possible with minimal changes to their initial designs.

We have worked with many businesses and web design agencies and can honestly say time spent on commissioning an expert review during the design stage can save significant costs over revisiting the website post launch to fix serious flaws.  It’s better to pay for just one set of development costs and get the design right first time.

New Website Launch

Most good web design agencies will have a support period of 1 – 3 months after the website redesign has gone live to mop up any bugs or design issues that need tweaking.

Make best use of this time and go through as many pages, on as may different devices, as you can to ensure that everything loads as you expect it to.  Definitely buy things from your site to check the payment gateway(s) work too.

Keep track of your website visitor volumes and compare this to your hosting package to ensure there’s plenty of headroom for daily, weekly or seasonal peaks.  You do not want your new site to go down because you forgot to increase your web hosting requirements.

Remember: a new website is just the start of the journey.  Monitoring the new site’s performance is essential and will give you insights as to how you can iron out the inevitable issues that cause abandonment or confusion.

Most successful and growing businesses are implementing an ongoing process of website optimisation that continually improves the journey the customer experiences.  This in turn drives continually increasing revenues and profits – just by focusing on making things easier for the website visitor.

If you’d like to find out more about website optimisation and how we’ve helped other businesses give us a call.

Take a look at our Top Homepage Design Tips to help you understand how homepage design can seriously affect your website performance.

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