Questions to Ask When Hiring a Web Designer

A small business owner's guide to hiring a professional web designer and what questions to ask while in the hiring process. How to interview a web designer.

A guide to professional web design

In our previous article, we covered the best places to find a web designer. In this article, we’re going to cover how to hire a web designer and what questions you should ask during the hiring process.

Let’s say you’ve shortlisted some good candidates and you’re ready to take the next step and contact them. Preparing yourself before you conduct interviews will put you in a better position to gather the information you need and make the best choice. Here are some essential questions to ask yourself before meeting or interviewing web designers:

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Meeting with a Web Designer

Reaching out to a professional for web design work is a big step, and it’s important to have a clear understanding of your expectations and objectives to make sure your website is a success.

Take matters into your own hands by asking yourself the questions below.

Q: What type of website am I building?

It’s a good idea to be as clear as possible with your vision for the website you want to build. Is it a “brochure site” that offers information about your existing brick-and-mortar business? Are you launching an eCommerce website with that sells products or services? Are you developing a forum or social media site that targets a niche audience?

Knowing the type of site you want to build will help guide your choice of web designer. Some web designers specialize in eCommerce, others make fantastic sites for showing off your portfolio, or highlighting the benefits of your consulting firm. With this is mind, you can review the work and skills of each web designer to make sure they are good fit for the type of website you want to build.

Q: Will I create and edit the content myself or have someone else do it?

If you have existing content from presentations, sales letters or marketing materials, and you only need a web designer to “put it online”, then you can look for a candidate that’s a good match for creating a basic static site.

On the other hand, if you plan to have a blog or update the content on your website on a regular basis you’ll need a web designer who can help you setup a content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Joomla.

Be sure to consider your time creating content. Some web designers will also provide content as part of their services. If you need content or graphics on a regular basis and you don’t have the time, it’s helpful to hire a web designer who can bring all those services to the table, or provide consulting and advice on where to find them.

Q: What are the goals of my website?

Websites are more than pretty pictures and fancy interactive effects, they’re powerful tools geared towards meeting business goals. You should ask yourself: How is my website going to accomplish my business goals?

Think about what you want people to do on your website. Is it subscribing to your email list? Or, is it getting people to contact you with queries about your services? Maybe you’re running an eCommerce site and you want people to buy your products?

By building your website with your goals in mind, you’ll be able to assess its success based on hard facts rather than vague notions, subjective aesthetic opinions, or the latest web design fad.

Q: Who is my target audience and how do they get to my website?

Before you hire a web designer, think carefully about your ideal client or customer. Your website’s main goal is to be a magnet for your target audience, and it should be designed to serve them when they land on your homepage.

To understand your target audience and how they get to your website, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is my target audience looking for?
  • What problems or needs am I addressing for them?
  • How does my target audience search for solutions?
  • What answers are they expecting to find to their problems?
  • Which messages will they respond to best?

In addition to catering to your target audience, you’ll want to make sure your website performs well and you have the ability to track the performance based on how your audience behaves on your site. For example, which pages do they visit? How long do they spend on each page? Which devices do they use to access your website? Knowing these answers will help you focus the goals of your site more and help you find the right web designer to build it.

It may be that you don’t know the answer to all these questions. After all, that’s why you’re hiring a web designer, to help you get your business online. If that’s the case, be sure to check that potential candidates also offer help with marketing or can point you in the right direction to find answers.

Q: How do I plan to drive traffic to my website?

Once you’ve identified your target audience, you’ll still need to get them to visit your site. The Internet is a noisy place, and you’ll need a strategy to cut through the noise and grab people’s attention. It’s not simply enough to “put your website online” and hope people will find it, you’ve got to drive traffic to your site on a consistent basis.

Here are some questions to help you guide your plan to drive traffic to your site:

  • How will people learn about my website?
  • What content will I offer to keep them engaged and keep them coming back?
  • Can I do it myself or will I need help from a web professional to drive traffic?

As you develop a clear picture of your target audience, and how to grab their attention and direct them to your site, your plan for accomplishing your website goals starts to become more clear, and you’re prepared to have a more productive discussion with a web designer.

Here again, you may not know how to drive traffic to your website. That’s OK too. It’s simply one more thing to keep in mind for your hiring process. Look for a web designer who can help you drive traffic to your site or consult to help you find the resources you need.

Q: What’s my budget?

It’s likely that “What’s your budget?” is one of the first, if not the first, question web designers are going to ask when you first approach them. It’s better to ask yourself beforehand and be better prepared when you meet with a web designer about building your site.

Once you’ve decided the goals for your website, you’ll need to set aside a budget. In other words, how much are you willing to invest to achieve those goals? Not only does this make good business sense, it also keeps you grounded when you discuss website features with a web designer. For instance, if you have a budget of less than $5,000, asking for a full-fledged online store, blog, and custom design, is probably asking too much.

Keeping realistic expectations about your budget, the goals of your site, and where that fits into the plans for your business, will help make sure your first conversation with a web designer goes well.

Q: Did I carefully review the information on the candidates’ websites?

Most web designers and web agencies put tons of information on their websites that can be invaluable to you. Here are a few things you can learn simply by browsing their sites:

  • Services they offer
  • Onboarding process for clients
  • Project management process and tools
  • Previous and current clients
  • Portfolio of work

Questions to Ask a Web Designer During the Interview Process:

After reviewing the questions above to prepare yourself, the next step is to setup interviews with web designers. As a small business owner, you’re familiar with conducting interviews and meetings, both in person and remotely. Having a list of well thought-out questions is the key to a successful interview.

However, the technical and jargon-laden language on some specialized web design and development websites can make it challenging to create a list of good questions, even for someone who is familiar with conducting interviews.

To help make your hiring process more productive, we’ve gathered the most important questions to ask when interviewing web designers:

Q: What services do you offer?

It’s good to know the full-range of services a web designer offers before you hire them. Some web designers offer only website design and do not provide backend development or coding services. Others may offer additional services like web hosting, search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) marketing, email newsletters, and more.

Even when you see these services listed on a web designer’s site, it’s still worth asking the question. You can perform further due diligence by asking if all their services, from design to SEO, are carried out by the same professional or by a team of experts. The last option may be more desirable for a high quality outcome. While many web designers are capable of wearing a few different hats, being an expert across a wide range of fields is tough for any one person.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, what’s your experience with my industry?

Some web designers or web agencies specialize in building websites for particular types of businesses, for example restaurants, attorneys, or automobile repair. Hiring a web professional who has experience working in your industry can add value to your project: they know the functionality your website needs and how to implement it, they know your target audience and what they’re looking for, and they know who your competitors are and can help you drive results.

One thing to be careful of here, when a website design firm specializes in a particular industry, make sure the designs aren’t too “cookie cutter”, especially when you want to differentiate yourself from your competition. However, when your goal is simply to get your brick-and-mortar business online using the latest best practices, it’s best to choose a designer with experience in your industry.

Q: Can you show me the latest website that’s relevant to my project?  Can you walk me through the process you used to design the site?

Portfolios are helpful but can quickly become outdated as a designer completes projects. Ask to see recent work to get the best view of your potential web designer’s skills. Better still, ask to see the most recent website they’ve built that’s relevant to your project. Even when they haven’t worked with a business in your industry before, ask them to show you a recent example that’s a close match for your goals.

Beyond how “good” the examples look, ask some further questions to get a better understanding of each web designer’s approach to a project:

  • What problems did you solve?
  • Why did you choose solution X instead of solution Y?
  • What process did you follow?
  • What were the goals for the website?
  • Did you meet those goals?
  • How did you verify that you met those goals?
  • Can I contact your client for a reference?

Q: What are your qualifications?

Many web designers and web professionals are self-taught. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially when you consider the impressive range of free and paid learning resources for website design, development, online marketing, SEO, and other skills.

Some web designers are willing to go the extra mile and complete certifications to better position themselves in the marketplace, as trustworthy experts in the field. Some examples are Microsoft certified developers and PHP certified developers.

Quite often certified developers charge higher rates, however, be careful that you get what you pay for – in the coding world a recognized certificate becomes outdated quickly and doesn’t by itself guarantee a successful outcome, or even that the web designer has knowledge of the latest best practices.

Q: What SEO or Internet marketing services do you offer?

For your website to be successful, your target audience needs to find you. What’s more, you’ve got to grab their attention and provide engaging content or a compelling reason to visit your site. To be sure your website appears in social and search results, and stands out from the crowd, it’s got to be properly coded and strategically promoted.

Ask candidates if they have a search engine optimization (SEO) expert or an online marketing strategist on their team. There’s no point in building a great website if it only gets a handful of visitors each month.

Q: Will you provide a detailed proposal?

A detailed proposal from your web designer can help you understand every service they offer and their associated fees. It’s a good sign when your potential web designer or web agency asks lots of questions about your business and your customers. Great proposals are based on a good grasp of your business needs and are geared towards providing solutions that meet those needs.

Be sure to ask any clarifying questions about the proposal. Doing so minimizes the risk of unpleasant surprises cropping up that may jeopardize the success of your project later down the road.

Q: Will you review my existing site before beginning work on my new site?

When you have an existing site in place, understanding what does and does not work for you is a good starting point for the development of a new site. If the answer your web designer provides is a resounding ‘Yes!’, that’s a good indication that they’ll make use of lessons you’ve learned and avoid any mistakes you’ve made with your current site.

Your input in the review process will also be very important. If you’re redesigning your website, what are your reasons for doing so? The more specific you can be about why your site needs an update, the easier it will be for a web designer to understand your business needs and website goals.

Q: How long will it take to complete my website?

Any website proposal you receive should include an estimated time for completion. Quality website design takes time and busy designers often have other clients. Web design timelines can change as requirements change, so your completion date could be pushed back from your original estimate. This is another reason why it’s important to have a clear picture of what you want to accomplish with your site.

It’s important to understand that a website is never fully “completed”. After launch, there will be adjustments to make according to how many people visit the website, how many of them come back, how many visitors subscribe to your email list or click the Add to Cart button, and the feedback you get from visitors and other stakeholders such as product vendors.

Of course you want to launch your site as soon as possible, but rushing the project won’t help. To ensure a successful outcome, it’s wise to get involved in the project as much as you feel comfortable, working together with your web designer: sharing your business expertise and knowledge of your customers, offering constructive feedback, and providing any graphics, images or content your web designer needs to move forward with the project. Any delay on your part providing this information will inevitably postpone the website launch date.

Q: Will I be able to expand my website as my business grows?

If you plan to expand your website as your business grows, you should consider this now. A full redesign might be required to add new functionality if a website isn’t developed with the future in mind. Be sure you can add new features to your site as needed. One good example here is the WordPress platform, which can be easily extended by adding new plugins.

Another important factor to consider for future growth relates to the hosting your website. Make sure your website can be scaled to handle larger volumes of traffic as needed, either through a new hosting plan or by connecting it to a content delivery network. Ask you prospective developer: Can you help me change hosting plans or the configuration of my site to handle more traffic in the future? Will you provide this or provide a recommended resource to help? How much will it cost?

Q: Which content management system do you use?

Most websites are built using a content management system (CMS) that separates the backend code from design and content. This should allow you to update the content on certain parts of your site, without requiring you to learn any complex web code.

However, not all CMS platforms are created equal. Ask to see a demo of the system your designer plans to use.  If your web designer uses a proprietary CMS, make sure you ask how easy it will be to move the website to a different CMS. You’ll need to consider what happens if the developer stops supporting the CMS or the firm itself goes out of business. Make sure your web designer uses a platform that’s widely available and shows no signs of disappearing overnight – WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal are all good examples of CMS systems you can rely on.

Q: Will my team be able to access and edit the website once it’s published?

Related to the question regarding CMS, you’ll want to know whether you can make changes to your site. Relying on a designer to update content can cause delays when you need to change something quickly. Ask what you can edit once the website is published and make sure you know how much it costs if you need your web designer to make a change.

When you’re interviewing potential web designers you can also ask if they provide training for you to learn how to update your website yourself. Choosing a good CMS like the examples we provided will make it easier to learn how to update content yourself.

Q: Do you offer ongoing maintenance once my site is published? What if something breaks? Do you offer any warranty?

Software is constantly being updated, and new changes to one type of code on your website can effect other code, requiring further changes to keep everything working together correctly.

It’s a smart move to ask what kind of maintenance is required for your website and what options your web designer provides. Some content management systems are integrated with a specialized hosting environment that helps minimize customer maintenance tasks by automatically updating your site.

However, you should be prepared in case something goes wrong, for instance: the code base has bugs or security holes that are only detected after launch, updates require further changes to the code, or the worst case scenario, your website gets hacked.

Be clear about what you expect from your web designer in these circumstances, ask how much it will cost, and how long their support will be available.

Q: How much is everything going to cost?

One of the most crucial questions for your business is how much the entire website is going to cost. Pricing is based on many factors and each web development firm prices their services differently. Web design is still a relatively new industry, and there are few pricing standards. Hourly, contract, and fixed rates are all common. Development processes and platforms vary as much as the skill levels required for each. Plan to budget several thousand dollars for a custom website with basic functionality. Extensive customization including eCommerce will, of course, increase the cost. Bear in mind when you are evaluating alternatives that a professional quality website will cost more than what your neighbor’s nephew can throw together for a bargain price.

Q: Will I own my website, domain, assets?

Another critical concern for businesses is the copyright or legal ownership of the website and all its components. You’ll want to have a contract in place that clearly outlines the ownership of your website. This contract should allow you to take your website to another designer in the future, or add your own modifications to it, without incurring in any additional charges or penalties. Not having a contract to protect your business would be like buying a house and leaving the keys in someone else’s hands. You don’t want to run that risk.

Another consideration regarding copyright is the ownership of any content, graphics, images or videos used to build your site. If these are provided by the web designer or web agency, who owns them once the website is finished? Do they have a license that allows you to use them in your website? Are there any conditions for their use? Who’s legally liable in the event of misuse? Making sure you’ve got clear licensing and use rights for your content is another way to make sure you don’t get “locked out” of your own house.

Q: What do I need to supply before work on the website begins?

Discussing what you need to bring to the table will help you avoid delays in the project schedule and misunderstandings with your web designer. It’s vital that you have an understanding of what content or assets you need to provide.

This may include:

  • Copy
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Logos
  • Legal stuff, e.g., terms and conditions, privacy policy, etc.
  • Credentials for login to your hosting accounting (if you’re dealing with the hosting company)
  • Premium plugins and themes that you may need to purchase

Overall, the design of a website is a huge project that needs your input: be clear with your web designer on what your responsibilities are and do your best to fulfill your side of the bargain.

Q: Can you show me one of the least expensive websites and one of the most expensive websites you’ve worked on?

If you’re launching a small website with a standard set of features like a mailing list and a contact form, then presumably it’s not going to cost an arm and a leg to build. However, you still want to have a quality product in the end. On the other hand, you may have a large website in mind that includes eCommerce and other features, and you want to be sure it isn’t going to cost you more than it should. Ask to see different examples of work to be sure your web designer does high quality work consistently across projects, no matter how affordable or high-end they are.

Q: What were your biggest challenges working with clients and what did you do to overcome them?

The web designer-client relationship, like all business relationships, can have some ups and downs. A web design project is a long-term commitment, and both client and web designer invest a lot of time and effort into the finished product. There can be times when differences of opinion, delays, misunderstandings, or technical issues put some strain on the relationship. One thing you need to know is how your prospective web designer will cope with these challenges. From their answer, you’ll get sense of what working with that web designer would be like: if the web designer blames a negative outcome on the client, that’s a surefire red flag.

Last Words of Advice for Hiring a Web Designer

These questions will help you identify and hire the best web designer for your business. However, there’s always the human factor. Even though you’re putting in the effort to minimize the risk of choosing the wrong web designer, there’s no bulletproof way of knowing how you will work together.

Give your web professional a small trial project before committing yourself to a long-term website design and development project. It’s a smart move to make sure the relationship works for both parties.

Conclusion

Communication with your prospective web designer is key — don’t think twice about asking questions and expecting the same degree of communication.

If you don’t feel like it’s the right match, move on until you find the web professional that’s the best fit for your business. Taking a slow and steady approach to hiring a web designer will save your business time and money later down the line.

Once you’re confident you’ve made the right choice, the next steps involve commissioning the project and starting the relationship with your web designer on the right foot. See Tips for Working with Your Web Designer to learn more.