The definitive guide to hiring an enterprise level website design & development agency

When it comes to redesigning your website, you need to start from the foundations up. Yes, you need expressive flair, but you also need to strategise and question everything. Start with why are you redesigning? What are your objectives? Is this a short term cosmetic lick of paint or is this the development of an enterprise-level new digital home? And most importantly of all, who will you hire as your design and development agency?

Chances are you already know all of this. But perhaps you are still in two minds over whether your agency of choice isthe right choice.

Well here are five more questions you need to ask to help put your mind at rest. Ask yourself these questions and more importantly ask your agency for answers.

K for Kudos when you chose the right agency!

1. What experience do they have of working on projects like this?

Don’t settle for asking if they’ve worked with companies like yours before. Ask precisely how they helped other enterprises achieve the goals you’re aiming for.

Ask for real references over testimonials.

If your agency is proud of their work (they should be) and have award winning case study examples on their portfolio (they should have) then they should only be delighted for you to request the contact details of their clients. Speaking to clients reveals as much of what its like to work with them as it does about the resulting website and the processes and collaboration involved.

Great design and development agencies are as obsessed with the aesthetics as they are with the functionality and user experience. The experience must be immersive without drowning out the user with superfluous detail.

Great agencies should demonstrate their experience in UX designs, UI interfaces, site map architecture and usability testing. They’ll conduct interviews and brainstorm workshops to draw out crucial insights from your target market. They’ll have clear strategies in place for sourcing the ideal market research test groups, and will be well versed in approaches like Google’s HEART Framework, which tests user metrics based on their happiness, engagement, adoption, retention and task success.

2. How will they measure success?

Great agencies never stop to admire themselves or their achievements. Hunger breeds success for some, but the very best raise the bar with every project.

You need to question the motivations of your agency. Are they more concerned with their own awards than they are with your business objectives?

Does the agency describe themselves as “results-driven”? What results are we talking about? Before you agree to work together, you need to have established precisely how project outcomes will be defined and how the agency intends to measure them.

Again, your pitch meetings will be a good indication of whether the design and development agency is truly up to the scale, scope and style of your project. The right agency will think strategically from the offset, asking smart questions about your overarching goals and the specific numbers, outcomes and markets/audiences you want to target.

Rather than treating your site as an isolated part of this plan, they’ll formulate a holistic approach that accounts for your wider digital, web analytics and content strategies, using your site to bring these strands together.

Of course, they’ll also offer rock solid website metrics to back up any claims they make. This should range from more general stats like visitor sources and bounce rates through to more ROI-focussed figures such as cost per conversion and value or interactions per visit.

But beyond that, they’ll provide metrics that are tailored to your goals and directly relate to the quality of their UX design — new subscription rates, repeat visits or purchases, upgrades to the latest version of a product/app, the number of users remaining present over time, completed profiles and so on.

3. Is this a genuine end-to-end solution?

For a large-scale digital project to be a success, you’ll need one highly capable project manager to keep everything on track. Can the agency handle all requirements, either in-house or using their own network of partners?

Do they offer all UX and UI design, development and marketing services required to take your project from conception to completion? Do they have a hosting and infrastructure strategy in place? Can they help you to select the right CMS or eCommerce platform for your site? And will they be able to provide ongoing web/infrastructure support and training once your site is live? Is content migration an afterthought or an integral part of the planning and strategy?

And while we’re throwing around questions — if nobody is around to hear a tree fall in a forest, does it make a sound? Ok, that was a bit out of left field and while it’s ok for philosophers to debate the pros and cons of existential awareness, marketers need to rally the crowds. You need a constant baseline and rising stream of traffic to your new site or else it’s all a big waste of time and resources.

Web development and SEO go hand in hand in this regard and SEO needs to be front and central in the strategy, core structure, navigation and design of your site.

You’re probably familiar with stats like the 40% of users who give up on a site that takes more than 3 seconds to load, or the 75% who don’t look past the first page of Google. Unfortunately, no number of impressive features or sumptuous designs will ever make up for a site that lags by that extra two seconds or falls foul of Google’s ever-changing algorithms — especially when you consider that 9 in 10 online experiences begin with a search, and these guys have cornered 70% of the search market.

Responsive designs are of course a mandatory prerequisite consideration with many progressive agencies adopting a mobile first mindset. With more and more people using smartphones and tablets to search the web, Google will now actively punish websites that don’t offer fully optimised and responsive mobile alternatives to desktop websites.

The beauty of the web, of course, is that you don’t have to take your agency’s word for it. Their previous projects are (presumably) out there in the open, so you can check the speed, ease of use, performance and responsiveness of these websites yourself.

Another vital factor that separates the enterprise level web companies from the small fry is this: do they have a deep enough understanding of your business or sector to keep on top of all industry standards and compliance obligations you must adhere to along the way?

And finally, can they marry all of this up with a truly extraordinary, data-driven user experience strategy? One that goes beyond vague ideas about “delighting the user”, demonstrably putting user needs and interactions first and foremost at every step?

4. How will this work with other systems and projects?

Your agency of choice must be able to demonstrate that they have total control over their backend development and that they have powerful, flexible and innovative solutions that work with your existing sites, providers and management systems.

Things to look out for include established relationships with other leading providers — for example, are they a gold certified partner with a best in class web marketing solution like Kentico?

You also need to know that your solution is future-proofed. Can they build out-of-the box functionality, integrating this with your backend systems as required? And can they assure you that you’ll have ownership over all source codes, should you want to make changes yourself at a later date?

5. Are they using the best technology for this project?

Great agencies have a natural born curiosity over tech developments, research, information gathering and design solutions. Have a look at their blog page and see if they’re talking regularly about the latest trends and technologies. You want to work with thought leaders, not laggards.

Don’t shy away from asking your web design and development agency tough questions about the tech they use. Why have they selected it? Is it industry recognised? Is it, for example, listed on the Gartner Magic Quadrant for its sector or market? What training and qualifications do their developers have?

Gartner Magic Quadrant

Are they using an enterprise level CMS? If they’re sticking to open source options like WordPress or Drupal, how will they handle the security vulnerabilities? Are they talking to you about top-of-the-range alternatives like Sitefinity, Sitecore or SDL Tridion?

Upon reflection, and around 1,500 words later, I’ve changed my mind, you shouldn’t really need to be asking these questions at all. Your agency of choice should be leading the conversations and bringing these issues and innovations to your attention. If they do, and if they have qualified answers to each and every part of the puzzle and can demonstrate their choices with best in class examples on their portfolio, then your agency of choice is the right choice.

What key factors do you look for in a web design and development agency? Have you ever been burned by the “over-promise, under-deliver” brigade? Share your thoughts below.