Choosing a top Web development firm

Tim Berners-Lee: The World Wide Web - Opportun...

Tim Berners-Lee: The World Wide Web – Opportunity, Challenge, Responsibility (Photo credit: Fräulein Schiller)

Five steps to the right Web design company.

1. Self Analysis
2. Generate a list
3. Create a shortlist
4. Get proposals
5. Evaluate and select a partner

1. Self Analysis

A good Web development firm will work with you in defining your organization’s requirements. That said, the better you can define your Web development and marketing goals (at least the basic ideas) the better it is – for both you and the potential Web development firm.

For instance: Do you want to convey only essential information on your company, like a brochure, or really promote your whole business – brand, products, services, etc? Does your company need Internet marketing such as Google Adwords, PPC or search engine optimization (SEO)? Will your Web site speak primarily to new accounts, or promote a closer relationship with your existing clients? Do you need an intranet/extranet for partners or employees? All or some of the above?

In order to find a Web design firm best suited for your project, your organization should be aware of the following:

* The intended goal of the project
* The intended audience for the Web site
* The anticipated budget for the Web site development
* How the project will fit into a larger marketing/corporate scheme
* The individuals/departments within your organization responsible for the project

Once you have determined these initial requirements, document them and use them as a basis for evaluating each Web design firm. This document gives you a common yardstick to measure each Web design firm you will be contacting. Similarly, a professional Web development company will respect the fact that you are taking your project seriously.

2. Generate a list

There are a number of ways to search for a Web development firm. Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, a referral is great but may be biased to different target market or industry sector; likewise, a portfolio review is great, but on its own may miss the technical aspects not visible on the frontend (i.e. database or software development). So a combination of the different approaches will be your best bet for finding a Web design firm to match your needs.

Referrals: Ask business acquaintances, friends, and family which Web design firm designed the Web site for their respective organizations, or if they can otherwise recommend a Web design firm. Be inquisitive. Find out what the individuals responsible liked or disliked about working with the various Web design firms. Some firms are better suited for taking a project from start to finish. Other Web design firms are more inclined to work from an existing concept.

Other Web sites: Determine the Web design firm that is responsible for the Web sites of organizations that you admire. These organizations may be your competitors, or in related or unrelated industries. Sometimes the Web design firm is included in the site credits, or is listed elsewhere on the Web site. If you cannot find the credits on the site itself, feel free to contact the organization and ask which Web design firm is responsible for the Web site. This can also be a good source for references for that Web design firm.

Once you have gathered a list of potential Web design firms you are ready to pare them down to a shortlist.

3. Create a shortlist

From the list of potential Web design firms, your organization’s goal should now be to create a shortlist of 3-5 firms that are best suited for your project. In order to determine which Web design firms are most appropriate for your project, do the following:

Examine the portfolio
Do the projects in the portfolio have a consistent quality? If not, it’s possible that the company has experienced staff turnover. You may wish to enquire which designers are responsible for the portfolio pieces you admire most, and confirm that these individuals are still with the company.

Has the Web design company provided solutions to other companies in your industry? Have they dealt with similar challenges to those faced by your organization?
These are some important factors to consider. At the same time, look at the Web design firm’s breadth of experience – they may be able to address your immediate needs, but will they be able to provide solutions 6 months down the road, or 1 year later, or 5 years later?

Thanks to the distributed nature of the Internet, some of the better Web design firms have implemented systems that allow them to work with organizations across the globe as easily as organizations across the street. When reviewing the Web sites of a Web design firm, note the geographical location of their clients. A Web design firm that has worked with clients in many geographical locations will have a more global approach to your Web site.

Technical competence and experience
Does the Web development firm have technical experience for your requirements (or potential needs) such as ecommerce/ebusiness, Internet marketing, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), interactive Flash/animation, or software/database development and system integration? Do they code their Web pages in compliance with top industry standards (like W3C)? Is their ecommerce code secure and/or hacker-proof? Do they provide hosting, long-term maintenance and support?

Analyze the process
Does the Web design firm have a clearly stated process for designing and developing Web sites? Do they spend enough time understanding your Web site goals and planning how those will be achieved, such as Needs Analysis? Does the development firm have structure and expertise in Information Architecture? Avoid selecting an individual designer, on a freelance basis, to design and develop your organization’s Web site. It is rare to find a single person capable of handling the combined visual and technical elements that make an effective Web presence. Additionally, by depending on an individual, your organization is at risk of losing its investment should anything occur to that one individual – or down the road they simply can’t find time to help when you need it.

Determine what other products/services the Web design company can offer
What kind of value-added products or services can the design firm offer? Product Marketing, Pay per Click (PPC) and Web site promotion? Newsletter or email campaigns? If your organization is not currently dealing with a print design agency, for example, this might be a factor for dealing with one group over another. Similarly, can the firm provide database and software development should your organization wish to Web-enable some of its existing systems or processes?

During this stage, your organization should make contact with the candidate companies that are on your shortlist. If any of the above information is not readily available, be sure to ask the potential Web development firm for specific examples as close to your needs as possible. Make sure you understand their scope inclusions, terminology definitions etc. If they don’t have a glossary, get them to explain it in detail.

4. Get proposals

Once you have selected your short-list of top Web development firms, request that they send you a proposal. Ask that their proposal include an overview of your requirements and their proposed solution. This will help to determine which Web design firm understands your requirements best. Also ask that each Web design firm include a description of their development process and a price breakdown for the various aspects of the Web site project.

5. Evaluate and select a partner

Start off by examining each proposal individually. Before dealing with the content, evaluate the format and presentation of the proposal. The winning Web design firm will be creating your organization’s image on the Internet, viewable to millions of Internet users. How do they present themselves? Do they communicate with you using their Web site and digital documents?

Maintain a list for each proposal, consisting of its strengths and weaknesses, and the strengths and weaknesses of the respective Web design firm based on its other materials (Web site, portfolio, brochure, case studies, etc.). Alternatively, make a grid for easy comparison. Example: in an ecommerce project, compare the competing product features and costs side-by-side.

Importantly, weigh each firm on its ability to be a long-term partner. Have they been in business for several years, being stable and profitable? Do they have a list of clients and projects that you can confirm? Having an outsourced interactive agency as a partner has many benefits: expertise and experience in Internet marketing/SEO, software development and integration skills, and the flexibility of resources on tap. (This still applies even if you have on-staff marketing resources.)

After your organization has reviewed all proposals, compare them with each other. How do they fare in terms of presentation? How do their processes appear in terms of project management? Do they present scalability and/or upgrade paths for your project, that go beyond the needs of the immediate goals outlined?

Once you have made a decision, contact the firms that did not win the contract, and share with them the strengths and weaknesses of their proposals and the reasons (in general terms) why your organization selected the winning firm. Lastly, contact the top Web development firm and let them know the good news.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s