Your organization’s website has never been more important. When someone’s interested in who you are, and what you do, the first place they’ll go is online. They’ll scrape the interwebs looking for information on you.
Website Design is More Important Than Ever
What people find—or don’t find–affects whether they take a step towards or away from you in any sense. This could be a visit, business transaction, donation or partnership of sorts.
Research has shown that prospects make about 60-percent of their buying decisions before talking to sales. Nowadays, this due diligence research process happens online. The dramatic and continuous rise of search engines are proof that prospects are seeking the answers online.
Here’s the Truth About Prospects
Prospects Want Answers
Websites have to be information hubs with in-depth details on anything from services to products. If it can’t be found online, in the eyes of a user, it can’t be found at all.
Prospects Are a Little Bit “Drunk”
We know something about the way that the vast majority of users utilize websites—they do so like drunk people.
When people are drunk, they’re impatient and they’re free-flowing. Let’s say that drunk person visits your website and it take 11 seconds to load—they’ll probably visit the next website on the list. Let’s say they get to the website and find it frustrating to explore and use—they’ll probably leave.
That’s exactly how, we, users are, aren’t we?
I’d say I have more patience than your average user because I design and develop websites on a regular basis. You know what though? That patience and sympathy doesn’t last long. If a website is taking to long to load, or just is hard to use, I’m going to get frustrated, leave and go to the next organization/person on my research list.
Choosing the Right Website Design and Development Partner is Vital
All the above being said, the website design and development company you choose will ultimately determine what kind of website you get. This isn’t a decision to take lightly, especially given the stake of a website in today’s communications landscape.
The hardest part is that there are a whole, stinkin’ lot of website designers out there. Making a decision can be difficult.
To help guide your search, here are 13 traits to look for in a Pittsburgh website design company. These differentiators will help narrow down the choices and get you in the room with the right teams.
#1: They Put on Their Listening Ears
You know your industry better than anyone else. You know what you’re selling, and you know your customers.
It’s important for a website design company to listen to your expertise and your ideas. In fact, they should start by diving deep into who you are, what you do and how a website will fit into that full picture. They also should take it another step by exploring the various kinds of functionality that will be required by the project based on your goals.
Without putting your needs at the forefront of the process, the website project will be an overall failure for you and your organization.
If a website design company doesn’t want to understand and get to know you, you might just become one of their pet projects.
#2: They Share Their Ideas & Expertise
It’s critical for a website design company to listen to you, but you also don’t want a total yes-man team as your partner.
You know your business, but a website designer also knows how to design and develop. The true value of hiring them is for that expertise—which has been sharpened to a razor-sharp edge over project after project—and to be able to lean into that expertise.
There might be elements you want your website to have, but a good designer won’t just shake their head. They should evaluate those elements and make a judgement call based on best practices and values. You might not always agree with one another and that’s not only normal when an experienced team is sitting across from you, but totally OK.
It also opens up the world of possibilities. Innovative website design companies have crazy fun ideas to offer you and exciting places to take you.
Anyone who shakes their head like a bobble doll, and produces an exact replica of what you ask, won’t give you your money’s worth.
#3: They Center Development on a Content Management System (CMS)
Content Management Systems (CMS) are everything when it comes to developing a website. Examples of common systems are:
All development should be centered on a CMS. The CMS should also be centered on your needs.
Avoid HTML-Only Developers Like the Plague
If a website design company doesn’t use a CMS, you should run for the hills. Developers who build entirely with HTML are tying a ball and chain around your ankle. Anytime you want to make an edit to the website, you either rely on them to do so or swim in a sea of messy, messy code.
You Should Never Have to See the Code
A CMS takes that out of the equation. A CMS is your intermediary between the content (images, text, links, menus, etc.) and the code itself.
A truly refined website developer makes sure that you never have to pop open the hood—that your entire experience is centered in the CMS itself. This includes no guess work from your team and ease of use once the website is built.
#4: They Have a Proven Website Design & Development Process
The power and quality of website design project comes down to the process.
Experienced website design companies have proven processes. Not only does this make the process itself predictable for you and your team, but insures that the team handling it has a roadmap for your success.
#5: They’re Marketers Too
A website without any marketing knowledge behind it is as good as a car without an engine. Designing and developing the website is one thing, but designing and developing it to achieve marketing communications success is another thing entirely.
Every element has to be compelling. Every element has to tell your story. Every aspect of the website should be built to empower your message, attract your audiences and convert them into leads.
#6: They Design & Develop Responsively
Responsiveness is no longer an option.
Google now takes whether or not a website is mobile optimized into consideration as it ranks it against other websites.
That’s only half of the wake-up call to those who haven’t embraced responsive design. Google’s point is this—websites that aren’t responsive aren’t good for users. If they’re not good for users then they shouldn’t rank higher than a website that is.
Your website needs to flawlessly transform from device to device. It should look as good on desktop as it does on your tablet. It should look as good on your tablet as it does on your phone. It needs to work and adjust to accommodate these uniquely different experiences.
A website design company needs to be entrenched in responsive design. They need to innovate within responsiveness, intentionally crafting inviting and easy to use websites that work flawlessly regardless of where they’re viewed from.
#7: They Develop Responsibly
Developing responsibly is a big differentiator between website design companies.
Responsibility comes down to several points:
- Cleanliness and purity of the code itself (HTML, CSS, jQuery, PHP, HubL, etc.)
- Taking special care to redirect broken links (mostly done during a redesign)
- Setting up preferred domain structures for your website (www vs. non-www)
- Knowledge of a site’s SEO health
- Properly dealing with Search Engines after the website is launched
- Setting up analytics and measuring tools on the website
#8: They Design with Conversion in Mind
A website design company needs to make something that does more than just “look nice.” It should look nice with a purpose—converting visitors into leads (and then leads into customers through marketing automation).
This involves knowing layouts, navigation and calls to action. All of these have to be driven by research, testing and continuous measurement.
#9: They Have a Diverse Portfolio
It’s best to avoid firms that are specialists solely in a particular industry. From a marketing sense, yes it might be wise to work with a specialist, but when it comes to your website, someone who only handles a certain industry can be detrimental.
What usually ends up happening is someone who only works with a certain industry will just produce countless cookie cutter websites. From a bigger picture perspective, they’re not unique and innovative. Designers who’ve dealt with a variety of industries have all kinds of tricks to play with.
Also, at the end of the day it’s not blending with others in your industry—it’s about rising above.
#10: They Study, Understand and Execute the Little, Technical Details
The little, tiny details make all the difference.
There are so many technical points required to be successful. This is anything from properly setting up redirects, to setting up preferred domain structures, to advocating for web-optimized images, to helping you pick the right host based on your needs.
This is why you hired a strategic partner—to bring in a team that has a full understanding of the little details and continues to study them every day.
#11: They Put the End-User First
Again, your goals and needs are absolutely center to this process. At the end of the day, however, it is the duty of an organization and a website design company to create a digital destination focused on the end user.
That’s why it’s so important to understand your ideal customers. Only by knowing them—knowing their pain points, questions, challenges and preferences—can a truly compelling and successful website be created.
#12: Their Design is Relevant
You don’t want to work with someone who’s design style looks like it belongs in the 90s.
Users trust more modern and up-to-date websites. Innovative websites also utilize the latest design and user experience practices, which have proven results of their own.
At the same time, however, a website can’t be entirely trendy. There has to be a mixture of what’s already been proven by tides of time.
Most of all, the website design company should put systems in place to actually measure how the design itself performs. A website shouldn’t just be built and forgotten about until the next full-on redesign. It should be monitored. If there elements that need to change based on the research then it’s time to make a change—not several years during the next redesign—but on the spot.
#13: They Build a Solid SEO (especially local SEO) Structure
A website design company isn’t the end-all, be-all for your SEO (unless you bring them on after the initial build to build your SEO over time). They have a fundamental and very important role though.
At it’s core structure, a website needs to be built for long-term SEO success. There’s a lot that contributes to this on ground level. It’s important for a website design company to understand what makes a powerful, optimized website tick. It all comes back to those tiny, technical details and developing responsibly.
There You Have It
Well, there you have it. 13 traits to look for in a Pittsburgh website design company. Use this as a checklist to help narrow down the list from inquiries to your top three.
Have any questions? Join the conversation below.