The web design industry has a bad reputation. It seems like every business owner you speak to, from large, corporate companies to freelancers, have had a crappy experience with a web design agency.
Why is this happening?
Personally, we know many fantastic web design agencies and freelancers. Are people just not finding them? Or is there something else going on?
In this episode, we unpack how to find the right agency for YOU, and how not every agency will work for your business. We also give you our run down on how to spot a bad web design agency or freelancer.
In this episode, we’ll cover…
- Why some agencies might be right for others but not for you
- Why we’re a bad agency for some people
- How can you find the right web design agency for your business?
- Signs of a bad web designer or agency
Time Stamps: In a rush? Get to the section you need to below!
0.58 – Business owners have had a bad experience with a web design agency
2.20 – People aren’t finding the right agency for them
2.50- Examples of agencies that won’t work for some business owners
5.53 – How can you find the right agency for you?
8.57 – Avoid web designers with bad websites
9.26 – No access to a content management system
11.32 – Using jargon to confuse
13.33 – No faces on the business
15.31 – Obscure content management system
17.57 – Look at the portfolio
19.38 – Is there a discovery phase?
22.20 – Jumping through hoops for pricing
Useful Resources and Links
What To Do Next
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Episode Transcript Below
Welcome to the Make Your Mark Online Podcast where we help personal brands build and grow a successful business website. Please welcome your hosts, husband and wife team Martin and Lyndsay.
Welcome to episode 16 of the Make Your Mark Online Podcast. Today we’re going to be talking about how to spot a bad web design agency. But before we get into the show, this podcast is sponsored by the Make Your Mark Online Membership. This is our signature membership community where we help personal brands build and grow a successful business website. The doors for the membership are currently close, but you can check out the details at MakeYourMarkOnline.net and you can join the wait list and we’ll notify you as soon as we open the doors again in January. Let’s get into the show.
Today we’re talking about how to spot a bad web design agency before you invest your money. Is that right, Lyndsay?
Yes. We wanted to in this episode because so many business owners have had a bad experience with a web design agency, haven’t they?
We hear it all the time.
We’re not a good industry.
We actually had a discovery call with one of our members in our community. She said in the past finding a web designer you can trust or even recommend is really difficult. That made us kind of sad.
Yeah. We cried that night.
I know. We did. No. I mean we have friends who are web designers. We’re not all at each other’s throats. We might be competition, but we know ourselves some really good web designers. We’re part of a community called Agency Trailblazer run by the wonderful Lee Jackson, who’s a fantastic web designer.
We love you, Lee.
We love you, Lee. The community there is full of amazing people. We know that good web designers exist. We know plenty of them ourselves. It’s just why aren’t people finding them?
Yeah, exactly, because we know they are out there. We absolutely do. We’re part of our own membership community that Lee Jackson runs for agency owners. There are people in there that are constantly looking at ways to improve their business and improve their client’s websites as well, but why is it that people actually struggle to find them? If there are so many out there, which we know that there are, then what is the problem?
I think it’s a really interesting one because I don’t think people actually struggle to find a good agency, although that’s how they perceive it. I think people struggle to actually find the right agency for them and I think that’s the real issue really with it. Sometimes when people say they’ve had a bad experience with a web design agency, it can mean they haven’t found the right agency for what they need. Take us. We’re probably a bad agency for some people, although we shouldn’t really say that, should we? But we are.
If someone wants a lot of handholding and they don’t even want to touch their website once it’s live, they want someone to do the text and image changes and writing blog posts and all that kind of stuff and they need that much support, that’s not what we do. We work with people that are quite proactive, who want to learn and don’t mind getting their hands dirty. We support them through training videos and emails. We don’t just leave, but we want them to get stuck in. That means we’d make a terrible agency for some people because some people need that level of support.
Of course. Yeah. I mean if you take for instance somebody who just refuses to do anything, often they’re see clients, if they’re not prepared to market their business, I understand that marketing’s important, then absolutely don’t hire us as your web design agency.
Even if they’re a big business and they essentially want to throw 20, 30, 40 grand day and they need someone to manage their marketing on that sort of level, there are only two of us, so we’re not the right agency for them in that sense. Yeah, there’s loads of different factors really. I remember speaking to a florist who said she’d wish she’d gone with us and that’s not being big-headed. The website that she had was fine, but she had her website designed by a big agency. I think she spent a lot of money on it. A lot, a lot of money. This agency worked with big players like BBC and Cadbury.
They specialize in so many different areas, but what she actually needed was just a great looking website that ranked her locally for her keywords. She was annoyed because she felt like she paid a lot of money. The problem was the agency just wasn’t right for her. It was too big for her business almost.
Yeah, exactly. People get drawn in by these big industry leaders. We’ve worked with BBC. We’ve worked with Virgin. We’ve worked with Barclays. People think, “Oh, well, if they’ve helped them, they can help me,” but actually a big agency like that is right for those kind of businesses. They’ll be there if you need them to. They’ll have the company retreats. They’ll have bean bag chairs and coffee machines. They’ll wow you. But for a little small business, you just need someone that gives a crap about your business. Somebody who’s prepared to ask you what you want to achieve and that’s why there is such a problem out there in the industry.
It’s that people hire because of the big shiny things and they don’t actually hire the agency that’s right for them based on exactly what they need and that’s what you’re saying really.
Yeah. Essentially yeah. Definitely. Definitely. Really the problem can actually stem from both sides. The agency might not be clear who they’re a right fit for. We take the responsibility personally to say, “Look, we’re probably not the right fit for you.” Usually in our website and in our content marketing we say who we’re kind of not the right fit for and who we are the right fit for, but some agencies don’t do that. In the case of the florist, the agency might have or should have arguably said, “We might not be the right agency for you,” but it’s kind of your call whether really they should have said that.
What can you do if you’re looking for an agency then? How can you spot these signs to know if they are the right agency for you?
I think be very, very clear about what you need. Take the time to establish what support you want from an agency, what kind of agency you want to work with. You want to work with a big fancy agency? Then it’s fine. If you want to work with a local freelancer, that’s fine too. Take the time to understand the differences between them and the sort of plus points and sort of negatives of working with both. Just identify what is important to you. You could want to rank highly in search results. Then an agency with SEO knowledge is going to be important. You have to think about all these things. What is actually important to you.
If you’re a luxury brand and design is absolutely everything and you want it to be absolutely perfect, then find an agency for that. Just think about your business and how it’s unique and try and find an agency that really sort of fits with that.
Yeah, great point. Okay. Fantastic. This is why we actually wrote the Website Buyer’s Guide, isn’t it?
We wanted to give our listeners and our website visitors a tool so that they can go out and find a web designer that’s right for them. This absolutely isn’t just kind of a sales pitch tool that we use. It is actually pretty useful. We put quite a lot of time and effort into it for you to sit down and go through the Website Buyer’s Guide before you even think about hiring a web designer or even speaking to a web designer. You may go into like Lyndsay said thinking, “I just want a website that looks incredible.”
Then you pay out a few thousand pound for this amazing website by this award-winning designer and then you can’t rank in Google or they don’t know what they’re doing in terms of content marketing. We see that quite a lot.
We do. Yes. Yeah. It’s a good point about the Buyer’s Guide because I think a lot of people might think that yeah, we just promote us, but we don’t because like we said, we’re a right fit for some people, we’re a wrong fit for some people, so it is quite an impartial guide. If you are looking for a web design agency, then definitely check that out.
Absolutely. But there are still a few warning signs that you can use as indicators even if you don’t actually take a look at the Buyer’s Guide. You can actually have a plan when you’re out there looking for a web designer. Is that right?
Yeah. There are some kind of indicators of a terrible web designer should I say or perhaps one that you might not want to work with or consider perhaps delving into doing a bit more research on definitely. We are a packed industry. There’s web design agency industries. There’s thousands of us. Probably millions of us. There are going to be some bad ones are out there. That’s inevitable. We’ve made a little list really of things to look out for in terms of a bad web designer. I suppose the first one would be if they have a bad website.
Yup. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?
That’s always a clear indicator, but it’s amazing actually how many people do sort of go with web designers who have bad websites.
I think it’s partly down to the fact that they might be friends. They might be kind of word of mouths. Someone’s said, “Oh, you should go with them. I know them. They’ve been to my networking group that I go to every Wednesday morning.” People naturally want to recommend people, but yeah, clearly a bad website should be a bit of a warning sign.
Yeah, exactly. Another one is no access to a content management system and this really, really irritates both myself and Martin because we …
More so you. You get really angry about it.
I get really angry about it because we’ve talked to so many business owners who say, “I want to make a change.” It could be a simple change of a word on their website, but they are not allowed access to the backend of their website. If you’re searching for a website, ask the web designer, “Do I get access to the content management system?” You should get access to it. If not, pay for the access to it because it’s going to work out a lot better in the long run because you don’t want to be making small changes and being charged a horrendous amount for doing so. It just makes people so angry and I totally get why.
Absolutely. This is something that we find with really kind of like codey web designers. “We want to hard code everything and you’re just a business owner. You shouldn’t be accessing the website. If you want me to do it, I’ll do it for you and I’ll make sure you don’t break anything.” But there is a balance there. You should have access to be able to make basic changes such as text changes. I want to add an image. I might want to change some information on the contact page. You should be able to do the bare minimum without having to pay for a web designer to do it.
But I would say that most of the things on your website obviously you probably have to pay for to update if you want to change the layout or the images. But if you don’t have any access at all, that’s a bad sign there.
Yeah, definitely. Yeah, of course, there’s some things. If you’ve had purposefully designed your homepage and you’ve got actual specialist designs that are bespoken from scratch, that’s kind of hard for you to change. You should be able to go in, edit the text, maybe change some images on your further pages on your website. Maybe add further pages and things like that. You should be able to do those things, so certainly ask your web designer about that. It is sometimes a way of some web designers making extra money.
That they can charge you when you need to change your telephone number or something ridiculous like that. Make sure you do have access. Another thing is the use of jargon which we see all the time which irritates us. HTML and CSS and PHP. If web designers are mentioning all these things on their websites and you’re like, “Oh, this sounds very technical. This sounds very confusing-
These guys must be right for me.
… These guys know what they’re talking about,” then they just don’t have respect for you because they’re not explaining things in a way that you will understand. It’s like when I go to a garage, or both us, a car garage because we know nothing about cars, do we?
No. I’m not even ashamed to say that I know nothing.
Nothing. If the guy was like, “There’s something wrong with the left falange, you need to pay £500,” we’d be like, “Oh, okay. I don’t know what that is, so I’m just going to pay it,” but you kind of feel like you were being ripped off a bit I think. It’s kind of the same thing with web designers. We do get into this sort of or I’ve seen a lot of web designers get into this sort of codey language on their website. There’s no need for it at all.
I don’t actually understand why they do it. I mean it’s just crazy. It’s like when people put on the wrappers the ingredients. It comes with all of this like blah, blah, blah.
All the different names for sugar.
Yeah, exactly. It’s like I don’t really care about it. Just tell me exactly is it healthy? Is it not healthy? This is part of the problem with using language like this is because they know that you don’t know what it means. It’s just they put it in there to make themself, “Oh, well, we’re specialists because we know what this jargon means.” I can’t remember the last time we mentioned HTML or CSS on our website because it doesn’t actually mean anything to anybody, so it’s a waste of space. We are quite pretentious about that I think. We don’t want to waste any space on our website. Why would we put something on there that has no relevance to anybody?
I think it might even be an ego thing for them.
I think so.
They want to impress other web designers, but if a web designer’s got other web designers in mind or other designers in mind and not you, then that’s not the kind of person that you want to work with. That’s something to think about definitely. Another thing that a lot of web design agencies do for some strange reason is not put their faces on their business.
Hermits. Yeah. They are hermity. A lot of them. It’s difficult I think when you’re looking at a website and you can’t actually see who you’re going to work with. It’s kind of off-putting and you don’t really know who it is. Sometimes they’ll put cartoon images and things like that, but it’s very, very difficult I think not to see sort of who someone is. They’ll kind of hide away. I’d just do some further digging as to what kind of agency they are. I wouldn’t say it was a major point, but I would say do some further research.
I think people naturally are a little bit more timid about putting their face on their website like many of the listeners to the show. It’s just if you’re going to be picking up the phone and speaking to somebody, every time you phone, every time you want a question about your website or you need some help with it, you’re probably going to be speaking maybe one or two different people. What’s wrong with actually showing your face on your website?
More often than not, we see agencies do this all the time where they’ll just use like big agency stock images or they’ll use like a weird video that makes it feel like it’s this big exclusive agency when really it’s just Jenny who … She started up a web design agency in the back of her Truman. That’s all well and good if you’re open and honest about it.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean Jenny might be perfect for some people. But if she’s pretending to be a big large web design agency, then that’s not going to work because you think you’re investing in one thing when actually you’re not.
Exactly. It’s more misleading than anything else, which is exactly why we wanted to include it in the list.
Yeah, definitely. Another thing is sort of using an obscure content management system. Now what we mean by that is using a kind of content management system, so the backend of your website, that hasn’t really been heard of before. Now you may have heard of things like Magento, WordPress, Shopify, things like that, Joomla, and that’s fine if you’ve heard of those things. But if you’ve not heard of the content management system, just do a little bit more research. The reason we use WordPress is because it’s so popular and well-trusted.
If you have a problem with your website and me and Martin get hit by a bus, I don’t know why we’re getting hit by a bus, but let’s say we get hit by a bus.
Are you planning on it? She is the most skeptical I must admit.
It means that you can actually google a problem about … Someone on the internet will have answered the question about WordPress because it is so popular. Agencies that use sort of very specialist content management systems, quite unique ones, you’re reliant on them a bit more to help you. You haven’t got that outside resource. You can’t just go to YouTube and watch loads of videos and things like that to actually help you with it. You are relying on them a lot more. That can be a little bit of a warning sign, but as I said, it’s not a major point.
You just want to do a little bit more research on that content management system that they’re using.
Because it kind of ties you in. I mean we remember a few years ago actually when we used to like bid for work and stuff like that and go up against other agencies. There was an agency that used something … I don’t even think I heard of it, but they insisted that all of the websites they built … This was a big agency. Clearly they just wanted to tie you in. They knew that most people will be out there recommending WordPress. If they built on this obscure content management system that nobody ever heard of, then it would literally tie you in.
If you ever wanted to leave, other web designers don’t do it, so you’ll have to pay them the £500 a year hosting fees, whatever they were charging.
That’s a really good point because if you need to leave them, move to another agency, we’ve had people come to us who have a WordPress website and we can kind of take it over and look at it. But if you have a really obscure content management system, a web designer might say, “You know, I’m not used to this,” it becomes more difficult definitely.
Another one is having a questionable portfolio. Check out the web designer’s portfolio. Have a look at the kind of websites that they’re designing. As you go on the websites themselves, do have an understanding that when people take over their websites, they can change it. What the web designers featured on their portfolio can look different on the actual website if the owner of the website has changed some certain elements, but you’ll get a sense really of what kind of level they’re at, what kind of websites they’re designing, what kind of industries they also specialize in as well. If they do a lot luxury brand websites and you’re a luxury brand, perfect.
That’s starting to look quite good. But if they do something completely different, if they do a lot of online shops and you’re something else, then you might just want to have a look at that really.
If they’re ticking a lot of boxes for you and the one kind of problem might be the portfolio, then reach out to them and say, “Is this up to date?” Because we know ourselves, finding the time to update your portfolio can be tricky. We’ve got loads of websites that we’ve built over the past six months and we’ve not just had the time to add them. It might be worth actually reaching out to some of these agencies and saying, “Look, I’m a personal brand or I own an online shop. I see that you sell online shops, but I can’t see any on your portfolio. Please could you send me a few that you’ve done so that I can actually have a peak?”
There’s nothing wrong with that. It shows that you’re interested and you’re doing your research and you’re being due diligent.
The web designer will appreciate it because they’ll go, “I really need to update my portfolio.”
Exactly. Exactly. If they ever get a chance.
Yes. That’s a really, really good point. Yeah. Not to rely on it completely. Just to actually ask as well. That’s a really good point. Another problem that a lot of people have with agencies is there’s no kind of discovery phase is what a lot of agencies call it.
This is so important.
What we call it too. If an agency or a freelancer doesn’t really talk about how they’re going to find out more about your business and what we mean by this is we have a discovery phase with our clients where we talk about who’s your target audience, what do you want to achieve from your website, what kind of goals do you have for your business in the next five years. We delve into all about their brand and all about their business. We really get to know a lot about them in this phase. The only way that you can design a good website for a business is by doing this discovery.
If a web designer doesn’t really indicate that they do that, that’s kind of a warning sign really that they’re not very invested in your business.
This is something you’ll tend to find when you start spending a little bit more on your website. The agency that you hire for £500 might not even know what a discovery phase is. Whereas the agency that might charge 5,000 might actually understand that this is a vital aspect to the web design process. It’s funny because when we do discovery phase, sometimes due to clients going on holiday, things like that, we could get delayed up to six months when we’re building a website.
It makes it great because if a client’s ready to go live with their website and we say, “But in the discovery phase you wanted a video live brought into your website. We’ve got it written down here,” and they’re like, “Oh yeah. I did want that,” and then we can build it for them and it worked well.
But if you don’t have a discovery phase and you’re completely reliant on, “This is what you said you want via this email and this is fine. That’s what I’ve built for you,” and you’ll be like, “Well, I’ve got all of these amazing business goals and these big ideas,” but you’re not going to get a website potentially that will allow you to do that unless you have a really in depth discussion with your web designer before you hire them.
Yeah, definitely. I would actually say just as a caveat really, it really does depend on how much you’re spending. I mean if you have a budget for 300 quid, you’ve got to be realistic. You can’t expect someone to spend hours trying to understand your business because then they’re going to be on, I don’t know, four quid an hour or something.
Might as well work at Marky’s.
Yeah, by the time they’ve actually finished everything. You do have to be a bit more realistic with that. But if you are spending a bit more money, then it’s something that I would expect from a web design agency certainly.
That’s quite interesting actually because it brings us quite nicely onto pricing. Is there anything pricing related that we can look for on an agency’s website?
We are huge believers of putting our prices on our website, even just an indicator because our prices vary depending on what people need, and people need a lot of extra things going into their website, which adds the price on, but we have a minimum package that we sort of advertise on our website. A lot of web designers don’t display their prices on their website. It annoys me, but I won’t say that it’s an indicator of a bad web designer because it isn’t.
It’s just so like you kind of think people copy each other. People are like, “I can’t really give a price because it’s a bespoke service and it depends on what you need,” but what you’re saying is, “Give people an indicator.” That’s all.
I would like it if web designers gave people an indicator, but they don’t. But what really irritates me and sort of shows me that you’re a bad web designer is when web designers make you jump through hoops for prices. I mean if someone gets in touch if someone calls, if you call a web designer and you kind of don’t still have an indicator of price after that phone call, that initial phone call or email, then it’s very, very difficult I think to start trusting them. If they want to have more meetings with you, if they want to have like three or four meetings before they actually give you a price, that’s going to be very, very irritating for you.
I think it’s a big warning sign really. I only say this because I used to work for a university and I had to find a website. I had a budget. I was going to quite large agencies. Actually getting a price out of them was so difficult. In the end, it was just sort of they were asking, “Well, what’s your budget? What’s your budget? What’s your budget,” and all they wanted to know was what was my maximum and then they said, “Oh, believe it or not, that’s exactly how much we’re going to charge.” That process took about four weeks and it was just so irritating. It was just very, very awkward for me.
It’s because they don’t respect your time as much as they respect theirs. It’s this old fashion sales mentality, which is tell me what you can afford and I will work out a deal for you. There is a simple way to do this. Just say, “Look, I don’t know what I’m supposed to pay for a website. I don’t even have a budget in mind. What is the average, what is the minimum that generally you take on clients for?” You can ask these kind of questions. I’m not going to tie you into anything, but I don’t have a clue. I don’t have the foggiest how much it should cost for a website.
We find a lot of people have said that to us in the past and that’s exactly why we put a minimum price on there. We are a lot more expensive than some other agencies, so it would make no sense whatsoever for us to just have an hour long conversation with every single person if we know that they literally don’t have that much money.
Yeah, definitely. Oh, sorry. I think as well that’s a really good point about you asking what the average is because if someone ask what our average price for a website is, we’d be able to answer them within the click of our fingers really, giving them sort of an approximate average, but yeah. When a web design agency is looking to take you through lots of hoops for prices, that’s when it gets difficult. Understandably, they have to understand what exactly what you need because a basic website is very different if someone needs a lot of extra sort of software or extra sort of page designs and things like that.
That does add on to the price. You’ve got to expect a web designer maybe to ask you some probing questions, but if it’s taking a lot of time, certainly if it’s taking weeks, then that’s a sign that they’re not respecting you as Martin said. These are just a few things that may give you an indication of what kind of web designer someone is, but the best thing for you to do is to try and find someone who is going to move your business forward and who you can actually connect with and have a good kind of relationship with. I mean our clients, we’re actually quite close to our clients, aren’t we, because we find out so much about their business, don’t we?
Yeah, exactly. It’s just a more enjoyable agency for us to run I suppose. That’s why we do it that way. But like you say, a lot of that comes down to we know you might have these concerns, we know you might be looking at our portfolio, we know you might have a budget in mind, you might not know exactly what you want to spend and that’s exactly why we’re putting off a lot of work into our website to make the communication easier for you to understand as well. It’s exactly why we don’t put HTML and MySQL and all that kind of codey stuff on our website because we always think about our visitors more than we think about our competitors I suppose.
But yeah, those are the things that we found over the years of people … Mistakes that people might make.
Yeah, definitely. Definitely.
Okay. I hope you found this episode useful. I know many of our listeners are building their own websites, so it should help. I hope you found that episode useful. If you are looking for a web design agency, then hopefully there is lots of information in this episode that you’ll be able to use when you’re out there looking for one. Please check out the Website Buyer’s Guide. Again it’s not a sales pitch. It’s a tool that you have to be able to print off and go through and take your time with because a website’s such a big money investment, but also a massive time investment as well. You don’t want to make a bad buying decision.
Hope you found that episode useful. If you are not a part of our free Facebook group, then feel free to check it out. Every Wednesday afternoon we do some free website critiques where we review your website for around 10 minutes telling you what you can do to improve it. We’d love you to check it out, if you go to jammydigital.com/facebook. That’s it for today’s episode. See you next time on the Make Your Mark Online Podcast.