8 Ways to Tell If You’re Hiring a Great Agency
Let’s be clear: Your website is important.
But it’s only one extension of your organization’s brand. If your website isn’t designed atop a savvy strategy, it will disappoint you. If it isn’t easily manageable, it will frustrate you. And if it isn’t supported—e.g., online marketing, SEO, usability testing, accessibility, good content, etc.—you'll end up waving at your competitors as they pass you by.
Simply put, if your website isn’t done by the best, it won’t be the best. So here’s what we think defines "the best," what separates great agencies from the many mediocre ones...
1. A great agency doesn’t sugarcoat.
You can sniff out a pretender by simply asking a bunch of questions and paying attention to the tone of their answers. Great agencies will speak to you plainly and honestly about what you need—and will explain why you don’t need other things. If you get the sense that a prospective agency is upselling you just to make more money, you’re probably right. Move to the next one.
2. A great agency talks about budget and ROI.
It’s true in Web design as it’s true everywhere else in life: You get what you pay for. Great agencies help you understand how their work will produce tangible, measurable results for your organization. They can prove that their work has led to improvements for other organizations like yours. They don’t spend too long talking in vague abstractions.
3. Great agencies don’t overpromise.
If you ask a prospective agency, “Can you do X for us?” and they answer “yes” every time, they’re not being completely honest. Great work takes time. If you have a 500-page website and an agency promises to deliver it in a month or two, they’ll either (a) not deliver it in a month or two, or (b) deliver something buggy, boilerplate, and ordinary.
4. Great agencies are strategic.
The difference between a “strategy” and a “tactic” has a lot to do with longevity. A strategy is meant to be a guiding set of rules that will help your organization now and well into the future. A strategy is informed and sophisticated and customized. Great agencies think about your organization strategically. They ask themselves, constantly, “What can we do to get this client where they want to be—and keep them there?”
5. Great agencies are collaborative
Nobody knows your organization, your goals, or your audiences like you do. That’s why you should beware of agencies who act as if they already know everything they need to. Great agencies produce quality work because they meld with your internal team. Great agencies have an established Discovery process so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
6. Great agencies have robust project management.
Look at a prospective agencies “Our Staff” page. What percentage of their staff are dedicated to managing projects? It it’s less than 20%, run. If they don’t seem to have anyone with the title “Project Manager” (or similar), run screaming. Great agencies invest heavily in project management because they know it’ll keep your project on time, on budget, and frustration-free.
7. Great agencies are “technology agnostic.”
This means that they don’t pre-select the technology they’ll use for your project. They wait until they’ve gotten into the nitty gritty of your organization before selecting the right content management system (CMS). And red alert: If an agency wants to build your website on a proprietary, closed-source CMS that they built themselves—or which is very rarely used—you should hang up the phone immediately. It’s a trap!
8. Great agencies believe in process.
After 18 years and 600+ websites, we know the steps necessary to produce something elegant and effective. That’s how we’ve carved out our unique process. Ask your prospective agencies about their process. Get detailed. “What do you do first, second, third…?” “What deliverables are associated with each phase of the project?” “How many rounds of revisions during the architecture phase?” Etc. If they stumble over their answers, it’s likely because they’re making them up on the spot.