How to hire a web designer - Stuff you should know

How to Hire a Web Designer

How to Hire a Website Designer

Hiring the right web designer or developer or marketer has become a very important, yet confusing task for business today. Reaching your audience is much more complex than putting an ad in the local paper, magazine or yellow pages. Today’s clients consume information through many channels and most of those channels pass through some sort of electronic device – a computer, tablet or mobile phone, with more smart devices being developed daily. The common element linking all the channels together is your website. Your website is the anchor to which all your marketing should be tethered. 

In this article we will cover the roles and overlap of different web designers, developers and marketers, how they organize in companies, or not, and the pros and cons of each type of company organization. We will also set out some basic skills anybody you hire to build your website should have.

Web Designers, Developers and Marketers

Website Designers

Traditionally, website designers are the folks that look after your visuals and overall visual impact your website has on your potential client. The first website designers where really web developers, “code monkeys” who were drawn to little bits of shiny code that would make something blink, move, change colour or resize as the user interacted with the element. The designs were garish and for the most part awful. As real graphic designers got involved, the designs became more pleasing to the eye. Things like focus, line length, line spacing, font choice and colour schemes became an integral part of website design and finally what we call a user interface, UI, was born, rendering a user experience, UX.

Web Developers

Web developers are the guys that write the code that makes the information in your website render in a browser. As the graphic designers got involved, in the internet, developers had to learn about all the things listed above like, fonts, images, focus, etc. They also had to learn about connecting to an audience. Many developers added graphic design to their skill set offering clients a broader and more rounded approach to website building. As marketers became involved in the web, developers had to find ways to record data for market research to refine designs and layouts to perform better.

Search Engine Marketers

When Google was young, web developers used tactics that capitalized on the Google algorithm to move web pages to the top of search engine results (SERPs). These tactics were very effective until algorithm updates rendered many tactics useless and some counter-productive. At this point, search engine marketers, with websites that had long-term marketing goals began to dominate the SERPs, companies that focused on traditional market research and reactions, instead of low-level tactics and spam, began to be rewarded for their efforts. Constant redevelopment of website assets based on market research, became the norm.

Overlapping Play

Consumers today are a savvy bunch, they spend countess hours researching and comparing products in order to find the best fit and best value to suit their needs. The truth of this is borne out by the fact that 80% of all searches are informational in nature leaving only 20% to be navigational (searching for a specific place or website) or transactional (trying to buy something). So if you want to capture users’ attention you have provide information on your product in the hopes of building trust and rapport with potential clients, so when it comes time to purchase, they think of you first.

So how does this affect website designers, web developers and search engine marketers above?

At the very least, designers, developers and marketers; each must understand the goals of the other two and learn to work in concert. Web designers need to understand the limitations and best practices of web developers and bow to research provided by marketers. Developers must be able to create code that gives marketers the data they need while maintaining speed (especially on mobile) and be able to render designs on differing screens sizes while maintaining the overall design focus. Lastly, marketers need to understand user interaction with design and limitations of code. They also need to understand coding time and coding costs which can be long and expensive…it would be great to have an application that asks users everything and leads them to a choice of curated products, but if the application takes 2000 man hours to build at a cost of $200,000, well, it might not be worth it to many website owners.

Different Organizational Structures

Organizational Structures to deal with all this over-lapping diverse sets of needs fall into 4 main categories:

  1. Website Marketing Firm
  2. Domestic Freelance Marketers
  3. Sales & Management of Off-shore Website Workers
  4. Off-Shore Website Workers

Each organizational structure represented in these categories can build a website for you. They each have pros and cons which I will present to help you try to decide what type of web designer is the best fit for you.

Website Marketing Firm

These guys do it all. They have specialized staff that takes care of every aspect of the website build and the marketing post build. They have project managers and department managers that make sure everything is done correctly and customer service reps to make sure you are happy.

Pros:

  • each team member is very good at what they do
  • they are large enough to do their own market research
  • they have probably dealt in your industry before…this ain’t their first rodeo.
  • if a team member becomes unavailable, someone can take their place (and still do a good job)
  • they are likely solvent and will remain with you for a long time
  • they have resources freelancers cannot afford

Cons:

  • lots of overhead, which translates into bigger overall costs
  • small website changes take time to propagate through their corporate structure
  • there could be a high turnover in team members
  • billable hours are always logged or limited to budget

Domestic Freelance Marketers

These guys have a very good understanding of all the aspects of building a website in their head. They design with code and marketing in mind. They react quickly to change and don’t need a lot of clients to survive.

Pros:

  • cheaper than large firms because there are no management layers.
  • react quickly to changes in search engines or markets.
  • they probably belong to freelance groups where they can glean ideas and diverse experience.
  • they are probably very dedicated, this is not just a job for them, it is who they are.
  • they probably have only 3 to 10 clients so they can give you individualized attention.
  • you are always dealing with the guy that does the work.
  • they have a good understanding of the overlapping play of website needs.
  • they usually bill by the project not by the hour.

Cons:

  • if they become unavailable, you have to move to another provider or wait.
  • you don’t know if they know 5 times more than you do or 50 times more.
  • you have to be aware of what they are doing for you, you are the only quality control.
  • they depend on outside market data.
  • they simply cannot do it all, something will be outsourced.
  • may not be able to scale to accomidate large jobs.

There is a sub-group to this category, that is the husband/wife/family team where the work is divvied up, each to their nature. This grouping often works well and has advantages of both the marketing firm and freelance operators.

Sales & Management of Off-shore Website Workers

These guys are basically sales people who collect work and outsource all of it to countries like India, China and The Philippines  where the work is done. They probably speak the language of the off-shore workers and have pretty good English.

Pros:

  • cheaper than domestic freelancers.
  • fast turnaround on projects.
  • able to scale to small or large jobs quickly.
  • large pool of team members to draw from.

Cons:

  • doesn’t have a full understanding of the overlapping play of website requirements.
  • you cannot reach the person who is doing the work to explain what you want.
  • designers do not understand your language and culture.
  • you are never certain of the quality of coding.
  • large turnover in workers.

Off-Shore Website Workers

You usually encounter these guys through a cold-call email that offers to build a 5-page website in 3 days for $299.00 and they will.

Pros:

  • very cheap.
  • fast turnaround on initial project.

Cons:

  • changes may never get done after the initial build.
  • worker may disappear – forever.
  • coding quality may be poor.
  • no attention to marketing.
  • may actually be a scam to gain access to your domain for other uses.
  • no understanding of your language or culture.

How to Hire a Web Designer – an Educated Perspective

If you made it this far, thank you, this started out to be a 750 word post, but needs must…

You are now, hopefully much more educated on the interplay of the different aspects of creating a website and the types of workers you can get to accomplish this task for you. I just wanted to expand on some of the points above.

Large Marketing Firms charge 2 to 3 times what Freelancers do, it is necessary. Their online reputation is important to them and they will work hard to keep it clean. In my opinion, if they do not do everything in-house, they should control the design, outsource the coding because there are a lot of really good coders in Eastern Europe that can work for 35% to 50% of what it would cost to do in North America or Western Europe. Content writing should be done in-house. Marketing like AdWords, Google Analytics and Search Console should be in-house and never outsourced. If you can afford it, this is your best option.

Domestic Freelance Operators should always offer marketing. If they do not, they are going from job to job with no recurring income. This is a model for disaster. Additionally, by doing the marketing portion of the website, they gain valuable insight into the website build. Freelancers usually can do everything, but there just isn’t time, unless they are servicing less than 5 clients. Even at 4 or 5 clients freelancers are outsourcing something. Most outsource their weakest skill set, like content writing, graphic design or social media. In my opinion freelancers should keep design and marketing in-house at all costs, and if possible the coding also. Quality social media and content writing are available in North America and Europe at reasonable pricing and can be controlled easily because the deliverables are easily seen.

Sales and Management of Off-shore Website Workers can offer good quality websites at reasonable prices – if this is all the domestic sales agent is doing, he probably has a good handle on what needs to be done. He can usually deliver a website at half to one-third of the price of a domestic freelancer. Unfortunately, many times the guy you’re dealing with is doing this on the side and you end up with a Clark Kent rather than a Superman. He really doesn’t understand what needs to be done and really doesn’t know if his team abroad is doing a good job or not. If you decide to go this route, be sure you know who you are dealing with.

Off-shore Website Workers are hit and miss at best. The design phase of your project is usually sub-par because the designers really do not understand western culture. I was hired to recreate a website for the Chinese culture selling high-end services. After 2 days of research and some time talking with an educated Chinese national I happened to know, I decided I would not be able to do a good job – I could just not “get” the culture. As far as coding goes, you really don’t know what you are getting, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly come for off-shore coders. As an business owner, you won’t know.

Basic Skill Set

The basic skill set for anyone you hire to build your website is:

  • Ability to code HTML and CSS and a basic understanding of JavaScript and PHP.
  • Understand basic design concepts of connecting to an audience.
  • Understanding of On-site SEO basics – see related article: On-site SEO Basics Guide
  • Better than average written language skills.
  • Good understanding of keyword research – see related article: Keyword Research Tips 
  • Some understanding of Google Analytics.
  • A good knowledge of Google Search Console.
  • Some AdWords experience.
  • The ability to connect the above Google Properties.

The ability to implement and connect Google properties may not be used by you in the beginning but at some point be required and it will be good to have the data collected and stored.

Conclusion

I hope you have a better understanding of the diverse requirements needed to build a website and the different types of organizations that can accomplish this in varying degrees and this helps you in the future in making your decision in who to hire to build your website for you.

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