January 2, 2021

4 Crucial Factors to Check Before Contracting a Web Design Agency

In short, a website that doesn't meet all three criteria is in need of serious improvement:

a. The design has to be very good;

b. GTMetrix speed: Grade A (or with a score of 95+);

c. Use VPS and set up server-level caching, security and backup

Longer explanation:

Many business owners would just contract a web design and development agency to do the work. Since not all web agencies are born equal, business owners should consider 4 factors before contracting an agency to avoid endless pains down the road:

1. Does the Agency Have a Good Taste of Beauty?

Many websites out there are simply ugly, which boosts the bouncing rate -- visitors closing off your page upon looking at it. This negatively impacts your business and nothing (neither speed nor features) will compensate for this pitfall.

But one question to ask first: What steps have you taken to train your eyes to appreciate beauty? You should first look at dozens of good websites similar to your business, and get a clear sense of your wants and things to avoid. Pay attention to the fine details and compare them against the portfolio websites listed by web design agencies.

2. What are the GTMetrix Scores of the Agency's Website?

Trying to narrow down your semifinal agency list? Please do yourself a favor by putting each agency's website address into GTMetrix and Google PageSpeed to see the scores. Anything below grade A requires some explanation/investigation because website speed has become one of the most important factors in Google ranking.

GTMetrix score

"Content is king" type of argument could be made where slower websites still ranked higher when the content is gold, but this argument should not discredit a simple truth: an agency's inability or negligence to build a clean and super fast website is a disservice to the customer's real yet unexpressed needs.

3. Which Hosting Company and Server Management Infrastructure?

This is the single most important question you should ask because it determines three crucial aspects: speed, safety, and security.

Shared hosting should be avoided at all costs; also avoid anyone promoting shared hosting because they receive a commission to promote something they also avoid using. Countless customers have approached us with speed complaints, which were mitigated when we moved their sites to a VPS (or VPC or EC2, which simply means a dedicated virtual machine that you have full access to, namely, the root access or the admin rights to execute "sudo su").

The agency should also disclose what control panel they'd use. cPanel is the most popular, but merely a mediocre choice due to its lack of backup features and vulnerabilities out of the box. It requires complex server security knowledge and skills to make it really secure, which most web design agencies don't possess.

cPanel interface
cPanel interface

The downside to using cPanel would be your website vulnerable to bad bots and hackers, potential data loss due to backups always taking extra steps and extra plugin setups, and hence slower speed given at least 4 to 5 additional plugins are required.

At RT Media, we use GridPane's Developer's plan. Disclosure: no affiliation or commissions whatsoever. It is costly for very strong reasons: many layers of server-level security, sever-level local backup with automatic remote backup to S3 or Wasabi, server-level caching and purging via Redis, etc.

GridPane interface

In other words, GridPane completely eliminates (and outperforms) the following plugins: Updraftplus (or its alternatives), Wordfence (or its alternatives), WP Rocket/Swift Performance (or its alternatives), etc. In just a few clicks, it creates servers, backs up and migrates sites, and secures them through site tuning, hardening, and cutting-edge technology such as 7G firewall.

4. What SEO Tools and Strategies to Use When Building Your Site?

"Content is king" type of argument should now raise a red flag for its purposeful avoidance of your legitimate inquiry: While I produce good content, what are the concrete steps to boost my Google ranking, especially when I have dozens or hundreds of posts?

While SEO could be very complicated, merely following the top and simple rules consistently will be more than enough. Acceptable answers may include a short explanation of tags and attributes automatically set up for your posts, and at least an hour of training on the best practice to follow.

Additional Questions to Ask

Since most agencies offer a free consultation, after filling out their web design questionnaires, you should ask them questions. You're good to go with any agency if those 4 questions are answered to your satisfaction. Additional questions may :

  • Can you brief me on your solutions to my digital needs? Specific things to consider: contact or application forms, chatbot automation, leads and contacts management, web security, updates and maintenance, social medial management, etc.
  • Can you guarantee my website to get near-100 scores on GTMetrix and Google PageSpeed?
  • Can you guarantee the aesthetics of my site is on par with the similar sites I provided?
  • Can you guarantee my satisfaction after delivery -- will refining and retouching of the tiny details here and there on the frontend design included in the original cost?
  • Can you guarantee hacker-free and zero downtime for my site with daily (or hourly) backups if you charge a small monthly fee for site maintenance?

Some final thoughts...

WordPress? Most small business websites are built on WordPress. Even some top players in various industries (especially SaaS) use WordPress for the frontend. If built correctly, without caching or premium CDN, a WordPress site can be just as fast as Vue.js or its alternatives. Hence this rule: If an iOS or Android presence is not crucial to your business at this moment, you should use WordPress.

If you have an international presence, such as consulting or online teaching that doesn't limit your customers to come from a specific location, you should check if the agencies have put websites on premium CDNs with a cost-effective solution. Akamai and CDNetworks are the most expensive, which may cost at least $300-400 per month (after discount if you know how to get it); Fastly and Google Cloud are cost-friendly and works relatively well in all Asian countries, including China. Cloudflare and AWS Cloudfront are slow in China. However, Cloudflare has a free plan and can work with any CDNs without issue; it is highly recommended.

Fastly and Google Cloud CDN

Fiverr designers are inexpensive, but it's still a waste of time and money if you have a high taste in frontend design. Again, train your own eyes first and look at agencies' portfolios; contract one with guarantees on a high level of aesthetics, security, and SEO strategies.

Please comment below or feel free to contact us if you want to continue the discussion.

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