When the internet was very young back in the early 2000's before the launch of all the DIY website builders such as Wordpress, Joomla and prior to the launch of the online "build your own website" sites such as WIX, Weebly there where just a handfull full of genuine web design companies around, why? because web design was a skill and without drag and drop software or pre-built themes that simply got filled in web developers had to know HTML and be able to write it from scratch, unfortunately because of this fees where higher and only the largest companies had an online presence.
Fast forward to 2017 and every small town never mind large city, has 100's of self proclaimed expert web designers touting for business, prices are at an all time low compared to the early days of the internet and even one man band businesses have a company website, but is this a good thing?
Whilst it's a good thing for the consumer that web design prices have come down considerably and there's now a larger selection of web designers to choose from there is also a greater chance of falling foul to a rogue company or simply choosing a bad independent web designer.
The success of the DIY website builders such as Wordpress, Joomla and sites such as WIX, Weebly now means that anyone can offer web design services regardless of their skill level, web designers no longer need to learn how to code to tap into a lucrative market they simply need to choose a piece of software or choose an online site builder and learn to use it much in the same way as an office worker learns to use Word or Excel so that they can be better at their job. Of course this isn't professional web design and no one would knowingly pay one of these "have a go" web designers to put together a website that they could put together themselves using the same piece of software or website? Would they?
The truth is that these amateur designers prey upon people's lack of knowledge of the web design industry and most people don't even realise they have been taken for a ride until it's too late and some people only find out after their site has launched when someone they know with a little more knowledge of the industry informs them.
Now this behaviour isn't limited to small agencies or independent web designers, in fact there are more large companies operating like this than small companies and independents, you know the companies I'm talking about, the large telesales driven web design companies that cold call every small business in the phone book, the one's constantly looking for new telesales staff after their current staff develop a conscience, these are not web designers they are teams of salesmen and your website - that you almost certainly paid over the odds for - will be thrown together by an office junior using drag and drop software or be outsourced offshore for a pittance and what you typically get is a poorly put together website that performs appallingly in the search results.
1. Avoid cold calling companies. If you want a new website then you should go looking for a decent web design company yourself. Salesmen are merely there to close the deal as quickly as possible, usually with "today only" offers and deals, what they don't want you doing is going away and doing a little research on them. A rule of thumb is to avoid anyone that cold calls you.
2. Check out online feedback and reviews. As a rule I'd say ignore reviews on their own website - these are easy to fake - Instead go to Google or some other some independent source where reviewers are checked out and confirmed genuine people... Most companies no matter how good they are may have the odd disgruntled client, however if a majority of reviews are negative then it's a good idea to avoid this company.
3. Check the quality and professionalism of their company website. These people are web designers - or claim to be - so their own web site should be aesthetically pleasing, quick to load and be mobile responsive - adapt to the screen size of any device - If you see any errors, faults or the website just looks bad and dated then avoid.
Another thing you should check that is not always apparent on initial viewing is whether they have in fact built their own website - This sounds crazy I know but there are so called web design agencies out their using software or site builders for their company website - these people are meant to be professional web designers yet they haven't even built their own website so are you going to trust them to build yours?
This is a little harder to check out but on most browsers CTRL+U will show the sites source code, look for tell tail software/site builder markers in URL's, things like "wpcontent", "Wix" etc...
4. Check out their portfolio. A web design company or independent web designer should have an up to date portfolio of work for you to view - including links to genuine websites, not just pictures of websites - A portfolio can tell you a lot about a company or a designer, do all their sites look the same, just in different colours? Then this is what you'll get as it's probably a template they have.
Do the sites in their portfolio look old or dated? Do some have dead links? This tells you that its not their full time job and any work they get from web design is extra cash for holiday's etc, avoid these individuals as your website will probably be outdated when it launches, web design changes all the time, trends change, compliance changes, Google guidelines change, so a web designer must be current and up to date, web design cannot be a part time or side job.
If you can't find their portfolio, two things could have happened, they don't want to showcase their work, meaning it's bad and they know it's bad - this is common with telesales driven companies as they are only interested in you signing up, once they have your money and the salesman has his/her commission they'll churn of any old rubbish. Or, they do have a portfolio but their website and menu structure is so poorly put together it's almost impossible to find.. ..Either way avoid these companies.
5. Always ask for a detailed proposal.. No web design company or independent web designer should be charging for quotations, proposals or meetings, any which attempt to, stay clear of, this is not a ridiculous notion as I've heard of it happening... Also, a proposal should be detailed and explain exactly how your website will function, this is another dig at sales driven web design companies - these really are the worst - where a salesman will promise you an all singing all dancing website to get you to sign on the dotted line then you end up with a basic website with limited functionality that's not even worth a fraction of what you paid, but without a detailed proposal saying what you where supposed to be getting there isn't a lot you can do about it.
I hope these points stop a few people getting taking for a ride by unscrupulous, dodgy web design companies and independent have a go designers.