So it's time to have a website professionally designed. How hard can it be to find a good web design company in a city the size of Edmonton?
Truth be told, you've got your work cut out for you. Edmonton is home to at least 400 individuals and organizations who market themselves as web designers and developers. It's an unregulated trade, so many web designers and web developers are self-taught and work to their own set of standards. Welcome to the wild west!
Now the good news. Edmonton is also home to some of the world's finest web design and development talent. Your challenge is to find them. First of all, let's look at the traits and skill-sets you should identify in a business in order for it to qualify as the best Edmonton web design company for you:
1) Seek the best project management. I'll put this one right up top, because it's the falling down point of most web design companies, especially the majority of freelance operators when it comes to complex projects. If your project is very small and simple, without a concrete delivery date, project management may be less of a concern. Still, about 68% of IT projects are doomed to failure, and the single biggest factor is faulty or neglected project management. Look for a web design company with a highly experienced project manager, preferably with Project Management Professional (PMP) certification and a demonstrable track record of consistently successful outcomes. Include detailed project and deployment plans as part of your deliverables.
2) Start with the best content strategy. This is another hallmark of a well-run web design firm. Content strategy is the planning, development and management of your website's content. If your website is going to be your company's sales engine, you need a web design company that values and can articulate and deliver a successful content strategy.
3) Understand what defines the best user experience. User Experience, or UX, is everything a visitor to your website sees, learns and feels during the session. It includes your navigation's ease of use, the overall feel of your branding, and the style and placement of graphic elements. There are companies whose entire focus is on User Experience, and others that simply have a very strong grasp of it, which will be evident in their work, especially to the target user personas because UX is highly targeted and strategic. Done right, it creates a sense that everything is in exactly the right place, building confidence at every step.
4) Scout out the best designers. This sounds easy enough, but is your biggest challenge of all. I've written before about how rare it is to find a superstar web designer, and the proof is in the websites designed by even some of the most expensive and successful web companies in Edmonton. The vast majority look, um, just like everything else on the web. Great web design must be unique every time, and never boilerplate, because your branding (especially what's seen on your website) must powerfully destinguish you from the competition. One of the most firm directives I give to web designers is that clients come to us for inspired, custom web design work, and we must deliver a unique and appropriate product every single time.
5) Build it right with the best web developers. Even if your web project is not terribly complicated, you want it to be cleanly coded and properly secured. For more sophisticated websites, an excellent development team is a must. Good, experienced web developers know all about the myriad possibilities, and their code looks (and works) much better than that of a novice. A well-built website will be W3C compliant, meaning it is built to a set of global standards, and will incorporate a slew of best practices for security and compatibility. Great developers also use numerous techniques for making a site load quickly and reliably, and are able to add impressive functionality. Not only that, but if your website is poorly built, it can be nearly impossible to find a replacement developer willing to support it, but an expertly developed website is scalable and upgradable.
6) Get the best inbound marketing capabilities. Inbound marketing is the use of social media and blogging in conjunction with targeted landing pages and calls to action. When used effectively, inbound marketing can dramatically increase traffic and improve sales leads. Several Edmonton web design companies consider themselves inbound marketing experts, but few have the in-house design, writing and project management chops to execute inbound campaigns really well.
7) Secure the best price for your budget and needs. What does it cost to design and develop a custom website? You can find web design companies offering to build a website for $1,500 or perhaps even less, but don't expect a lot of marketing expertise, custom design, content strategy or any other key ingredients for that price. To properly conduct discovery, design, plan, write, develop, test and deploy a custom website takes at least 100 hours of multi-disciplinary expertise. For my firm, that means a starting price in the range of $15,000. Other Edmonton web design companies start at $20,000 or even $50,000: those at the high end tend to specialize in large portals or market niches. Don't assume that a high price is a guarantee of success. That's where all the other criteria come in. I've had clients come to me after paying a top Edmonton web design company as much as $100k for a failed project. The good news is that those stories ended well.
8) Don't undervalue integrating the best SEO. Search Engine Optimization, like User Experience and Content Strategy, is a complex and specialized discipline. There are two kinds of SEO that work together hand-in-glove: on-page and off-page. On-page SEO, which is orchestrated within the code of your website's pages (as opposed to citations in web directories and inbound links from social media and external sites) is absolutely foundational to everything else. So regardless of your aspirations down the line for search-driven traffic, on-page SEO must be part of the overall website design and development process.
9) Plan for the best ongoing support. I remember a time when a company's website was a get-it-and-forget-it item. Those days are long gone. In order to stay ahead of hackers, to rank competitively in search and continue engaging visitors, your website needs to be cared for and supported. Ongoing website support should include regular software and security updates, content updates (including blog posts) and scheduled upgrades to the interface.
10. Lastly, and most importantly, look for the best fit with your culture and style. Engaging a web design company means entering into a long-term partnership, so be sure you really like the people you hire. Their way of doing business, personalities, responsiveness and accountability should mesh nicely with the way you like to operate. If you need everything yesterday, be sure they are comfortable with that, or the relationship is headed for disaster. If you require a specific degree of detail, (high-level or very detailed reporting) and frequency, lay that all out, and pay close attention to the web design team's response. The clients with whom I have 15 or 20-year relationships are all people I love to be around, with much common ground and mutual respect to the eyeballs.
Conclusion: Because of all these factors, especially cost and culture, there can be no single best Edmonton web design company for every client—but what really matters is finding the best match for you. Make a list of the skills and traits you value most, and look for alignment in the work and service standards of prospective web design companies. Consider the importance of diversity: a winning combination of industry veterans and inspired young talent can foster an alchemy of business sense, fresh ideas, dependability, enthusiasm and technology.
This is an exciting opportunity to upgrade your knowledge and learn a lot in the process. Have fun with it and do your homework, and you'll enjoy success with this project and the next, while cementing a valuable long-term business relationship.
Laurier Mandin is president of Graphos, the Edmonton web design company, branding consultancy and digital marketing agency he founded in 1993.
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