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No target audience
Don’t associate yourself with the target audience of the site. It’s a common mistake for business owners to judge the site design by their taste, even though they might not be the potential users for their product. For example, if one likes sites in retro style and wants a design for the site selling toys for kids, it would be a big mistake to ask for a dusty, black-and-white design instead of the bright, colorful interface that toy-shop customers expect to see.
That’s why my tip is to conduct user research to find out who your target audience is in the first place. If you are not sure how to do that, order the research in a design studio.
Only about looks
Don’t think that web design is only about the looks. Of course, UI (user interface) is an important part of site design, but it’s not all of it. What really matters on every site is the UX (user experience). In short, it’s the feel of the product. Good UX makes it easy and pleasant for a customer to use the site, and, thus, do it longer and/or more often. Usually, when UX is good, clients don’t even notice it, but when it comes to a bad UX (i.e., when products in the cart disappear when you leave the page to keep shopping), it’s always very irritating and makes people leave your site. So, if you think that you can just build yourself a beautiful website in a site constructor, it’s not a good idea, as they rarely have an option to think the UX through or, what’s more important, you [may lack the skills] to do it properly.
Copying another successful site
Copying a successful site’s design is not a key to success. Yes, it’s important to know your competitors and the leading companies in your niche. However, there’s no point in doing exactly what they do. A qualified designer can help you create your unique style so that you can stand out, yet stay attractive for your target audience.
Up front visuals
It can be really easy to be impressed when someone shows up with a shiny design to look at. But when you think about it, free visuals are a red flag.
How can an agency create the right design for you before you’ve even talked about what the goals of the website are? How do they know what messages you’re trying to send, what your customers want or who you are as a business?
It also means that they don’t place much value on their designs. If they’re happy to do them without any commitment from you, they are either working for free (unlikely!) or not putting much time or thought into them.
Meeting your design agency might not always be possible, but you definitely want someone who is keen to speak to you – even if that’s over the phone. If an agency sends you a quote or plan before you’ve really spoken to them about what you want, then they’re not putting much thought into what you actually need or trying to come up with ways to make your project successful.
If you contact someone about your website project and they just send you an email with a list of pages and a quote, they aren’t interested in helping you stand out, they’re trying to fit you into their fixed structure. That’s going to save them time and effort, but it’s not going to help you succeed.
Red flags cut both ways
Reluctance to meet or requesting visuals upfront is also a red flag for design agencies when speaking to clients. If you want to see something before committing to a contract, or just want a price without meeting your agency to talk through your project, then a good agency is certainly going to be wary about working with you.
Past clients can’t vouch
When looking for a company to build your website, it’s easy to get caught up in fancy page designs and impressive functionality. But you need to stay focused on the key role your website plays – getting customers. So you need to confirm that the company you are talking to can design a website for you that not only looks great but is amazing at converting visitors into customers. Ask to speak to some of their past clients, and ask them about whether their new design helped increase conversion rates.
Remember that a new website alone won’t make conversion rates explode – work is required on the part of the client to help push conversions – but websites that are designed and built to convert will massively help the process. If the past clients you speak to run specific marketing campaigns with landing pages, ask them how well the landing pages performed.
Aside from seeing portfolio examples (which are good to have), it is also important to know about past clients’ experience with the web design agency. Some designers can be flaky, have poor communication, be difficult to work with, ruin a redesign by tanking existing web traffic or deliver incomplete work. You cannot tell that from seeing an example of the agency’s past work. If you can’t get any references that you can speak with, it’s a red flag.
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