Full disclosure: I sell websites. Every day, I meet with companies who are looking for web designers, and naturally, I’d like some of them to choose us.

But I’ve also noticed something during these conversations: often, people don’t ask the most important questions.

A meeting with a web-design company is an interview. You want to make sure their business is legitimate, and you want to get a sense for the personality and culture of the company.

Most of all, you need to understand their approach to the unique challenges you’re tackling with your project

In 5 minutes, these 5 questions will tell you more than any hour-long presentation could:

Question 1: What is your approach to usability? More than any other question, this will help you quickly differentiate between experienced web designers and novices.

Asking about usability will help you understand the company’s focus – namely, whether or not they have the most important thing in mind: the visitor.

A company without a good answer to this may build a site that they like, or one that you like, but that visitors find confusing or difficult to use. You want a web-design firm that thinks at the highest level: user-centered design.

The best people working in web design today will light up when you mention usability. They will be grateful for the question, and they’ll be glad to share their opinions, experience, and the latest research.

Best Answer: “I’m thrilled you asked! We believe in user-centered design, and we conduct usability testing whenever possible. We’re visitor advocates and will defend their interests with concrete evidence and research.”

Question 2: Can you show me examples of projects with similar goals? Ask for examples of sites with similar goals and features.

Need an event registration tool? Talk to people who can show you one. That way, you can ask why it was built in a certain way, what the challenges were, what results have been measured, and how those results met the project’s goals.

Suppose they haven’t built a similar site before. Are they up-front about it? Do they have any ideas? What challenges would they expect?

Is design your main concern? Rather than searching for a firm with a portfolio piece that seems to fit with your needs, look for a company that can show you a wide range of designs. This indicates a healthy creative philosophy: a company that listens to its clients, considers the brand, and doesn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to the design process.

Best Answer: “Of course. Let’s take a look at a few now…”

Follow-Up Question: Is there a limit to the number of design revisions?

Question 3: Can I meet the team? This question will instantly reveal if the team is in-house or outsourced.

A lot of companies farm out the various parts of a project. Perhaps the firm you’re considering is a reliable partner company. Or maybe it’s an ad hoc team of freelancers who have never worked together before – and who may not be there down the road.

Or is it a team at all? The “company” you’re speaking with could in fact be one person offering to sell the project, do the analysis, design the site, program it, and manage the server. Is this person likely to be an expert in all those things?

For any site with serious goals, you should look for a team of specialists. If the team is in fact just 1 or 2 people, ask about their capacity to handle your project. Are they going to be busy selling new clients while working on your site? How important is your project to them?

Best Answer: “The entire team is in-house and works together on similar projects all the time.”

2nd-Best Answer: “There is a partner company involved, but everyone has worked together on similar projects.”

Follow-Up Question: Have team members worked together before? How many times have they done this?

Question 4: What if I want to make changes later? One of the most fundamental differences among web-development firms is their approach to ongoing changes.

Every website will change over time. Some companies charge hourly for these changes, while others set up a content-management tool that makes it easy, fast, and free to update text, upload images, and add pages.

Best Answer: “We’re going to set up a tool that lets you (or anyone with access) manage the site. You’ll never wait or get an invoice for basic changes.”

Follow-Up Question: What kind of changes will cost money?

Even if your site includes a content-management tool, certain types of changes will require a professional programmer or designer. Ask if your content-management tool will allow you to add new forms, change animations, or create new types of page layouts.

Question 5: How will we measure results? It’s not a bad thing if the answer to this question sounds a little technical.

Listen for terms like bounce rate, unique visits, page views, time on site, inbound links, search-engine rankings, conversion rate, etc. If you start hearing jargon you’re not familiar with, ask for explanations in simple Hindi / English.

Best Answer: “We measure unique visitors, bounce rate, and conversion percentage. Our goal is to generate leads, so these are the most important metrics. We use an analytics tool to do this, and we will show you how to track these measures as well.”

Follow-Up Question: What numbers should we expect?

Of course, there are so many variables that it would be hard for even an experienced expert to get too specific in answering this question. But if a company has done similar projects, they should have at least a general sense for benchmarks.

Bonus Tips

  • Check references. Or better yet, meet possible web designers through referrals: people you know and trust who have worked with them in the past.
  • Check the Better Business to make sure they have a high rating and good service.
  • Ask if the pricing is an estimate or a firm, not-to-exceed number.