Website Design: big company or small digital agency?

Digital Marketing Agencies v. Big Website Creation Companies

Digital Agency Website Design

Quantity or Quality?

When you’re getting started with your first website, or perhaps even your second, it’s tempting to go with a template-based design from a big company like Creare, 1&1, or Yell (rebranded now as Hibu) – to name just a few. But the truth is that the quality of the work is often much higher in smaller digital marketing agencies. I’ve learned this through experience and because I’ve worked for both.

The big digital companies focus on the numbers and on meeting targets. To them, more often than not, you are just another coin in the bag, another check on the whiteboard. And while their web design packages are often cheaper (up front), their poor service has the chance to really damage your online reputation and to waste valuable time that could have been spent generating leads. If you’re going to get a lot out of your contract with a big company, you have to know a bit about digital marketing because you’re going to be the one managing them. At the very least you should expect ongoing SEO help, unprompted feedback, and a check-in call every now and then. The work they do is really covered under that set up; any extra ongoing work (included in the set up specs) is probably just a bit of a pain for them when they’ve got those extra targets to hit.

That’s not to say that a smaller digital marketing agency doesn’t have targets to meet, but each project tends to be of a more bespoke nature and because most agencies charge higher fees, they are likely to spend more time on your work. Furthermore, small agencies tend to price services more along the lines of ‘what you see is what you get’ instead of hidden fees that hit you when you want to leave.

So, beware of companies that offer the following:

Own-brand Analytics tracking

If they won’t install Google Analytics be careful. Some companies will create their own analytics software to hide the real data. Google Analytics is fantastic at revealing how high/low your bounce rate is, how many visitors you’re getting, where they’re coming from, what browsers they’re using, where in the checkout process you’re losing them and so on.

They will manage your website for you

Okay, to me this should sound the biggest alarm bell yet. If you cannot manage the content on your own, look elsewhere. Smaller agencies will often train you (if just for a few hours) on how to upload and maintain your website. Imagine having to call someone every single time you need to update a line of text, add a picture, tweak contact information and so on. What a pain!

Unlimited design options

This is impractical. Your agency should be able to work with you to first create a detailed wire frame of your website. After that you should have had a good discussion about the look, feel and design of your site. If you don’t understand why something is placed where it is, ask how it contributes to the user experience. And if something doesn’t feel right, say so but please say why so that the digital marketing agency can help you fix it. It’s tought to deal with a customer that’s always saying ‘I don’t like that but I’m not sure why – try something else’. You know the old saying ‘time is money’. This applies no matter the business, so make sure your criticism is constructive.

Logo creation and included copywriting

If these are included in your package, find out whether they are YOUR property or the company’s property. Many big companies will happily create the logo, the web design and the copy for you, but not tell you that if you ever want to host your website with another company, you will have to pay a fee to take these things with you, or for that matter to use them anywhere else – on vans, business cards, etc. At Xanthos, we believe that your website is an asset to your business and as such, when we’ve agreed on what needs to be created, we will charge upfront. What we create becomes your legal property. Forget the behind the scenes costs and the leaving/release fees.

SEO Optimised site

The point of Search Engine Optimisation is to get found online. If the company is genuine about SEO, they will offer or suggest link building as a core part of the SEO strategy. And that means more than simply telling you to register with a couple of online directories / social media platforms.

Get to know what SEO is about. It DOES NOT just mean choosing the right keywords. It has to do with how quickly your page loads, how well it has been coded, whether an XML sitemap has been submitted to Google, whether 301 redirects have been applied, and whether or not each page has unique content. And that’s a brush over.

Let me repeat: a directory listing, keyword phrases, and a couple of integrated social media networks to not qualify as SEO.

Using the latest Google Panda or Penguin update as an excuse is not on either. Just because Google puts a lot of weight on relevant, interesting content that keeps the user on the page does NOT mean that they have suddenly disregarded all the other factors that contribute to a website’s rank in the SERPs.

If you want to find out more, take a look at Rand Fishkin’s fantastic article on On-Page SEO. And if you’re super brave or just really interested in the subject why not review SEOmoz’s free ebook on SEO.

Ongoing SEO / Website management

Ongoing SEO is not just about determining how many keywords you’ve got on the page. If you’re ranking for a specific term, there should be a definite action your search engine optimiser suggests. This might include better social media integration, linkbuilding, a PPC campaign, blogging, press releases, etc. And one last thing: unless you’re getting a very regular calls / a written update, you can bet no one is monitoring the performance of your site. Smaller agencies tend to check your analytics every now and then to see how you are doing. It is in their interest for you to do well as you are probably a core part of their business. And even if it’s perhaps not mentioned within the contract, you may find they offer suggestions and help for free. Mind this does not apply to everyone.

To be honest, I’d just like to see you get what you deserve – a website that becomes a business asset. Not a liability. If you’re not digitally savvy I strongly recommend you seek guidance from a small marketing firm. Give them a call and suss them out. Does it sound like they’re interested in you as a person? Are they interested in where you want to go as a business?

Why you get suckered in

You probably know some of these things, so why are you tempted, time after time, to go for a big company? My bet is that it’s their branding. Corporations have a *&$%£ load of money to pour into their marketing. And if they don’t, they find the money. That’s why their sites look so sexy. It’s that pretty face that draws you in. But what’s under the skin. For a lifetime relationship, that’s what really matters.

My direct advice:

  • Work with someone who cares.
  • Work with someone who first takes the time to find out what you want and what you want to achieve. It’s not just about making the website. The website is there to help you achieve your goals. Work with someone who finds out about your goals first.
  • Ask more about what their SEO service entails (do your SEO prep and remember not to be brushed aside by things you don’t understand – meta tags, keyword phrases, etc) Anyone can make SEO simple.
  • Make sure you can edit and manage your own content. Please. I PROMISE you won’t regret it.
  • Get to know who you’re working with. This is another reason I recommend choosing a smaller digital marketing agency for the job. For example, at Xanthos you get to know our team. You will be able to speak with our website developers, with our designer, with me (the online marketer), with our MD and with whoever else is working on your website.

In comparison, small digital marketing companies tend to focus on creating a relationship with you. Sure they don’t have the number of staff, but their staff are trained to care more (at least we are at Xanthos). We like to think of what is best for you and not just for the business. After all, the longevity of any business should really be about the relationship between the customer and the face of the business.

  • Raquel

    Interesting. I love the reading material you share. Thanks.

    • Candice Landau

      Thanks Raquel. Let us know if you’re interested in something specific.