How to spot web design cowboys

In any industry there are cowboys and web design is no exception. Without the benefit of experience and insider knowledge, it can be hard to know what to look for, leading to many business chucking money at a company before they have all the necessary facts.

Before you take the plunge, here are some things to consider when choosing a web design company.

A price alone tells you nothing

One only needs to Google 'cheap web design' to see dozens of companies promising to deliver a website for less than £100. While prices in the industry can vary greatly, there is no way you can get a decent business website - or even a half decent one - for under £100. You may as well throw that money away, for all the good this cheap website will do for your business.

Equally, don't think throwing money at an upscale agency will guarantee the best website for your business either. Many design agencies that seem outwardly legitimate will gladly try and take advantage of your ignorance and charge you over the odds for their services. Even if money is no object, you need to be sure the design team you're working with is transparent, ethical, and puts your interests first.

All the price tells you is what the agency or designer thinks they are worth. Only by carefully researching their portfolio, feedback and testimonials can you be sure if the price is right.

If it's not their main business, don't give them your business

You don't do carpet fitting with a bit of web design on the side. Or if you do, it's because you produce crap websites and need to subsidise your income. Nor should you trust anyone that says they 'know a guy' unless that guy has his own website and a legitimate business. A free demo of Dreamweaver does not make you a web developer. Trying to cut corners with these 'man with a van and a coding manual' types may seem like a way to save money, but you will only loose out in the long run when your website looks rubbish and you can't update it.

If web design isn't the only thing they do - there's a reason why. Avoid finding out first hand.

Don't just glance at their portfolio - investigate it

Even portfolios can be misleading - it only takes one killer image and some great text to make a project seem better than it is. Some dodgy operations may even include other people's work and pass it off as their own.

Make sure you actually visit the websites featured in the portfolio. Are they easy to use? Do you like them? For more information, contact the owners of the website and ask them how they got on with the web design company.

Meet them before deciding

If a company is reluctant to meet you in person, this should set alarm bells ringing. While during the build, most contact is likely to be via telephone or email, if they can't be bothered to meet you and build a good relationship, than they probably aren't going to be good to work with.

Be wary of getting 'locked in'

Some web designers will have contracts stating that they own the code. Many clients don't realise this is a problem until they decide to change web designers or try and move servers. If you web designer owns the code, they effectively own your site and can hold it hostage, charging exorbitant extra fees to make changes or force you to start from scratch should you try and change designers.

Make sure you own your website, own your domain and can access and update the website easily. You should be suspicious of any company that tries to take ownership of your website or claims they need to be the ones to add content (usually for a large fee). Most good web companies will build your website around a user friendly content management system and offer training so you can make non-technical updates yourself.