How Not To Buy a Website In 10 Steps

By Andy Crestodina

It happens to all of us. One day, we wake up and decide that it’s time for a new website. This feeling hits suddenly and urgently, like the need for a haircut. It looked good yesterday, but today I can’t wait for an overhaul.

What happens next tends to follow a pattern. It’s the process of finding and hiring a web design company. And there are big problems with the way most businesses approach the process. Bad choices lead to bad outcomes.

Lets take a look at the 10 steps most businesses take when buying a website:


Step 1. The business owner or marketing team decides it’s time for a new site.
Step 2. So they search the web or ask around for referrals…
Step 3. They browse the websites and portfolios of potential vendors. If they like what they see, they fill out the contact form or call.
Step 4. During the initial call, they get a sense for capabilities. If the company sounds good, they continue the conversation, usually with a meeting.
Step 5. Once they see the company can build it, the next question is “how much will it cost?” If it’s in the range, they ask for a proposal.
Step 6. If the proposal satisfies the remaining concerns (timing, ownership, hosting, payment schedule), they sign and start the project.
Step 7. Now, for the first time, we find out what kind of service this web company provides. If it didn’t come up before, it does now! Hopefully, service is good.
Step 8. And now, the web vendor either delivers or they don’t. It’s time to launch, time for endless rounds of revisions, or time to fire them.
Step 9. Now that the site is live, a few ideas and issues arise. Here, for the first time, we see how good their ongoing support is.
Step 10. A few months after launch, someone asks about marketing and analytics. …And for the first time, we find out if this web design company knows anything about web marketing.

What Went Wrong?

Here’s the problem: the process is backwards. The order in which questions were asked and concerns were addressed did not lead to the selection of the best company. As a result, the most important criteria were de-emphasized.

So flip the process and do these things up front.

  • Ask about service.
    Get a demo of their communication tools. Do they have dedicated project managers? Test drive the content management system.
  • Ask about ongoing support.
    Find out the process for support and who your main contact would be. How are support requests managed? What is the turnaround time for changes?
  • Look for marketing expertise.
    This is a biggie. Learn about their expertise in search marketing, social media, email marketing, and analytics. Listen for an emphasis on results: traffic and conversions.

Find a Partner, Not a Vendor

When you think of the web team as a long term partner, rather than a vendor, you’ll think differently about the selection process. You may find that some of the things aren’t as important as you thought.

Client service is more important than contract terms.

Support is more important than code ownership.

Marketing skills are more important than hosting details.

There you have it. If you have thoughts on the process, or a story about the end results, let’s talk about it in the comments below.

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