How to Choose a Web Designer

So you’re looking for a nice, brand spanking new website, eh?

You jump onto Google and type something in like pittsburgh web designer, or whatever your original idea was to find one of these folks who somehow know how to code and design things (two completely opposing skills that are, admittedly, hard to find in a single person).

A list of links comes up and you start looking around. Some of the sites look simply atrocious. Some aren’t web designers or developers at all. You start to wonder why Google exists if it can’t get this right…but you struggle on.

You come up with a shortlist of companies that look promising.

Some are clearly big agencies. They’ve got a lot of employees and an impressive portfolio. Others seem to be a one man show (ahem, me).

But how can you actually tell if they’re great or not?

Here are a few ways to look at a company’s website and determine if they’re doing an amazing job on their own sites, or on those of their clients.

Is the code valid?

If you buy a car, do you want to know that everything on the car works?

Sure, maybe you don’t realize it at first, but there are flaws in the way the trunk opens. The middle rear seatbelt doesn’t work. Or the check engine light is going to get stuck in the “on” position.

It’s the little stuff that shows where people put the pride in their work, and the best way to see this is to simply run a check to see if the code is valid.

This is the official website for checking whether code is valid or not:

You can check here:

You’ll see this:

screenshot of HTML error checker for result? none

You can even check this specific page:

Now, it’s probably unrealistic to expect that every single page, on every single website will check out. Client sites will get tampered with by the clients themselves (such is the nature of having a content management system), and even a designer or agency site will be bound to have a few pages slip through the cracks.

But shouldn’t the homepage of a web design company’s site be 100% error free? Shouldn’t they have put at least the full effort into their own sites?

Not a single one of my competitors has an error free home page. Most of my competitors are agencies–that is, teams of many, many people–yet they can’t be bothered to ensure a standards-compliant web.

How does Google rate their code?

You can also do a check to see exactly what Google thinks of a site’s code.

You can check my site here.

I get 99/100 for mobile & 95/100 for desktop. That’s an A+ and an A, respectively. And I have an enormous image on my homepage, to illustrate what my work looks like.

Most of my competitors fail this test. Some miserably? Only Bearded gets an A in both mobile and desktop.

Why I find this incredibly disturbing.

In 2007, almost a decade ago, I wrote a post where I called out specific design agencies, companies touting themselves as web designers and developers. You can read it here, if you’d like. That’s the past, though, and we’re looking at the present.

But you know what? Not a single one of those companies–and some of them were big companies–still exists.

That means dozens upon hundreds of clients were left with nowhere to turn when they dissolved. That’s literally millions of dollars in business spread across all of those companies that, a few years or months down the road, when something went wrong, was wasted. Wasted on proprietary systems built by companies that were more worried about the bottom line than the state of the web. That means all of those websites, and the companies that own and paid for them, had to start over, from scratch.

Where did they all go? I honestly have no idea. Where will my competitors be in ten years? That is for the future to hold.

All I can say with certainty is that when everyone else was ignoring what mattered–a beautiful, functioning web built by people who care and are here for the long run–I am the only one left.

I invite you to do a Google search for web designers in your area, and run those two simple tests above. And when you see the results, feel free to get in touch. 🙂